diamond geezer

 Monday, April 03, 2017

Day out: Stourbridge
Stourbridge is a large town on the edge of the West Midlands, unsurprisingly located on the River Stour, which used to be the dividing line between Staffordshire and Warwickshire. It's now part of the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley, which makes today's post technically a continuation of yesterday's, which I'm sure will excite you. The town is best known for the manufacture of glass, and is reached via an extraordinary train service, and I fear I know which of those two things you're going to find most interesting.
» [This Michael Portillo video will save you having to read any of what follows]


Stourbridge Town branch line
Britain's shortest railway branch line is less than a mile long - officially only 1287 metres. It's been running since 1879, with a variety of types of rolling stock. It has an impressively regular service, much better than certain bits of the Underground. It's run by the only Train Operating Company ever to have scored a perfect 100% in its Public Performance Measure. But it's the train itself which'll make you go Oh My Goodness! What Is That? I mean, look at it.



This is a Class 139, or Parry People Mover, a railcar less than ten metres long, and a sort of cross between a train and a tram. It looks like something Thunderbirds might have deployed, but is actually a proper timetabled vehicle, and very environmentally friendly too. It uses flywheel storage to recapture energy from braking and then uses this for acceleration, topped up by a small LPG engine when necessary, because a perpetual motion vehicle would be technically impossible. This avoids the need for cables or powered rails, and allows the maximum space inside for actual passengers.

Passengers board at the back or at the front, depending on which way the vehicle is going, and pick a seat - there's even one up front facing the driver! It's quite spacious inside, with room for a few dozen people to stand if it's the rush hour, which it wasn't when I went, but I was impressed by how many passengers the service had attracted. I suspect the regular, frequent services helps. The line's only three minutes end to end, which allows a couple of minutes for the driver to walk to the other cab and for the guard to settle the passengers, and then off back again, and repeat six times an hour. A single track line is all that's needed.



The train exists to shuttle passengers between Stourbridge Town, in town, to Stourbridge Junction, on the main Birmingham to Kidderminster line. It's just far enough to be annoying on foot, and the ten minute frequency means it's always quicker to wait for the next train than to walk. Not a great deal happens on the trip, although there is ample time for the conductor to check your ticket. The downhill gradient out of Stourbridge Junction is on the steep side, and there have been a number of 'incidents' over the years, although none since the 139s took over in 2009. One straight section of track, with a couple of curves at each end, swiftly delivers.

I was really quite tempted to ride the line again, but then I'd have had to ride it one more time back to where I actually wanted to be, and I thought the conductor might be giving me strange looks by then. Instead I stepped off swiftly to allow the Stourbridge hordes to travel back the other way, and watched the tiny railcar depart round the bend round which it would reappear in not very many minutes time. I was damned impressed to see that the ticket office at Stourbridge Town is open for 64 hours a week, which serves the half million passengers a year better than we get in London. And yes, there are as-yet undelivered plans to introduce Parry People Movers on certain other short segregated sections of the UK rail network, and perhaps even one day to make new stretches of line viable. What's not to love?
» The Stourbridge Line User Group (or SLUG for short)

Stourbridge


The Stourbridge Heritage Trail starts off by apologising for "unsympathetic alterations and demolitions" and "the construction of the ring road", but a number of interesting old buildings survive, and the centre's anything but bland. The town hall's a Victorian pile (yes, redbrick and terracotta again), the parish church precedes the advent of industrialisation, and most of the characterful stuff is on the broad sweep of the High Street down to the river. The genuinely pretty bits of Stourbridge, I'm told, are some of the inner suburbs. Families tend not to get stabbed here very often.

The Stourbridge Lion


The first steam locomotive to run commercially in the United States was built in Stourbridge, obviously, otherwise I wouldn't be mentioning it, plus it was called the Stourbridge Lion, so where else could it have come from? It was knocked together in 1829 at the ironworks by the canal, which still stands but has recently become a health centre. Canal Street has also survived, where yet another heritage trail can be followed along the cobbled street, past an understated arts centre in a sturdy old warehouse, past somewhere that does boat trips when the weather's better, and past a variety of increasingly tumbledown buildings. If you're ever in Baltimore, apparently you can see a few salvaged bits of the Black Country's pioneering engine in the B&O Railroad Museum.
On the bend by the Coalbrookdale iron bridges I was amazed and very pleasantly surprised to spot Granny Buttons, the narrowboat owned by canal blogger Andrew Denny, with whom I've conversed a number of times over the years. Andrew no longer blogs - being Assistant News Editor of Waterways World keeps him busy enough - but you can keep up with his often Midlands-based canal adventures on Twitter.

The Stourbridge Glass Quarter


It's about time I got round to mentioning glass. Stourbridge used to be world-famous for the production of glassware, thanks to an ideal location close to clay, lime and coal, and a concentration of highly skilled craftsmen. The skyline was once filled with tall brick cones used as chimneys, generally located beside the canal for water supply and for transport. Only one remains, at the Red House Glass Cone, and stands 100 feet tall with a diameter of 60 feet at the base, and contains an amazing two million bricks. It's possible to step inside and gawp up cathedral-like at the tiny hole in the roof, and occasionally to watch actual glass being actually made in the workshop at the back. Various gorgeous exhibits from the Stuart Crystal Glass Factory are on show - they engraved the glassware that went down with the Titanic - while numerous local artists have their stuff on sale, and for good measure there's a flight of fourteen locks out the back. Next year the White House Cone Museum of Glass will open on the opposite bank, to make a proper heritage cluster of it.



Another former glass factory has become the Webb Corbett Visitor Centre, which better gets across the skill and creativity required to make world-class glass on an industrial scale. Those pretty symmetrical patterns you see etched into tumblers, goblets and decanters don't simply appear, they were expertly cut, guided by lines drawn in pen on by marker-uppers. A more modern presence is the Ruskin Glass Centre, a fresh attempt to create a hub for 21st century glassware designers, engravers and enamellers, plus a college out the back to nurture new talent. With a hive of workshops and boutiques, plus an organic cafe at its heart, I was impressed how busy the place was. One of the remaining large-scale manufacturers has an outlet store up the road, and a couple of very retro antique shops somehow survive, presumably because it's still true that if it's glass you want, you come to Stourbridge. [8 photos]


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream