Close to the wreck of Ashlands farm in a landscape of wrecks is another wreck, stuck for close to centuries on a curve of the river Anker, an overgrown mound with a blue brick ruin of one half of a Victorian railway bridge beneath it´s overgrowth. It´s the most prominent remain of a stretch of railway which crossed over the river Anker and through the Warwickshire Moor connecting the Birmingham and Derby railway to the London and North Western railway.
There´s scarcely any info out there on the internet, I thought I might have a bit of luck with the ever faithful ebooks, but no luck, not even from the book Midlands counties railway travel book printed in 1840. Descriptions full of praise though for other railway architecture such as the still existing 18 arch viaduct in Tamworth with some great illustrations to boot.
Getting up close
Taking a leaf out of the Preumbalations of Barkfoot´s blog´s explorations. I´ll try to get across the idea of discovering the place photo by photo back in Summer 2010. I think it´s an interesting way to involve the reader in the act of discovery and the excitement that it entails. It´s just that I need better photos!
Even up close it´s hard to get a sense of what the place was, until you see a glimpse of an arch through the undergrowth,let the adventure begin.
Climbing up the slippery clay bank using any branches to hold onto you´ll come up to flat ridge with an overgrown path along it, it´s more overgrown than I remember as a kid and less well trodden, are kids messing around in the countryside less than they used to? At least in the central clearing on the ridge there´s signs of recent activity of lighting fires, and ritual drinking activities. This central clearing owes it´s lack of vegetation to the fact that you´re standing on an impressive arch. Looking over the edge you can make out the brick buttresses flanking the bridge. The next photo was taken from the vantage point indicated by orange footprints indicate(my feet really are that big)
Below is the blurry picture taken from the aforementioned vantage point. It´s an impressive blue brick arch rising roughly to about 8 metres(a very rough estimate tinged with the exageration of memory!) Didn´t manage to get to the base of the arch when taking photo but remember it as an atmospheric place, looks more overgrown than ever down there. The abundant vegetation makes it look like a sort of Victorian take on a mayan ruin!
Continuing with my blurry photo series. This is a photo from the river facing front of the bridge. Consisting of a sheer indented brick cliff face marking a dangerous end to the path along the ridge.
It´s history through maps
I´m going to attempt to tell the little I found out about the place through maps, I´ll hopefully be adding anything I find out later so keep a watch out on this space.
The only reference I found out about the now demolished connection line is the construction date of june 1847 gleaned from the Warwickshire Railways site, a really well put together and endearing site. That date places it in that first wave of railway building.
The above 1884 ordnance map(click to enlarge), taken from Old maps.co.uk shows the connection. The section which actually spans the river corresponds to the width of the railway line, making me imagine it was an iron viaduct, maybe something like this:(insert picture when have better connection)
Revealingly there´s no railway track along the route unlike the adjacent Birmingham Derby line. Had the railway already packed it in after less than 40 years of service? More to the point what´s the story behind the relatively short lived railway line? Anyone out there there in the ether got any clues to it´s story…
In the above 1902 Ordnance map taken from Old-Maps.co.uk the words dismantled run alongside the connection. From now on it´s sit back time, watch the plantlife grow, wars come and go, or speed up in Time Machine style to the year 1962.
The next info I´ve got is from the Tamworth castle dateline page which states that the bridge was blown up by the territorial army in 1962, I´m assuming this was the only bridge blown up in this stretch of the river. It´s destruction is consecrated in the above 1977 ordnance map taken from old maps.co.uk
Above is a satellite image from flash earth showing what´s left to see now. I´ve marked on the image a few points where possible evidence of the railway line might lie some of it checked other conjectured or dimly remembered from years back.
1. Flash earth shows up field markings quite clearly. The lighter shaded earth in the field corresponds well to the outline of the demolished connection, what´s going on there? Next to the current railway is a bulge in the sidings the only reminder of the embankment connecting to the Birmingham Derby railway
2. The surviving section of the bridge, main subject of the post.
3. corresponds to any remains left in the river or on it´s banks. I remember seeing rows of bricks on both banks, no photos, sorry. Anything lie on the river bed below where the bridge spanned. What happened to that iron viaduct, was it blown up, sold for scrap metal, or lies rusting on river Anker´s bed?
4. The stretch along the Warwickshire moor side has now been replaced wood and scrubland, nature reclaiming the land with renewed energy, a carbon copy in foliage of the old railway route. Are there any remains among the undergrowth?
5. The railway went over a stream near here, I dimly remember a brick bridge, the info my mind stores makes me wonder sometimes!