Rolleston-on-Dove's railway history
PUBLISHED: 11:43 23 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:43 23 February 2015
Local railway enthusiast Clive Baker reports on the preservation of a piece of local railway history and a community’s successful re-creation of a village facility
A native of Burton upon Trent, a town that boasted a vast and unique railway system, my earliest transport memory is watching the Tutbury Jinny traversing the level crossing adjacent to Horninglow station, not far from my first home, whilst still a pushchair passenger. ‘Tutbury Jinny’ was the name later given to the local two-coach passenger train that connected my home-town with Tutbury between 1848 and 1960.
The theme song to a 1960s’ children’s TV series ‘The Old Pull’n Push’ featuring a local passenger train threatened with closure, summed-up the affection the train held for the community it served and reflected local feelings when our own ‘Pull’n Push’ made her final journey.
‘You’ve heard of all the trains that break
all the records,
You’ve all heard of that old Royal Scot,
But the old pull’n push with its rickety
Is the most exciting train of the lot.’
Rails in the lower Dove Valley – early power to closure
In 1848 the Stoke based North Staffordshire Railway Company, anxious to tap the lucrative trade generated by the Burton upon Trent breweries, opened its ‘Burton branch’ to link Tutbury with the Midland Railway line that had connected Birmingham and Derby since 1839. The following year saw the ‘Knotty’, as it was affectionately known, extend its metals towards Derby, joining the Midland Railway line at Willington. The Great Northern Railway took advantage of this new route in 1878 by laying a spur between Egginton and Dove Junction.
For the first 40 or so years of the branch’s existence, passengers could enjoy a non-stop journey until three intermediate stations were established, at Horninglow in 1883, Rolleston-on-Dove in 1894 and Stretton & Claymills in 1901. All with basic amenities, Horninglow served a rapidly developing residential ward of Burton, Rolleston, the country seat of the Mosley family, and Stretton & Claymills – once a farming community but developing as a residential village. The name of Rolleston station, the only one of the three with goods facilities, became ‘Rolleston-on-Dove’ soon after opening, to avoid confusion with a station of the same name in Nottinghamshire.
The earliest known locomotive to operate the Tutbury/Burton service was a well tank type with 2-2-2 wheel arrangement, number 8. Originally constructed as a 2-4-0 tender engine in 1848 by B. Hick and Sons of Bolton, she was converted for service on the Burton Branch in 1851. The only reference to this ancient looking machine at the time of conversion, just 22 years after Stevenson’s Rocket came to fame, is a monochrome photograph reproduced from a contemporary painting. She was scrapped in 1881. The early passenger rolling stock, hauled by number 8, would have consisted of three to four, four-wheeled carriages together with goods/milk vans. Only a handful of photographs of the branch exist but a newspaper article covering the opening of Rolleston-on-Dove station includes an image of locomotive number 2, waiting at the up line platform, with the Tutbury-Burton service, comprising six wheeled coaching stock. This 2-4-0, side tank locomotive was built by the NSR in 1890 to a design by C. Clare, the company’s Chief Mechanical Engineer; she remained in service until 1930.
The year 1923 witnessed the end of individual railway companies, taking with them the elaborate liveries. The NSR and other local companies, Midland and London North Western, became part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway, whilst the Great Northern was grouped to be part of the London North Eastern Railway. The Burton Branch continued business, playing host to both the new post-grouping companies.
It was during the 1930s that the Tutbury Jinny could first be called the Old Pull’n Push; then under LMS management a driver’s compartment with duplicate controls was installed in an ex NSR passenger brake van, so on return trips to Burton the train was driven from that leading vehicle, with the locomotive propelling the coaches from the rear. At that time ex Midland Railway 0-4-4 side tank engines, designed in 1881 by S.W. Johnson had replaced the ‘B’ class locomotives, continuing in service until replacement by ex works British Railways class, 2-6-2 side tank engines in 1953.
I will always regret not having a camera in June 1960 when, on hearing much commotion from a steam engine whistle together with a bugle, I ran to the end of the street where I lived, close to Horninglow station, then a café, to witness the final working of the Tutbury Jinny. A vigorous campaign, strongly supported by the local Member of Parliament, had failed to procure a future for this great little train that had served the community for 112 years. It is not forgotten; an inn at Rolleston, that once sold ale to the navvies building the line, and a street close to the site of Horninglow station keep its name alive, as well as the Jinny Nature Trail formed along the old line.
Preserving our heritage
Rising each morning and retiring each evening to the sound of railway activity coming from the point where the North Staffs joined the Midland, and the vast network of sidings surrounding that junction, it is no surprise that I was one of many ‘train-spotters’ who spent their spare time observing Bradford/Bristol expresses and 50-wagon coal trains on the Midland line and, on the ‘Knotty’, York-bound beer trains and, of course, the Tutbury Jinny. During the winter months and on rainy days, the railway scene would be re-created in miniature on the floors of otherwise little-used front rooms or attics, with the help of ‘Hornby Trains’. As the 1960s progressed, with so many familiar aspects of the community disappearing, I felt the need to record my vanishing heritage on film and in model form, something to show a later generation.
In 1973 I moved to Rolleston-on-Dove; its station had closed to traffic on 1st January 1949 along with the other two intermediate stations along the Burton branchline. The branch itself and the ex Great Northern spur remained open until 1968; only the Tutbury/Derby section surviving.
All things railway seemed forgotten, after all, the railway had been built one mile distant from Rolleston Hall and the original part of the village by order of its owners, the Mosley family. Tonman Mosley, 1st Baron Anslow, presided as chairman of the NSR from 1904 until 1923. The track had been lifted and the wooden station buildings left to rot until demolition during the mid 1960s; but my interest was rekindled in 1984 when the old track-bed between Rolleston and Stretton was jointly purchased by the two parish councils to become a footpath, fittingly named the ‘Jinny Nature Trail’.
From model to heritage site
When in preparation for the Millenium an exhibition of bygones was advertised my offer of a model of the old railway station was readily accepted. I began my research, a visit to the overgrown and neglected site revealed that facilities once extended beyond two platforms, a booking hall and waiting shelter to include a signal cabin, goods/cattle and milk docks. My model of the platform area was ready for the exhibition but it wasn’t until 2007 that I finished a complete working model of the entire station site as it was in 1948. During the eight year construction period (laying the real line took just a year!), I’d unearthed documents, photographs and personal recollections that I made part of a display. Comments ranged from ‘Are you sure that building is in the correct position?’ to, more frequently, ‘I’d no idea there was a station there and the Jinny Nature Trail was once a railway line’. This inspired me to go one step further.
Revisiting the station site nine years after my original survey, I noted that nature had taken hold in no uncertain manner, giving good reason for Jinny Nature Trail walkers not to understand its origin. I prepared another ‘virtual’ model which, together with photographs, map and illustrations, could be used to create an information panel to stand at the Rolleston end of the Jinny Nature Trail.
Following a presentation to the Parish Council and lectures to local societies, in September 2012 we received the go-ahead to install it. The resulting interest led to the formation of the Station Group, part of the Rolleston Engineering and Transport Society (TREATS). Working parties to tidy the site were organised and in April 2014, a Heritage Lottery Grant of £7,600 was awarded and an extra £500 donated from the proceeds of the Rolleston Transport Festival, an annual village event.
The intention – to make good the two platform edges, install further signage, a replica station name board, platform bench and create a wild flower meadow in the area where the railway track had passed between the platforms – was achieved in time to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the opening of the station on 1st November last year. Members of the village Brownies and pupils of John of Rolleston Primary School planted wild flower seeds to create the wild flower meadow, and local natural history enthusiasts advised and supplied images of butterflies, birds and other fauna and flora found in the vicinity of the nature trail.
At the unveiling ceremony were parish and borough councillors, the Mayor and Mayoress of East Staffordshire Borough Council, Cllr Ron Clarke and Mrs Clarke, MP for Burton and Uttoxeter, Mr Andrew Griffiths and Mrs Griffiths, together with Mr and Mrs David Penlington. Mr Penlington, the son of a railway employee residing in one of the railway houses adjacent to the station, and other village residents have shared memories of their early years observing the passing of trains at Rolleston, creating a valuable archive for future generations.
Dog-walkers, hikers and visitors from further afield have complimented our group for creating awareness of the site’s railway heritage whilst conserving the natural environment. At the end of November, pupils from the village primary school visited the site in the guise of children evacuated from London during the Blitz, learning what it was like to arrive at a country railway station during the Second World War. And now walkers enjoying the Jinny Nature Trail will no longer be able to say that they didn’t realise they were taking the route of the ‘Old Pull’n Push’.
For further information about the project and the history of the railway line view www.rolleston-on-dove-station.co.uk
Throughout this project I have been indebted for their assistance and encouragement to: Alan Partington, Phil Waterfield, Phil Cheesewright, Stuart Brown, Amanda, Barrie and Elliott Staley, Tony Slater (RSPB member), Rolleston-on-Dove Parish Council, Members of The Rolleston Engineering and Transport Society (TREATS), Rolleston Brownies, the staff and pupils of John of Rolleston Primary School.