IT was nicknamed the Vinegar Express, but only by comparison. In this case by comparison with the lumbering horse-drawn drays that would have done the job instead.

The little tank engine that hauled heavily laden wagons from Hill Evans giant vinegar works in St Martin’s Gate, Worcester across to the main line at Shrub Hill station was certainly no Flying Scotsman, but it became part of the city’s folklore for more than a century. And that was because hundreds of people came across it every day.

At regular intervals old style semaphore railway signals in Shrub Hill Road (long gone now) would lift, traffic would stop, a man with a flag would appear to make sure the way was clear, a train whistle would blow and the locomotive and its entourage of rolling stock would rumble across the carriageway.

As a lad I would sit in Dad’s car and enjoy the spectacle, even though I was not particularly interested in trains. But trains on the move just have that something about them.

The line that eventually carried the Vinegar Express began life in the mid 1800s as a branch route from Shrub Hill station to serve Worcester Engine Works and a few businesses on the eastern side of Shrub Hill road, but as Hill Evans factory expanded to the largest vinegar works in the world it was decided to lengthen the branch line to serve it.

The Worcester Railways Act of 1870 allowed Hill, Evans & Co to extend the line from where it crossed the Virgin's Tavern Road (now Tolladine Road) by a further 632 yards to terminate in St Martin's Street opposite the northern boundary of the vinegar works.

This route required signalled road crossings at Shrub Hill Road and Pheasant Street and a bridge over the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

A bascule (lifting) bridge allowed vehicular traffic access from Cromwell Street to the Vulcan Works of engineers McKenzie & Holland. Completed in 1872, the new private branch line became known as the Vinegar Works branch or the Lowesmoor Tramway. Sidings were added to the this line to serve other factories.

Over the years most of the sidings disappeared, but the Vinegar Express kept on chugging until one sad day in 1964 when it literally reached the end of the line. Its demise even brought an obituary in this newspaper.

It read: “The locomotive’s funeral cortege passed by almost unnoticed. Edwin Rowberry opened the gates, held up his red flag to halt traffic and then, steaming and snorting, the Vinegar Express trundled across Shrub Hill Road for the last time. A 120-years-old tradition suddenly and sadly ended.

“There was a day, one supposes, when Tank Engine 1639 was clean, and some would say, beautiful. But on this final journey she was big and baleful, her great hulk blackened by age and her bearings creaking from a lifetime of hard work.

Yet with her sister, Tank Engine 1661, she has done a fine job over many years.

“It was a particular day of sadness for Kenneth Matthews, the driver of 1639 for the past five years, and district signal lampman Edwin Rowberry, who has opened and closed the gates and waved his flag in Shrub Hill Road for the last eight years.”

A Worcester legend had steamed off into the sunset.

* Worcester railway historian Chris Wilkinson, who helped with this article along with Andrew Smith of Malvern Industrial Archaeology Circle, gives talks on the Vinegar Works Line. His email is: