Few railways could show such a strange history as the S&M. It began life as one of those speculative ventures, which never came within miles of the first and last names in its title. (eg Manchester & Milford Haven, Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast). In this case it had aspired to be the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway – none too affectionately known as “The Potts”. Parliamentary powers were first obtained in 1861, for a modestly named “West Shropshire Mineral Railway”, but the promotors had bigger ideas and obtained no less than 11 more Acts of Parliament up to 1874. These between them conferred powers to build lines linking Stoke on Trent, Shrewsbury, Bala, Festiniog and Portmadoc. Two millions of capital were raised, but somehow only the 18 mile section from Shrewsbury to LLanymynech, and a couple of short branches were completed to open in 1866. The collapse of the Overend Gurney bank that year and the ensuing financial panic, should have killed the “Potts” at birth, but it survived and was modestly successful in developing local traffic. The revenue was not nearly enough to service the vast capital debt, or to maintain track and trains in good order, so on safety grounds, the Board of Trade ordered its closure in 1880. “Sundries revenue” brought in enough to keep on a skeleton staff to fulfill the legal obligation of maintaining fences, but track and rolling stock mouldered away, as left on the last day of service.
A failed attempt at resuscitation took place in 1890, but foundered due to financial “irregularities. Like a rather unattractive fairy princess the”Potts” slumbered on, until the Light Railways Act of 1896 offered the opportunity for an unlikely Prince Charming, in the form of Col. Holman Fred Stephens of Tonbridge to awake the sleeper. Already enjoying a reputation for nursing small railways, his appointment as Managing Director and Engineer marked the start of a new era. After a thorough refurbishment, carried out “on the cheap,” the newly named Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway paid its way for a while. Huts, thriftily acquired by the Col. from the Army, could be hired for rather basic camping, and rowing boats and canoes were also available. Competition from road transport after the Great War forced further economies, including highly unpopular Ford Railcars, substituting for loco hauled trains.
The noise and vibration to which passengers were subjected made for an unpleasant ride, and all too often staff saw passengers leave stations as the Fords arrived, to go and wait for a bus instead!
Regular passenger services were withdrawn in 1933, leaving only freight trains until after the outbreak of WWII, the railway was requisitioned by the Army modernized and track mileage greatly extended, to serve a complex of ammunition depots and dumps. The War Dept.retained control until 1960, when final closure took place. Had it lasted a little while longer, it might have made an ideal enthusiast preserved line.
An attractive and interesting little booklet
PREVIEW BELOW – MAY TAKE A WHILE TO LOAD.