Birmingham’s Cross City Line is a flagship for the region’s railways, carrying as it does, some 8.5 million commuters annually, with 6 trains an hour each way at peak time stopping at all stations within the Centro region from Redditch, through Birmingham New Street, and on to Lichfield Trent Valley.
However, the route South of Birmingham didn’t originally connect to New Street and beyond but ended in its own City Centre terminus, some half a mile from its well-known GWR and Midland/LNWR counterparts of Snow Hill and New Street, but was of no less historical significance in the development of the region’s railway infrastructure.
Following a failed attempt to raise capital for the project some five years earlier, in 1869 a group of entrepreneurial businessmen put forward plans for the Birmingham West Suburban Railway (BWSR) to run from the Midland Railway’s Kings Norton station to a new terminus at Albion Wharf in Bridge Street, Birmingham. Royal Assent was obtained for the project to commence in 1871 and further Assent in 1873 for minor alterations to the route that was to run alongside the Worcester and Birmingham Canal as had been proposed in an earlier plan put forward by the Worcester and Birmingham Canal Company in 1864.
The line was single track throughout and originally conceived as being operated by the Midland Railway. However, nearing its completion the line and the company itself were absorbed by the Midland Railway with it finally opening to traffic in 1876 serving Kings Norton, Stirchley Street (now Bournville), Selly Oak, Somerset Road (closed 1930), Church Road (closed 1925) and finishing at the terminus of Granville Street station, adjacent to Holliday Wharf. The originally proposed end of the line had been shortened from its original destination under the Midland’s control to avoid the engineering costs necessary to cross the barrier formed by the City centre Worcester and Birmingham Canal basin that lay at a higher level than the line and directly across its path.
Due to financial constraints, the single-track nature of the line, and the fact that the station served solely as a terminus for the line, Granville Street itself was a modest affair consisting of a single wooden platform, small wooden waiting room/ticket office and a passing loop to enable locomotives to run around their train for their return journey to Kings Norton.
Unfortunately for Granville Street station, it became a victim of the line’s success some 9 years after opening. Patronage of the line had been good from opening, the original Cadbury factory at Bridge Street was a stone’s throw from the terminus and thus many of its 230-strong workforce used the line, as did a significant number of the population along its route. Whilst this, and the proposed Cadbury factory’s move to a much larger site at Bournville also adjacent to the BWSR, spelt prosperity for the line, the problem faced by the Midland was that Granville Street was not ideally located near enough to the City Centre to compete for a healthy slice of the growing rail-using populace. Furthermore, the nearby Cadbury factory was closing thus patronage of the station would reduce and there was no prospect of a link to the rest of the rail network from the site: the station lay on ground being of significant height as to render unviable an attempt to extend the line directly into New Street which lay at a much lower level, from the station site itself.
In order to overcome these problems, the Midland set about doubling the line from Kings Norton and undertook the engineering works necessary to tunnel under the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at a level lower than that at Granville Street, thus bypassing the terminus, to enter the hub of the Midland/LNWR network at New Street station, in 1885. Thus, the death knell had been wrung for Granville Street, which closed as the new section of line opened. The station site itself was cleared in the ensuing months with the Midland doubling its track from its junction with the New Street Extension of the BWSR between the newly built Five Ways station and Church Road station and driving a tunnel under the Worcester and Birmingham Canal to feed its new Central Goods station at Suffolk Street, thus sweeping away all traces of the short-lived station at Granville Street by 1887.
Due to the short-lived nature of the station, and its existence prior to the real boom period of the City’s railway photographers and train spotters in the mid 20th century, coupled with the decimation and then rebirth of the City’s railways during the post-Beeching era, Granville Street has largely been overlooked. However, should you ever find yourself on the Cross City line, waiting for the train to pull away from Five Ways station, take a look at the strip of land between the Southbound platform and the canal for that was track bed to Granville Street and, although access is somewhat fraught, the line can be walked to the station site and through the tunnel to the site of Central Goods. And finally, as your train crosses the A38 Bristol Road to enter Selly Oak station, you can still see a short section of the single-track BWSR bridge that once crossed the road some 120 years ago adjacent to the current bridge!