Saturday, December 14, 2019


The room now standing on Platform 2

The Resident Wise Woman tells me that in her youth, taking the train home to the Cotswolds from Oxford, she would hear the guard on Oxford station announce her train: ‘Calling at Charlbury, Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh, Evesham (Capital of the Vale), Worcester Shrub Hill, and Worcester Foregate Street’.* And so it was that the litany of stations on the ‘Cotswold Line’ traced the train’s journey across the hills, down to the Vale of Evesham and on towards the River Severn at Worcester. And being a hill person, the Resident Wise Woman knew that, as she stepped up from the windy platform on to the chugging diesel multiple unit, she’d soon be on her home turf.

Worcester Shrub Hill, back then, was just a name to her and to me too. So we didn’t know that this station, perched high among factories on the edge of the city centre, housed a rare and unexpected bit of Victorian luxury. In the 19th century, it was not unusual for railway stations to have a ladies’ waiting room where female travellers could sit in comfort and safety before their train arrived. And the lucky ladies who travelled from Worcester Shrub Hill station could wait in the magnificent setting of this room on platform 2. Built in c.1864, the ladies’ waiting room is clad on the outside in glorious majolica tiles made by Maw & Company of Broseley (originally the firm was based in Worcester). The rich red columns and arches surrounding them are part of the room’s cast-iron facade, made by the Vulcan Iron Works of Worcester. The overall effect – especially since the waiting room was restored about ten years ago – is one of polychromatic magnificence outside, clean pale walls inside.

No one knows the full story of this structure. No comparable waiting room, with iron walls and tiled facade, has survived. It seems to have been a one-off, and an informative notice on the station speculates that it may have been built for exhibition purposes, to show what could be done with the most up-to-date Victorian materials. The mid-19th century, after all, was a golden age of ironworking, with foundries supplying all kinds of building materials, from enormous columns and beams for giant train sheds to delicate shop fronts. And tiles were becoming increasingly popular for facades – soon, there would be tiled shops, tiled pubs, even office blocks with ceramic cladding. Maw’s were pioneers of using these brightly coloured tiles for architectural use.

The stylistic inspiration is a typically Victorian hotch-potch. Some of the ornament looks Islamic, some Classical, some medieval. But the decoration does hang together visually, while also giving travellers – and potential clients – a sense of what can be achieved with these materials. For waiting passengers, the room is more than fit fo purpose, and must raise, at the very least, an appreciative smile.

- - - - -

* Evesham, by the way, is pronounced by local people as something like ‘EEV-uh-shum’, with three syllables, and this is what I hear in my mind’s ear when I remember this story.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I am ashamed that I haven't noticed this superb ornate joy of a building: I shall have to take a Worcester trip to remedy the omission! Thanks again for your eyes to introduce us to such things.

Joe Treasure said...

I love that litany of place names, which includes places that featured in my childhood. I too grew up hearing Evesham with three syllables.