The Railway Refreshment Rooms at Bridgnorth Station were first opened during 1861 under a temporary licence obtained by Browning and Co of Paddington. Very little is known of this firm, who appear to be a catering firm possibly contracted by the GWR.
Although the line was not yet fully operational (an expected date had been mooted as September 1861), there was enough trade to justify operation, including from those still working on the line itself.
In building the station, the Severn Valley Railway (the original one!) had demolished three local alehouses – The Sun, which moved to Listley Street and became The Rising Sun; the Hollybush, located on the opposite side of the road to the station, and The Fiddle, now supporting the embankment by the demolished road bridge to the tunnel. It also forced The George, which was originally where the coal wharfs are now, to its present position across the road. There is a very full account of the court cases in the Bridgnorth Journal 1858/9.
The line finally opened to the public on 1 February 1862, following a very successful inauguration dinner given the day before in the Assembly Rooms, Bridgnorth by Mr and Mrs Thomas Whitefoot, the proprietor of the Crown and Royal Hotel in the High Street (which remains today as The Crown, though in a rather different guise).
This success may have moved the Severn Valley Railway to entrust their catering services to Mr Whitefoot, so on 26 April 1862 the Railway Refreshment Rooms were fully licensed.
The Crown had several links with the railway, acting as a parcels office for the GWR and running an omnibus to meet every train, and it appears that Thomas Whitefoot was quick to see the commercial benefits resulting from the coming of the latest transport system to the town.
In 1876 Thomas Whitefoot retired from the Crown and Royal to pursue his Wine and Spirits business, and relinquished the licence of the Railway Refreshment Rooms. The licence was once again taken on by Browning and Co.
In 1891 the census returns show the position of manageress being occupied by Clara Hodgman. She remained at the rooms until about 1902, when Edward Morrall took on the licence.
Edward was no stranger to the trade, having come to Bridgnorth in the late 1860s and established a wine and spirits business in Underhill St. and later a second branch in the High St. In about 1880 he took on the Swan Hotel and by 1900 had added the Harp and Pheasant (now simply the Harp) and also The New Inn.
By 1905 he appears to have relinquished the Swan Hotel and taken on the Railway Refreshment rooms, possibly starting around 1902 as by that date William W Grantham was the manager; he remained in this position till 1913/14 when Morrall went bankrupt.
The licence then returned to the Whitefoot family, and to Thomas Whitefoot Jnr. who was by now running the family business, his father having died in 1900. Thomas Jnr. had already shown an interest in railways as in 1890 he was the deputy chairman of the Castle Hill Railway Co (then known as ‘the lift’), now the Cliff Railway. Thomas Jnr. was also an agent for Cheshire breweries and it is likely that during this period the Windmill mirror came to the Refreshment Rooms.
In 1926 Thomas sold the venture to W and HE Tanner of Shrewsbury. In the 1930s Robert C Griffiths, who until 1929 had run the George Hotel at the bottom of Station Drive, was the manager.
Research has so far yielded little of the period 1940s – 50s.
Possibly around 1955 George Elias Thorpe became the licensee. He remained after 1963 when the railway closed, and by the time the preservationists arrived he was running a rather eccentric and not entirely reputable establishment. He retired in 1972.
Acknowledgements: Grateful thanks to local historians Ann Chadwick and Val Plante for research