A Great Western Railway steam locomotive
From the criminal drama and international enquiry that ensued from the very first railway murder, as related in Kate Colquhoun's Mr Brigg’s Hat, the VV now ponders on somewhat more parochial matters such as the local excitement felt in many small country communities when the railway lines were opened up - a modern means of transport that transformed both lives and livelihoods, despite fears from those more Luddite souls who feared that travelling at speed might result in a fatal brain injury: a nose bleed at the very least.
William, Lord Bateman - as illustrated in Vanity Fair in 1879
But, disregarding the doom mongers, one such local line was built when William, Lord Bateman, the Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire founded a company which engaged Thomas Brassey and William Field to construct the tracks which would join the Welsh Marches market towns of Leominster and Kington at a cost of £70,000, and to work the said line from its opening until the June of 1862 during which time it would pay the investors an annual dividend of 4%, after which the line was leased to the Great Western Railway, becoming fully amalgamated in 1898.
To commemorate the commencement of construction work Lady Bateman wielded a silver spade to dig the first earth along the track that would be 13 miles and 25 chains long and which finally cost £80,000. There were stations at the villages of Titley, Marston Road, Pembridge and Kingsland which served the local farmers who could more easily transport their livestock, though timetables could be somewhat informal with trains sometimes stopping mid-way on the tracks to deliver local groceries or collect eggs to take to the markets.
A blurry image of Kingsland Station
The opening day on Tuesday July 28th 1857 was met with a great deal of excitement, having been well advertised in the press and with banners and bunting draped up at new stations and many folk dressed in their Sunday best; expectant small throngs whose eyes were dazzled by bright rays of sunlight that bounced off the newly laid metal tracks upon which they would soon be riding – picked up along the way to end their journey in Kington where Lord Bateman (who had his own private stop constructed at his home of Shobdon Court) was hosting a celebration meal - although the festivities were somewhat delayed when news came that the new engine (named Lord Bateman) had broken down and but a short way outside Leominster. In the end it was over an hour late, reaching its destination at 2pm rather than 12.45pm but despite any tempers being frayed, and many best dresses damp and bedraggled when the clouds began to pour with rain, the VV imagines all was well when the guests were warmly greeted at Kington's Oxford Arms hotel by the Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Hastings CB who over presided over the three hundred guests who sat in the banqueting room beneath hanging banners which read ‘Times Past’ and which showed a coach and horses, and others emblazoned with ‘Times Present’ which depicted a gleaming passenger train. And as to the splendour of the feast laid up on the tables that day – well, take a look at this menu and gasp -
1 boar’s head, 6 spiced beef, 4 roast beef, 6 galantines of veal, 10 forequarters of lamb, 20 couples of roast fowl, 6 couples béchamel fowl, 8 hams, 10 tongues, 8 raised pies, 12 turkey poulets, 28 lobsters, 12 lobster salads, 4 Savoy cakes, 8 Danzig cakes, 8 rock cakes, 8 plain cakes, 8 charlotte russe, 8 Polish gateaux, 8 Viennese cakes, 8 raspberry creams, 8 pineapple creams, 12 dishes of tartlets, 12 dishes of cheesecakes, 12 fancy pastries, pines, grapes and fruit etc.
Clearly, Lord Bateman was a man of great generosity or else a prodigious appetite because when that 2pm lunch was done, he jumped on the train then returning to Leominster and attended another reception and dinner, this time held at the Royal Oak Hotel, the crowds sitting down to eat at 5pm.
For many years the line was a great success, even playing an important part during events of World War II when it became very busy indeed due to a hospital camp being set up at nearby Hergest. Men were first brought from the Battle of Dunkirk and by 1944 trains were ferrying up to 300 injured men at a time with the wards eventually admitting a total of 2,413 patients.
Even so, times past and present move on and although the line continued to carry freight and goods until 1964 it was closed to the public in 1955, being no longer able to compete financially with the more successful bus companies. The last train left Leominster at 8.25pm on February 15th and arrived at Kington station where a black flag had been hung to greet it, before the final return was made.
Thus, Lord Bateman's contribution to the county of Herefordshire was to end - condemned as his once splendid home had been when it was demolished in 1933 - for reasons of being 'surplus to requirements.'
Shobdon Court, where Lord Bateman's private railway station once existed before it was demolished.