The Vinegar Works Line

Railway signals deployed for road users in Worcester. . . . . . .

Great Western Railway pannier tank number 1639 crossing Shrub Hill Road on the Vinegar Works Line circa 1960. Photo: Berrow’s Worcester Journal.

The Worcester Railways Act of 1870 authorised the building of a line to carry “the heavy traffic between the stations of the Great Western Railway and of the Midland Railway in the city of Worcester, and the manufactory of Messrs. Hill, Evans, and Company and other large manufactories in the said city near thereto.” It would lead to “a great diminution of the traffic along the streets” and, “the expense of repairs of such streets would be diminished”. Hill, Evans and Company would bear the construction costs. In 1872, the Great Western Railway entered into an agreement with Hill, Evans and Company to maintain the industrial branch line known as the “Worcester Railway” two furlongs and 9 chains in length from the former Worcester Locomotive Works to the Hill, Evans and Company’s vinegar works. At its peak, the company was producing two million gallons of vinegar a year along with British fortified wines and a quinine remedy against malaria. The branch was soon carrying around 5,000 tons of traffic each year. It was 900 yards long with a further 200 yards of sidings to a mill and an engineering works, and was known locally as the Lowesmoor Tramway or “The Vinegar Works Line”. A speed limit of 4 mph was imposed by the 1870 Act of Parliament which had allowed the line to be built. At first, a private shunting locomotive was used on the branch, but in later years the line was worked by GWR and British Railways 19XX class 0-6-0 pannier tanks hauling the maximum permitted number of 12 wagons in each direction due to a stiff 1 in 29 gradient for 350 yards and a 1 in 40 for 150 yards.

The Shrub Hill Road slotted lower semaphore signals mounted on the original wooden signal post. Photo: Great Western Trust.

A feature of the line was an ungated level crossing across Shrub Hill Road where, under the Act, the line’s proprietors had to provide signals to warn railway traffic and road users. Two railway semaphore lower quadrant signals were placed on the pavement to warn road users that a train was about to cross. The signals were usually set in the “off” position but when a train was due the two signals were each operated by a lever to show the “on” position. The signals were interlocked with a nearby ground frame so that rail traffic couldn’t proceed until the road signals were at danger. The earlier signals were mounted on a wooden post with slotted wooden lower semaphore arms and pivoting red/green oil lamps. Sometime during the 1930s, the signals facing in both directions were replaced by enamelled metal lower semaphore signals on a tubular metal signal post.

Perhaps not all road users understood railway signals! There were three known collisions at the crossing. A steamroller and a van were two of the casualties, and in the 1950s a Land Rover collided with a train at the Shrub Hill crossing. A legal case ensued which argued that a shunter carrying red flags should also have been in attendance. It was found that the signals gave adequate warning of an approaching train even if road users didn't understand their significance. In time, a “belt and braces” approach was used where in addition to the signals, a man with red flags signalled to road traffic that a train was about to cross. At Pheasant Street where the line crossed the road again, a gated crossing was equipped with a single signal post which carried four signals, two for the railway and two facing the road.

The branch was closed in June 1964 and the last train was hauled by 0-6-0 pannier number 1639. The vinegar works closed in the mid-1960s and Hill, Evans & Co went into voluntary liquidation in 1967. The company’s “Great Filling Hall” remains. It once held a record-breaking 114,645 gallon wooden vat for malt vinegar 100 feet in circumference and 32 feet high. It now serves as a Territorial Army headquarters. It was listed as a Grade 2 building in 1974. The track was taken up in the late 1970s although a remaining line which once led into the branch is still known locally as “The Vinegar”.

Mike Peart

[Mike Peart is a former railwayman on British Railways (Western Region). He is co-author of Volumes 3 (Freight Marshalling Yards), 4 (Level Crossings) and 5 (Train Detection and Control) of the “History & Development of Railway Signalling in the British Isles” series, and Trains of Hope”, all published by The Friends of the National Railway Museum, York. He’s been an active Friend of the NRM since 1994 and was one of the four “schoolboy” founder members of the Great Western Society (Didcot Railway Centre) in 1961 and its Honorary Secretary for several years.]

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