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Abbey Station, Shrewsbury

Terminus of the 'Potts' Railway (1866-80). Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway (1911-1933) and War Department lines (1940-60)

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About Abbey Station, Shrewsbury

The origins of Abbey Station, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury.

Many historic buildings grace Abbey Foregate, which plays host to England’s tallest Doric column – Lord Hill’s Column which was erected on the first anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The London to Holyhead and Dublin coaching road ran through Shrewsbury via the narrow streets on the northern side of the Benedictine Monastery (now Shrewsbury’s Grade I listed Abbey Church). This was founded in 1083 as a Benedictine monastery by the Norman Earl of Shrewsbury, Roger de Montgomery.

In 1815, the Holyhead Road Commission, with Thomas Telford as its engineer, gained funding to improve the main road and in 1824 a new route was ‘contemplated’ through the ruins of the Abbey’s domestic buildings. It was opened on the King’s birthday in June 1836, when 15 coaches from the Lion Hotel and two accompanying bands were the first to use it. Thomas Telford was dubbed The Colossus of Roads. This was a pun on the Colossus of Rhodes; and a nickname given to him by his friend Robert Southey, (the eventual Poet Laureate). Thomas Telford never saw his ‘new’ road, as he had died in London in 1834.

In the autumn of 1863 local Shrewsbury man, Richard Samuel France acquired Abbey Mansion with three other houses; orchards, pleasure grounds and ornamental waters, together with 6 acres of meadow. He demolished the mansion and cleared its gardens for the station yard. He also drained a nearby mill pond. The railway station was opened in August 1866 on the actual site of the Abbot’s Lodging.

In July 1866 during the excavation for the foundations of Abbey Station; Mr France’s workmen found 30 skeletons, buried without clothes or coffins and with vertical stones placed between each body. Most of the skeletons remain, other than the two taken to the local museum at the time.

Richard Samuel France… founder of  The Potts Line.

Shrewsbury-born, and married twice he is buried at Plealey Chapel, in a Grade II listed family tomb (accessible to the public).
He promoted The Potteries, Shrewsbury & North Wales Railway (PS&NWR) in 1862 and constructed the line; (colloquially called The Potts), which followed nine Acts of Parliament. He built Abbey Station to provide his own terminus. It was a hugely ambitious project, which aimed to build a line from Stoke on Trent to Holyhead and the railway company was always short of money. In total £1.5million was spent. The first part of the line was opened on 13th August 1866 but on 21st December 1866 a receiver was appointed and the line closed for the first time, finally closing in 1880.
He had antagonistic business rivals; disputes with members of the House of Lords and was called ‘before the Bar of the House of Commons’ on 1st June 1874 for an official admonishment by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

For a while he lived at The Monklands, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury. Richard Samuel France died on 8th August 1882 at Bryntirion, on Morda Road, Oswestry aged 56. Despite all his endeavours, hard work and enthusiasm, he left just £142 gross (£89 4s 6d net) in his will.

Shropshire Railways Company.

On 14th March 1888 an act of Parliament authorised them to enable the railway to be transferred, but in 1895 receivers were appointed to the failed project. In 1906 the Shropshire Railways board of directors met with Colonel Holman Fred Stephens the chairman and managing director of the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

Under Military Control

After Operation Dynamo - the code name given to the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in June 1940 - nearly all the equipment was left behind in France so Britain had to re-arm. Munition factories were set up around the country, but required storage and distribution facilities so a large ammunition depot was built near Nesscliffe and Shrawardine in Shropshire. The perfect site was found which had the advantage of being close to a railway (considered essential for safe transport of explosives). The chosen line was the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway.

The S&M was leased by the War Department and operated by the Royal Engineers Regiment who surveyed the line in November 1940. It was found to be in a poor state with much of the rail too light for the proposed traffic, so there was a large scale reconstruction.
200,000 tons of high explosive
There were 200 explosive store houses at Maesbrook, Kinnerley, Nesscliffe, Shrawardine, Pentre and Ford with the total storage capacity in excess of 200,000 tons. Each location included extensive sidings with rails leading into each storehouse. The envisaged traffic was 2,000 tons per day (200/250 wagons). Exchange sidings were built at Hookagate and a marshalling yard at Ford with a passing loop at Cruckton.

Sir Alfred McAlpine & Sons Ltd were contracted to build the store houses and the new railway infrastructure. Work began before the end of 1940 and the depots started to open in January 1941. Operations continued after the war and ceased in 1960. The Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway closed at the same time after what had been the busiest and most successful period in its history.

Gazelle the little Railway Locomotive that survived.
The iconic 2-2-2 Well Tank engine was built in 1893 by Alfred Dodman and Company of Kings Lynn to the specification of William Burkitt Esq a director of the King’s Lynn Docks & Railway. After Mr Burkitt’s death in 1906 the engine was sent to machinery and scrap dealer Thos. W. Ward & Company of the Albion Works of Sheffield. It was purchased by Colonel Stephens in 1911, for use on the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire railway.

In 1938 the Birmingham Locomotive Club ran probably the first-ever enthusiasts’ exclusive railtour over any minor railway in this country, using Gazelle and her coach.

The War Department acquired the S & M Railway in 1941 and the ownership of Gazelle, and many other engines. With nationalisation of the railways the ownership of Gazelle was transferred to British Railways Western Region. Then the War Department Longmoor Military Railway in Hampshire took ownership in 1950. In 1970 Gazelle went to the National Railway Museum, and was then loaned to the Museum of Army Transport at Beverley. In 1997 Gazelle was placed on loan to the Colonel Stephens Museum at Tenterden where it remains on display.

World War 2 Air Raid Precautions Centre
Abbey Station was the Air Raid Precautions Centre for Shrewsbury in World War 2. Mr Thomas; (the Headmaster of Coleham School and subsequently St Georges School) lived at Hope Villa in Bishop Street Shrewsbury and was the Head Fire Warden. The team of volunteers were tasked with keeping any wartime emergency under control until official rescue services arrived, and some well-known prominent citizens of Shrewsbury volunteered including Joanne Peele and Hilda Murrell - an operative for the top-secret Special Operations Executive (SOE) which became MI6

All images are copyright to Shrewsbury Railway Heritage Trust



Abbey Station is situated on Abbey Foregate in the south of Shrewsbury. It can be accessed from the town centre by heading southwards on the A5064 leading to the Column and London Road, Shrewsbury. The building is situated next to a Shropshire Council car park, and is opposite Shrewsbury Abbey.



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Christensen, Mike; Under Military Rule, Lightmoor Press (Black Dwarf Lightmoor Publications Limited).ISBN 13:978 1899889 54 9.2011.

Johnson, Peter; An Illustrated History of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway, OPC Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 978-0-86093-619-0.

Baker, Nigel; 'Shrewsbury Abbey', Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit, ISBN 0 9501227 7 7.

National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR