Snow Hill revived

Snow Hill Station, Birmingham (1975)

Snow Hill Station, Birmingham (1975)

The absurdities of Victorian railway competition are only equalled by the profligate waste of the railway closures in the 1960s.

Birmingham’s two main stations lie at right-angles to each other, on different levels and several hundred yards apart, because three entirely separate and competing companies built the lines into Birmingham.

The Great Western Railway’s Snow Hill Station, first opened in 1852, developed into a magnificent red-brick and terracotta structure of 1911-12 behind J A Chatwin’s grand Great Western Hotel of 1875.

In 1961 a scheme was published to turn Snow Hill into “the most modern railway terminal in Europe”.

As late as 1964, during the electrification of the West Coast Main Line, it handled 130,000 trains and 7,500,000 passengers, compared with 175,000 trains and 10,000,000 passengers at New Street.

Later in the 1960s many former GWR services were closed or diverted to the redeveloped New Street, except for Stratford and Warwick local services which terminated at the suburban-relief station at Moor Street, south of the Inner Ring Road.

The Great Western Hotel was demolished in 1971.  Snow Hill Station itself remained derelict after the last train-service finished in 1972, became structurally unsafe and was eventually cleared in 1979.

However, from 1987 the Moor Street services again ran through the reopened tunnel, and a new Snow Hill Station was incorporated in the unlovely Colmore Court office-development.

Since 2001 the Birmingham to Wolverhampton service of the West Midlands Metro has used a platform of Snow Hill station as its city-centre terminus.

So, apart from the fact that more trains run from Moor Street than Snow Hill, and the second London service runs to Marylebone rather than Paddington, there are relatively few significant differences in the availability of services now than there were in 1960.

Hindsight is a wonderful luxury, but I can’t help wondering if the planners’ plans really added up correctly in the 1960s, any more than the haphazard eccentricities of Victorian laissez-faire did 110 years previously.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s Birmingham’s Heritage lecture, please click here.

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