A recent visit to the Llangollen Railway I purchased Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith’s Wrexham to New Brighton, including Connah’s Quay and Chester Northgate, published in the Country Railway Routes series by Middleton Press.
This is a wonderful photographic essay of the railway lines in the areas described, originally The Wrexham, Mold & Connah’s Quay Railway, opened on 1st May 1866 on the stretch from Buckley to Wrexham. It was apparently nicknamed the ‘Wretchedly Managed and Confoundly Queer Railway’, in part because it never reached Mold and the route to Connah’s Quay was only a freight line.
Services to Wrexham Central began in 1887 and the section from Buckley to Chester Northgate opened 31st March 1890. The WM&CQR became part of the Great Central Railway from 1905 which in turn became part of the LMS in 1923, to be nationalised in 1948 and become part of the London Midland Region. Following privatization, it was operated by North Western trains, Merseyrail and then Arriva Trains Wales to the time of writing.
What fascinates me about this book is how, in a well-established fashion of railway publications, photographs with captions tell the story section-by-section of over 150 years of railway heritage. It is a railway chorography, in which time is mediated through linear progression along the route of the line.
The WM&CQR line is important to me since I live beside it, I use it and engage with it in various ways, as I discuss here. I hear the trains passing my home, I commute into Wrexham on it sometimes, I commute on it to Shotton High Level, and then I cycle along the abandoned railway track from Shotton to Chester.
Moreover, in the area around my home, one can still observe the archaeological traces of the other abandoned lines that once swept from it and over it, negotiating the increasingly severe topography to reach and serve the collieries to the west and north-west of Wrexham and the steelworks at Brymbo.
The photographs and maps in the book illustrate the dramatic changes in the topography of Wrexham’s western and north-western approaches and the demise of once-grand station buildings up and down the line. In Chester too, the demise of Northgate station and its replacement with housing, the Northgate Arena and now new retirement flats, have altered the topography of Chester’s northern approaches. Indirectly, they tell the tale of the changes in society and economy in the industrial and rural landscapes of North Wales and North-West England.
The book is also frustrating in the following regard: in 1897 I could have walked for 1 minute out of my front door to get the 08.02 train and arrived at the now-defunct Chester Liverpool Road station by 08.57. A few minutes walk would have taken me to my office, allowing me to be at my desk or in a lecture room teaching students by c. 09.05. Now the line doesn’t exist, I have to get the 07.34 as far as Shotton, arriving 07.58, and then I have a c. 25-30 minute cycle to work along the old railway line. Alternatively, I have a 10-minute cycle to get the 08.02 from Wrexham General station to the modern Chester railway station and a further 10-minute cycle to work. Both journeys get me to my office by c. 08.30 and I enjoy the cycle, but I would give anything to have experienced the almost door-to-door steam ride instead…