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Village History

Rail pioneers remembered

Posted on November 28 2016 at 12:41:40 0 comments

Dignitaries

Bromsgrove station commemorates two engineers who brought the railway to life.

Bromsgrove finally has a brand new railway station fit for 21st-century travel – but the town’s rail history lives on with the commemoration of two pioneering Victorian engineers.

James Edward McConnell and Captain William Scarth Moorsom were both instrumental in bringing the railway to Bromsgrove and ensuring locomotives could cope with the infamous Lickey Incline.

In the culmination of a joint project between the Bromsgrove Society, The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), ceramic plaques honouring the pair were unveiled in a ceremony at the station in Aston Fields, before going on permanent display.

Capt Moorsom became renowned for his surveying skills during his military service, and for his exploration of Nova Scotia and parts of Canada and America. Upon returning to England he began work for Scottish civil engineer Robert Stephenson, and in 1836 was commissioned to build the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway.

Plaques

As his plaque says: “To cross the River Avon at Defford, Moorsom made the first practical applications of iron caissons for the foundations of his bridge, an achievement for which he was awarded the Telford Medal by the Institution of Civil Engineers.

“He also created the nearby Lickey Incline, which takes the line from the Severn Valley up to Staffordshire. It was the severest climb known in the world at that time and is still the steepest and longest incline on a mainline railway in Great Britain at 1 in 37 for two miles and four chains.

“Moorsom was unable to obtain British engines to work the Incline, so imported suitable locomotives from America.

“The first train arrived at Bromsgrove Station from Cheltenham on 24 June 1840, and the complete line was opened on 17 December of the same year.”

Before the unveiling, Molly McKenzie, ICE West Midlands Regional Director, read out a statement from Capt Moorsom’s great-great-granddaughter Elaine Drake:

“His life was one of constant energy both of mind and body; he was admired for his integrity and honour, and renowned for his kindness and consideration to everyone around him. In my eyes, a truly great man.”

James McConnell, meanwhile, is revered as one of the founder members of the IMechE. Originally from Ireland, he was made a foreman for the Locomotive Department of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway Company in 1941.

The Department was based in Bromsgrove, and the railway had taken a short cut up the Lickey Incline to save money – but the locomotives of the time could not ascend without the assistance of a “banking engine”.

As train capacity increased, ever-more powerful banking engines were required. McConnell built his own engine, the 0-6-0 Great Britain, which was probably the first saddle-tank locomotive. He also pioneered double furnace engines and coal for firing.

McConnell demonstrated his engine to great acclaim near Bromsgrove station in 1846. His plaque takes up the story:

“He and visiting colleagues decided on that day that a professional body was needed for those involved in “mechanical science”.

“A letter was circulated to engineers thought likely to be interested, and a favourable response was received. After preliminary meetings to decide the rules, the first formal meeting was held at the Queen’s Hotel in Birmingham on 27 January 1847.

“James McConnell was the chairman at that founding meeting, and George Stephenson was elected as the first President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.”

In 1997, the 150th anniversary of the IMechE, Bromsgrove Society member Neville Billington wrote a book about the role of McConnell and Bromsgrove in the Institution’s founding.

That book, Flint and Steel, was expanded and re-printed in 2010, and then re-launched under a new title, McConnell of the Mechanicals, in 2015 for the centenary of the engineer’s birth.

Copies were on sale at the ceremony, and can be purchased from Neville for £6.99 on 01527 870383 or by emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) – a great Christmas gift for anyone with an interest in local history and railway engineering!

Above: Town Crier Kevin Ward; Coun Caroline Spencer; Dominik McCormick of ICE West Midlands; Helen Jones; Mike Ponsonby; IMechE Midland Area Chairman Drew Taggart; IMechE Past President John Wood, and ICE West Midlands Regional Director Molly McKenzie.


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