‘The Stratford Upon Avon & Midland Junction Railway’ (or S.M.J.) was a small independent railway company which ran a line across the empty, untouched centre of England. It visited the counties of Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and a little of Buckinghamshire, only existing as the SMJ from 1909 to 1923. In 1923 the S.M.J.became a minor arm of the London Midland and Scottish (L.M.S.), then in 1948 'British Railways' 

Gone but not forgotten: "the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth"


Last Years of the SMJ Pickups

The last years of the SMJR line pick ups.

(Local freight and ironstone trains in the ‘50s and ‘60s.)


Once the Towcester - Ravenstone Junction section of the former SMJR had closed, through freight workings east of Woodford West Junction ceased leaving just the ironstone workings to and from Blisworth and Byfield quarries, the ‘Round the World’ and the Blisworth – Stratford or Woodford West pickup goods services.

Blisworth Ironstone Class J

According to a working timetable of 1961 on Mondays and Wednesdays only, after the Byfield Class J and the Stratford Pick up goods had departed, iron ore empties were taken from Blisworth exchange sidings to Blisworth Ironstone sidings at 9 45am as a class F working. The same loco bringing back the loaded wagons as a Class J returning to Blisworth by 10 25am.  These trains were allowed 5 mins only to complete the trip whether loaded or not. Details of steam locomotives used on this working would be welcome as I suspect that Ivatt 2MTs were used but have no direct evidence.

After the section from Woodford West to Blisworth ironstone sidings closed in 1964 it was usual for a diesel shunter to propel empties to a point on the main line level with the transfer siding, returning with the loaded wagons collected from the siding. Up to 14 loaded tipplers at a time could be conveyed in this way. Towards the very end, main line diesels working the 1245 the Blisworth – Frodingham,  including namer class 44 ‘Peaks’, took the place of the Class 08s, propelling the empty tipplers to the quarry, then taking the loaded train direct from the quarry sidings back to Blisworth, ready to go on to Frodingham. These workings finished after 30th September 1967.

Byfield Ironstone Class J

This was the first train of the morning to depart from Blisworth. Booked to leave at 8 55am daily  apart from weekends ( 1961 WTT) it took the empty 16 ton ironstone trucks back towards Byfield. This was invariably a Northampton (2E) Stanier Class 8F working, one of the engines that appeared on this working was the now preserved 48305 which was shedded at Northampton from 1957 until November 1962. This engine would have arrived light engine from Northampton coupled to the engine that would work the Blisworth class J on the days that it ran.

When Northampton still had ‘Super Ds’ back in the ‘50s these were sometimes used as occasionally were Black 5s right up to the end of the workings.  A Nuneaton ‘Super D’ appeared on one occasion during December 1960, earlier in the year a Toton 9F had turned up with the train. 4Fs were occasionally used in the ‘50s.  Loads were presumably slightly lighter as they would have struggled on the 1 in 98 gradient coming out of the Byfield Ironstone  reception sidings if they had some of the loads that the 8Fs had to tackle.

If on time the train passed Blakesley at around 9 23am and often consisted of a longish rake of empty 27 tonners. Facing a two mile climb at 1 in 101 up the bank through Plumpton Wood and confident of the baton token handling skill of Blakesley signalman Tommy Townsend, the driver would usually open up the regulator and accelerate smartly sending a plume of black smoke sky high as the train approached the down home signal. We lads assembled on the road bridge just past the station would dare each other to get ‘a faceful’ of the smoke by looking over the parapet, the braver or more foolhardy would quickly run across the road to get another faceful  on the other side of the bridge.  Later we would proudly return home looking like chimney sweeps. 

According to the 1961 WTT, on arriving with the empties at Woodford West the 8F and brake van would go on to Byfield where there  was a scheduled 5 min stop to take on water. The engine and brake van would arrive at Byfield Ironstone sidings at 10 17am, then would return to Blisworth with the loaded iron ore wagons arriving back at 12 25pm. How the empties got from Woodford West to Byfield Ironstone sidings is not clear from the WTT, presumably they were taken on by the Woodford ‘Round the World’ pick up. Neither does this light engine working from Woodford West to Byfield Ironstone sidings tie in with regular sightings at Byfield during this era.  Rex Partridge recalls that he regularly saw the 8F arrive there, usually tender first, with the train of empties. He remembers that most of the wagons were grey steel ones and labelled ’IRON ORE TIPPLER’. They also had a white diagonal stripe that occupied about one third of the wagon’s side. He recalls being given a ride on K3 61841 from Byfield to the ironstone sidings one day in 1961 where a Northampton 8F on this working had derailed. He is not sure whether the K3 took the loaded iron wagons back to Blisworth or whether it took them just to Woodford.

Most if not all of the loaded Byfield iron ore wagons assembled daily at Blisworth went forward to Etruria via the West Coast main line, leaving Blisworth (Tu,W,ThO) at around 2 am (at 3 35am in 1961). In 1960 on average 1000 tons of ore was being conveyed from Byfield to Etruria each week. A Northampton engine and crew would be relieved at Nuneaton.  Another train which ran on Mondays and Wednesdays only was the 12 45pm Blisworth – Frodingham.  A return working brought back the empties arriving at Blisworth at 6 27pm. Probably most if not all of the Frodingham working consisted of ore from the Blisworth Ironstone quarry as Byfield iron ore largely went to Etruria. All freight services east of Woodford West including this iron ore train officially ceased on 3rd February 1964, but the actual last working may have taken place slightly earlier.

The ‘Round the World’ Pick up goods and minerals

This daily weekdays pick up working linked the various Woodford Yards with the ironstone sidings at Byfield on the SMJR and Charwelton on the Great Central main line. In 1960 an average of 1500 tons of ore was being taken away from Byfield alone by these workings for eventual conveyance to Renishaw in Derbyshire.  Although often performed by a Woodford engine such Thompson L1 tank, an ex LMS 2-6-4 tank, an LNER  J39 0-6-0 or a ‘Pom Pom’ J11, especially towards the end of the SMJ almost any engine that could be seen on Woodford shed might be used on it. (See the ‘Classes seen on SMJ rails’ page on this website to appreciate the amazing variety).  Strangely bearing this fact in mind few photographs of this interesting working seem to have been published. One in ‘Branch Lines around Towcester ‘ shows it heading for Woodford Yards with its L1 tank carrying a Class J headcode.  Another picture taken by the same photographer of the same engine probably earlier on the same day shows it leaving Woodford West sidings working towards Byfield carrying a class K headcode. Strange, but it was officially a Class K pickup until it got to Byfield Ironstone sidings but became a Class J minerals as soon as it was due to leave from there. In 1960 the Class J and Class K catagories were almagamated by BR to become Class 9 mineral or pickup goods, so this change of description and lamp code no longer took place.

As at no point in its comings and goings was the locomotive in charge of the’ Round the World’ more than a couple of miles away from the safety of Woodford shed,  this working was frequently used to test out both Woodford and ‘foreign’engines that had recently had some repairs carried out by Woodford.  Rex Partridge noted B16 61444 and York K1 62063 among many unusual loco workings. They were both tried out on this working after needing some minor work done following arrival at Woodford Up New Yard with fitted freights. The now preserved ex -Woodford ‘Flying Pig’ 43106 also appeared on it on occasion.

The ‘Round the World’ was booked to leave Woodford Yards early afternoon initially running as a Class K pick up goods, its crew signed on at the sheds and took what ever engine was deemed available. They then proceeded to the Old Up Yard where they picked up their train at 2 15pm according to the June - September 1959 WTT, but in other periods it ran at 2 25pm. First stop was Woodford West sidings (due at 2 20pm 1959 WTT) where shunting took place and where transfers with the SMJR generally took place. The siding here were along part of the disused south curve which was initially briefly used for through services from Marylebone – Stratford. The SMJR morning pick ups bound for Blisworth and Stratford had both left Woodford West by this time in the morning. Next stop was Byfield Ironstone sidings where further shunting took place and where loaded iron ore tipplers eventually bound for Hawarden Bridge via Woodford and Banbury were picked up. An unusual practice that took place here was for the brake van to be left at a point on the gradient  between the Twistle and Muddy Lane bridges with its brake firmly applied standing on the SMJ main line for about half an hour, while this took place, then allowed to run back onto the completed train by the force of gravity alone. According to the 1959 WTT it was due to leave at 4 15pm but often by about 3pm the train was on its way back to Woodford where it dropped its loaded iron stone wagons in the Old Down Yard. By now it would be running as a Class J ironstone train. It then went on to the New Down Yard where it picked up a Woodford C&W examiner who would examine the wagons at Charwelton.  Next stop after a short dash along the GCR main line was Charwelton ironstone sidings. Quite often this part of the working would be engine and brake only. In 1959 it was booked to arrive at 'Woodford Yards' at 4 15pm and leave at 4 32pm. At Charwelton’s transfer sidings (arriving at 4 52pm 1959 WTT) the C&W man would check loaded wagons that were to be collected and taken to Woodford New Up yard .  Towards the end of ironstone working these wagons were taken to Woodford New Down Yard instead as they were eventually to leave northbound up the Great Central route. As can be seen the ‘Round the World’ acted as a trip freight working between the four Woodford yards as well as a pick up for the ironstone wagons. The loco and crew had not finished yet as they would then stand as passenger pilot at Woodford station into the evening. One duty in the ’50s was to transfer coaches used on the last ‘Ord’ service from Marylebone to Woodford to siding near Woodford North Junction. These carriages can be seen standing there in some pictures and videos of the period taken from the Eydon Road bridge.

Byfield Ironstone closed early in 1965 and with it the visits by the ‘Round the World’. The last such working ran on 12th January 1965 with Woodford 8F 48141 in charge. The last goods to be handled at Byfield station itself was believed to have been metal rods used in the construction of the radio communications tower on a hill between the village and Charwelton.

Stratford-Blisworth Pick up Goods.

By 1961 these workings, which had at one time run from Broom Junction to Blisworth, ran on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only. They typically consisted of a mixture of vans and mineral (mainly coal) wagons.  

My memories of the pick ups were of what happened at Blakesley. From a very early age in the late  ‘40s I was taken by my gran to watch the trains go by. In those days passenger as well as freight workings passed  mainly hauled by tall chimneyed Stratford 3Fs  or by 4Fs from a variety of sheds. Occasionally double headed 4Fs worked through freights to and from the Olney line. East of Woodford West both Towcester and Blakesley received coal wagons for local coal merchants by means of the pick ups almost up to the end of the line. Wiggins and Williams stored coal at Towcester, while Ted Botterill stored his at Blakesley. For a couple of weeks when I was in my teens I was off school with German Measles and not allowed to go to school. As I was getting under my mother’s feet Ted, who lodged with my gran, offered to take me on his deliveries. Each morning we would collect his immaculate Morris Commercial lorry from a lock up garage at the back of Drinkwater’s grocery store and drive to Blakesley station. Ted specialised in bulk deliveries of a quarter of a ton upwards, leaving most of the casual single sackful trade to the bigger firms. As he only had one lorry he would tend to have only one wagon to unload at a time. He would pull up his lorry next to the wagon so that it was easier to shovel coal from the wagon. When the lorry was full he would drive it a few yards to his bunkers then tip it. A whole wagon could be quickly unloaded this way. Often the Blakesley signalman to earn a few extra bob would gradually unload a wagon for Ted during slack periods. When loading up large bulk deliveries Ted would use the station weighbridge to weigh his lorry before and after loading an order to check that he had been accurate and fair in his measures rather than weigh individual bags. Theft of coal at night time could be a problem and he sometimes tipped a bucket of whitewash over his coal heap to check if this was taking place. When Ted became seriously ill just before the closure of the line he employed two men to carry on his business. So that these men, who lived in Abthorpe  and Woodend, had a shorter distance to collect the lorry each morning, Ted had a new lock up garage constructed at the station next to his coal store. This light coloured wood building is prominent in photos of Blakesley station taken in the ‘60s. One of these men, the late Derrick Bodily recalled that Ted was always looking for a good deal so never stuck with just one colliery for long. Consequently coal would arrive for him at Blakesley on the pick ups from both directions. If a wagon was being dropped from a down pick up, often  the 4F would pull forward into the siding then reverse leaving the wagon in the headshunt, from which point the wagon would be allowed to roll into the siding once the engine was out of the way. A drop off from a Blisworth bound pickup would involve simply reversing into the siding, uncoupling the wagon, then giving it a gentle shove.  Ted wasn’t adverse to having coal products especially coke delivered to the station yard by road. There wasn’t any real demand for smokeless fuels for household  use  in the ‘50s or even the ‘60s but coke was used to fire heating boilers in local schools including Blakesley’s which usually received its coke supplies from Wiggins. At times in the ‘50s both Wiggins and Williams were also having occasional coal deliveries at Blakesley as well as regular ones at Towcester. The village policeman would cycle to the station most mornings to show a police presence and also to have a chat with Stationmaster Cecil Smart, his bike can be seen propped against the main station building in some of the photographs taken at the time. They were frequently joined in conversation by Ted and the guard from the Stratford pick up; working life seemed much less pressured and more leisurely in those days even if it often involved more risk and physical effort. Ted died around 1962 and Derrick kept the business going for a short while while Ted’s legal affairs were wound up in December of that year. Derrick thought that no more coal wagons arrived at Blakesley after this date and that by then very little goods was handled there at all.

In addition parcels and other boxed goods would be unloaded at Blakesley station platforms from the vans and taken into the station building. One of the local shops still had some of its goods delivered by rail, some farm animal feed arrived also. This service proved invaluable during the great snows of 1963 as the village was completely cut off by road for well over a week. Also it must be remembered that in the ‘50s people could relatively inexpensively send large items by rail to almost anywhere in the country.  As a small child I received my first bicycle in such a manner. My cousin in Cornwall had grown out of it. It came all the way to Blakesley from Perranwell on the Falmouth branch, dismantled inside a large cardboard box. While Dad reassembled it I made a den inside the box! Towcester handled much more general goods including various assignments for Groom & Tattersalls foundary opposite the station.

 During the early ‘50s according to the 1951 WTT, these services had been daily with calls at Aston le Walls siding and Byfield Ironstone sidings timetabled by the down Stratford bound train. It’s likely that the latter call was to supply the Byfield ironstone locos with coal rather than to take or drop iron ore tipplers.  Up until the closure of Stratford shed (21D) these pickups, along with the passengers trains until their withdrawal, were usually powered by Stratford 3Fs and 4Fs or by Northampton 4Fs. Northampton only had one 3F of its own but many Northampton crews preferred the saturated Stratford 3Fs to their own superheated 4Fs particularly for passenger workings. They were said to accelerate better on these lightly loaded trains.  I recall seeing Northampton’s sole 3F 43399 on the Stratford pickup at least once in the late ‘50s.  Further back in time Northampton Johnson 2F 0-6-0s often worked these workings. Engines were stabled at Stratford 21D or Northampton 2E overnight. Occasionally 4Fs from other sheds, especially Bedford and Saltley would appear. But by the ‘60s all the pick ups were usually in the hands of Northampton’s 4F fleet. Not that other classes never appeared though. I once saw  a Woodford K3 on a Blisworth bound pick up and when servicing of the locos was transferred to the ex GWR shed at Stratford very occasionally a Collett 22xx 0-6-0 would work through to Blisworth, then go on to Northampton shed to be stabled overnight. A Wellingborough Class 08 Diesel shunter was once seen working a train westwards near Blakesley.  The last few weeks were the preserve of Northampton shedded ‘Flying Pigs’.

Crewing was not an all Northampton preserve. Before the passenger services were withdrawn five  crews actually signed on at Blisworth to work SMJ line trains along with their Northampton and Stratford based counterparts, they also crewed the 8F hauled chalk tipper trains which originated rom Tottenhoe Quarry sidings on the Dunstable – Leighton Buzzard line and ran on from Blisworth exchange sidings to Southam cement works on the Weedon – Leamington line. I well remember these trains thundering through Banburylane Crossing on the West coast Main line not quite so spectacularly  as the Annesley - Woodford Runners on the Central but very impressive none the less. After the demise of the SMJ line passenger trains 2 or 3 crews still signed on at Blisworth to work these chalk trains.

The standard crewing procedure for the SMJ line pick ups however from at least the late ‘40s onwards was for Stratford crews to work the up train from Stratford and for Northampton crews to work the down train from Blisworth. When the two trains met roughly midday at Byfield their respective crews would swop trains and work back to where they started from, the opportunity was taken to take on water as Byfield was one of the few SMJ stations that had a tower water tank. It is said that many of the Northampton crews were not signed for the route beyond Byfield, but in actuality the progress of these pickups was so slow that a trip as far as Byfield and back would comfortably fill up a shift. Incidentally when the Olney line was still open Bedford crews often worked lodging turns to Gloucester with through freights over the SMJR.

The last day of the Stratford –Blisworth pick ups was 7thSeptember 1962.  Both trains were worked by Northampton’s ‘Flying Pigs’, 43115 hauled the Blisworth bound train that day. These Ivatt 4MTs which had replaced 2E’s 4F fleet  were transferred soon after the demise of the SMJ pick ups east of Woodford West.  After they ended the late John Jennings travelled on a special working from Stratford which collected stranded empty wagons from sidings at Ettington and Kineton. Sidings further east continued to be served by other workings as detailed elsewhere.

 Blisworth – Woodford West pick ups

On Saturdays, when there was no Stratford- Blisworth pick up service scheduled, a pick up goods would run from Blisworth as far as Woodford West only. The 1961 WTT shows it leaving Blisworth at 8 55am and returning from Woodford West at 11 15am finally arriving back at Blisworth at 12 55pm. It was booked to stop at Towcester and Blakesley for about ten minutes at each in both directions. Blakesley signalman Tommy Townsend would shut down his signalbox at about 12 noon then dash off to get ready to manage Blakesley & Woodend Football Club. This was was a tight schedule with KO times at around 2pm especially if they were playing an away match some distance away at Winslow or Brixworth for instance. Loco power was almost invariably a Northampton 4F although 8Fs and Black 5s very occasionally appeared. It is not known how any wagons destined to be collected by this pick up arrived at Woodford West as the ‘Round the World’ was not thought to have ran on Saturdays but there are unconfirmed reports that Woodford’s Cl 08 shunters may have made local trips workings to Woodford West in addition to the regular steam hauled ‘Round the World’.

On weekdays there was also a similar service in the afternoon to Woodford West. This is shown in the  1961WTT as taking the form of an engine and brake working from Blisworth to Woodford West leaving at 1 35pm and arriving at 2 35pm. This would work back as a non stop pick up goods leaving at 3pm and arriving back at Blisworth at 3 55pm. This working was usually a Northampton 4F but quite often an 8F. Presumably it was to collect any wagons or trucks left for it at Woodford West by the ‘Round the World’.

From 7th September 1962 the Stratford – Blisworth  pick ups were discontinued and until the complete closure were replaced by Blisworth – Woodford West workings similar to the previous  Saturday service. At around the same time the afternoon working was discontinued. I’ve not been able to ascertain whether or not this was a MWF only or a daily working. It has variously been reported as leaving Northampton at 7 30am and also at 9am. By this time other locomotive types were becoming more frequent on this working, Black 5s or 8Fs even 9Fs were provided by Northampton shed, while all its 4Fs had been gone by June ’62 to be temporarily replaced by ‘Flying Pig’ Ivatt 4MTs. These only lasted for 4 months at 2E but one was photographed on the SMJR by Peter Fleming .  The late Ian Lyman working as a railwayman at the time took trips on some of these last workings to Woodford West leaving Northampton at 7 30am, filming what was eventually to appear on his excellent East Midlands DVD. He recalled ‘The only trains over this end of the SMJ as far as I know in my time were the 12.45 Blisworth - Frodingham ironstone (empties were pushed up before taking the full loads away) and the 8.30 Northampton - Woodford West Jct. pick up freight which ran Mon. to Sat.  I travelled on the Woodford goods on a good many occasions.    It was booked to leave Northampton Up Sidings at 8.30am Mon to Sat taking traffic for the SMJ, worked at Blisworth then left there around 9.30 depending on how much needed to be done and how long it took to get across the main line.  It worked at Blisworth Ironstone Sidings, Towcester and Blakesley and on arrival at Woodford West Jct. (see my Telerail DVD) they shunted the small yard then went down to Byfield box for lunch where the signalman had the kettle boiling ready.  On occasion they would fly shunt the BRO down whilst the engine took water then followed later.    Northampton Loco and men worked the job.   There would be a Blisworth Guard until they all transferred to Northampton, I think around early 1963, then the job was one of 12 in a Northampton link.   I looked upon this working (along with the Oundle daily goods which I joined at Billing)  as a good day out when I could get my hand on the regulator !   We had 120 goods guards at Northampton then and I knew them all together with many drivers and firemen and worked with the Running Foremen so getting rides at one end of the train or the other was no problem on any of the Northampton jobs except perhaps running into Euston - it was prudent to transfer into the train before arrival there as you didn't know who was about..!  Always an interesting day out for me...!’
The last working was believed to have been around January 1964, the official closure date east of Woodford West was 3rd February 1964.

Parcels train?

A photograph exists of a mysterious Northampton - Stratford 'parcels' working, seen reversing into Towcester's up platform headed by now preserved Northampton 8F 48305.  Despite the train being formed of what appear to be GUV type vehicles the loco carries a pick up freight Class K lampcode which suggests that the working is the normal Stratford pickup formed of very unusual stock and unusually 8F hauled. It's dated 16th February 1962. Any information would be welcome.

Stratford GW yard – Clifford Sidings trip working

There was a trip working from Stratford WR yard to the SMJ yard that usually took place around 10am. and was worked by a Collett 0-6-0. According to John Jennings sometimes this was delayed until the afternoon if the SMJ box had not been open earlier. But when the Stratford – Blisworth pick ups were discontinued a daily working from the GWR Birmingham Road Yard to Clifford Sidings continued hauled by a Collett 0-6-0. Coal and ash from motive power depots including Leamington and Nuneaton would be conveyed in standard 10t open wagons. If there was no traffic on a particular day the 2251 class would still run light engine to take a churn of drinking water to Clifford Sidings. Coal and agricultural supplies were taken to Old Town yard as well for the Coop coal depot and for Dingley’s. 

Occasional ironstone workings

Rex Partridge has established by conversations with a former employee at  Byfield  that occasionally ironstone was taken westwards from Byfield, he’s not sure whether or not these workings finished once the the Broom section of the SMJR closed to traffic. John Jennings has pointed out to me that the quality and type of ironstone mined at different quarries varied greatly and that different foundaries or steelworks might require a different type of ironstone for a particular task and that this might well have led to occasional unusual workings from westwards or eastwards from Byfield or Blisworth as well.

Light engine workings east from Woodford 2F

As witnessed by myself and various others including Robin Patrick (at the time a Blisworth main line signalman) in the ‘60s sometimes engines would travel light engine eastwards from Woodford to Blisworth. The reason for these working which often took place late morning on Saturdays was to take engines from Woodford shed to Rugby 2A for work to be done. Sometimes these engines would spend a night on Northampton shed en route.  When the Great Central London Extension became part of the London Midland Region,  Rugby 2A shed ‘pulled rank’over Woodford as the area’s main shed and demanded that some repair work that Woodford had probably been better capable of doing was transferred to them. This was all part of the grand scheme of things where the LMR gradually ran down the Great Central main line. It is said that the staff at Rugby didn’t know how to deal with problems with ex LNER 3 cylinder engines with Gresley conjugated valve gear and that fitters had to urgently sent for from Woodford to complete some of the very work that they had been unjustly deprived of!  Often engines needing work at Rugby would be towed dead from Woodford behind a WD 2-8-0. Also engines that had strayed to Woodford from ex LMS depots would be returned by such workings.  Among such workings round  1960/1 on a Saturday I once saw a Woodford WD towing a York B16 and a Wellingborough Crosti 9F eastwards through Blakesley. Robin Patrick saw ex LNER types and is pretty sure that these included a V2 at Blisworth around the same time. A Darnall B1 appeared at Towcester as well.

Cattle trains

Cattle wagon workings had become rare by the ‘50s even, but were observed by the late Derrick Bodily at Towcester and Blakesley while working for coal merchants at both locations. By necessity such cattle wagons to avoid unnecessary suffering to the livestock had often to be worked as special one off workings. Peter Fleming recorded seeing such a working leave Blisworth in the early ‘60s. The engine and brake returned soon after suggesting that the livestock travelled only as far as Blakesley at the furthest, more likely Towcester. Clive Boardman (Woodford fireman in the ‘50s) recalls taking a couple of cattle tracks from Woodford to Kineton behind a borrowed B16. (See the ‘Clive Boardman Remembers’ page on this website) However, up until the late ‘50s possibly later, a dealer at Towcester would receive unfortunate old horses that had travelled via a normal goods service. These horses would then be led up to six at a time to a field beside the A5 near the police station where they would stay for a day or so before being taken to an animal slaughterhouse by lorry.

Breakdowns and Inspections

On the rare occasions that breakdown trains were required they originated from Woodford and were usually WD hauled. Occasionally inspection coaches would visit parts of the SMJR usually from Northampton, occasionally from Stratford. Woodford also sometimes sent route learning trains especially to learn the new route when the Stratford South Curve opened in June 1960, L1s were photographed on such workings.

PW staff were still using a hand propelled trolley to travel to locations along the line in the early 50’s. Much earlier in SMJ and LMS days my grandfather used a bicycle type device, probably the one pictured in Jordan’s book.  A small petrol engine trolley took the place of the old ‘handpump’. It was stored at either Towcester or Byfield. Proper inspection trains were much less frequently seen and a variety of locos appeared on them ranging from Fowler 2Ps to modern BR Standard types.

Unscheduled pick ups

During the late ‘50s or very early ‘60s I remember on at least one occasion a pick up freight arriving at Blakesley at around 3pm on a Saturday afternoon . Whether or not this was a very late running Saturday Blisworth – Woodford West morning pick up or a one off trip working I do not know, but it spent a lot of time shunting at Blakesley station and may well have returned directly to Blisworth without travelling further west. Unfortunately I was more interested in watching the football match in an adjacent field at the time. I also recall that Tommy Townsend would sometimes have to stay on duty on Saturday afternoons as trains were due to run and he would miss watching his team play but I’ve no idea what the workings were but only that this very rarely happened.

Car carriers

During the late '40s and/or early ‘50s at on at least four occasions an experimental special car carrier service transported away new Rootes Group vehicles that had been stored at Silverstone Airfield from a ramp at or near the cattle dock at Towcester. The Rootes Group rented the 5 hangers at Silverstone Airfield from the Air Ministry from 1946 onwards, at a time when the RAC was beginning to lease the runways and perimeter road to develop the motor racing circuit. Thousands of Rootes vehicles and spares were stored in the hangers, including Hillman Minxes, Sunbeams and Humber Snipes.

Storage of rolling stock at Towcester and along the closed Olney branch

From the late ‘50s onwards much redundant and frequently vandalised stock was stored at Towcester. Coaches were stored on the long siding towards the former Greens Norton Junction which occupied the formation of the closed Banbury route, while wagons were stored along the former Olney route. I only saw coaches being added or removed a couple of times, once by two 8Fs and another time by a Jubilee.

By October 1958 "The Railway Observer" reported that "During the first two weeks of August, over 1000 surplus wagons were placed on the eastern end of the Ravenstone Wood - Towcester section, extending over the bridge over the main line". The "R.O." reports in May 1960 that "Track on the Ravenstone Wood - Towcester section is still intact, and the part from the M1 road bridge to Ravenstone Wood is occupied by about 300 coaches awaiting scrap, mostly Wolverton products, including a recessed end-door centre-corridor 12-wheeler M816, though there a few examples of CLC and Midland stock. The wagons from the western half of the line were removed earlier this year, but the line remains derelict". By September 1960 the "R.O." reports "Buffer stops have been placed in position on the Ravenstone Wood - Towcester section, near the bridge over the main line at Roade. Indications are that the bridge is to be removed". Subsequently it was reported that dismantling of the girder bridge commenced on August 22nd (1960). A year later in September 1961 the "R.O." reported that "a steady clearance had been made of the redundant coaching stock and on 14th May (1961) only about a dozen remained, and a few days later even these were removed. However, long lines of idle wagons now occupy the sections between the M1 and Salcey, and between Towcester and the dismantled bridge at Roade. "

The "R.O." for September 1964 has a short piece "Lifting of track on the long-closed section between Roade and Towcester is now in progress, but from Roade to Ravenstone Wood is still rusty and overgrown". Other independent reports state that track lifting was in progress on the Roade to Ravenstone Wood section at the end of August 1964.

Kineton MoD Depot supplies trains

During the ‘50s occasionally special workings carrying army vehicles including armoured vehicles and heavy field guns were seen by myself passing through Blakesley bound for Kineton Camp. These ‘tank trains’ caused great excitement for us village kids as it was a badly kept secret when they were running, but they may well have ceased by the time that the Olney branch stopped through freights from running east of Woodford.

The short section of the SMJR from Fenny Compton to Kineton MoD remains open to this day. When the rest of the line was open trains ran to Kineton Camp most days powered by Banbury locos usually Collett 0-6-0s or Ivatt 2MTs. Later after closure of the SMJR main line various BR diesel types including Brush Type 4s (Cl 47) and EE type 3s (Cl 37) were used to take these trains to transfer sidings at Fenny Compton where MoD locos took over. Nowadays there is provision for MoD supplies trains to work weekdays as required from Didcot Yard right into the Kineton MoD complex hauled by DB Schenker (ironic that ...a German company!) Class 66s. Recently a DBS Class 60 appeared on one working.

In recent years, as at Long Marston, parts of the extensive sidings at Kineton have been hired out for the storage of surplus main line rolling stock including Virgin Mk 3 coaches, Class 92 electrics and Class 323 EMUs.  In addition preserved locomotives have put in appearances at Kineton including a Deltic and King 6024 which also ran in steam to Fenny Compton.

 Freight over the Olney and Banbury lines

There was no pick up goods service on the Olney line during the ‘50s or 60’s but through freights such as the ‘Banana trains’ used the route up to its closure in 1958, the official closure date was 22nd June ‘58.

Few details and no pictures at all have been found by me of pick up freight workings over the Banbury line but it is believed that there may have been a single pick up working to Banbury and back from Blisworth or Towcester or else mixed trains were used. All trains over the line were powered by 3Fs or 4Fs and crewed by Northampton men. Robert Stevens in his booklet ‘Towcester memories of the Slow, Miserable & Jolty’ talks of a probably only once weekly goods earlier in the ‘40s running from Towcester to Banbury and back which frequently consisted of one or two wagons and a brake van. Derek Mutton in his book ‘Off Northampton Shed’ describes a mixed traffic working in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s which involved a single coach school pupils’ special train that ran to Banbury then returned with a service that was not listed on the public timetable but consisted of the passenger coach with a couple of vans or trucks behind. Perhaps all regular freight workings took this form. Surprisingly only one ThO Northampton - Banbury and return cattle train used the line even though Merton Street had a lot of traffic via the Bletchley – Buckingham route. The 4F engine on this Thursdays only working from Northampton would spend time shunting Merton Street's good sidings before returning to Northampton.  Banbury Cattle market held on Thursdays was then the biggest in Europe so there was potential for such traffic. The line closed officially after the last working on 30th June 1951

 The final track lifting trains after closure of the SMJR line

These were worked eastwards and westwards along from Woodford and provided some much needed work for Woodford’s recently required and largely redundant 8F fleet which had been allocated as replacements for its WDs. However when the Olney Branch was lifted Northampton crews and engines were utilised. The late Ian Lynman gives further details, " The trains came up from Northampton Far Cotton.  Northampton power, men and guard booked on daily around 5.30am and were relieved at around 1.00pm by another engine, men and guard.   This was the case when the track was lifted between Roade and Towcester and later Ravenstone Wood Jct. to Roade."

Parcels traffic at Blisworth SMJ station after the line’s closure

For a while during the ‘60s the SMJ station was used for sorting parcels which arrived at the main line station and were bound for the Southern Region. This happened as an indirect result, that isn’t quite clear, of electrification work nearer London. The vans would be left at a main line platform then shunted into the SMJ station by an Ivatt 2MT tank from Northampton, probably one of ‘the twins’, 41218 and 41219 which both lasted at Northampton until July 1965. It’s not known if other classes were used. It’s quite possible that these engines were also used on the trip workings to Blisworth Ironstone sidings. A new extended canopy was provided at the SMJ platforms to protect the transfer of parcels during bad weather.


1961 Working Timetable



I regard this article as a joint effort rather than by own work, I’ve mainly acted as editor putting together other people’s information and plus theirs and my own reminiscences. Special thanks go to Barry Taylor for providing working timetable information and other invaluable help, to the late John Jennings who has provided much information about what went on at Stratford, to the late Ian Lyman for details about Blisworth - Woodford West pickups, to Robin Cullup who has provided information about the storage of rolling stock at Towcester and along the Olney Branch and to Rex Partridge for much help compiling the ‘Round the World’ section in particular and being consulted on all matters Woodford & Byfield. Other people who have provided much needed information include Alwyn Sparrow, the late Derrick Bodily, Clive Boardman, C Dilkes, Peter Fleming, Robin Patrick & Bob Salmons. My apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten to include.  (Let me know and I’ll put it right!)

If you spot any inaccuracies or have any additional information, please let me know as I intend to update the article as required.

Bibliography & further reading


“The Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway” – J M Dunn (Oakwood Press 1952)

“The Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway – A Jordan (Oxford PC 1982)

“A History of The Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway” – Riley & Simpson (Lamplight Publications 1999)

“The Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway” – S Jenkins (Oakwood Press 1990)

“The Banbury to Verney Junction Branch”- B Simpson (Lamplight Publications 1994)

“The Last Years of The Great Central Main Line” (Woodford Halse chapter by Rex Partridge) R Robotham (Ian Allan 1986)

“Off Northampton Shed” – D Mutton (Wild Swan Publications 2006)

“Branch Lines Around Towcester” – Mitchell & Smith (Middleton Press 2008)

“Towcester Memories of the Slow, Miserable & Jolty”- R Stevens (Towcester LRS 1994)

Magazine Articles

Railway Bylines Jan, Feb& March 2008 all contain general articles about the SMJ

Steam Days Jan 2009 - Andy Thompson’s SMJ article

Steam Days June 2010 - Rex Partridge’s article about Byfield and Woodford – Stratford through freight in the ‘60s

Dick Bodily July 2011


(Most recent updating



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Comment by Dick Bodily on June 20, 2013 at 19:30

Recently updated with minor additions and corrections

Comment by Dick Bodily on June 25, 2012 at 22:43


Thanks for these, I'll add them to the list.  I've got BR Journal 76 and I've seen the Railway Magazine April 1956 article in Andy Thompson's collection but haven't read it. I didn't realise the writer was the head of TGS as he showed no obvious interest in the school's Railway Society which was run by  Mr D Hillman and a pupil known as 'Benny' Hill at the time as far as I recall. I went on one of their trips to London sheds in '59. When 'Benny' was told he must wear a cap and uniform on the school bus, he produced a fez complete with a school badge, a true original thinker of a character! When we travelled to London via the LM Region from Northampton for the aforementioned trip, he joined us in London travelling from Banbury as he insisted that he must only travel behind GWR steam!  Later in the '60s the society expanded its activities when it was run by Mr 'Percy' Shaw and pupil Chris Leah, who later became a Railtrack manager and their TV spokesman. They ran some fantastic coach trips to sheds in the East Midlands, Doncaster, Leeds and Swindon which were open to pupils of other school in the area.


Comment by Robin Cullup on June 25, 2012 at 20:39

Dear Dick,

I've just been re-reading - and enjoying - the description of the last year's workings on the SMJ. I don't know whether you have seen the following magazine articles but they are well worth chasing up - and perhaps mentioning for other interested mambers -

Railway Mag - April 1910 - Mr Russell Willmott, Traffic manager and Engineer SMJ is interviewed by the RM.

Railway Mag - April 1933 - D S M Barrie describes the SMJ.

Trains Illustrated - Feb 1952 - an article "The SMJ in Modern Times" (B Cooke), and another "The Banbury Branch" (O H Prosser)

Trains Illustrated - April 1952 - four interesting follow-up letters re the above.

Railway Mag - August 1952 - "To South Wales via Towcester" by Michael Robbins.

Railway Mag - April 1956 - "On the SMJ by Freight Train" - an article by D A Beacock (Headmaster of Towcester Grammar School at the time) describing his footplate ride from Towcester to Stratford on the pick-up freight and back with much detail of the working. 

British Railway Journal No. 70 - this mag has about 30 pages on Banbury Merton Street by Chris Turner. 

British Railway Journal No. 76 - "Towcester in the 1930s" by Bill Kendall and Chris Turner.

LMS Journal - Special LMS Edition - "The Broom Connection" by Bob Essery - deals with both the Redditch - Ashchurch line and the SMJ to Stratford.

These are all good sources of information, if you haven't seen any of them, let me know.




Comment by Dick Bodily on June 18, 2012 at 11:24

Updated with new information supplied by Ian Lyman.

18th June 2012

Comment by John Evans on April 24, 2012 at 3:34

Fascinating - I well remember the endless line of wagons stretching over the bridge across the A43 near Towcester. My dad said that he'd also seen lots of  wagons near Stoke Bruerne and Roade, which figures. There is a picture in one of my books of an 8F on this line on a tracklifting train in August 1964. To me the Olney and Banbury branches were the most interesting bits of the line. Great stuff.

Comment by John Isherwood on January 20, 2012 at 10:51

An almighty piece of work.

Life of a line.

Comment by Dick Bodily on January 19, 2012 at 13:58

I've updated the Round the World section of this article as a result of finding some new info about WTTs and headcodes

Dick Bodily

Comment by Robin Cullup on August 12, 2011 at 20:15

By all means add these details to the article. As you probably realise I find the BR years on the SMJ to be as interesting as any with a multiplicity of types working over parts of the line. I am searching for the confirmation of the diesel classes used in the last days on the Blisworth ironstone workings - I have read this somewhere and will continue to search.




Comment by Dick Bodily on August 6, 2011 at 10:34

Thanks for these very useful notes. I'll have a good read and then add new info into the article and your name to the acknowledgemnets if that's all right by you. You've also provided a long suspected class to the loco types seen on the SMJ list as well. Are you sure that it was Class 25s rather than 24s that were used?

Best wished

Dick Bodily


Comment by Robin Cullup on August 5, 2011 at 21:08

Banbury Line Freight Traffic.

In the May 1937 Freight WTT (Midland Lines) there are the following workings:

Blisworth (ThO) 7.10 am, Towcester 7.25 - 7.35, arr Banbury 8.37 am - presumably for the Cattle market - note "Worked by Western Division Engine and Men"

Blisworth (daily) 2.00 pm calling at each station, arr Banbury 4.10 pm

N'ton Bridge St (ThO) 3.40 pm, Blisworth 4.10 pm, Towcester 4.22 pm, arr Banbury 5.30 pm - note "Worked by Western Division Engine and Men".  ? cattle wagons again


Banbury dep 7.40 pm (daily), calling at each station, arr Blisworth 9.30 pm

Banbury dep 9.05 pm (ThO), Towcester 9.40 - 9.50, arr Blisworth 10.05 pm - note "Western Division Engine and Men", also "Conveys Cattle"


This is, of course, before the Second World War, but hopefully gives an idea of the freight traffic over the branch just 14 years before closure. I do not know how long these services continued.


Hope this helps,





Comment by Robin Cullup on August 5, 2011 at 15:04


In addition it states that "The western end of the SMJ is exceptionally busy with Banbury traffic between Fenny Compton and Stratford and thence via the new curve to Honeybourne and South Wales, with up to 40 trains a day".
In September 1962 apart from a rake of bolsters nothing is on the eastern section, but west of the LNW main line "the track is fully occupied with over 1200 idle wagons".
By 1963 the track on the eastern end was black from disuse but "9Fs" have penetrated part of this line intermittently to deal with stored rolling stock.

The final months of 1963 saw a solitary working on the Blisworth - Woodford West section; namely the daily local freight, booked for a Stanier “5MT” 4-6-0 or an “8F” 2-8-0 from Northampton shed - but sometimes a BR “9F” 2-10-0 is used. The engine is booked off Northampton shed at 9.00 am and is due to leave Woodford West at 1.00 pm on the return trip. The “R.O.” also reports “Further on, the Woodford - Stratford-on-Avon section is busy with through traffic, but the remainder, to Broom Junction, has now been taken up”.  

The "R.O." for September 1964 has a short piece "Lifting of track on the long-closed section between Roade and Towcester is now in progress, but from Roade to Ravenstone Wood is still rusty and overgrown". Other independent reports state that track lifting was in progress on the Roade to Ravenstone Wood section at the end of August 1964.

Whilst tracklifting was taking place on the above section, the December “R.O.” tells us that “in recent weekends P.W. work, ballasting and relaying has been taking place on the Fenny Compton - Woodford section”. This is amazing when through freight traffic on and from the GC line was to be removed by the middle of the next year. In fact, the “R.O.” has a piece in May 1965 that confirms “in addition to the closure of the Woodford to Fenny Compton section from 1st March the section from Fenny Compton to Stratford was closed at short notice to through traffic from the same date. The signal boxes at Kineton and Clifford Sidings remained open for some time afterwards; a fact that drew comment both locally and nationally, and even appeared on T.V! The boxes were, however, closed from 15th March”. The piece goes on to say that the only remaining piece of the SMJ open is that from Fenny Compton to Burton Dassett (3m 56ch), - not quite correct, see below - which sees a daily goods to the WD Depot - 10.15 am Banbury Jcn - Burton Dassett diagrammed for a Banbury 22XX 0-6-0 - 2210 was on the duty on 29th March. At the Woodford end of the SMJ, the Byfield Ironstone Co’s siding will close on 1st June - this will allow the company to remove its equipment, rails etc to Woodford.

In the meantime the section east of Woodford was being lifted, starting at the Blisworth Ironstone Siding and working towards Woodford - Woodford Halse’s Stanier “8F” 2-8-0s being used on the demolition trains, as well as the contractor’s own 0-6-0 diesel loco. This section had been closed from 3rd February 1964. At the eastern end this left the short section from Blisworth to the Ironstone Sidings still in use, and this lasted until 30th September 1967. After steam finished what later became Class 25 diesels were used on the ironstone traffic.   

So this is the sorry tale of the end of the SMJ - a through route with an interesting history, running through countryside that is still remote today.


            Robin Cullup


            1st December 2009

Comment by Robin Cullup on August 5, 2011 at 14:49


A very interesting piece which brings together a lot of information about what is arguably the most interesting time on the SMJ - certainly for me.

I put together a collection of various snippets on the last years of the SMJ when I attended the course on the SMJ led by Martin Bloxsom - and attach this for your interest.





The Final Years of the SMJ System The section between Ravenstone Wood Jcn and Towcester is one piece of line that I find fascinating - perhaps because it is such a long section of single line going through "the middle of nowhere". In a 1937 WTT I see that all the trains over this section ran during the hours of darkness, mainly trains from Avonmouth to St Pancras. By the 1950s trains were running during the day, but photographs of this section are difficult to find - mainly because so few trains used it. I remember trains rattling over the "Tin Bridge" at Roade in the middle 1950s - almost always hauled by "4F" 0-6-0s. The locals told us that these locos were from Gloucester shed - but I suspect most were from Bedford (15D) or Northampton (2E). I have seen a photograph of a light "4F" waiting to come off the SMJ at Ravenstone Wood taken on a box camera in the 1950s - unfortunately not in my collection. I believe that the last through trains over this section ran in mid-April 1958, the SLS Journal (August 1958) reports that: "The section between Towcester and Ravenstone Wood Junc. was temporarily closed from mid-May whilst the new trunk road was to be built across the line; at 8.30 am on Saturday 28th June, the tablet for the section was withdrawn from the Towcester signalbox and the section formally closed". The report goes on to say that this is the beginning of the end for the SMJR, and only the section between Byfield (for Woodford) and Stratford (for GW connection) would appear to be safe from closure. I have been told that the M1 bridge was built because BR envisaged a future use for the line, although the SLS Journal report refutes this and states that the "new trunk road" will be built through the site of the line. The “Railway Observer” gives May 19th as the date of the temporary closure, to enable the road construction to be carried out without hindrance from rail traffic, stating that traffic is being diverted via Northampton and Blisworth. As we all know the line did not re-open but was used for the storage of wagons and redundant coaching stock. By October 1958 "The Railway Observer" reported that "During the first two weeks of August, over 1000 surplus wagons were placed on the eastern end of the Ravenstone Wood - Towcester section, extending over the bridge over the main line". The "R.O." reports in May 1960 that "Track on the Ravenstone Wood - Towcester section is still intact, and the part from the M1 road bridge to Ravenstone Wood is occupied by about 300 coaches awaiting scrap, mostly Wolverton products, including a recessed end-door centre-corridor 12-wheeler M816, though there a few examples of CLC and Midland stock. The wagons from the western half of the line were removed earlier this year, but the line remains derelict". By September 1960 the "R.O." reports "Buffer stops have been placed in position on the Ravenstone Wood - Towcester section, near the bridge over the main line at Roade. Indications are that the bridge is to be removed". Subsequently it was reported that dismantling of the girder bridge commenced on August 22nd (1960). A year later in September 1961 the "R.O." reported that a steady clearance had been made of the redundant coaching stock and on 14th May (1961) only about a dozen remained, and a few days later even these were removed. However, long lines of idle wagons now occupy the sections between the M1 and Salcey, and between Towcester and the dismantled bridge at Roade. This piece also comments that Towcester remains the same with six freights a day including a mine train from Blisworth. In a

Comment by Andy Thompson on August 5, 2011 at 9:08


May I thank you for all the effort you have put into this piece and may I say its just the sort of article I had imaged would be great to have on my (as it was when it started - Towcester's Railway History) website.

I can only marvel at what has happened to the site over the last 5 or 6 years, the like-minded people I have manged to find and the historical document the site has become!


Ta ever-so Dick!!



Comment by Dick Bodily on August 4, 2011 at 7:56

Hi Dick

Great article, which pulls a lot of useful info together in one place. A few comments / additions - by the way, the destination of the iron ore is Etruria (Potteries area), not Eritrea, which is in East Africa !

I have an old Northampton shed loco arrangements book from 1949, which although it is faded and falling apart, does add a few interesting things - maybe others can comment on some of these points.

Taking a random week in Oct 1949, there are the following workings that might be SMJ-

1.00am Blisworth - always a Northampton 4F (4076 / 4072 for example) but is this an SMJ job - a bit early in the day?

4.58am Blisworth - but rarely seems to run - could be anything

6.35am (6.30 am on Saturdays) Woodford - always a 21D loco - 3767, 3698

7.35am Byfield / 7.35am Blisworth - we know about these two, but the interesting thing is that only one crew is shown booked to the two locos. the locos are always 21D - eg;3523, 3698, 3822, 3521, 3767.

On a separate page of the book each day, there is shown a 7.30 Byfield, with just crew names and no loco (plus others on this page  -see later) I'm not sure just what this page represents - anyone have any ideas? It might show  'foreign' crews booking on times- which would fit if it was a Stratford crew going home after lodging.

5.40pm Woodford - again always a 21D loco (3568, 3698, 3767) Interestingly, the loco that works this turn is the same one that left the shed for the 7.35am Woodford earlier that day - so it made a double trip.

2.10pm Banbury (Thurs only)  - a Northampton loco - eg 58281, 4491, 4076 - on Sats runs at 2.32pm, but with no loco number shown - strange.

7.00pm Byfield (Sats only) - 21D loco eg 3698


Apart from the odd 7.30am Byfield (?booking on time) shown above, there is also a daily 12.48pm Banbury shown on the same page, with again just a crew, and no loco mentioned. This could be a pick up freight, but might or might not be an SMJ route train - it could be a re-manning job down the main to Bletchley, then on to Banbury that way - anyone know?

There are a couple of other nice little gems in the book -

Sunday 6/11/49 - 58281 to Fenny Compton 5.30am ex Castle yard engine & brake

then 58218 10.30am same  destination as relief for ballasting - so obviously p-way work going on there.

The job was repeated the next Sunday, with 4387 and 3523 used.

Weds 9/11/49 - 6.00am 2 x class 4F (no numbers given, so maybe just remanned locos) light engine for Blisworth, to go to Burton Dassett - one of the 'ammo' specials?


Hope this adds a bit of meat to the bones - but it would be interesting to get a bit more knowledge of the Banbury line workings. Like you, I have never seen a photo of the pick up freight on that section - its always passenger trains





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