Skip to content

Early History of the Bromsgrove and Lickey Incline

The Lickey Incline circa 1845

The Lickey Incline circa 1845

The Lickey Incline is the steepest sustained adhesion-worked gradient on a British standard gauge railway.

It climbs into Birmingham from the south and passes near the Lickey Hills, a well-known local beauty spot.

The climb is just over 2 miles (3.2 km), at an average gradient of 1 in 37.7 (2.65%), between Bromsgrove and Blackwell (near Barnt Green).

To help push steam trains up the incline, specialised banking engines were kept at Bromsgrove shed at the foot of the incline. The story of the most famous, Big Bertha, is told here

Overcoming this obstacle, initially with a tragic human cost, ultimately resulted in triumph, new ways of working , innovative engineering and new institutions.

The Early Days

Bromsgrove became a prominent railway town as a result of the embryonic Birmingham & Gloucester Railway Company deciding their line into the City of Birmingham would scale the Lickey Hills, rather than taking a less severe but more protracted route into their terminus at Camp Hill.


The B&G had asked Isambard Kingdom Brunel to survey a cost effective route onto the West Midland plateau and into Birmingham. A route to the east of Bromsgrove was submitted by Brunel, but was subsequently rejected due to a lack of available funding. The eventual outcome was that the B&G appointed Surveyor and Engineer, Captain William Scarth Moorsom as their whole route project engineer/manager. Captain Moorsom’s submitted route, directly over the Lickey plane, was accepted. Eventually the section between Cheltenham and Bromsgrove was opened on the 24th June 1840 and then on to a temporary terminal at Cofton Farm on the 17th September of that year and finally into Camp Hill on the 17th August 1841.

In locomotive traction and manufacturing terms, Bromsgrove and it’s B&G Depot Workshops and Engine House, played a more than significantly important role in the worldwide evolution of railway engineering history. It was Captain Moorsom’s eventual decision to source locomotives from American manufacturer William Norris, rather than the installation of static steam driven winching engines (that over two sections of the Lickey incline plane would be used to rope-haul trains between Bromsgrove and Cofton) that proved to be such a vital railway history endeavour.

James McConnell, engineer, circa 1860

James McConnell, engineer, circa 1860

Graves of the railway engineers Scaife and Rutherford

Graves of the railway engineers Scaife and Rutherford

The Tragic Surprise

However, the inherent early locomotive manufacturing standards, in engineering quality terms, were not without their resultant adverse consequences. The first significant of which was the tragic boiler explosion of the ironically named ‘Surprise’ locomotive on the 10th November 1840, whilst the engine was standing in the station at Bromsgrove, which resulted in the deaths of both Engine Driver Thomas Scaife and Foreman of Locomotives Joseph Rutherford.

Their iconic world renowned tombstones are an online and tourist feature, within the graveyard of Saint John the Baptist Church in Bromsgrove.

The second tragic incident occurred on the night of the 7th April 1841, when a boiler tube on the Norris locomotive ‘Boston’, when it was descending the Lickey, broke open and thus, passing high pressure live steam through the firebox, blew off the firebox door and severely scolded Superintendent of Locomotives William Creuze who tragically died from his injuries the following morning. It was through the painstakingly determined engineering modifications and advancements of William Creuze and his team, that consistent operational conquering of the Lickey Incline was ultimately achieved.

However, it was successor Locomotive Engineer to William Creuze, James Edward McConnell, who ultimately completed Bromsgrove’s iconic early railway history, by way of his designing and constructing, within the Bromsgrove Engine Works, the Worlds’ first saddle tank locomotive, ‘Great Britain’.

Also and most significantly, McConnell’s strongly alleged instigation (at the time of a traction observation gathering on the Lickey, involving the said ‘Great Britain’) of what ultimately became the world renowned, ‘Institution of Mechanical Engineers’, with a present day worldwide membership of more than one hundred thousand.

Of the eminent dignitaries alleged to have been in attendance at the said traction observation gathering, perhaps the likes of George Stephenson, Charles Beyer and Richard Peacock were some of the most famous, together with more local dignitaries in attendance, such as George Selby and Archibald Slate of the Birmingham Patent Tube Company and the eminent Birmingham Banker, Charles Geach.

Intervening Years

From its illustrious inception, the railway history of Bromsgrove traversed the intervening years with  ever decreasing Government and public recognition, to the point in the mid-nineteen seventies, where the station was on the brink of complete closure and it was only due to the heroic campaigning endeavours of four determined Bromsgrove rail users, getting the closure order overturned by ultimately taking their fight all the way to the House of Lords, that we have a station today.

However, the outcome of those said endeavours, was a resultant single platform halt status with corresponding poor to no accompanying facilities and a minimally timetabled passenger service.

Present Day

An all new relocated Bromsgrove station complex was commenced in 2012 and finally opened in July 2016, together with a later introduction of the extended Cross City Line service down to Bromsgrove in July 2018.

Bromsgrove New Station

Bromsgrove New Station

Bromsgrove 1960, with Up freight rushing the Lickey Incline

Bromsgrove 1960, with Up freight rushing the Lickey Incline

However, there is still much that Bromsgrove, through its substantially accommodating railway station, could achieve in passenger service expansion terms, not least the recognition by stakeholders of the endeavours of the Bromsgrove And Redditch Rail User Partnership (BARRUP) to see the introduction of trains from the Cross Country franchise calling at the station in the very near future and correspondingly therefore, helping to justify the substantial £27M overall station investment.

Bromsgrove and Redditch Rail User Partnership

Looks after the interests of rail users using services from
Bromsgrove, Barnt Green, Alvechurch, and Redditch.