David Eveleigh reviews Paul Collins’ book The Kinver Light Railway.
For most people who care to think about trams, tramways and the urban landscape are inseparable. Most trams went about their business against a back cloth of grimy streets in large towns and cities across Britain…
At their peak around 1900, trams were efficient shifters of people, each day carrying large numbers of industrial workers from their homes to their place of work and stimulating the outward expansion of late Victorian and Edwardian towns.
So it comes as something of a surprise, therefore, in turning the pages of Paul Collins’ book on the Kinver Light Railway to see pictures of early twentieth century trams running through fields and alongside rural stretches of canal and woodland on their way to and from the rural outpost of Kinver, a picturesque village in south Staffordshire close to Kinver Edge and a popular day-out destination for people in the West Midlands.
The KLR put Kinver within easy reach
The Kinver Light Railway ran from Amblecote to Kinver – a distance of about four and a half miles – and was built by the British Electric Traction Company. It opened on Good Friday 5 April 1901 and was an immediate success. The line was laid to the standard Black Country gauge of three feet and six inches and linked up with the Dudley and Stourbridge system also run by the BET and with its cheap fares brought Kinver within easy reach of working class families across the Black Country.
Hundreds of thousands of people were carried on the railway each year – as many as 20,000 on a single day – and the line was also successful in developing good traffic: a daily milk service was established and parcels, livestock and other goods were also carried.
As the author says the fortunes of the railway were inextricably tied to the greater tram network of the Black Country. At first this was the key to its success but as the network to which it was connected shrank after the General Strike of 1926, the tramway was doomed, closing in February 1930.
A journey in photographs
In this book, the author takes the reader on a journey from its starting point by the Fish Inn in Amblecote to the terminus at Kinver (the urban section of the route within what is now Dudley is mapped below). We are shown a comprehensive selection of photographs which are accompanied by substantial captions full of information about the railway, its trams (almost all single deckers of the BET) and also of the various landmarks and features seen along the route. The sub title of the book is ‘Echoes of a Lost Railway’ and following a brief account of the closure of the railway the author then makes a ‘return journey’ in the present day back to the Fish Inn, pointing out the surviving evidence of the former existence of the railway which last ran over eighty years ago.
The Fish is now a Chinese restaurant but there are still many signs of the railway’s former existence. The author features photographs of surviving lengths of the track bed, sections of railway fencing and even of the track itself to show how this railway has left its mark on the landscape along its length.
Following closure of the railway, South Staffordshire Water built a main pipeline along part of the route near Kinver. Paradoxically, this has ensured the preservation of the entire track bed along this stretch but at the same time has ruled out any chance of the line ever being revived as a ‘heritage railway’; however, the author includes the reconstructed tramway with its Dudley & Stourbridge single deck trams at the Black Country Living Museum as one of the echoes of the railway.
This book is well researched, profusely illustrated and nicely written and is essential reading for anyone interested in tramways, light railways and this outer edge of the Black Country. It is unlikely to be replaced.
David Eveleigh is Director of Collections, Learning and Research at the Black Country Living Museum. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Museums Association, he has published over a dozen books.
> Read more about Kinver Light Railway on Chasewater Stuff