History

History

The Cambrian Railway’s undisputed hub was Oswestry. Besides the head offices and the largest shed on the whole system, Oswestry was the site of the main Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Works. These also came under the locomotive department. They were developed as a result of pressure which grew as the Montgomeryshire railways developed in the early 1860s. The initiative finally came to build the works from the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, the most advanced of the companies at around this time. On 24 April it asked Benjamin Piercy to prepare plans similar to the Shrewsbury shops on the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway.

At the end of August the Oswestry & Newtown railway agreed in principle to shops being built at Oswestry at a cost of £28,000.  However little was done towards building them by time the Cambrian Railways was formed and by then the need for shops was so pressing that, at the railways first meeting the Cambrian board asked Thomas Savin to prepare detailed specifications to the designs of the Manchester Locomotive builders, Sharp Stewart & Company.  It was also at this time that the board replied to a plea from the people of Welshpool asking for the workshops to built there instead of Oswestry. It was explained that it had already bought land at Oswestry and had spent a lot of money on planning. Welshpool had regarded its claim as strong because of its more central position on the main line and also because it had plenty of land adjoining it. In contrast to land available at Welshpool, the Oswestry site required some excavation out of a side of a dominating hill called shelf bank.

Construction of the works started close to where the first sod had been cut of the Oswestry, Ellesmere & Whitchurch Railway near the Whitchurch end of Oswestry station on the down side opposite the GWR station strangely enough close by to the limitations of the present day Cambrian Heritage railways running line. While Savin built the Works the erection was supervised by George Owen, and Sharp Stewart & Company designed and built the machinery under the supervision of the architect John Robinson also of Manchester.

The works when first built cost the Cambrian Railways Company £28.000 in construction fees. The entire Locomotive carriage and wagon works were housed in a single building measuring 812ft long x 210ft wide, covering an area of 170,520 sq ft using 4,145,952 bricks and 28,483ft of timber. Built of local red brick the locomotive erecting shop had a central traverser which was hand-moved, serving 12 roads on each side. Apart from the entrance and exit roads, each of the 22 other roads could accommodate a single locomotive or other piece of rolling stock, which again had to be moved into the roads using pinch bars. On the far north end of the works, 11 sidings accessed a carriage and wagon works. Power to the machines was provided by a large steam engine via overhead shafting and belts. The 150 feet (46m) chimney is still a local landmark.

The works undertook most of the casting, fabrication, assembly and repairs for the Cambrian Railways. But whilst many carriages and wagons were built in the workshops, only two locomotives were actually constructed at Oswestry, although many were extensively rebuilt.  After the Cambrian Railways was taken over by the Great Western Railway on grouping in 1923, the GWR kept it open as a regional carriage and wagon works, and locomotive repair shop for the associated locomotive shed.  The works saw a full century of service before finally being closed by British Railways on the 31 December 1966 being the last former GWR works to overhaul steam locomotives.

In July 2011, after extensive renovation to the Locomotive works end of the buildings, Oswestry Health Centre opened on this site as a multi-purpose outpatient healthcare centre. In December 2012, a new community ambulance station opened at the Oswestry Health Centre. The new facility has parking for ambulances, rapid response vehicles and ambulance crew. It is also the base for the town’s ’round-the clock’ dedicated community paramedics.

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References
Leading photograph: Oswestry Works from Shelf Bank, c.1909 - National Archives
Body Text: courtesy of A. Dyke & Wikipedia