BACK in 1964 a funeral cortege passed across Shrub Hill Road in Worcester and yet again the city lost a little bit of its history. Except this city elder was not man but machine and the Vinegar Express had come to the end of the line.

The Express was really anything but. It was a steam shunting locomotive which for more than a century chuffed daily between the huge Hill Evans vinegar works in Lowesmoor and Shrub Hill railway station, carrying the company’s products to the main line freight network for distribution throughout the UK and abroad.

It was a familiar, if occasionally frustrating, sight for motorists, who were held up by a man with a flag until the train had rumbled across the highway. Exciting for small boys, but not much for anyone who was late for work.

The Vinegar Express even had its own “obituary” in the Worcester Evening News.

It read: “Her funeral cortege passed by almost unnoticed. Edward 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 Edward Rowberry, who has opened and closed the gates and waved his flag in Shrub Hill Road for the last eight years.”

Hill Evans originally needed a special Act of Parliament, passed in 1844, to enable it to run its own private railway through the six acre Vinegar Works, which in today’s language stretched from Shrub Hill Road all the way across to City Walls Road.

The company was founded in 1830 by two chemists, William Hiread and Edward Evans, who began by making vinegar, but later also produced wines from raisin, gooseberry, orange, cherry, cowslip and elderberry. In addition, they made ginger beer and fortified wines, including port and sherry, as well as Robert Waters branded original quinine, which was drunk to combat malaria.

In 1850 Hill Evans built the Great Filling Hall, containing the world’s largest vat, which at 32 ft high could hold 521,287 litres (114,667 imp gal) of liquid. For a century this made the works the biggest vinegar works in the world, capable of producing 9,000,000 litres (2,000,000 imp gal) of malt vinegar every year.

The vinegar works closed in 1965 and the Great Filling Hall was made a Grade II listed building in 1974. Today it is the local Territorial Army headquarters and training centre, while the rest of the site has become St Martin’s Quarter retail area.