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The Leominster and Kington railway

(Historic Environment Record number 21726)

This line was proposed in 1853 and received Royal Assent in July 1854. The company was formed by William, Lord Bateman of Shobdon Court in north-west Herefordshire. Lord Bateman remained the chairman for the first 22 years of the company. Initially the line was allowed three and a half years for completion, and a provision was made in the act for a junction with the Kington Railway to be provided, but how this was to be achieved when the railways were on different sized gauges is not explained.

On 14 November 1854 the directors accepted the offer of Thomas Brassey and William Field to construct the line for £70,000, to work it from opening to 30 June 1862 and to pay the shareholders a 4 per cent dividend per annum. The engineer was David Wylie from Shrewsbury and work began on 30th November 1854 at Kington. The first spade was dug in by Lady Bateman, who did so with a silver spade; this is now held in Leominster Folk Museum, along with the ornately carved wheelbarrow that she used.

The Leominster - Pembridge section was open to use by goods traffic on 18 October 1855. By April 1856 the company was struggling financially and Brassey and Field had to help out by advancing £10,000 at 5 per cent. This partnership already held £20,000, one quarter of the whole capital.

The first section of the line, from Leominster to Pembridge, opened at a cost of £7,000 a mile in January 1856 and the section from Pembridge to Kington opened in August 1857. The line was inspected by Colonel Yolland for the Board of Trade on 22nd July 1857, but a certificate authorising the opening to the public was withheld because a level crossing had been built at Pembridge instead of the overbridge authorised by the Act of Parliament. After further inspection it was agreed that the line could open if the company gained further authorisation legalising the level crossing.

The line was 13 miles and 25 chains long from Leominster to Kington and cost £80,000. There were stations at Titley, Marston Road, Pembridge and Kingsland as well as Leominster and Kington. There was also a station at Ox House, which was a private stop for Shobdon Court, the home of Lord Bateman the first chairman. The track was a single line and no tunnels or viaducts were needed.

Not far east of Kingsland Station on the Leominster side the line crossed the Pinsley Brook and a small bridge was built. Today the brick plinths still remain and the route of the line in this area can be easily distinguished for a good distance westwards.

The opening celebrations for this line were held on Tuesday July 28 1857, and 32 coaches and two engines (one called "Lord Bateman") travelled from Leominster to Kington, stopping briefly at Kingsland, Pembridge and Titley stations. It rained all day and the first train, which was due to arrive at 12.45pm, did not arrive until 2pm.

Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Hastings CB presided at a lunch held at the Oxford Arms Hotel in Kington. The guests ate:

 1 boar's head  4 Savoy cakes
 6 spiced beef  8 Danzig cakes
 4 roast beef  8 rock cakes
 6 galantines of veal  8 plain cakes
 10 forequarters of lamb  8 charlotte russe
 20 couples roast fowl  8 Polish gateaux
 6 couples bechamel fowl  8 Viennese cakes
 8 hams  8 raspberry creams
 10 tongues  8 pineapple creams
 8 raised pies  12 dishes of tartlets
 12 turkey poulets  12 dishes of cheesecakes
 28 lobsters  12 fancy pastries
 12 lobster salads  pines, grapes & fruit, etc.

Three hundred people sat down in the banqueting room under a banner which read "Times Past" (with a picture of a coach and horses) and "Times Present" (with a picture of a passenger train).

The return journey for the train to Leominster, where there was another dinner and reception arranged at the Royal Oak Hotel, was at 4pm. The dinner began at 5pm and was presided over by Lord Bateman.

In 1862 the Leominster & Kington Railway was leased to the West Midland Railway Company, an arrangement which continued under their successors the Great Western Railway Company. The Leominster & Kington Railway Company finally amalgamated with the GWR on 1st July 1898. 

In 1862 an eight day cheap excursion ticket to London cost 10s 1d. Later, tourist tickets were advertised from Kington to the Isle of Man, North Wales, the Lake District and even Ireland. By 1874 a journey from Kington to Leominster took 40 minutes, to Hereford 1 hour 20 minutes and to Shrewsbury 3 hours and 30 minutes.

On market day cattle and sheep were brought into Leominster by train from Kington, to travel on into Hereford.

Titley Station was the busiest intermediate station on the line, with up to 30 trains a day stopping there. The rural railway lines were often very informal and there are stories of trains being stopped between stations to make grocery deliveries or to pick up eggs for market.

During World War II traffic on the Kington line increased because of the hospital camp built nearby at Hergest. In 1940 the first train rolled in carrying men injured at the Battle of Dunkirk. In 1943 two U.S. General Hospitals were completed in the area and U.S. Artillery arrived to await D-Day. By September 1944, one of these hospitals had received eleven hospital trains carrying up to 300 patients per train. Between 4th January and 28th April 1945 the other hospital had received ten trains and admitted 2,413 patients. All the hospital trains arrived from Southampton.

After the war the Kington to Leominster line struggled to compete with the local bus companies but until 1955 a total of 13 men were employed at the Titley, Pembridge and Kington stations. The last passenger train left Leominster bound for Kington at 8.25pm on 5th February 1955, carrying 70 passengers - the driver was a Mr. E. Chapman of Leominster. At Kington a black flag was hung. Ten minutes after arriving in Kington the final return journey to Leominster was made. For nine more years this line continued to carry goods before finally closing in 1964.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]