Bitter disputes, a fatal accident and the unstoppable growth of industry – one city’s railways have a very colourful past.
And now the untold stories of the city’s rail network are being revealed in a new exhibition.
The event at Bantock House Museum looks at the origin of railways in Wolverhampton and the important role they have played in the city’s development.
A range of artefacts, documents and information are displayed in the exhibition, with recordings of steam trains providing the soundtrack. The exhibits were loaned to the museum by railway historians Simon Dewey, Mervyn Srodzinsky and Ned Williams.
Steam trains were built in Wolverhampton at the Stafford Road Locomotive Works near Dunstall, which opened in 1849 and where the new 2-2-2 express single locomotives were created in 1859.
In 1864 a new superintendent joined the works and developed a fresh way of working by which new parts were added to old locomotives – which became known as the ‘Wolverhampton style’.
This is just one of the fascinating stories told through the exhibition, which also charts the history of bitter disputes on the lines over years.
Organisers say many visitors won’t realise that Wolverhampton’s railways have such a chequered history and were keen that the exhibition explored the ‘railway battles’ that took place due to the city’s key location at the heart of the network.
The importance of the line led to the so-called ‘railway battles’ – two disputes between the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway (SBR) and the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) over agreements to use the Stour Valley line through to the high level station in Wolverhampton.
The first battle took place in 1850 when workmen from the rival companies confronted each other at a facility near the SBR works and the mayor, police and military armed with bayonets had to intervene.
The second battle followed a year later, which took place just south of Wolverhampton’s current station.
An SBR train arrived in Wolverhampton around 9am and departed shortly after. It didn’t get far though as the LNWR had blocked the line with two locomotives, having their brakes screwed down.
The firm had also derailed another locomotive and removed parts of track.
Both sets of workmen confronted each other and the SBR train tried to push the LNWR train down the line, but to no avail. The mayor, police and military again had to intervene.
Other historic events covered included a crash at the Portobello junction in 1899 in which two railway workers died. Artefacts on show at the exhibition include a model steam engine – which was built in 1891 to defend a court case relating to emissions of sparks, and a plaque from a train named after Wrottesley Hall in Wolverhampton.
Other items include a Great Western Railway chimney from 1881, headlamps, guards’ whistles and old photographs.
Organisers said Bantock house was the perfect venue due to its strong links with the history of Wolverhampton’s railways.
Its owner Thomas Bantock was instrumental in using the network for transporting industrial goods.
The exhibition’s curator Helen Steatham said the event had been a success so far, and that people of all ages had been fascinated.
She added: “The exhibition has been popular. There are a lot of railway enthusiasts in the Black Country and a lot of people who used to work in the railway industry have visited and really enjoyed it.”
The exhibition, called On The Right Tracks, ends on May 10.