The West Midlands Railway (WMR) was formed on 14 June 1860 with the union of the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway (OW&WR) the Newport, Abergavenny & Hereford Railway (NA&HR) and the Worcester & Hereford Railway (W&HR)
On 17 July 1862 the WMR Additional Works Act authorised the construction of two branches radiating from Old Hill. The first was to run in a northerly direction to Blowers Green Junction, near Dudley, and connect with the GWR’s Stourbridge Junction to Wolverhampton Low Level line. The second would run south to Halesowen with an end-on connection with the proposed Halesowen & Bromsgrove Branch Railway (HB&BR). On 1 August 1863 the WMR was amalgamated with the GWR: a shrewd move by the GWR as it would deny the LNWR access via Smethwick to Stourbridge and allow direct access to Birmingham. In the 1860s any trains from the Stourbridge direction for Birmingham had to travel via Dudley and reverse at Wolverhampton Low Level, substantially increasing the journey time.
The Old Hill to Blowers Green line, or the ‘Bumble Hole’ line as it was christened, was opened on 1 March 1878 by the GWR. Construction of the line had not been easy as the route took in heavily industrialised areas and would have to cross the Dudley Canal near Windmill End. Expenditure on bridges and earthworks to by-pass many of the mining activities was vast and would have probably bankrupted an independent company.
Old Hill High Street Halt was a later addition to the line, opening on 21 August 1905, with the GWR attempting to counter the threat of local omnibuses. The station stood on an embankment that ran parallel with Wrights Way; directly south of the Garratt’s Lane overbridge. Following normal Bradshaw practice, for many years the halt was acknowledged only as a footnote in the public timetable, which between Old Hill and Dudley included only Windmill End (prior to its demotion to a halt) and Dudley (South Side) in the ‘station bank’.
The halt comprised of two wooden platforms capable of taking short trains with a rudimentary waiting shelter being provided on both platforms. The platforms were constructed using old sleepers as supports and decking giving a very rough platform surface and appearance, with the platform shelters being of wooden frame construction clad in corrugated iron with a hipped corrugated iron roof of concave profile (popularly described as a GWR ‘pagoda’ shelter). Access to the down (Dudley direction) platform was from Wrights Way with the up platform approached from Garratt’s Lane. Bradshaw’s July 1922 timetable shows there were 17 down (Old Hill to Dudley) and 20 up services calling at the halts along the line Monday to Saturday with no Sunday service. The timetable also notes the line is operated by ‘Motor Cars of one class only’.
The line was renowned for its poor riding qualities owing to extensive mining activities in the area and the subsidence this caused. Passenger loadings along the line were never high enough to warrant anything more than the provision of a single GWR rail-motor or a Collet/Pannier tank engine and a single coach.
At the time of the Grouping, 1 January 1923, the line came under the control of the GWR and services continued much as they had for the previous 25 years. With nationalisation of the railways on 1 January 1948 the line fell under the control of British Railways Western Region who decided that the halts along it would require rebuilding, so from 1957 through to 1960 the halts from Old Hill High Street to Baptist End, inclusive, were rebuilt. At Old Hill High Street the wooden platform supports and surface were replaced with pre-cast concrete. The waiting shelters were rebuilt with pre-cast concrete supports clad with corrugated iron partially enclosed but giving little protection from the elements; a roof-cum-canopy projected over the platform. Oil lighting was also replaced with electric and totems were attached to the new lighting columns, allowing the dilapidated GWR running-in boards to be removed.
A major revision of British Railways regional boundaries took place on 1 January 1963 when the Bumble Hole line was transferred to the London Midland Region (LMR). The ‘Beeching Report’ of March 1963 sounded the death knell for the passenger service with its withdrawal being recommended. As seen on other recently transferred lines in the area, the LMR had no sentimental attachment to former GWR lines. The official proposal to close the line was published on 2 August 1963 and on 30 April 1964 the Secretary of State for Transport gave his consent. The final service was scheduled for Saturday 13 June 1964, a little over a year after the initial recommendation, and the official date of closure was 15 June. Some stations along the line saw as little as one passenger a day.
In June 1964, the Wolverhampton Express & Star prepared an obituary of the Bumble Hole line passenger service.
Not many will mourn its passing, except maybe for pangs of nostalgia. It has had its day. But in the past there is no doubt that it provided a greater service for the community.
The paper went on to quote Guard Bishop of the 6.30pm from Dudley.
If we get one passenger on this particular train, that’s as many as we’ll ever get. We may get him twice a week and he usually gets off at Windmill End.
BR (LMR) prepared its own black bordered obituary for the line:-
Following the withdrawal of the passenger services, goods trains continued to use the line. Near Baptist End there was a junction to the Netherton Goods (formerly Withymoor basin branch until 1 August 1921) but this branch closed on 5 July 1965. The sparse remaining traffic lingered until 1 January 1968 when the line officially closed, the track being lifted shortly after.
Today no trace of the station or the embankment on which it once stood remains, with the embankment having being levelled for the purpose of building a small housing estate. The embankment and retaining wall of the overbridge which crossed Garratt’s Lane still survives to the north of the site, and a partially robbed-out section of embankment and bridge abutment to the south of the site are extant.
Tickets from Michael Stewart, route map by Alan Young and Totem from Richard Furness.
- Bradshaw's July 1922 Railway Guide - David & Charles 1985
- By Rail to Halesowen - Michael Hale & Ned Williams - Michael Hale Publishing 1974
- Forgotten Railways: Volume 10 The West Midlands - Rex Christiansen - David St John Thomas Publisher 1985
- A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain - Volume 7 The West Midlands - Rex Christiansen - David St John Thomas Publisher 1995
- Lost Lines Birmingham & the Black Country
- Nigel Welbourn - Ian Allan Publishing - 2002
To see stations along the Bumble Hole line click on the station name:
Darby End Halt , Windmill End Halt , Baptist End Halt
Old Hill, Netherton, Blowers Green & Dudley