THE Easter weekend traditionally kick-starts the season for most outdoor attractions, none more so than for the Severn Valley Railway, which has grown to become one of the UK’s best loved heritage railways. But it wasn’t always like that.

For when the newly formed Severn Valley Railway Society set up in the summer of 1965, many in the business were not very chuffed. Initially the SVRS wanted to lease a six mile stretch of track between Bridgnorth and Hampton Loade, which had been closed a few years earlier, from British Rail to run its hoped for collection of steam locomotives. BR said this idea was a non-starter, but the new society could buy it for £45,000. Or just over £800,000 in today’s money.

However, this wasn’t the only cloud on the horizon for Worcestershire railway enthusiasts when they met in Kidderminster Town Hall in early August '65. For as well as a formidable fund raising effort, they also faced the opposition of a large number of people whom they might have assumed were friends.

Because the meeting was told that “representatives of numerous other railway preservation societies opposed the scheme”. Typical was the reaction of R Bell, secretary of the Princess Elizabeth Locomotive Society of Ashchurch, near Tewkesbury, who said: “ There is already a shortage of labour and finance and we deplore the setting up of rival schemes. If we set up schemes here, there and everywhere no one is going to succeed and we shall all be discredited with British Rail.”

While Ken Vincent, general secretary of the Association of Railway Preservation Societies, who spoke for 18 member societies, said that all schemes must have a sound source of money from the start otherwise they could “fizzle out leading to some embarrassment”. At that stage SRS only had a £50 cheque in its coffers, although there were “promises of substantial donations from various sources” according to chairman AP Tuite.

Local railway historian Stanford Jacobs added: ”I cannot see a gleam of sunshine (for the scheme)”, which he considered was blighted by not being in a tourist area. Although he wished it well.

Fortunately all the gainsayers were proved wrong and in May, 1970 the Severn Valley Railway ran its first passenger service from Bridgnorth to Hampton Loade, with the ultimate aim being the extension of the service to Kidderminster. This was achieved in July 1984 with the opening of Kidderminster Town Station, a superb GWR late Victorian style terminus.

This was followed on March 14, 1988 when the Lord Mayor of London presented the ultimate rail award, the Association of Railway Societies Railway Heritage Award in acknowledgement of this unique station. From then on it was full steam ahead.

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