Thursday, June 5, 2014

Horse drawn tramways (3) : The problems with the Stratford & Moreton Tramway

Part 3 of this version of my MA dissertation.

Part 2 described the planning and construction of the Stratford & Moreton Tramway. A rather poor job appears to have been made of the initial construction though the tramway was operational by the late 1820s. However by the time the Stratford and Moreton Railway was becoming operational horse-drawn railways were already becoming obsolete. New steam-operated railways were now spreading rapidly across the country, often buying up and replacing existing horse-drawn routes.

Surviving tramway wagon at Stratford-upon-Avon
The Stratford tramway itself was targeted by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (OWWR) scheme in the 1840s as at Moreton their line cut through the tramway’s yard. The OWWR formally made an offer to buy the Stratford tramway in March 1845 with the takeover completed in the early 1850s. The takeover was not hostile or unwelcome, indeed Stratford’s inhabitants are said to have been “indignant” at times at the slow pace of the takeover amid concerns of the town being left behind by the railway building taking place elsewhere. Traders including the draper Mr Medelcott were keen for the town to increase its links “in all directions”. The only question appearing to be if the OWWR offer was the best one available or if an alternative railway route to Birmingham would have been better for the town.

An enquiry was held including evidence from farmers and merchants as to which railway scheme would be the best for Stratford’s trade. Although a Birmingham route had favour with some including the farmer Michael Alledery who thought the route would be a “great advantage to his trade” which was selling cattle in Birmingham, the OWWR offer was considered the best deal overall with the railway leasing the tramway for £2500 a year until finally buying the line out completely. Brunel carried out a new survey of the line for the railway company to see if it was suitable for conversion to a steam railway, as with the previous surveys his findings were not that favourable. He found the engineering of the line poor and not suitable for conversion due to clearances and drainage. The new owners of the Stratford tramway therefore continued horse-drawn operations throughout the period being considered by this study.

A two and a half mile long branch line to Shipston-on-Stour was added to the tramway in 1836. The branch was quickly profitable though did not add much to the tramway bottom line as a whole. In 1840 the branch line bought in £240 of revenue compared to costs of £92, this compares to an income of the tramway as a whole of £2907 and expenditures of £2992 that year. The Shipston branch was performing relatively better than the line as a whole but unfortunately the surplus was not sufficient to offset the losses. Although receipts began to outweigh costs they were not enough to cover the rent the railway company had to pay as well.

So why was the tramway not making enough money? It certainly carried a great deal of freight along it’s route. Coal was the major cargo, 15000 tons of coal is recorded as travelling along the tramway in 1845 alone, this compares with an estimate of 50000 tons in total being bought by the various routes into Stratford in that year. Other cargoes included Cotswold stone and agricultural produce. The importance of the latter borne out by the inclusion of farmers in the inquiry into which railway buy-out scheme was the best one for the tramway, not that their advice was necessarily followed.

As was common with tramways waggons were privately owned and owners paid to use the tramway. Loads were charged at a rate of per ton per mile depending on the type of freight, coal and stone for example was 2p per ton per mile. Waggons were weighed using machines on the line for example at Moreton though this machine was not considered to be very accurate. Loads from Stratford to Moreton and Shipston and vice versa were the most common with not much traffic to the intermediate points on the route. Indeed the building of the Shipston branch was said to have negatively affected the already low usage of the wharf at Newbold and the owners requested (and received) a reduction in their rent to the tramway company. Few private sidings were built, one reason for this may have been access.

Transport links need connections to other viable transport systems to make the most of their capacity and utility. Mention is made by the committee of the importance of improving road links to the tramway in places like Alderminster, this could indicate that access to the tramway was difficult except at the two towns on either end of the route. This could have had an adverse effect on the economic viability of a tramway, poor link roads reduced the effectiveness of the Brecon Forest Tramroad for example. Lack of access could sometimes be down to resistance by landowners, one reason given for the Shipston branch not making as much money as it was thought it could have done was due to the owners of the land the branch line passed through who wanted the line fenced off and access to the intermediate points of the line restricted. Despite these problems the line did carry a lot of freight, mostly coal, and the tramway did make money but not in sufficient amounts to cover the cost of running the line and paying the rent to the builders.

Next : The economic effect of the tramway (and success?)

All text and images (c) Kris Davies

Selected bibliography

Stratford Birthplace Trust Record Office (SBTRO) DR 638 Letter book of John William Kershaw clerk of SMRC
The National Archives (TNA) RAIL 673/6 SMRC Journal
Berrow’s Worcester Journal, Thursday January 27 1848
Stanley Jenkins, 'The Shipston-on-Stour Branch', British Railway Journal, 32, 112-21 (p. 112)

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