The proposed Worcester, Bromyard & Leominster line received Royal Assent on 1st August 1861, when authorisation was given to construct a single railway line 24.5 miles long from a point near Bransford Road, on the West Midland Railway, through Bromyard to the Shrewsbury & Hereford Railway at Leominster. Authority was also given for £200,000 capital to be raised by the selling of £10 shares, plus £65,000 in loans if necessary. The West Midland Company agreed to provide one quarter of the capital.
This line took 36 years to build and opened in four sections between 1861 and 1897. The first chairman of the company was Sir Charles Hastings, who was also the founder of the British Medical Association.
The first signs of problems appeared at a meeting in March 1864 where it was revealed that despite having spent over £20,000 the construction contract had not been signed, nor all the necessary land purchased. The line was supposed to have been completed within five years but at the meeting an extension until 1869 was gained. Later, work on the line ceased in December 1866 when the contractor was declared bankrupt, and the line was re-let to a Mr. Jackson for completion by January 1867. Money was still an issue and in June 1867 a plea was made to local farmers, tenants and landowners as there was now only £67 left in the bank account.
By 1869, the company had made a successful application to the Board of Trade for a certificate allowing them to abandon the plans for the Bromyard to Leominster section, and an extension to 28th June 1871.
In 1874 a new company, the Leominster & Bromyard Railway Company, was formed and was authorised to construct the twelve miles from Bromyard to Leominster with capital of £210,000 and £70,00 on mortgage if needed. The first section to open was the stretch from Bromyard Junction (three miles west of Bromyard) to Yearsett, which opened in May 1874, but the last three miles to Bromyard were not completed until 1877. A new stretch of railway reaching Steens Bridge from Leominster was laid in 1884. By 1888, the Great Western Railway Company had purchased the Worcester, Bromyard & Leominster Railway and a final settlement of £20,000 was paid to the liquidator.
The Worcester & Bromyard Railway was opened at Bromyard on Monday 22nd October 1877. It cost £17,000 a mile and was worked by the Great Western Railway Company who provided the rolling stock. The engineers were Messrs. E. Wilson and W.B. Lewis from London and the contractor was Mr. Riddey. The line took 16 years to complete. On the day of the opening a luncheon was provided by the Hop Pole at the Lecture Hall in Bromyard. The shops and houses of the town were decorated with banners and flags.
On the opening day a train of 12-14 carriages left Worcester Shrub Hill station at 12 noon and arrived in Bromyard at 1pm, bringing a large party of visitors, including the Mayor and members of the Worcester Corporation.
A band of Bromyard Rifle Volunteers played and the church bells rang to mark the occasion. In the evening there was a firework display near Bromyard station.
The line from Leominster did not reach Bromyard until 1897, after the line had been undertaken by Great Western Railway Company. The first train on this line left Leominster at 7.20am on 1st September 1897, but only a few people turned out to see it. The train reached Bromyard at 8.40am.
Early in the life of the Worcester, Bromyard & Leominster Railway the Bromyard Races were a popular event, and in 1884 almost 7,000 people turned out to see them, many of whom would have arrived by train. This railway was also much used at the time of hop-picking in September when people would flood into the county to find temporary work.
The World Wars also helped increase railway travel because of the restrictions that were placed on road travel at this time. However, after World War II the Leominster to Bromyard trains were virtually empty and the line was withdrawn from use in 1952. On the day that the last train ran, a group of people gathered by the engine to sing Auld Lang Syne, the train was also bearing a wreath with the words "Rest In Peace", this shows the great loss people felt the disappearance of the railway would be.
On 26th April 1958 a special train ran from Worcester via Bromyard to Leominster, calling in at Rowden Mill, Fencote and Steens Bridge. This was to be the last train that would run on this track before it was ripped up for good. The train was organised by the Western Region of British Railways at the request of the Stephenson Locomotive Society, 250 of whose members were to embark at Worcester. Special tickets were produced for the day and could be kept by the members.
The Worcester to Bromyard section was closed in 1964 under the orders of Dr. Beeching (then chairman of the British Transport Commission).
(Rowden Mill Station has since been restored by a great deal of hard work by Mr. Wilkinson and sections of the track near to the station are able to carry trains. The station is occasionally open to visitors and is well worth a visit.)
[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]