“The sleepers sleep at Audlem.…”
Audlem (1863-1963) was opened by the Nantwich and Market Drayton Railway and it was eventually incorporated into the Great Western Railway, becoming part of their Wellington to Crewe line.
The station, which served the small village of Audlem, was located around halfway between Market Drayton and Nantwich. It is the second station in the song that is in Cheshire.
The line was closed in 1963 and left Market Drayton, which had already lost its other rail link with Stoke by then, without a connection to the rail network.
The X on the map shows the approximate location of the station in relation to the current British railway network. The nearest open station is Nantwich 7.5 miles to the north.
The approximate position of the Nantwich-Wellington line has been added in red. The Wellington-Stafford has also been added. The approximate location of Market Drayton is shown as well as the line from there to Stoke.
The red dot on the map below shows the approximate location of the station in relation to the local area.
Services: Past, Present & Future?
In 1962 there were 6 trains a day in each direction but no Sunday service. Crewe was about 25 minutes away and the journey to Market Drayton took 14 minutes. Wellington could be reached within an hour.
Today a journey from Audlem to Crewe involves a bus to Wrenbury and a change to a train there; the journey time is around 70 minutes.
There have been several proposals and attempts to reconnect Market Drayton via either the Nantwich or Stoke route, but so far nothing has come of them.
The station site was reasonably difficult to locate on the outskirts of the town. There has been a lot of modern housing development since closure and almost no evidence of the railway remains.
A little way to the south we found an over bridge crossing a minor road and further along there were bridge abutments visible where the line used to cross the main A529 on the way to Market Drayton.
We parked the car at the free car park near the village centre and had a good walk around. Audlem, the most southerly village in Cheshire, was a delightful little place to spend a couple of hours; it won a Defra award for best village in England in 2005.
At the heart of the village was a triangle of roads lined with pubs and shops, many of them were housed in Georgian-style buildings. Opposite this, sitting high up on a mound, was the Church of St James. We had afternoon tea in a little café, browsed in the shops and then walked down towards the canal.
The Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal was opened in 1835 and eventually became part of the Shropshire Union. It follows a similar course as the old railway line passing through Audlem on its way from Nantwich to Market Drayton.
Along the tow path we found an old mill next to a wharf that had been converted into a little shopping centre. We popped in and browsed the enormous collection of new and second-hand books on the canals.
The two pubs close by looked as if they were doing good business and there were plenty of people sitting outside both chatting, drinking, and watching the barges pass by. One of the pubs was called the “Shroppie Fly”; a reference to the fast horse drawn “fly boats” that once used to ply along this stretch of waterway.
The Birmingham and Liverpool Junction was the last project completed by Thomas Telford before his death. It was also the last major trunk canal to be completed and followed a straighter path than some of its predecessors. Even after the opening of the railway the canal still enjoyed some success. It had the last laugh too; the railway is now long gone but the waterway is still pulling in visitors.
It employed several locks to climb approximately 100 feet from the Cheshire Plain up to the Shropshire Plain. There is a flight of the 15 locks at Audlem and the location is quite famous in canal circles.
We walked along the tow path as far as the 15th lock before turning back and walking back down to the 8th. On the way we stopped a few times to watch the boats as they negotiated the locks.
When we had finished our walk around Audlem we drove south, following alongside the course of the old line, for around seven miles to Market Drayton. We passed from Cheshire into Shropshire in the process.
A sign on the outskirts proclaimed it as the home of English gingerbread and there is apparently certainly some truth in the theory that the confection started in the town. At one time there were several gingerbread makers here and the railway itself was known as the “gingerbread line”.
We walked around town for a while, bought a few things from the stalls in the little market and then spotted an old shop that had once been one of the gingerbread bakeries. It was now doing business as a delicatessen pushing local Shropshire products.
The shop was selling gingerbread made by local firm Billington’s (it claimed since 1817 on the packet) and so we got some to take back with us. It was certainly amongst the best gingerbread I have tasted, excellent when dunked in coffee and apparently even better when enjoyed with port.