Then and now - Southam Lane bridge
By: Ian Crowder, 2011
You're in for a treat with three photographs showing a Modified Hall, a Castle and a Grange all taken at more or less the same place - half a century separating the first picture with the most recent. The pictures were taken at Southam Lane, just north of Cheltenham Racecourse.
Almost exactly half a century separates a picture of a Modified Hall no. 7903 'Foremarke Hall' and Castle no. 5088 Llantony Abbey taken from the popular vantage point of the cutting at Southam Lane. The train's about to pass under the bridge on the approach to Cheltenham Racecourse from the north. For good measure, we've added a 'bonus' picture of Grange class no. 6803 Bucklebury Grange with a race special at the same spot.
Taken from a similar position, the view has changed little in half a century as Modified Hall class 4-6-0 no. 7903 Foremarke Hall passes the photographer on 3rd July 2011. However, much has happened during the intervening years. By 1979, the tracks had been lifted and nature was beginning to take over. The trackbed remained vacant until 2002 as the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway continued to extend southwards, this extension from Gotherington to Cheltenham Racecourse opening in 2003. The obvious difference is that the line today is single-track; the distant signal is in a slightly different position and today it is fixed. But Nottingham Hill in the distance still looks the same, as do the coaches - the earlier picture shows brand-new chocolate-andcream BR Mk. 1 coaches behind the tender, identical to those behind 'Foremarke Hall' in the 2011 picture.
… and then
Castle class 4-6-0 no. 5088 'Llantony Abbey' is pictured with the southbound Wolverhampton to Penzance 'Cornishman' dining car expresson 9th August, 1961 (the only named train to work over the route). The picture was taken by the late Bill Potter who lived at Bishops Cleeve and recorded a huge number of images on the double-track Honeybourne Line between the late 1940s and the embryonic days of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway: his images are now in the care of the Kidderminster Railway Museum's archive. The locomotive started life as no. 4068 'Llantony Abbey', one of G J Churchward's excellent four-cylinder Star class 4-6-0s, which from Swindon works in 1923. The locomotive was re-built as a 'Castle' by Churchward's successor, Collett, in 1939 and renumbered 5088, although retaining its original name. It was among nine of the Stars to be rebuilt between 1937 and 1940 and were known to railwaymen as 'the Abbeys'. The first Stars to be rebuilt were the pioneers of the Castle class in the late 1920s. Latterly based at Wolverhampton Stafford Road (its first allocation as a Star), 5088 was withdrawn just a year after the picture was taken, in 1962. In addition, the Cornishman was diverted from the Honeybourne Line in 1962.
And a 'bonus' picture
This image, also by Bill Potter, was taken right at the end of steam on the Western Region and shows one of the much-missed Grange class 4-6-0s approaching Southam Lane bridge with a Cheltenham Festival special on 11th March 1965. The locomotive is in a filthy condition, bereft of the name and number plates which once identified it as no. 6803 Bucklebury Grange. Built in 1936, this locomotive was at the time allocated to Bristol Barrow Road and it had only weeks left before being scrapped at Bird's yard at Long Marston, just a few miles north of where the picture was taken. The remains of the heavy snowfall of a few weeks earlier are very much in evidence in the chilly cutting. In the distance, the new properties in Pagets Road running parallel with the railway are clear to see. The distant signal has gone because by now, the small wooden signalbox at Race Course station had closed (in any case, it was only ever opened for race days). Racegoers were in for a treat that day as the Gold Cup was won for the second year running by the legendary Arkle, crushing Mill House by twenty lengths at odds of 3/10. This was Arkle's second Gold Cup win, and he went on to win the following year too and was at the peak of his condition: unlike the thoroughbred locomotive that had brought the punters to the races.
Fifty years earlier, on 9 August 1961 Castle class 4-6-0 no. 5088 Llantony Abbey heads the down Cornishman dining car express at the same place (Photo by Bill Potter, courtesy Bernie Holland collection ~ Kidderminster Railway Museum)