Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ghost rail on the school playground

"And what about the ghost train on the frosted playground" Paul Starling

Some of us remember that when the school playground was covered with frost, usually at breakfast time, there was a strange outline of what looked like rail tracks cutting across the playground to the Dining hall. 

There seems to be a line going through to the dining room 
Up in the morning, get a wash, make the beds, prepare for inspection and down to the dining hall for breakfast at 8am. Waiting outside on a cold, frost laden morning you could see the outline of what looked like rail tracks angling across from the playing field to more or less the entrance of the dining hall.

At the time it was explained that they were probably rail lines that had been tarmaced over and it was the heat of the metal that melted the frost, causing the ghost lines.

Michael Billings, an ex-pupil in the late 1950s had made a study of the Railway system in the area, said " The Cleobury to Tenbury line was south of Mawley Oak and was approx 4 miles from Cleobury Mortimer itself. You know of the Ditton Priors branch. I'm not aware of any railtracks that ever ran through the school area."

However, after a look at the satellite map Micheal speculated -
The other possibility, after looking at the satellite map is that just before the railway crossing between Cherry Orchard and the school, the railway took a left turn and it looks like a siding line heads in the direction of the school . It can be picked up again near Catherton so I'm wondering if this is what was visible during the frosts. It would have been a branch line to Catherton Colliery or even on to Kinlet Colliery. The line would have been out of use in the early 1900's before the school was built and could even have been out of use by the late 1800's."

The search was on to see if we could evidence this or a similar line in any way.

Meanwhile Michael had another idea -
The other thought i have had was that the water pipes from the Elan Valley run through the school grounds underground towards Birmingham. If so what we think is rails may be the course of the water pipes."

Another thought that Michael had, was that it could have been a rail line put in to transport material when they were building the school.

Rosemary Webb Rehill  ( who had grown up at the school as the Bursar's daughter) replied
Yes !! it was water pipes! Michael you are quite correct. I have a very vague memory of them being installed shortly after we moved there in 1955."

Sarah Williams (Daughter of  Deputy head Ken Williams) added
"I think it was the rails for a line used when the pipeline was built. Could have been a branch off the Ditton Priors line I suppose. The pipeline ran on towards Bewdley, through the forest, at Breakneck Bank?"

After various searches, Michael came up with some compelling evidence -

' "A railway line was constructed to transport the workers and thousands of tonnes of building material each day. This took three years". It was started in 1893 and was completed and opened in 1904. This is from the history of The Elan Valley Aqueduct.'

Michael then found an excellent on line map which showed the route of the Elan Valley water pipes going through the school -

This link shows the line of the Elan Valley pipeline. It clearly shows the pipeline between Cleobury Mortimer and Wyre Forest passing through the school grounds. Click on map at Cleobury Mortimer and follow it towards Bewdley. Enlarge the map over the school next to Golf Club. Mystery solved."

Blueline shows Elan Valley pipe through the school, white dots path of the  ghost track.
STOP PRESS - Tony Booton told me (at the 2013 reunion) that although the map approximates the pipes going through the school field, they actually went through the school playground towards the dorms.

Trev Teasdel  commented "Good work Michael. The main pipe doesn't go through the playground though but there would have to be an offshoot to the boiler room / water tower. The 'Ghost' track would have headed towards the stile where the cross country runners came in, which is roughly where the pipeline comes in."

Update 2013 Tony Booton has told me that the blue line is an approximation - the Elan pipes actually ran under the playground towards the dorms.

The next photo shows the water tanks and the edge of the water tower and the Boiler room is to one side of this, behind the Dining hall. I think this gives credence to the idea that it was a water pipe offshoot from the main Elan Valley pipe (blue line). UPDATE - Those tanks were oil tanks in the 60's - before that it was coal.

If any Cleobury Mortimer local historians can throw anymore light on this, please get in touch

Elan Valley Water Pipes passing by River Rea Cleobury

NEW - Further discussion Oct 2011

Ralph Aldhous  On frosty days a pattern that looked like railway sleepers would sometimes appear on the surface of the yard outside the dinner hall. I think someone said it was the course of an underground pipeline (Elan valley? doesn't seem very likely).

Trev Teasdel  As for the playground - I couldn't remember if there were 'ghost' Sleepers or not so interesting that you remember that there were. That makes it unlikely that it was water pipes, although they would have run in that direction to the water tower. Speculation was that it could be a line to mines near kinlet (but no evidence found so far) or that it could be a line off the Ditton used in the construction of the school or Elan pipeline to transport material (again no conclusive evidence found.

Ralph Aldhous I don't know Trev. I suppose it was some pre-existing structure. You could only see it in a hard frost.

Paul Rees That railway lines as we believed them to be were very obvious in frost but seemed to be more so in snow. I always thought heat was involved somewhere but was never sure.

Trev Teasdel Yes - someone said at the time it was the heat of the metal / wood that melted the snow / frost. So it sounds like the lines were tarmaced over.

Ralph Aldhous  I noticed somewhere that Slasher Jack was also employed to walk the pipeline that took water to Birminghamn and I've written elsewhere that I had heard that the ghost railway was in fact the line of the Elan valley pipeline, so that may tie in. 

It must be about 100 miles from the Elan Dam to Birmingham, and the pipeline would need to be inspected regularly by someone, wouldn't need to be an engineer, just someone local who could check it's condition and call in if anything looked a bit iffy.

Tony Booton  Hi Trev those lines that turn up on frosty weather must be the sleepers left there when the water main was put in to carry water from the Elan Valley to Birmingham, up in Skellerns field there is a chamber with valves which used to supply the school to those tanks you mention in the tower outside the boilerhouse, if i happen tobe up there in the frost i will take photo. regards Tony.

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