THE RAILWAY TO WEDNESLEIGH
The layout has been designed to represent a short length of a fictitious 9 mile long, mainly single track, branch line to Biddington (Glos.) that was built by the Midland Railway and opened in 1868. From its optimistic beginning it conveyed livestock, agricultural produce, fruit and the products of the numerous limestone quarries in the area that stretched beyond the south-western outskirts of Birmingham and to the south east of Worcester, across the Vale of Evesham. Initially, only a sparse passenger service was provided.
The branch line left the Birmingham to Gloucester main line at Amplewell (Worcs.) which lies to the south of the link to the Oxford-Evesham-Worcester line (OWW) and crossed the Vale of Evesham and the River Avon in a south easterly direction to Prentletham (3 miles) and Wednesleigh (6.1 miles), thence to Biddington. The separate GWR standard gauge single track branch line that left the OWW line at Bourstone (Worcs.), west of Evesham, was extended in 1885 beyond Mistleton (2.3 miles) to join the original Midland branch line two miles on the Worcester side of the limestone ridge that formed the north-western edge of the Cotswolds and through which the line had been tunnelled to arrive at the west end of Wednesleigh station. Thus was formed what in 1948 became a busy British Railways joint London Midland Region and Western Region branch line. The signalling on both the lines was upgraded in 1949 to enable the passenger services to be enhanced to cater for the rapidly increasing post-war population at Wednesleigh (1951 census pop. 7,436) and the other towns on both of the branches.
The part of the joint branch line that has been modelled portrays ‘a slice of life’ as it would have been running in the 1950s, some 20+ years after the line had been truncated and the original wayside station at Wednesleigh, with a passing loop and a level crossing, had been reconfigured into a terminus with a modest Goods Yard and a busy gated complex of Private Industrial sidings. The latter area was owned jointly by the Wednesleigh Mills Co. (mainly woollen products) and the Wednesleigh Creamery Co-operative, both of which occupied a redundant part of the Wednesleigh Quarry Co. site that was still open in the 1950s but much reduced in size and output. In the 1950s tanked Milk and associated dairy products left the Creamery by rail, daily, destined for both Birmingham and Oxford.
WEDNESLEIGH - Brief History of the Town, up to mid-1950s
Although there is no record in the Domesday Book (1086 AD) it is known that in the early eleventh century, in what became the North Gloucestershire area of the Cotswolds, the few wooden dwellings of a Saxon settlement were clustered around the crossing of two ‘pilgrim’ roads. One of these meandered across country between the Abbeys at Tewkesbury and Evesham and the other connected Winchcombe Abbey (and later, its great nearby rival, Hailes Abbey) to Worcester. As the surrounding wooded land was subsequently cleared for agricultural use and small farms were created, outcrops of limestone became evident. Later, small quarries were dug and worked to provide stone materials for domestic buildings in the area.
Benedictine monks arrived in the area in the mid-eleventh century and were able to settle on a site east of the hamlet then known as Wodens Leah, near to the road to Cloveham (and Winchcombe). Locally quarried and processed limestone was used to construct what became Benham Priory - a monastery subsidiary to Winchcombe Abbey. The priory building, recorded as being complete in 1143 AD remained in use for almost four hundred years until it was demolished, along with its vineyard, as a victim of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 -1541). The stonework remains of the Priory were later used by the local population to ‘improve the structural integrity’ of buildings in the surrounding area.
From the late twelfth century the hamlet grew steadily, prospering from the wool trade. In the mid-thirteenth century a Christian church dedicated to St. Peter was erected in the village of Wodens Leigh. It was rededicated to St. Mary the Virgin in the fourteenth century when the local population were engaged in livestock farming, domestic spinning and weaving (wool) and agricultural produce. The present St. Mary’s Parish church was rebuilt in the 1830s around the tower (built in 1520 AD) that was all that remained intact of the medieval Norman style structure. The reconstruction included the addition of the steeple and a peal of eight bells. It is now preserved as one of the numerous large, handsome Cotswold Stone "wool churches".
In 1668, what had become the large village of Wednesleigh was granted a Royal Charter by Charles II to hold a weekly livestock market. In the 1950s this was held on Fridays with an agricultural produce and general goods market (particularly woollen and leather products) on Saturdays. Early Closing was on Thursdays.
The working of what became the extensive Cotswold limestone quarry in the North West corner of the small town of Wednesleigh began in the 1780s. For a period in the nineteenth century, until late Victorian times, tunnels were driven into the hillside to extract the large blocks of limestone. Until the late 1930s the quarry supported a limekiln for the production of quicklime, used extensively in agriculture.
As mentioned above, the Midland Railway came to Wednesleigh in 1868 and from the outset provided a fast and effective means of moving agricultural produce, livestock, processed limestone products and woollen goods to markets in the South Midlands. The town prospered and grew, with a typically late Victorian surge in the building of other religious establishments.
Before World War II, as with some other Gloucestershire conurbations, a number of light industries came to the town to join those that were well established in the manufacture of products using raw materials emanating from the extensive agricultural hinterland. It was during this period that Wednesleigh also became attractive as a home for commuters working in Worcester, Evesham and even Birmingham with new housing being built with brick rather than using the local limestone (see below), as hitherto. In the 1950s the population grew even more rapidly, with more industries arriving which resulted in a number of well-established farms close to the town being swallowed up in new housing estates and industrial areas.
The area of nearly 800 square miles (2,100 km2) known as the Cotswolds is roughly 80% farmlands and is characterised by attractive small towns and villages (and over 4,000 miles [6,400 km] of historic stone walls), built of the underlying yellow oolitic Cotswold limestone (Ref: William Smith in his 1799 AD geological map of the UK recorded oolitic limestone in the Wychwood Forest near Blenheim Park). The stone varies in colour from north to south, being honey-coloured in the north and north east of the region, as shown in Cotswold villages such as Stanton and Broadway; golden-coloured in the central and southern areas, as shown in Dursley and Cirencester; and pearly white in Bath. Small quarries are common around the rock outcrops at places on the Cotswold Edge. Reputedly, two existing Limestone quarries, Stanleys of Chipping Campden and Syreford near Andoversford (Cheltenham) have been processing Cotswold stone for over 300 years (since 1710?). The Syreford site included tunnelled workings which were closed in the nineteenth century.
The meaning "sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides" incorporating the term, wold, (meaning hills) is popularly attributed to the name ‘Cotswold’. During the Middle Ages, thanks to the breed of sheep known as the Cotswold Lion, the Cotswolds became prosperous from the wool trade, with much of the money made from wool directed towards the building of churches. The most successful era for the wool trade was 1250–1350. The area still preserves numerous large, handsome Cotswold Stone "wool churches".