How often would you use the word ‘beautiful’ when talking about a railway station? Situated in central Birmingham, the ornate brick frontage of this Grade II listed building with golden letters hides the view that could easily be the set for filming a Charlie Chaplin movie or a perfect documentary about this history of the British Rail. Here, you can see the black iron front gates alongside modern electronic ticket barriers; here, chunky Great Western Railway 1930s’ style platform signs co-exist with modern electronic notice boards that tell the time of arrival for the next train. Renovated in 2002 to its 1930s’ condition, the station has since then won two prestigious heritage awards for being yet another hidden gem in Birmingham where inspiration is concealed under your very noses.
Birmingham Moor Street Station was built by the Great Western Railway to relieve traffic on its two-track underground tunnel to Birmingham Snow Hill. The station opened in 1909 and its current buildings were completed in 1914. It used to be the terminus station for trains from Leamington Spa, especially via Stratford-upon-Avon, and even nowadays you can travel to the birthplace of William Shakespeare from Moor Street and the station is the first choice for all lovers of the Bard. It is a place with great character and a nice find for all history lovers, too! Just a little imagination – and you can almost smell the smoke and see old-fashioned diesel railcars chugging in and out every half an hour or so.
During the 1960s, when more than 2,000 railway stations were being closed and over 5,000 miles of railway track were proclaimed unnecessary (the (in)famous Beeching Axe), the station was one of the targets for closure, but, thankfully, it has survived because New Street Station was overloaded. In the 1980s, the station only served local trains and, in 1987 it became a ‘ghost station’ and it was closed. As one internet user writes in a review, the neglect had a positive side as the station survived the worst of the 1970s redevelopment. The year 2002 saw the re-opening of the station, and, based on great reviews on travelling sites (hear, hear! great reviews for a railway station!), commuters are fascinated by its 1930s style reproduction lamps, clock, signage and – above all – seating! For some reason, iron benches have become the norm in the City Centre and one cannot have the comfort of a wooden seat even when that seat is covered and rain won’t be a problem. Those of you visiting the Moor Street Station will find great wooden benches, where you can comfortably sit down with a book or even a notebook. On the practical side, the station is not crowded at all, very clean and the staff are one of the friendliest I’ve seen.
The station has got five platforms but only four are used for commuter trains. The fifth one is the home of a GWR steam locomotive No. 2885. I remember my first encounter with the station. I was going to Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time, and when I came there at dusk and saw the engine against the background of dark-blue clouds that were rising from the East and shielding the sky, I immediately thought of the Hogwarts Express. Quite honestly, I even half-expected the cold engine to start rumbling and puffing smoke at the nearby Bullring.
Sometimes ticket barriers are left open, so you can easily enter the station area to take some photographs, or even for a longer time – to write. There are two entrances – the main one at the front and another, small one, on Moor Street Queensway, further from the Bullring Shopping Centre and closer to Hotel La Tour. The station is open to elements and winds roam freely; therefore, if you do go there to write, I would advise you to do it in warmer weather. However, you can hide from the wind in a nice, warm waiting hall and write there. Toilets are free at the station, so if you wish, you can spend an entire day there, reading and/or writing.
Please note that you cannot use my advice about opened ticket barriers to sneak into the station to travel without a ticket! This is still a punishable offence. If you do work at Moor Street Station, please note that some of us may come through the open barriers to take pictures, read and write – so please keep them open from time to time. And to those who do so – please carry a camera or a phone with you. It’s more convincing than a book! When I entered the station, the barriers were open, and when I tried to exit they were closed. It was very easy to convince a worker at the station that I had only come to take pictures – taking into account I was telling the truth – so I hope you also won’t be forced to pay the fine for a trip you did not take.
References and Links
The Wikipedia Article
An article from Disused Stations (featuring some really great photographs)
An article about the station on Rail Around Birmingham
A Youtube video on the Beeching Axe