Hereford is probably best known for the remarkable Mappa Mundi housed in its cathedral, and for Ronnie Radford’s equally remarkable 1972 FA Cup goal for Hereford United against Newcastle United, but the city also has an interesting railway history and a place long overdue a proper visit.
While the Bulmer’s Railway Centre and the steam loco King George V that I remember visiting in childhood are both sadly long-departed, this remains an important junction on our national railway network and one of those curious places that is in England, but managed from Wales.
Appropriately picking Wednesday, 1st March 2023 for my visit, I got the priceless bonus of being able to see and photograph 46100 Royal Scot departing Hereford with the “St. David’s Day Welsh Marches Express” (1Z45) from Holyhead to Cardiff Central, and was later able to catch the return working as it passed the semaphores at Abergavenny.
An added bonus was to see arrival of the special train behind green-liveried English Electric Class 40 loco D213 (40013) Andania, bearing an “Irish Mail” headboard, before diesel gave way to steam and D213 returned to its base at Crewe, before working the return leg of the special that evening.
The city’s magnificent and listed railway station was originally known as Hereford Barrs Court and comprises four platforms with two relief lines in between, that is managed by Transport for Wales and stands north-east of the city centre.
It is an attractive and well-run place, with great vantage points to see and photograph trains from the station platforms as well as from Aylestone Hill over-bridge immediately to the south and next to the signal box, and College Road over-bridge a few minutes’ walk north of the station.
Weekday services comprise roughly half-hourly TfW services along the Marches Line, hourly West Midlands Railway services to Birmingham New Street and a handful of GWR services to Oxford and London Paddington (five up and six down in the current timetable.)
That produces a range of rolling stock including TfW Class 150/153/158/175 units, as well as the very occasional Class 67-powered loco-worked services between Cardiff Central and Holyhead/Manchester Piccadilly, WMR Class 172 units and GWR Class 80x sets on the direct services to London.
Hereford Signal Box controls a section of the Marches Line between Tram Inn Signal Box to the south and Moreton-on-Lugg to the north, both of which have recently lost their semaphores. It also controls a single track section of the Cotswold & Malverns route from Shelwick Junction towards Ledbury, where a couple of semaphores remain.
The signal box has an interesting history, having been known as Ayleston Hill until renaming in June 1973. It is a London and North Western & Great Western Joint Railways type 2 design, originally equipped with a 62-lever Saxby & Farmer Rocker frame when opened in July 1884. A 69-lever GWR frame replaced the original in 1938, being reduced to 60 levers in 1973.
While there is no remaining semaphore signalling at Hereford, the box nevertheless retains some mechanical interest in the form of a number of shunting discs and rodding that controls a number of the points at the southern end of the station close to the box. In 1984 a signalling panel was installed in the box to control Shelwick Junction to the north.
Looking at signalling at the north and south ends of the station, it is interesting to see that modern single aspect lights have been installed at the up (northern) end of bi-directional platforms 1 (H35) and platform 2 (H34) while those signalling exit from bay platform 4 (H7) and platform 3 (H6) remain three-aspect lights, as do the trio of down home signals at the southern end of the station.
This is a strategically important location along the busy Marches Line and, on at least two occasions during 2022, services along both this route, and the route towards Worcester, were brought to a halt when staff sickness let to lengthy closure of the box and cancellation of all train services passing through Hereford.
For a welcome break from railway photography I can highly recommend the Wetherspoon-owned King’s Fee pub, which is just a short walk towards the city centre and where I enjoyed an excellent pint of a light-coloured (4.7%) beer called She Sells Sea Shells from Gadds’ Brewery in Ramsgate, which cost a remarkable £1.99 a pint (£1.49 with a CAMRA discount voucher).
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