Monthly Archives: February 2019

Japanese Narrow Gauge -762mm Lines – Part 2 – The Kiso Railway – Part A

[NB: I have sought, where-ever possible to attribute all sources and have no intention of contravening copyright. Should there be an issue with any of the images below, if you are the copyright holder, please contact me. Please accept my apologies in advance if this has occurred.]

Railways for the transport of timber from Japanese State and Crown forest locations were first used at around the beginning of the 20th Century. As a result, dependence on rivers and streams lessened and this facilitated the construction of hydro electric dams. [11] In Kiso, as in the other forests, the branch or temporary railway lines were narrow (30-inch gauge), built with maximum grade of 10 percent and curves with minimum radius of 16 feet. The main lines, however, were well-built, well ballasted lines, with many tunnels, with maximum grades of 5 percent and with 42-inch gauge, the standard gauge for Japan and Formosa. This means that logs could not be shipped to their destination without reloading. [4]

The Kiso Forest is centred around the valley of the Kiso River and is famous for the quality of its lumber. Approximately 90% of the Kiso Valley is covered in forest. [6]

The Kiso River (Kiso-gawa) is roughly 229 km long, flowing through the prefectures of Nagano, Gifu, Aichi, and Mie before emptying into Ise Bay a short distance from the city of Nagoya. It is the principal river of the area (along with Ibi and Nagara rivers) and forms a major part of the Nōbi Plain. The valley around the upper portion of the river forms the Kiso Valley. [15]

The Kiso Valley (Kiso-dani) is a geographical area that centres on the valley of the upper portions of the Kiso River in the southwestern part of Nagano Prefecture in Japan. It is a v-shaped valley with length of approximately 60 km (36 mi) that follows the river as it flows from north by northwest to south by southwest into Gifu Prefecture. [16] It is the upper part of the river valley in Gifu and Nagano prefectures that is the most visited. Known as the Kiso Valley (Kisoji) – a district famous for its hiking trails and picturesque towns and villages which were once on the historic Edo Period Nakasendo highway between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). [17]

High peaks in the Kiso Valley include Mt. Ontake (3,063m) and Mt. Komagatake (2,956m).

During the Edo period, the ruling samurai class put so much value on the wood from the Kiso Forest that common people were prohibited from cutting the five trees of the Kiso river valley. …. Governments made large revenues by establishing monopolies on harvesting and selling the forests’ products. [3]The Kiso River and Region at a time when Nagoya had not already begun to sprawl out into its hinterland. The urban sprawl now extends north across the line of the Kisoro River. [5]

The five varieties trees which were particularly valued in the Kiso valley were the native evergreens of sawara, asuhi, koya maki, nezuko and hinoki (Japanese cypress). The forest also had scatterings of cherry (sakura), pine (matsu) and zelkova (keyaki, a relative of the elm but native to Japan) mixed in. All were prized for use in the construction industry because of their beautiful grain, durability, and ease of working. [3]

In the Kiso forest both heavy American and light Japanese skidders proved unsatisfactory, but. a 60,HP gasoline slack-line outfit was giving good service (in 1928). The logs were loaded by hand onto light cars of about 2000 board feet capacity; and these were run, by gravity or by light gasoline locomotives, to landings on the main forest railways. There the logs were shifted to larger cars (about 3000 bd.ft.), which were hauled in 15-car trains by 10 to 11-ton steam locomotives to a junction with the main-line government railway (at Nojiri and Agematsu). At these points they were unloaded and placed in storage yards until they could be taken over that railway to Nagoya, 80 miles distant. Logs were loaded, unloaded, or piled, all by hand, eight times between the stump and the mill. Obviously, the costs were high, even with cheap labour. [4]

At first, the Kiso Forest Railway focussed solely on the transport of timber and the labourers who were winning that timber from the forest. But the dedicated rail network, penetrating deep into mountainous areas, was soon recognized for its potential to carry human passengers as well. Eventually residents were permitted occupy any vacant seats, also accepting a logistical responsibility. Certificates were issued to the local residents, allowing them to ride for free, although they also became the default baggage handlers. Additionally, in exchange for paying no fare, travelers on the railway also waived any rights to state compensation in the case of an accident. In spite of this, the Forest Railway became a popular and indispensable feature of life in Kiso. [11]

The Kiso Forest Railway was actually a network of well over 400 km of 762 mm (2 ft 6 in) narrow gauge light (keiben) railway lines that operated in the Kiso Valley in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Some authorities estimate the the network length to be over 500km. [11] The railway was extensively rebuilt in 1920, with steel bridges and 24 tunnels. [2]The Kiso Forest, Ogawa Line [10]

The railway was used to support the logging of evergreen forests in the region as outlined above. The Kiso Forest had historically been the possession of a local lord, but at the time of the Meiji Restoration had become the property of the Imperial family. [1]

Steam Locomotives:

In 1901, a railway was laid into the forests and was initially worked by hand or animals. The first 0-4-2T locomotives built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works were introduced in 1907. The Ogawa Line opened formally in 1916. [11] Steam locomotives from makers all over the world were analyzed for their application as haulage locomotives. Among them, locomotives from the American company Baldwin earned the strongest reputation and ten of these locomotives were imported, becoming the backbone of the Kiso Forest Railway. [11]One of the Baldwin 0-4-2T locos. [8]

Further locomotives were obtained from Baldwin, as well as a Shay Locomotive that was transferred to the Alishan Forest Railway in Taiwan when that line opened.

The advent of the Second World War brought turmoil to the Forest Railway. Resources in the country were depleted by the war effort. Faced with insufficient supplies of coal to power the locomotives, officials turned to scraps of wood and branches from trees felled in the mountains to keep the engines running. However, unlike coal that burned rapidly in the locomotive’s firebox, the new fuel caused still burning sparks to be ejected from the chimney, presenting a fire hazard wherever the trains traveled. After several years of trial and error a greatly enlarged chimney was designed that no longer ejected sparks, and an extended bunker was incorporated to carry the new, bulkier, fuel. In this way, the steam locomotives of the Kiso Forest Railway took on their own distinctive style. The locos in the images in this blog were adapted in this way. [11]

The War depleted resources further and as the condition of locos deteriorated they were first set aside and then broken up after being requisitioned for the war effort. Of the 10 original Baldwin locomotives, only 3 remained after the War. [11]

The three remaining Baldwin locomotives were retired in 1960. The network had been gradually transitioning from steam to diesel traction. Two of the three locos returned to the United Stated, via Nagoya Port, and are now preserved at the California State Railroad Museum. [11]
The last remaining locomotive was that first locomotive introduced to the Kiso Valley at the opening of the Ogawa Line and it can be seen in the photographs in this blog. [11]The bridge featured in these three images is on the Kiso Forest Railway, Ogawa Line. [9]

Kiso Forest railway No. 1 (0-4-2T) is shown in the four images immediately above.

Kiso Forest Railway No.6 (0-4-2T) was also built by Baldwin in 1929. It has 28″ drivers and 8-1/2″ x 12″ cylinders, and it weighs 28,000 lbs. It was built to burn wood and to run on 30″ gauge track, but it was converted to oil and 36″ gauge when it returned to the United States in 1960. This interesting little locomotive is on display at the California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento, California.

Kiso Forest Railway No.7 (0-4-2T) was also built by Baldwin but in 1927 (Works No. 60069). For many years after its return to the USA it was stored in a shed at the rear of Moss Motors in Goleta, California. The loco had been donated to the San Luis Obispo RR Museum by owner Philip Goldman. [12] The pictures immediately below were taken in May 1998 just before the locomotive was removed from storage.The third of the three saved locomotives from the Kiso Forest Railway was No. 7 which was transported back to the USA in 1960. In 1998 it was donated by thee Goleta & Shoreline RR for its new home at the San Luis Obispo RR Museum. The video below records that move.  [12]

The three remaining Baldwin Locos in 1960. [11]

Diesel Locomotives:

Soon after the Second World War it was obvious that the remaining three Baldwin locomotives were inadequate for the needs of the railway and a process of dieselisation took place. A series of different locomotives were bought for the railways in the forest. The numbers of these logos and small railcars were significant and there is only opportunity to show a representative range of diesel traction as part of this post.

An interesting development at the closure of these railways was the way in which many of these diesel vehicles found a long-term place in the local communities that they had served, becoming static displays at various places in the Kiso Forest. Some of these are shown below.

Diesel No. 118.[18]

Diesel Motor Car No. 4, was initially assigned to the Yabohara Forestry Station and transferred to the Ohtaki Forestry Department around 1972. Although the timing is unknown, the body was replaced by the machinery section of the Uematsu Transportation Forestry Authority. In the later years, it saw service on the Ugi river line. Like No 132, it was transferred to Otaki Village and exhibited and stored in Matsubara Sports Park. [13]

Diesel Locomotive No. 132. This locomotive worked on thethe branc of the Ogawa line of Uematsu, etc., and transferred to Ohtaki Municipal Office in 1964. Later it was active mainly on the Miura Hoya Line. After closure of the Otaki main line in 1975 it was moved to Suwagawa River line. For a time it sat in the car park at Tajima Station for a while, before it was transferred to Otaki Village and exhibited and stored in Matsubara Sports Park[13] 





Motor Car at Tajima Station. [18]Kiso Forest Railway Locomotive No. 128 with a Type C passenger coach and 2 small cargo wagons on static display. The picture is taken of this preserved loco at the campsite near the Amagi Pass. The loco workd on the Amagi Yu Yu line in Izu-shi. The picture was taken in 2010. [22] This diesel locomotive was the main locomotive type on the Kiso Forest Railway. It is a C4 type manufactured by the Sakai Craft Centre. The type was designated DBT 10 by the Kiso Forest Railway. It was a 10 tonne loco. [18]Kiso Forest Railway No. 95 with a Type B Passenger Car and Transport Truck, all on display in the car-park close to Naraichi Station in September 2014. The locomotive is a 5 tonne loco, made at the Sakai Works.  [21]Two Forest Railway Motor Cars at Tajima station in 1972. [21]Kiso Forest Railway No. 139 on display at Yunomori campsite (about 8 km from Central Chuo station, Sakashita station) Kiso Forest Motor Car No. 20in 1977 [14]

The adjacent picture shows a diesel Hauled passenger train on the tourist railway in the Kiso Forest – the Akasawa Forest Railway. The tourist line provides a short journey in the forest – a 2.2 kilometre round trip.[11]

No. 136 is an articulated diesel locomotive and it is in the workshop at Uematsu. [18]Kiso Forest Motor Car No. 20, preserved at the entrance to the Woodworking Culture Centre at Koga Village Regional Museum about 5 minutes on foot from Yabihara Station. in 2008. [19]Kiso Forest Railway Locomotive No. 119 stored in Yukigoshi, picture taken in 2012. [20]Diesel Locomotives at the Akasawa Forest Railway. [11]


Type DBT 10 Loco in charge of a logging train in the Kiso Forest. Note the diminutive guards van at the back of the train. [13]

The adjacent map shows the Kiso Valley area with the various parts of the Kiso Forest Railway shown in red and black dots and with the JNR Chuo Line running along the Kiso River on the East side of the map. These different routes will be considered in later posts. Among them, the Owataki Forest Railway was the representative presence of Kiso Forest Railroad, which has the longest route mileage and the heaviest usage. [13] There are a number of YouTube clips showing one or two of the diesel locos in action these include:

And there are a number of Japanese made models which seek to give a good flavour of the line:


  1., acessed on 7th February 2019.
  2. Charles S. Small; Far Wheels II; Railhead Publications, Canton Ohio, 1986.
  3., accessed on 7th February 2019.
  4. Japan: forest resources, forest products, forest policy; United States. Forest Service
    Division of forest economics, Forest service, U.S. Dept. of agriculture, 1945; p14-15; sourced from, accessed on 8th February 2019.
  5. Adapted from Tokoro Mitsuo; Kinsei ringyoshi no kenkyu; Yoshikawa kobunkand, Tokyo, 1980, p2, in Conrad D. Totman; The Lumber Industry in Early Modern Japan; University of Hawaii Press, 1995, p56; sourced from, accessed on 8th February 2019.
  6., accessed on 8th February 2019.
  7., accessed on 8th February 2019.
  8., accessed on 8th February 2019.
  9., accessed on 8th February 2019.
  10., accessed on 8th February 2019.
  11., accessed on 8th February 2019.
  12., accessed on 10th February 2019.
  13., accessed on 10th February 2019.
  14., accessed on 11th February 2019.*
  15., accessed on 10th February 2019.
  16., accessed on 10th February 2019.
  17., accessed on 10th February 2019.
  18., accessed on 10th February 2019.*
  19., accessed on 11th February 2019.*
  20., accessed on 11th February 2019.*
  21., accessed on 11th February 2019.
  22., accessed on 11th February 2019.*

* Copyright permission sought.

Book Review: “Rails in the Road” by Oliver Green

Rails in the Road – A History of Tramways in Britain and Ireland

Written by: Oliver Green

Published by: Pen & Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley, 2016 [1]

This book was a Christmas Gift  to me in 2018.  It is a large, coffee-table-sized book with a price tag of £30.00. It is illustrated throughout with high quality contemporary images. The story of the tram in the UK is well written and the author shows a good understanding of the underlying social issues which surrounded public transport throughout the decades of the late 19th, the 20th and the 21st centuries. Oliver Green was Head Curator of the London Transport Museum and now acts in a consultative capacity to a number of transport museums.

“There have been passenger tramways in Britain for 150 years, … it is a roller-coaster story of rise, decline and steady return. Trams have come and gone, been loved and hated, popular and derided, considered both wildly futuristic and hopelessly outdated by politicians, planners and the public alike.” [2]

In the second decade of the 20th Century, trams were at their peak. “At the end of 1894 there were only 65 miles of electric tramway in the while of Britain. By the turn of the century this had increased slowly but steadily to 1,177 miles.” [3]

“Although projects varied across the country in scale and speed of development, [the Edwardian decade] was the start of the golden age for electric tramways which were open in nearly every urban district of the British Isles.” [4]

“By the 1930s [trams] were in decline and giving way to cheaper and more flexible buses and trolleybuses. By the 1950s, all.major systems were being replaced. London’s last tram ran in 1952 and ten years later, Glasgow, the city most firmly linked with trams, closed its network down. Only Blackpool … kept a public service running.” [5]

The variety of different systems used, the rise and fall of the private sector, the dominance of municipal control, the competition and lack of coordination between different local  authorities, the influence of the first and second world wars, are all examined as part of the story of the tram.

The demise of most tramway networks in the mid-20th century is documented, and the regeneration of the use of tramways in the late-20th and early-21st centuries is covered too.

The work is well referenced and appears to have an excellent bibliography. One of the features that I particularly appreciated is the ‘Timeline of Tramway History in Britain and Ireland’ which appears close to the end of the book. [6] I have reproduced that timeline after the References below.


1. Oliver Green; Rails in the Road; Pen & Sword Books Ltd; 2016.

2. Ibid.; dust jacket.

3. Ibid.; p95.

4. Ibid.; p98-99.

5. Ibid.; dust jacket.

6. Ibid.; p248-250.

Timeline of Tramway History in Britain and Ireland

1807: First horse-drawn passenger-carrying service in UK opens on the Swansea and Oystermouth Tramroad in South Wales.

1860: First horse-drawn street railway in UK, promoted by G.F. Train, opens in Birkenhead.

1861-2: Train opens three tramways in London, all closed down within months.

1863: Landport & Southsea Tramway in Portsmouth is the first to open along a street with Parliamentary authority.

1870: First permanent street tramways open in London and Liverpool.

1870: Tramways Act sets rules and procedure for authorising street tramways in UK

1872: First urban hose tramways open in Ireland, in Dublin, Belfast and Cork.

1876: First regular use of steam power on a rural roadside tram line, the Wantage Tramway in Berkshire.

1877: First regular use of steam power on an urban street tramway, the Vale of Clyde line in Govan, near Glasgow.

1883: Volk’s electric railway, ”he first public electric conveyance in the UK’, opens on Brighton Beach but with no street running.

1883: First electric line in Ireland opens, the Giant’s Causeway, Portrush and Bush Valley Tramway, using third rail power supply.

1884: First cable tramway in Europe opens up Highgate Hill, London.

1885: First electric street tramway in England opens in Blackpool, using conduit power supply.

1888: First cable tramway in Scotland opens in Edinburgh.

1891: First overhead electric street tramway in UK opens at Roundhay Park, Leeds.

1893: First electrification of a steam tramway in the UK in Walsall, Staffordshire.

1895: First electric tram line opens in Bristol, planned by James Clifton Robinson. Bristol becomes the first major UK city to be electrified, and by a private company, not the local authority.

1896: First electric street tramway in Ireland from Dublin city boundary to Dalkey, opened by a private company, again planned by Clifton Robinson.

1898: Glasgow and Liverpool are the first two big city local authorities in the UK to open their own electric tramways. This municipal route to electrification is used in most urban areas of the UK over the next fifteen years, with relatively few company-run electric tramways opening in Britain and Ireland.

1901: First electric lines in Greater London opened by London United Tramways Company, running west of the LCC boundary from Shepherds Bush into Middlesex.

1903: First electric route of the London County Council (LCC) opened by the Prince of Wales from Westminster Bridge to Tooting in south London.

1911: First UK trolleybus services open in Bradford and Leeds on the same day.

1914-1918: First World War

1915: Glasgow Corporation employs first women tram conductors in UK as a wartime expedient, followed by female tram drivers from 1916.

1917: Isle of Sheppey system in Sheerness, Kent, is the first electric tramway in UK to close.

1920s: UK tramways reach their maximum size and use, but some of the smaller systems across the country are replaced by motor buses or trolleybuses, including Ipswich, Keighley, Lincoln, Cambourne & Redruth and Wolverhampton.

1926: Last horse tram service in mainland England closes, on se-front at Morecambe.

1931: First replacement of trams with trolleybuses on London United system in south-west London.

1931: Royal Commission recommends replacement of tramways across the country.

1933: Creation of Londodn Passenger Transport Board (LPTB), which soon announces a major programme to replace its inherited trams with new trolleybuses.

1930s: Several towns start tram replacement, including Brighton, Bristol, Carlisle, Cork, Halifax, Nottingham, Newport, Portsmouth, Hull and Leicester.

1939-1945: Second World War.

1945-1950: Many cities complete tram closures started before the War, including Dublin, Cardiff, Newcastle, Bradford, Southampton, Manchester and Newcastle.

1952: Last tram in London, once the UK’s largest system.

1953: Last tram in Birmingham.

1954: Last tram in Belfast.

1956: Llandudno & Colwyn Bay line closes, the last privately run street tramway in the UK.

1956: Last tram in Edinburgh.

1957: Last tram in Liverpool.

1957: Last horse tram service in Ireland, the Fintona ‘van’, closes.

1959: Last tram in Leeds.

1959: Last electric tramway in Ireland, the Hill of Howth line near Dublin, closes.

1960: Last tram in Sheffield.

1960: Last electric tramway in Wales, the Swansea& Mumbles Railway, closes.

1962: Last tramway in Scotland, the once extensive Glasgow Corporation system. the final major city network in the UK, closes.

1962-92: Blackpool has the only regular year-round, street-running public tramway service ion the UK during this thirty-year period. The Manx Electric Railway continued to run a seasonal service on its roadside inter-urban tramway and the Douglas horse trams also continued seasonal operation.

1964: First electric service at the Tramway Museum, Crich, later to become the National Tramway Museum.

1972: Last trolleybus system in the UK closes, in Bradford.

1980: Tyne & Wear Metro opens, a cross between light and heavy rail, and entirely off-road.

1987: Docklands Light Railway (DLR) opens in London, an entirely off-road and fully automated system.

1992: Manchester Metrolink opens, first new light rail system in UK with some street running, initially only across Manchester City Centre.

1994:Sheffield Supertram system opens, with extensive street running.

1999: Midland Metro opens between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, mainly on old railway alignments with short street running.

2000: Croydon Tramlink opens, the return of street running trams in London, though only across Croydon Town Centre.

2004: Luas system opens in Dublin, the first new light rail operation in Ireland.

2012: Blackpool system is upgraded with new European-style trams for daily operation but retains its heritage tram fleet for special weekend and seasonal services.

2014: Edinburgh Tram opens, first new light rail line in Scotland.

2015-2017: Significant extensions and/or improvements to light rail systems in Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham, Dublin, Blackpool, Sheffield and London scheduled to open, but no new tramways likely to be authorised.


A First Steam Locomotive for the Severn and Wye Tramway?

While I was researching the story of the Penydarren Tramroad, [7][8] I came across a short story which related to the history of the Severn & Wye Railway & Canal Company. [9] The story, while coming predominantly from one source, has an interesting addendum (or postscript) which is based on a comment about “an engineer named Stewart” early in the text below. ….

Mr Keeling Buys a Locomotive [1]

After an earlier attempt by James Teague to introduce a tramroad in the Forest was thwarted by the authorities, between 1809 and 1812 three horse worked cast iron tram roads were successfully constructed which later formed the basis of the railway system that subsequently emerged in the Forest. [6]

The Severn & Wye Railway & Canal Company was the first of these and finally opened as a plateway in 1813. It linked the two rivers between Lydbrook and Lydney on the western side of the Forest, with associated branch lines. [6]

In 1818, the first legal action was taken to force the company to repair the tramroad. [2]

The line was worked by horse power until 1865, and in 1870 powers were obtained to convert it to a passenger-carrying line, and to join it to the Great Western system.

1868 the tramway was converted to broad gauge, and then to standard gauge in 1872.

However, in the middle years of the 19th Century a series of options for the improvement of the Tramroad and its services were being considered.

By 1863 the Severn & Wye Railway & Canal Company possessed a comprehensive system of horse-worked tramroads, of 3′ 8″ gauge angle-plate type, in the Forest of Dean. These lines were the principal means whereby the coal, iron, stone and other products of the major part of the Forest were taken to the rivers and the South Wales Railway for onward transit. The service provided on the tramroads in the Forest of Dean was the subject of regular complaints and discontent amongst traders and the communities of the Forest. These complaints were sustained over a number of years.

The Company did not want to incur the costs of conversion from a horse-drawn tramroad to a locomotive hauled railway without Crown assistance, and their engineer, George William Keeling, decided to make enquiries into the possible use of steam locomotives on the existing tramroad. An engineer named Stewart had tried a locomotive on the line as early as 1814, but had not developed its use. In 1856 T.E. Blackwell, consulting engineer to the Severn & Wye, had asked Daniel Gooch, locomotive superintendent of the broad gauge Great Western Railway, for advice in introducing locomotives, but no trials were undertaken. [1]

Keeling set out on a fact-finding mission to see locomotives at work on different industrial railways and tramroads, and to enquire about their performance and cost. The record of his travels are contained in the Severn & Wye Board Minute Books. His first visit was to the Sheepbridge Ironworks at Chesterfield, in December 1863. He was told that one small locomotive, costing £775, had for upwards of two years performed all haulage. This locomotive was probably ‘Little Nell’, an 0−4−0 saddle tank, the first locomotive built at the Boyne Engine Works, Leeds, by Manning, Wardle & Company, and delivered to Sheepbridge on 5th February 1859.

Keeling later visited Messrs. Brown & Company, London, and in March 1864, made a tour of various South Wales industrial railways, and visited the Blaenavon Ironworks. “The Blaenavon Tramway was about two to three miles long, of 3′ 3″ gauge, laid with L−plates having a slight rib underneath for strength and weighing 45 lbs. per yard. The plates were laid on wood sleepers at 2′ 4″ to 3′ 0″ pitch, and the Company had two locomotives, one of which was working, whilst the larger one was kept as spare or reserve engine in the shed. The smaller one was a four-coupled locomotive with 3′ 6″ wheels at 4′ 5” centres, and weighed nearly 8 tons in working order. It drew 35 loaded trams (66 tons) at 10 m.p.h. on the level, and 30 tons up an incline of 1 in 60. It had worked most satisfactorily for fifteen years. The larger engine (Keeling noted in brackets “Gan−y−Erw” – presumably its name) was comparatively new and more powerful. It had six coupled cast iron wheels 3′ 6″ in diameter at 5′ 3″ centres, with wrought iron tyres having about 23/8″ tread, outside cylinders 12″ by 18″, and weighed 10 tons in working order. It cost between £800 and £900, and could draw 50 loaded trams (90 tons) at 10 m.p.h. on the level, or 25 loaded. trams (45 tons) up an incline of 1 in 60. Both engines were built by the Usk Side Iron Company, of Newport, Mon., the larger one having been designed by Mr T. Dyne Steel.” [1]

At Brynmawr, Keeling found a tramroad of similar gauge to Blaenavon, and worked by locomotives similar to the smaller engine seen there. “At Tredegar and Rhymney there were tramways worked by locomotives of varying sizes, some being similar to those at Blaenavon and others being the “old fashioned ones formerly used by the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company”. These were presumably the Tredegar Ironworks’ “vintage” 0−6−0’s which were reminiscent of the early Stockton & Darlington Railway engines.” [1]

At the Plymouth Ironworks, near Merthyr, Keeling found the works served by a tramway over a mile long, laid with a combined edge rail and tramplate of channel section in small chairs on sleepers about 3′ 0″ apart. The tram wagons ran on the bed of the plate but the locomotive, “a perfect little model of an engine beautifully constructed by Messrs. Hawthorn & Company, Leith”, had flanged wheels and ran on the outside flange of the channel rail. The engine which so excited the admiration of the engineer had 8″ by 15″ outside cylinders, weighed 7 tons in working order, and cost £650. It was able to pull a train of between 60 and 80 trams (wagons) “varying according to the weather”, equal to a load of 70 to 90 tons up a long incline of about 1 in 200, and made some fifteen trips a day. Formerly a dozen horses had been employed, and the engine was then doing the work of twenty. The Plymouth Ironworks were part-owners of the Penydarren Tramroad, but the tramway Keeling encountered appears to have been independent of this, and was probably laid to a narrower gauge. It is not clear exactly where this ran, many of the tramways in the area werewer relatively steep grades. It is possible that it was the line between Morlais and Penydarren but unlikely. There were a lot of internal tramways around the Plymouth works which may be more likely. The number of trips per day seem to suggest a short tramway that was internal to the Plymouth Works.Keeling travelled round a whole series of different Works and Tramroads which included: Fothergill’s Ironworks at Abernant (owned by The Aberdare Iron Company); and the Neath Abbey Iron Company’s works, an establishment with a history as venerable as its name suggests, having been established in 1792. [1]

When Keeling ended his tour. He reported to the Severn & Wye Board, “I am sure that, if the Blaenavon Tramroad will stand a 10−ton engine rattling over it at a pace of 10 miles per hour several times a day, our tramway will certainly bear a 7− or 8−ton engine at a speed of 4 or 6 miles per hour”. Three firms tendered for the honour of supplying the first locomotive – Neath Abbey Ironworks (£620), Alfred R. Thomas, of Cardiff (£600) and Fletcher, Jennings & Company (£695). In spite of the higher price, the last named secured the order – possibly because they promised to follow up their tender with a personal call and drawings. Severn & Wye locomotive No.1, a humble little 0−4−0 well tank with outside cylinders and flangeless wheels, was delivered at Lydney on 31st October 1864. [1]

Postcript … or is it actually a ‘prescript’?

The first part of this blog is based primarily on an article from the Industrial Railway Society website which in turn was based almost wholly upon extracts from the Severn & Wye Railway & Canal Company Board’s Minute books made available by courtesy of the Archivist, British Transport Commission. But there is more to this story. …

There appears to be an alternative version of the story about what was might have been the first locomotive on the Severn and Wye Tramroad. To follow this story through, we need to travel back to the early part of the 19th Century. ….

It appears that earlier in the 19th Century the Parkend Coal Company entered into a deal with an engineer called William Stewart which seems to have gone sour. The story is related in a letter from William Stewart which is contained in “A History of Railway Locomotives down to the End of the Year 1831” which was written by Chapman Frederick Marshall. [3]

As will be seen, the story does not end well.

Stewart appears to have been stirred into action after listening to a speech by George Stevenson at the opening of the Newcastle and Darlington Railway in June 1944. Stewart wrote to the Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine (Glasgow):[4]

“In 1814, a Coal Company in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, paid annually three thousand pounds for the haulage by horses of the coal extracted from their mines to Lydney, the place of embarkation. an engineer who was in communication with that company and who knew nothing at that time of Mr Stevenson’s more successful attempts, proposed to make a locomotive engine to do the work of the horses, provided the Company would give him one-half of the sum which they then paid for haulage, that is, he would undertake to perform the haulage at fifteen hundred pounds per annum, in place of the three thousand, the price then paid – the engineer to make and maintain the locomotive at his own expense.” [4]

“This was thought by the Company a very good offer, but they expressed an unbelief in the possibility of making an engine fit to do such work; that, consequently, if they openly encouraged such an attempt by prematurely entering into any written agreement with the engineer, the consequence would be disastrous to the Company, as those employed to do the work by horses would probably abandon it, and thereby cause perturbation in the work, and a consequent loss to the Company, but, said they, if it was shown by an actual trial, that the engine proposed would really move along the line of rails, and function properly, then the Company would accept and ratify the proposal offered by the engineer.” [4]

“Ambitious to succeed, and credulous to believe, the engineer, a resident in Newport, Monmouthshire, commenced his work. Trusting to the specious promise of the Coal Company and having some months after completed the engine, he had it transported to the Lydney railway, and then set it in motion, in presence of the Company’s Directors who had conducted all the concerns, and many other spectators. The result of the experiment was such as to convince the Company’s Director of the practicability of the undertaking, which he admitted  without reserve, and offered to fulfil his promise by giving one-half of what the Company now paid for the haulage.” [4]

However, while the locomotive was being constructed, the Company had talked with its hauliers on the basis that their role may be superseded by a locomotive. The Company had negotiated a significant reduction in their prices from £3000/annum to £2,000/annum — “the one-half of which became one thousand pounds in place of fifteen hundred, making a difference of five hundred pounds a-year less to the engineer, who feeling discouraged and indignant at such unjust and ungentlemanly conduct on the part of the Company, renounced the enterprise and was obliged to abandon the engine to that Company in lieu of a small sum they had advanced to him for to assist in its completion . . . ” [4]

“The construction and trial of the engine is well known to many persons now residing in Newport and in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, and at Lydney in Gloucestershire . . The Company alluded to was known by the name of the Parkend Coal Company; and the Engineer was, Your most obedient humble Servant, William Stewart.” [4]

“It would have been interesting to hear the Company’s version of the affair; still more so, to know what the engine was like. The line on which it was tried must have been the Severn and Wye Tramroad, from which a short branch led off to the Parkend Colliery, almost in the centre of the Forest of Dean. Nothing more is known about it.” [3]

“Two further letters have been discovered in the archives of the Great Western Railway,’ which suggest either that he retrieved the engine from the Colliery Company, or that he was proceeding with the construction of a new one in 1816.” [3]

This all happened well before Keeling’s time at the helm of engineering developments on the Severn and Wye Tramroad. It seems that immediate financial concerns prevented the tramroad being at the forefront of developments in the early 19th Century.


1., accessed on 1st February 2019.

2., accessed on 4th February 2019

3. Chapman Frederick Dendy Marshall; A History of Railway Locomotives down to the End of the Year 1831; Salzwasser-Verlag GmbH, 2010, p99-102, sourced from, accessed on 7th February 2019. … The book was originally written in 1953 and the available source is a copy and relatively badly reproduced. However, “the very nature of his subject, though crying out for new research, is probably more accurate for having been written then, nearer the time he is recording, than now, some 60 years later, if that is not an oxymoron. He covers, character by character, everyone he could find reference to, from the immortal legends like the Stephensons and Richard Trevithick, to the not so well known William Hedley and John Blenkinsop, to the downright obscure, such as Robert Wilson, John M’Curdy and the magnificently named Goldsworthy Gurney. The technical descriptions are very thorough, as are the profuse illustrations. Alas the latter suffer in quality due to the manner of their reproduction in this reprint. To criticise Dendy Marshall at all is difficult, but if one had to then it would be his failure to realise that many of the men covered in this book were simply standing on the shoulders of giants, copying there designs and not contributing to the evolution of the steam locomotive at all. Of course, one might argue that Dendy Marshall set out to record every mention of a locomotive up to the end of 1831 and the story of the people connected to them. If that is the case then one can only heap praise upon the author, for this he has certainly achieved.” [5]

4. Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine (Glasgow), Volume IV, October 1844, p24.

5. P.J. Nock; Amazon Book Review;, accessed on 8th February 2019.

6., accessed on 8th February 2019. … The other two tramroads were:

A “second, … built by the Bullo Pill Railway Company and was designed to run from Churchway Engine via Broadmoor, Coal Pitt Green, Cinderford Tump, Ruspidge Meend, Sewdley Coppice, Sleepers Hill and Bradley to Bullo Pill. The line included a pioneering 900 yard tunnel under Haie Hill which was reported completed in Hereford Journal of 20th September 1809; “the tunnel is completed to the Forest of Dean, which is connected with the River Severn, and a channel thus established, by which the valuable productions of the Forest may be brought to market with a feasibility hitherto unknown”. Renamed the Forest of Dean railway in 1826, it was replaced by a broad gauge railway in 1854.”

A “third, … built by the Monmouth Railway Company to link Coleford and the Forest with Monmouth, and opened in 1812. The Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway Company purchased most of the line in 1853 but did not convert the tramroad into a railway. This was latterly done by the Coleford Railway Company in 1883. The line was relatively short lived and closed in 1916.”




The Penydarren Tramroad, South Wales – Part 2

This post follows the route of the Penydarren Tramroad from Abercynon to Merthyr Tydfil as shown on the adjacent sketch map which is taken from The Railway Magazine’ March 1951 edition. [14]

The community of Abercynon grew around the Canal Basin which bears its name. It was identified as the furthest point north on the Glamorganshire Canal where it was realistic to consider undertaking canal-boat repair. It was also just below “the infamous ‘Abercynon Sixteen’ flight of locks. In addition to their headquarters at Navigation House the Glamorganshire Canal Company also constructed warehouses, depot houses, a winding hole, saw pit, blacksmiths shop and dry dock here.” [1]

The basin was also the point where the Merthyr/Penydarren Tramroad and the Llanfabon Tramroad met the canal. There were some significant transfer facilites to allow loads to be moved between the canal and the tramroad and, as the maps below show, the tramroad terminus was of a significant size even in 1884/1885 which are the dates of publication of the maps.

Navigation, on the maps below, is Abercynon. The lower map shows the canal basin and the tramway lines which served it. They seemingly are still in place in 1884/1885.The Canal is seen to turn first westward and then northward again, on the first of the two maps. Some key buildings can also be seen. They include the Smithy and the Post Office as well as the Main Canal Company Offices.

The Post Office building was still standing in 2016 and is shown in the image below.





The building which once housed the Basin Post Office. Now used by the council as part of its depot, it is one of the few remaining signs that the Basin ever existed. [1]Abercynon on Google Earth, showing the approximate locations of the Glamorganshire canal (black line) and the Merthyr/Penydarren Tramroad (red line) The oval shows the location of the main facilities at ‘Navigation’. In the 1st Century this is now the location of the Fire Station in Abercynon. 

The adjacent image shows the marker board for the Richard Tevethick Trail which follows the route of the tramway. [15]

From Abercynon, the tramroad/tramway followed the East bank of the River Taff. There is a ‘road’ following the first part of the route which is marked as the Taff Trail on the OpenStreetMap below.From Navigation to Quakers Yard, the Tramroad has become a single-track road serving a few houses that lie along the route. The line of the old tramway is visible on the 1885 Ordnance Survey Map of the area. A passing loop can be seen on the excerpt below just to the south of the bridge over the Cwm Mafon. Another passing loop is just visible to the top edge of the map.North of the Cwm Mafon the tramway continued to follow the East bank of the River Taff through Craig-berth-lwyd, passed Ynys-hir and the Victoria Inn before crossing the Taff to the West bank just as the river swung round in a tight loop close to Quakers Yard. The Merthyr Tramway is clearly marked on the map excerpt below. A passing loop was located between Ynys-Hir and Victoria Inn. Two more were located on the West bank of the river, the first of these was close to Woddland Cottage, the second was just before the Tramway crossed the river once again.Victoria Bridge on the Penydarren Tramroad is located just to the North of Victoria Inn. The bridge is a Grade II* Listed Building in the area now known as Treharris, Merthyr Tydfil. It is marked by the blue flag on the adjacent map. The Cadw source ID is 80910. [2]

The bridge was built as a substantial stone structure, as can be seen in the picture below. Victoria Bridge, the lower Penydarren Tramroad bridge across the Taff at Quakers Yard. The piers beyond carried a feeder to the Glamorganshire Canal. The arch has now been replaced by a footbridge.   [collection T.J. Lodge] [3]

A short length of the tramway formation either side of the Victoria Bridge is now purely a footpath. Beyond the Victoria Bridge, the tramway route continues as a tarmacked road. Themap below shows the route as ‘Tram Road Side’. The bridge crossing to the East bank is visible on the left side of the map and appears in the photograph immediately beneath it.Greenfield Bridge, Penydarren Tramroad is a Grade II* Listed Building in Treharris, Merthyr Tydfilridge over the River Taff  []– this section of the tramroad is, today, quite tranquil as it passes through a small wood with the river running below (c) John Light. [5]Penydarren Tramway at Quakers Yard Viaduct – the Tramway is now a Cycleway. The viaduct carried the 1841 Taff Valley Railway © nantcoly. [4]This image may be the most significant reproduced in both these two posts about the Penydarren Tramroad. It comes from a book by John Minnis. It shows the widening of the viaduct which appears in the images above and below. The picture was taken in 1862. Brunel’s original viaduct is being widened under the supervision of John Hawkshaw. Its significance comes from the fact that it is the only know photograph of the tramroad in operation. On the tramroad, a southbound train, drawn by two horses and comprising 5 wagons, stands in the loop, whiole a northbound train of a single wagon passes. The line, with a path for horses and the clearly visible stone blocks, stands out well, as do the cast iron tram plates, (c) Jospeh Collings/John Minnis Collection. [33]
Taff Trail passing under Quaker’s Yard viaduct, the Goitre Coed Viaduct. There is access to Quaker’s Yard train station about 100 metres past the viaduct on a grassy path to the right of the trail – best suited to walkers or mountain bikes, (c) John Light. [7]

in 1667 the Quakers were given the use of a small piece of land on an estate owned by Mary Chapman. In her will of 1700 this land was subsequently given to the society and on this pasture land the Quakers decided to create a burial ground. The community of Quaker’s Yard began to take shape. Quaker’s Yard was, until the second half of the 19th century, a quiet rural spot. There was a corn mill and a small woollen mill and a small scattering of houses. With its ancient bridge across the Taff the village could even boast two inns, ideal watering holes for weary travellers on their way to and from Cardiff. [8]

The Industrial Revolution, of course, changed all that. Soon the coal trade totally revolutionized the nature of the environment, creating booming and burgeoning communities like Treharris and Trelewis, both of them just a stones throw away from Quaker’s Yard. Links to Quakerism remained strong. Treharris was named after William Harris, a Quaker businessman whose family owned a fleet of steam ships, while streets in the new towns were named after famous Quakers such as William Penn and George Fox. In 1858 the Quaker’s Yard High Level station was opened. Together with the village’s Low Level station this created a lively and bustling railway junction where passengers could embark for places like Merthyr and Aberdare and coal could be dispatched down the valley to the docks at Cardiff. [8] The advent of these standard-gauge railways in the 1840s saw the start of the decline of the Penydarren tramway/tramroad and ultimately brought about its demise.

The tramway continued round beyond the viaduct and passed to the South of the Quarker’s Yard Station on the Taff Valley Railway. That station was a relatively important junction station in its time. The OS extract below shows the tramroad. Two passing loops can be picked out to the South of the Railway Station and one further to the East beyond the viaduct.The line turned north and passed under the later Great Western Coal Level Viaduct which can just be seen in the top-left corner of the map above. Travelling North, the tramway, the railway and the Canal followed the course of the River Taff. Passing loops were provided every few hundred metres. From Quakers Yard to Pontygwaith Bridge the tramroad formation is a tightly packed stony track. [6]

The adjacent image shows the tramroad formation looking south along this length of the tramroad. Note the stone blocks that once supported the rails of the tramroad, (c) Gareth James. [18]

At Pont-y-gwaith there was a graceful arch bridge over the River Taff which carried a farm access road. That same road crossed the tramway and later the railway as well. The map extract below shows the location.This image looks back along the formation of the tramroad from close to the bridge over the line, (c) Gareth James. [13]Pontygwaith Bridge South Side – road bridge over the Trevithick Trail (Tramroad) at Pontygwaith. Taken Summer 2007. This is taken from the Abercynon side of the bridge, (c) Alan Harris. [16]Pontygwaith Bridge North Side – road bridge over the Trevithick Trail (Tramroad) at Pontygwaith. Taken Summer 2007. This is taken from the Merthyr Vale side of the bridge, (c) Alan Harris. [17] The bridge over the river was an altogether more graceful affair! [19]

South of Ynys-Owen Farm, the tramway and the Taff Valley railway become a little intertwined and the Tramroad is shown on the adjacent map (1885) as being on both sides of the railway. It seems that close to the bottom of the map extract the Tramroad crossed the railway line on a newly constructed bridge (close to Mount Pleasant). At this point stood Black Lion Signal Box and the colliery sidings where coal wagons filled with the best steam coal from Merthyr Vale (Taff) Colliery were marshaled into trains.

From here, the tramroad ran up the East side of the railway, passed the Farm and on beyond the Merthyr Vale (Taff) Colliery. That colliery seems to have had its own tramway (or possibly standard-Gauge sidings) running alongside the river. This colliery was not opened until 1869 and so would not have been present when the tramroad was seeing its peak traffic. [10]  This area of the Valley has been known as Merthyr Vale for many years.

Travelling further North, the line passed Dan-y-Deri Colliery.  Thomas Joseph, in partnership with Samuel Thomas opened a level here in 1842. The coal mined at Dan-y-Deri was coked and transported along the Penydarren Tramroad to be used in the Plymouth Ironworks. Long after the tramroad south of Merthyr Vale had fallen into disuse it continued to be used between Dan y-deri and Merthyr. Joseph Thomas was later to open the Duraven Collieries in the Rhondda Valleys, while Samuel Thomas was the father of D. Thomas (Lord Rhondda), founder of the Cambrian Collieries. [20]

Now-a-days, part of the old tramroad formation is in private hands and it is necessary to follow a route along modern roads. The tramway formation can be followed as far North as the Merthyr Vale Station on the Taff Valley Railway. The modern map below shows the Station and the end of the access to the lower part of the line.

The route can be picked up again opposite Aberfan which is on the far side of the valley. After a short distance the Trevithick Trail rejoins the A4054 Cardiff Road. The route of the tramway cannot be picked up again until we reach Troed-y-rhiw.

The tramway can be seen on the OS extract below, which was published in 1875, running above the road and to its East as it approaches Troed-y-rhiw from the Southeast.

It remains above the small town on the valley side and then heads for the Dyffryn Ironworks. These Ironworks were part of the company that ran the Plymouth Ironworks.

The Plymouth Works relied on water power, long after its use had ended elsewhere. In order to re-use the water, the works expanded by adding 2 other, separate units: the Pentrebach Forge and Dyffryn Furnaces. [21] The first furnace at Dyffryn was erected in 1819.

Steam power was finally introduced leading to a dramatic increase in output following the dry summers of 1843 and 1844. During the second half of the 19th century, obsolete technology and economics combined to the disadvantage of the Plymouth Iron Works. A lack of capital to convert to steel production finally lead to closure in 1880; though the company continued to mine its vast reserves of coal, from the South Dyffryn and other pits. [22]

Dyffryn Ironworks were only a short distance South of The Pentre-bach Ironworks which were also managed by the Plymouth Ironworks. In turn, Pentre-bach Ironworks were only a short distance Southeast of the Plymouth Ironworks. The area effectively became one large industrial site with a variety of lines networking over the whole area.

The website for the Trevethick Trail provides some helpful information about the history of these three works. The route details on their site run North to South whereas our journey is travelling South to North: [23]

Whilst the blast furnaces at Plymouth turned the raw materials of ironstone, coke and limestone into pig iron, the Pentrebach works was constructed to refine that metal. At the site, puddling furnaces and rolling mills were built to turn the useless pig iron into a more malleable material that could be cast or rolled into different shapes. The Hill’s still relied heavily on water to power machinery in the works so the water feeder that served the Plymouth site was continued south to serve Pentrebach. This works became a very important part of the Plymouth concern and in 1841 modern rolling mills were opened.

At the same time as the Pentrebach works were being built the owners decided to erect new cottages for their workers. A number of separate rows were built to the south, but immediately to the north, confined by the bend of the Plymouth water feeder, four rows were constructed, three of these making the shape of a Triangle. Toilets were located in the centre of the enclosed space. These were good quality houses for the skilled ironworkers of Pentrebach. After the death of Richard Hill in 1806 his three sons were involved in the running of the works.

It was however the youngest son, called Anthony after his uncle Anthony Bacon, who became the most notable of the family. He had studied geology, chemistry and metallurgy and became a Fellow of the Geological Society. Although the Hills tried to sell the works in 1834 no buyer came along and the concern remained in their ownership for almost another thirty years. Despite becoming a very wealthy family, the Hills continued to live at Plymouth House overlooking the site of the original works.

They seemed to shun the extravagant lifestyles of the other Merthyr ironmasters, preferring to provide for the education and spiritual welfare of their workers. It was not until 1850 that Anthony built the mansion that still stands at Pentrebach and where he lived until his death in 1862. (The second large building on the site used as a motel is a modern construction). Anthony Hill in particular was a man of great generosity, establishing schools at Plymouth and Troedyrhiw, paying the teachers and leaving money in his will for the maintenance of the buildings.

Travelling south of the Pentrebach Ironworks, a site now occupied by business offices and chain stores, the tramroad continued towards where Anthony Hill was to develop a third location for iron manufacture. At Duffryn he was to build five more blast furnaces with other associated structures, and here too deeper pits were to be sunk which would reach the richer steam coal seams of the Taff Valley. Graig and Duffryn Collieries, sunk alongside the Penydarren Tramroad would continue to produce best quality coal for world shipping for well over a half a century after Anthony Hill’s death.The tramroad ran to the East of the sites at Dyffryn and Pentrebach. As can be seen above a number of tramroads were added at later dates. At Plymouth Works it was necessary for the tramroad to run in a short tunnel some eight feet wide and eight feet high beneath the furnace charging area. This would have provided ample room for horse drawn trams but perhaps made things difficult for the passing of a steam locomotive. [14][24]

The Tramroad Tunnel under the Works is listed by CADW; Source ID: 4048; the Legacy ID: GM573. [25][26]

The Glamorgan-Gwent Archeological Trust (GGAT) says of this location: “The Penydarren or Merthyr Tramroad was associated with a complex network of interconnecting tramlines by 1850; this was particularly evident near the Pentrebach Iron Works. The 1878 OS map identified features associated with adjacent workings, Graig, Tai-bach and Wern-las Pits situated along the route, and features associated with the Dyffryn Furnaces, ie the Coke Ovens. While isolated Rows industrial housing with associated yards and allotments, such as Pen-Yard Row, Pencae-bach Cottage, and Winches Row were also a characteristic features of the landscape.” [11]

When Richard Hill took over the Plymouth Works it consisted only of ‘one small furnace worked by two giant bellows twenty-five feet high and one large waterwheel’. [24] It is probable that the original supply of water came from the adjacent stream later to become known as Nant Cwm Blacs. After acquiring two partners and additional capital in 1803, Hill was able to expand the enterprise with the construction of a second furnace. As the works grew the tramroad network which linked it with the various pits and levels also expanded. [24]

The coal and ironstone came first from the hillsides immediately above the works. Inclines were built to bring the raw materials down for preparation and loading into the furnace. A large weir across the River Taff at Merthyr Tydfil allowed water to be channeled through an open feeder through the Caedraw area of the rapidly developing town, to the works site. This greatly improved the power output. [24]

North of Plymouth Works and Nant Cwm Blacks, the tramroad continued along the East side of the River Taff towards Mertyr Tydfil.The approximate route of the Tramroad into Mertyr Tydfil is shown here. Most of the route is hidden under modern development but the two roads named Tramroad Side South and Tramroad Side North follow the line of the old Tramroad.

The adjacent plan gives an overview of the tramroads in and around Merthyr Tydfil. [14]

The Penydarren Tramroad passed to the East of the modern terminus of the standard-gauge railway in Merthyr and ran on the East side of the High Street. The road that runs north to Penydarren, behind the former Glove and Shears public house and alongside the Tesco store. [27] The approximate alignment appears on the adjacent OpenStreetMap extract and is shown by a red line.

It appears from the image immediately below that the old tramway received some significant maintenance in the latter part of the 19th Century. The picture shows Tramroadside North at around 1900. It gives a good impression of the conditions of roads in Merthyr at the time and so illustrates the continued value of the tramroad to local industry. The next two images show the same road in the 1960s.Tramroadside North, early 1900s. [28] 1960’s aerial view showing Tramroadside North. [28]Both these images show Tramroadside North, the Railway station and the Tydfil Arms. [28]

The route is picked out with red dashes on the adjacent extract from the 1875 edition of the OS Maps. It shows the extent of the standard-gauge station complex. It shows that the tramroad route was used both as a tramroad and as a highway.

North of the centre of Merthyr, the tramroad curved away to the East following the valley of the Nant Morlais and into the Penydarren Ironworks. Another extract from the early OS Map shows the works and the parkland to its West which centred around Penydarren House. In the 1930s Mertyr Tyfil erected a memorial/monument to Trevitick’s pioneering steel locomotive run on the Penydarren tramway. It sits at what is now the junction between Penydarren Road and Penyard Road. It is shown below on the first image after the OS Map of Penydarren Works.

Trevithick Monument, Merthyr Tydfil: The monument is located on the corner of Penydarren Road and Penyard Road.It is a miniature replica of the first steam locomotive to run on rails, built by Richard Trevithick. On its first run in 1804, it traversed the spot on which this monument stands, (c) Jaggery. [29]

The memorial that commemorates the journey of Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotive from Penydarren to Navigation (Abercynon) on 21st February 1804 stands at the southern extremity of the site of what was the Penydarren Ironworks. By the1840’s all of the Merthyr ironworks had outgrown their original locations. The Cyfarthfa concern had built two furnaces at Ynysfach as early as 1801 while the Plymouth Forge Company had by 1820 time expanded onto sites at Pentrebach and Dyffryn. Dowlais located a new extension to their plant at the Ifor Works.

Penydarren however, as well as lacking the extensive mineral resources of the other companies, also suffered from the fact that the site was confined within a steep sided valley and the company had no alternative site on which to develop. The buildings associated with the works therefore, were all located along Nant Morlais, stretching almost as far as Pontmorlais (close to Mertyr Town Centre), the bridge that carried the road from Dowlais, down into the town. [30] Penydarren was the It was the last of the great ironworks to be built in Merthyr. It was unfortunately the first to be closed in 1859. [31] Two pictures of Penydarren Ironworks photographed in 1875 by Robert Crawshay. [31]

Strictly, I guess, we have now reached the end of the journey along the Penydarren Tramroad. There were, however, a whole series of tramroads in the Merthyr area which warrant attention.

“The original Act of Parliament of 1790, which gave permission for the building of the Glamorgan Canal, had provided for the construction of a branch canal from Cyfarthfa to Dowlais. It very soon became apparent that the difference in elevation between the river level at Merthyr and the Dowlais works made its building completely impractical. Both Dowlais and Penydarren therefore, were forced to construct their own separate tramways to the canal wharf at Georgetown. The Dowlais tramroad, very steeply graded in places, followed the promenade on the opposite side of the road to the monument, (see sketch map below) whist that from Penydarren took a parallel line before passing through a short tunnel at the top of Bethesda Street. Wagons of red-hot furnace waste would also have followed the route for part of the way before being tipped onto the banks of Nant Morlais above the present town centre. This very large tip, extended out toward the infamous part of Merthyr Tydfil known as China, eventually taking the name of the British Tip after 1863 when the British and Foreign Bible Society built the Abermorlais Schools on top.” [30]

Beyond the Peydarren Works to the Northeast were the Dowlais Works. With the completion of the Penydarren Tramroad in 1802 a junction was constructed with the Dowlais Tramroad, enabling the Dowlais Works to have a direct link at this point. For almost fifty years all of the iron produced by Dowlais, and bound for the coast at Cardiff would have passed this point, either in the direction of the canal or along the Penydarren tramroad. As the middle of the nineteenth century approached the Dowlais Works far outshone the other three Merthyr Ironworks in terms of growth and output. Because of its location however, it continued to be disadvantaged as it relied on the steep and tortuous tramroad link via Penydarren to get iron to the canal and Merthyr Tramroad.

The high stonewall opposite the monument to the historic journey of Trevithick’s locomotive was originally part of the boundary of Penydarren House, the home of the Homphray family. Built on the site of a Roman fort, it was in this house that some of the soldiers called into Merthyr Tydfil to quell the riots of 1831 were quartered. Alongside, is Merthyr Tydfil’s once very popular Theatre Royal, a thriving theatre during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. [30]

Penydarren Works was also served by a Tramroad from the North it linked the Works with the Morlais Quarries. Travelling North along this line, it passed north of the County Grammar School in the street called Tramroad, then in front of Gwaunfarren Nursing Home and Baths towards the Goitre Pond, now filled in. At this spot sleepers of mixed gauge and a passing place could be observed, before the new housing estate and school obliterated all traces. The larger gauge was 4′ 8-1/2″, the narrow one 33″. The track then proceeded under the new Head of the Valleys Road and passed the Pontsarn-Pant Road opposite a disused quarry. [12]

Penydarren quarries and Dowlais quarries were near Morlais Castle and the tramroad was used by the Dowlais works as well as Penydarren works. Plymouth works probably also obtained limestone from these quarries. [12] It appears that Dowlais later exploited the eastern portion of the quarries using its own railway.Morlais Castle Quarries, the tramroad from Merthyr, June 2014. [32]Morlais Castle Quarries Western tramroad branches from above the quarry, May 2017. [32]


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The Penydarren Tramroad, South Wales – Part 1

This post is prompted by reading a short set of notes about the Penydarren Tramroad carried in the Railway Magazine in March 1951. [13]

Merthyr Tramroad, or the Penydarren Tramroad, ran from quarries near Morlais Castle via a junction on the Dowlais to Jackson’s Wharf tramroad at SO 0512 0669 (at the present junction of Tramroadside North and Penydarren Road and now marked by the Trevithick Memorial (NPRN No. 91516)) in Merthyr Tydfil, to the Glamorganshire Canal basin at Abercynon (ST 0846 9493) where a commemorative plaque has been erected (NPRN No. 400379).

The tramroad was built because the Dowlais Company’s tramroad ran past the Penydarren Ironworks on a high level course, making it impossible to build a junction for the Penydarren Ironworks to use. In response, Samuel Homfray of Penydarren Works commissioned the tramroad to follow the eastern bank of the River Taff down to Navigation (modern day Abercynon). The tramroad was completed in 1802, and was in use until 1875, except for a period of uncertain length starting in 1815 (and maybe continuing to 1825) because of the collapse of a bridge at Edwardsville just north of Quakers Yard. [5]

Essentially, the Morlais Quarry section was built to supply Merthyr’s Ironworks with limestone, and the Merthyr to Abercynon section to avoid the congested Glamorganshire Canal (NPRN No. 34425). [4]

To accommodate the horses, the tramroad didn’t use sleepers as we’re now used to from our modern railways. The rails sat on two lines of stones, allowing the horses to walk between the rails without difficulty. It also made things easier for the man who led the horse throughout the journey! There are several good examples of the tramroad stones still in existence along the route. Today, the rails are gone, but the tramroad formation still exists, and can be followed from Abercynon up to Merthyr Tydfil. The entire length up to Pontygwaith is part of the Taff Trail route of the National Cycle Way. [5]

“The tramroad and the system of which it formed the major part had two other important and interesting features which are less well known: the permanent way of the first railway in the area and the series of early industrial locomotives (most of them Welsh-built by Neath Abbey Ironworks) that traversed the line in the 1830s and 1840s. … The history of these lines is complicated, confusing and at times conjectural.” [1] Many of the notes below come directly from a blog written by M.J.T. Lewis entitled, “Steam on the Penydarren” which is held in the archives of the Industrial Railway Society. [1] These notes are supplemented from other sources, as referenced.

“The major industrial development of South Wales began in the 1780s and especially the 1790s. In Taff Vale and some of the other valleys the main commodity involved was not coal – the real growth in that trade only came later – but iron. Resources were plentiful and demand good; only transport was lacking. It was the canals that began to open up the country, with a series of roughly parallel routes up the valleys, dating mostly from the 1790s. The terrain often prevented these canals from actually reaching the industry, so that feeder railways proliferated.” [1]

The Glamorganshire Canal was opened from Merthyr down to Pontypridd in 1792 and to Cardiff in 1794. It served Cyfarthfa (see below) directly, and the Dowlais Works has to lay a two-mile railway to carry its iron down to a basin at Merthyr Tydfil. This line was complete by June 1791, and cost about £3,000 of which the Canal Company, wishing to attract traffic, paid £1,000. The gradient was very steep – an average of about 1 in 23, with a maximum of 1 in 16½ – and horses worked the waggons in both directions. [1]

“There were three ironworks to the east of Merthyr Tydfil. Dowlais (begun in 1759) grew rapidly in the early 19th century, until in 1845 it was the largest ironworks in the world, employing a workforce of 10,000. The others were smaller: Penydarren works (1784), adjoining Dowlais on the south and west, and Plymouth (1763), to the south of Penydarren, which established several offshoots nearby  in 1803 a forge and later a rolling mill at Pentrebach, and in 1819 a group of furnaces at Dyffryn. Neither Plymouth nor Penydarren developed nearly as fast as Dowlais. All three companies, sooner or later, mined or quarried their own ore, coal and limestone, and all had their own railway systems leading between the various branches of their undertakings. All three produced primarily pig iron, but converted an ever increasing proportion of it to wrought iron, and as Railway Age got under way they came to concentrate on rolling rails.” [1]

The fourth major ironworks at Merthyr Tydfil was the Cyfarthfa works which were sited on the north-western edge of Mertyr. The Cyfarthfa Ironworks from the air in about 1920. [19]

The Cyfarthfa works were begun in 1765 by Anthony Bacon (by then a merchant in London), who in that year with William Brownrigg, a fellow native of Whitehaven, Cumberland, leased the right to mine in a tract of 4,000 acres land on the west side of the river Taff at Merthyr Tydfil. [6]  The heyday of the works was in the tenure of Richard Crawshay (1739-1810) and the works went into gradual decline thereafter. The Dowlais Works became the leading Ironworks in the Valley. [6] As we have already noted, the Cyfartha Works were directly served by the Glamorganshire Canal. This was not the case for the Dowlais, Penydarren and Plymouth Works. Because the owners of the Cyfarthfa Ironworks dominated the management of the Glamorganshire Canal, the other Merthyr Tydfil ironworks built a tramroad bypassing the upper sections of the canal. [8]

We have already noted that the Dowlais Works became the largest ironworks in the world in  the early to mid-1800s. The Works, founded in 1759, owed much of their success in the 1820s to the production of rails for the railway and tramway industry in the UK. [7] In the 1850s, the Works was the first UK organisation to licence the Bessemer Process for the production of steel. The first Bessemer steel was actually rolled at the works in 1865. Unlike the Cyfarthfa Ironworks nearby, the Dowlais Ironworks converted to steel production early allowing it to survive into the 1930’s. [7] The Dowlais Steelworks. [18]

The Penydarren Ironworks were founded in 1784 and operated independently, but at times sporadically, until the late 1800s. [7][8] The Dowlais Works bought mineral ground of the Penydarren Works in 1859. [7]The Penydarren Ironworks, © Bronwyn Thomas [16]

The Plymouth Ironworks commenced operations in 1763 and remained operational until the 1870s. [9]The Plymouth Ironworks ways spread over 3 different sites. [17]

Initially a tramway was built for the Dowlais Works alone to reach the canal near Mertyr Tyfil. We could call this the first Dowlais Tramway. There is record of a dispute between the proprietors of the Dowlais Works and the Penydarren Works. The result appears to have been that Penydarren built their own railway to the canal, closely paralleling the Dowlais line and in places right alongside it. The date was somewhere in the 1790s, but the original type of rail and gauge are quite unknown. This railway, though not the Dowlais one, had a short tunnel under Bethesda Street in Merthyr. [1]

Up to this time, all railways had wooden trackwork. In the north of the UK, a gauge in the 4ft to 5ft range and waggons holding up to 3 tons were the norm, with the wooden rails occasionally protected against wear a tear by thin wrought iron plates. The West Midlands and Wales, however, followed the example set by the Shropshire collieries and ironworks, which favoured narrower gauges (up to 3ft 6in or so), smaller waggons and sometimes flat cast iron plates laid on top of the wooden rails. [1]

“This form of protection was introduced at Coalbrookdale in 1767, but  rail made solely of cast iron, only appeared in 1791. This happened in South Wales, an area that always looked towards Shropshire in mining, ironmaking and transport, and the line involved was the Dowlais-Merthyr railway. William Taitt of Dowlais wrote on 17th March 1791: ‘We are now making Rails for our own Waggon way which weigh 44 li or 45 li [Ib] per yard. The Rails are 6 feet long, 3 pin holes in them, mitred at the ends, 3 Inches broad Bottom, 2½ In. top & near 2 In. thick thus:'” [1]

As far as is known, these were the first all-iron rails ever made for flanged wheel railway. It was copied in the next few years on a number of feeder railways to the Monmouthshire and Brecon & Abergavenny Canals. The gauge of these lines was 3ft 4in, they were engineeered by the Dadford family and as the Dadford’s also engineered the Dowlais tramway, it is likely that this would have been the track-gauge of the line. [1]

Because of difficulties in sourcing materials, the Dowlais Works built a second tramway from the Morlais quarry to the works. (Penydarren owned the western part of Morlais quarries and Dowlais the eastern part, and both no doubt began by carrying the limestone to their respective works by cart.) This second tramway was probably built in 1792, it’s course is uncertain but probably approximated to the future Brecon & Merthyr Tramway from Pantyscallog to Dowlais Central. Whether Penydarren had its own tramway from Morlais in the 1790s is not known. [1]

The story clearly does not end there, Dowlais Works constructed another plateway/tramway in the 1790s linking its colliery, probably to the south-east of the Works to the Works. [1]

In the late 1790s, the accepted design of plate-ways/tramways in South Wales changed. Old edge-railways with flanged wheels were replaced by flanged (usually L-shaped) rails and wagons were fitted with plain wheels. “Practically always, the rail ends were set on separate stone block sleepers instead of on transverse wooden ones. In early days the rails were simply spiked down, through notches at their ends, into wooden plugs in the blocks; later, chairs were introduced and even cast iron cross-ties which, though not spiked down, were held on the blocks by the weight of ballast, the rails being fixed in dovetailed sockets.” [1] George Overton was a protagonist for the new plate-ways and was ultimately responsible for the Penydarren Tramroad. [1]

The later Penydarren Tramroad owed its origin to a quarrel between Richard Crawshay of Cyfarthfa and the ironmasters of Dowlais, Penydarren and Plymouth. Crawshay had a controlling interest in the Glamorganshire Canal Company and claimed preferential treatment in the matter of carriage, to the detriment of the other Merthyr works. The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust comments: “The Penydarren Tramroad from Penydarren to Abercynon was constructed in 1802 because of disagreements over tariffs charged on the Glamorganshire Canal between Richard Crawshay of Cyfarthfa, who held the largest share in the Canal Company, and the owners of the other iron works of the area, Penydarren, Dowlais and Plymouth.” [10]

The three iron-masters petitioned Parliament in 1799 for a tramroad from Cardiff with branches to Merthyr, Abernant and the head of the Rhymney valley. The Bill “was defeated by canal opposition, but already, on 18th January 1799, Samuel Homfray of Penydarren, William Taitt of Dowlais and Richard Hill of Plymouth had agreed to build the section from Merthyr to Abercynon: by‑passing, that is, the upper and most inconvenient stretch of the canal. The tramroad was built without an Act; compulsory powers, though not invoked, were already provided by the Glamorganshire Canal Act, which authorised proprietors of works within four miles of the canal to build railways to it. Dowlais and Penydarren each owned five shares in the tramroad, Plymouth four. The line was built under the general supervision of Richard Hill; George Overton was the engineer. ” [1][11] Work began in 1800, and the tramroad was completed in 1802. It was 9½ miles long from a junction with the Dowlais-canal line in Merthyr to the canal basin at Abercynon. The gauge was 4ft 2in inside the plate flanges, or 4ft 4in over them. [1]Dowlais Ironworks in 1840. Watercolour by G. Childs  [British Steel Corporation] [1]

“At about the same time there were considerable changes to the private Penydarren and Dowlais systems. The Dowlais-canal line, above the new junction with the Penydarren Tramroad at Merthyr (where the Trevithick Memorial now stands) was converted to 4ft 4in plateway, so that through running from Dowlais to Abercynon was possible; the lower part, from the junction to the canal at Merthyr, was apparently closed. The Penydarren Company’s line to the canal remained, consisting now of plate rails at 3ft outside gauge  the standard Penydarren Company gauge.” [1]

“About 1800 a new tramroad was built from the western Morlais quarries via Goetre Pond to Penydarren works, as part of the general agreement to make the Penydarren Tramroad. … In 1803, the three ironmasters agreed to add 4ft 4in track to this Morlais-Penydarren tramroad, ‘the present Road to remain on the inside of the Wide Road’, and the stone blocks once visible indicated three-rail track. The purpose of this dualling of the gauge was to permit through running via the Penydarren Tramroad to Plymouth works, and thus to free Hill from his bondage to Crawshay in the matter of limestone. The Morlais line became a part of the “General Road”, paid for initially according to the shares each ironworks held, and maintained thereafter according to the tonnage carried by each.” [1]

Also in about 1800, Overton converted each of the Morlais-Dowlais tramway and the Dowlais Colliery to the furnaces tramway into a plateway. The result of these changes was significant. Prior to the alterations one horse pulled one wagon, “now ‘each horse regularly hauled from the farthermost part of the colliery twelve [wagons], carrying fifteen hundred-weight each, and took the empty ones back’. As was usual in such cases, the exact route of this line was frequently altered as new pits were opened and old ones closed. Penydarren also had its own coal lines, which included inclines, on the 3ft gauge and going in the same general direction as the Dowlais ones.” [1]

1804 saw the famous trials of a steam locomotive on this tramway. The Route of the line, and that taken by Trevithick’s locomotive, is shown on the adjacent sketch drawing from The Railway Magazine from March 1951. [13] … Richard Trevithick “was, in October, 1803, busily engaged in constructing at Penydarran, in South Wales, a tramway locomotive, to run on rails not exceeding an elevation of 1 in 50, and of considerable length.” [12] On 21st February 1804, the locomotive was active on the Penydarren Tramway with a “full supply of steam and power.” [12] Indeed, “before a week had passed, from the first getting-up of steam, this pioneer of railway-engines had run several times, drawing a load of 10 tons, and was more controllable than horses. Only two miles of road were to be run over during the first trials, but within the week the engine ran a distance of 9.75 miles.” [12] Trevithick’s locomotive was the first steam locomotive to pull a load on a railway. [4] 

The engine in working order weighed about 5 tons its cylinder was 8.25 inches in diameter, with a stroke of 4.5 feet. It took empty wagons up an incline of 2 inches in a yard, at forty strokes a minute, progressing 9 feet at each stroke in other words, it took its load up an incline of 1 in 18 at the rate of four miles an hour. Deatials of the locomotive were provided in an article in the March 1951 edition of The Railway Magazine. [14]Although the tramway was the route used for this first-ever steam-powered railway journey, those early iron rails couldn’t take the weight of the engine. The tramroad soon reverted back to using horses to draw the wagons down to Navigation (Abercynon). [5]Dowlais furnace tops and tram waggon, 1840. Watercolour by G. Childs. [British Steel Corporation] [1]


The Penydarren or Merthyr Tramroad clung to the hillside on the east side of the Taff for almost all the way, with the gentle average gradient of 1 in 145. Apart from the occasional road bridge and culvert, it had only three engineering features of note. At Plymouth works, the line passed right underneath the charging area of the furnaces in a tunnel 8ft high and 8ft wide: ample clearance for horse-drawn trams but a distinct impediment to locomotive working. Two bridges carried the line across a large loop of the Taff near Quakers Yard, both of which began life as timber structures. The Wikipedia article about the tramway says: “In 1815 a wooden bridge over the Taff near Quakers Yard collapsed beneath a train carrying iron from Penydarren. The whole train including the horses, the haulier and four other people riding on it fell into the river killing one horse, badly cutting another and injuring two of the people.” [3] Both timber bridges were replaced by large stone arch bridges.

“The Penydarren was a single-track tramroad with frequent passing loops. The original track consisted of 3ft‑long cast iron plate rails with upward-bellied flanges and a strengthening rib below; they weighed about 60 lb each and were spiked directly to rough stone blocks about 1ft 6in square. Later, chairs were introduced to provide a better bearing surface and a new pattern of rail that instead of a spike-notch had a downward projection to prevent longitudinal movement. These rails were keyed in the chairs. A third type of rail was a dual-purpose one, with both notch and projection. All this ironware was doubtless cast at the three ironworks interested in the line. Many blocks are still in position from Mount Pleasant southwards, and some rails may be seen in the Cyfarthfa Museum at Merthyr. … When locomotives were introduced the continual breakage of plates under their weight created a serious problem, but cast iron rails were retained to the end.” [1]

“The trams (or wagons) were about 7ft 6in long by 4ft 9in wide at the top, each side consisting of a vertical plank 1ft high topped by a flared plank 9in high. The bodies were originally of timber strapped with iron, though later 1/8in plate iron was adopted. The cast iron wheels were usually 2ft 6in to 2ft 9in in diameter, with a tread 1¾ in wide. A tram’s capacity was two tons or a little more, and its weight was 15cwt By 1830 there were 250 of them..” [1]

Early on, one horse would pull five trams (a total of about 10 tons of iron) down and the empties back up, making one return trip a day.As demand increased, so did the length of tram trains. As many as three horses could be teamed up and would haul about 25 trams (about 50 tons of iron). Although the line was privately built, other parties were allowed to carry goods on it on payment of a toll; but it is not known if this ever happened. Passenger traffic, though quite unofficial, was winked at: anyone who was ready to tip the driver and to perch on a tramful of iron was allowed a ride.

“The traffic consisted largely of iron for export from Cardiff, and grew markedly for much of the tramroad’s life. In 1820, Dowlais sent down 11,115 tons of iron, Penydarren 8,690 tons and Plymouth 7,941 tons; in 1830, the respective tonnages were 27,647, 11,744 and 12,177; and in 1840, 45,218, 16,130 and 12,922. From the late 1820s, however, more and more iron ore was imported, a traffic which came to outstrip the tramroad’s capacity on the uphill haul, so that the bulk of it was carried by canal up to Merthyr and transferred to the Penydarren Company’s line there.” [1]

In 1835, Dowlais alone imported 15,668 tons of ore and cinders. To deal with the increase in both traffics, locomotives were introduced. Trevithick’s engine had hauled several trains to Abercynon in 1804, but it was simply an experiment which was only a partial success. Regular locomotive working began in 1832, when an engine owned by the Penydarren Company was closely followed by a series belonging to Dowlais, some of which worked the steep section up to Dowlais with the aid of a rack rail laid between the running rails. However, the tramway was becoming increasingly outdated and the Iron Works needed a better method of transport.Penydarren Ironworks in 1813.  [J.G. Wood, “The Principal Rivers of Wales Illustrated”]Bethesda Street, Merthyr, looking east. The car is standing on the route of the Penydarren Company’s line to the canal, with Bethesda Street tunnel beyond; the Dowlais Company’s line to the canal ran along the street to the left. [P.G. Rattenbury]

“As early as 1823 they promoted a Bill to extend the tramroad to Cardiff  again the primary cause was a quarrel with the Glamorganshire Canal Company  and again the Bill was lost. In the end, with Hill of Plymouth and Guest of Dowlais among the chief promoters, the Taff Vale Railway obtained its Act in 1836, and was opened from Cardiff to Abercynon in 1840 and to Merthyr in 1841.” [1]

The Taff Vale had powers to make branches to the ironworks, but nothing was done until in 1849. Dowlais obtained its own Act for a standard-gauge line from the works, via a long incline, to the Taff Vale at Merthyr. This was opened in 1851, at first as a public passenger railway, but later carrying the owner’s goods traffic only. [1]

From 1841, Dowlais sent out considerable quantities of traffic from the Taff Vale Railway (TVR) terminus at Merthyr, but it is not clear how produce was transported to the terminus from the Works. The TVR station was actually very  close to the Penydarren Tramroad. Dowlais stopped using the Penydarren Tramroad by 1851 if not before, and it seems likely that the tramway between Dowlais and Penydarren Works was abandoned at the same time. [1]Victoria Bridge, the lower Penydarren Tramroad bridge across the Taff at Quakers Yard. The piers beyond carried a feeder to the Glamorganshire Canal.   [collection T.J. Lodge] [1] Penydarren Tramroad stone block sleeper, showing impressions of the rail ends and the single spike hole.   [T.J. Lodge] [1]Road bridge over the Penydarren Tramroad half a mile south of Mount Pleasant.   [T.J. Lodge] [1]Crossing of a set of points with scallop-edged channel rails for level crossings.   [P.G. Rattenbury] [1]Trackbed of the Moralis-Penydarren tramroad, showing rows of stone blocks which carried the dual gauge track.   [collection T.J. Lodge] [1]

Thereafter the tramroad fell out of use piecemeal. When Penydarren works closed in 1859 the section down to Plymouth was probably closed too. Plymouth went on sending some iron down to Abercynon for a while, but ceased to produce iron in 1880, though it continued its coal mining. Already, in 1871, Plymouth had built a standard gauge mineral line that used parts of the tramroad route as far as Mount Pleasant; south of here the tramroad seems to have been lifted about 1890. [1]As we have already noted, the Merthyr/Penydarren Tramroad was largely superseded when the Taff Vale Railway opened in 1841 and sections gradually went out of use over the two decades from about 1851. In 1823, a Bill had been unsuccessfully promoted to extend the tramway to Cardiff. It was some of the same promoters who obtained the Act for the TVR in 1836. Although the TVR opened to Merthyr in 1841 it wasn’t until 1851 that the standard gauge Dowlais Railway was completed allowing through running to its works. Penydarren Ironworks closed in 1859. Plymouth Works didn’t cease iron production until 1880 but had built a standard gauge line over part of the tramroad in 1871. South of Mount Pleasant the disused tramroad was lifted in about 1890. [3]


“In 1829 Stephenson supplied a six-wheeled locomotive with inclined cylinders mounted at the rear for use on the narrower gauge internal lines at Penydarren, it cost £375. In 1832 it was returned to Stephensons for conversion to a four-wheeled locomotive for use on the Merthyr Tramroad and at the same time the single flue was replaced by 82 copper fire tubes. It was at this time given the name “Eclipse” and commenced work on the Merthyr Tramroad on 22 June 1832. The chimney must have been hinged to allow it to go through the Plymouth tunnel.” [3]

“The Dowlais Company’s line linking their works to the Merthyr Tramroad had a maximum gradient of 1 in 16.5 and considered too steep for locomotives to work by adhesion alone. In 1832 the Neath Abbey Ironworks supplied a six-wheeled rack and adhesion locomotive weighing 8 tons named “Perseverance” with inclined cylinders and twin chimneys (allowing them to be lowered alongside the boiler to pass through the tunnel at Plymouth).” [3]

Another similar locomotive named “Mountaineer” was built in 1833 by the Neath Abbey Co. for the Dowlais Company. The drawings included a cross section of the Plymouth tunnel and it had a hinged chimney, so it is very likley that it was intended for use on the Merthyr Tramroad (unlike a second smaller locomotive built in 1832 which had a fixed chimney). [3]

The Wikipedia article on the Tramway continues to use information provided by Stuart Own-Jones [15] to describe locomotives used on the line:

The 0-6-0 “Dowlais” built at Neath Abbey in 1836 had inclined cylinders mounted at the front (unlike the previous locomotives which had rear mounted cylinders) and rack drive for use on the incline to Dowlais. “Charles Jordan” delivered from Neath Abbey in 1838 was an adhesion only locomotive very similar to “Mountaineer”. The last record of spare parts being supplied to Dowlais for these locomotives was in 1840-1841. An 1848 inventory of Dowlais plant lists only “Mountaineer” of the above locomotives. No plateway locomotives were listed in 1856. [3]

Locomotives had a maximum 3 ton axle load and as a result plate-layers were carried on the trains to replace broken plates. On 1 April 1839 more than 4,000 plates were required to make the tramway good. By 22nd June that year 1,600 more plates were broken, of which the Dowlais engines were blamed for smashing 1,450. By July the tramroad was reported to be almost impassable, for two days being blocked by a derailed Dowlais locomotive and Anthony Hill of Plymouth unsuccessfully applied to the Trustees for the locomotives to be banned. [3]

Stuart Herbert [5] provides a lot of additional sources to allow a deeper exploration of the history and geography of the line. These include:

  • The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canal – Volume 1, by Rowson and Wright.
  • Richard Trevithick: Cornwall’s Pioneer of Steam, by the South Western Electricity Historical Society
  • ENGINEERS: Richard Trevithick the Cornish genius, by Cotton Times
  • Trevithick 2004, a joint public/private/voluntary sector partnership to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Penydarren Locomotive – the first steam locomotive in the world to haul a load on rails.
  • Cynon Culture, a website dedicated to the history and culture of the Cynon Valley.
    Victoria Bridge, Quakers Yard – Restoration Works Contract Payment, a report to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.
  • Our Woods in Focus, a website by the Woodland Trust.
  • Taff Vale Railway entry on Wikipedia.
  • Map of the Taff Vale Railway, on the GWR modellers website.
  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel 200th Anniversary Exhibitions, from the Heritage In Action (Herian) website.
  • Discover South Wales, a map of heritage sites from the Heritage In Action (Herian) website.
  • The Taff Vale Railway – Volume 1 by John Hutton, ISBN 1-85794-249-3.
  • Newsletter 110 June 2006 [PDF], from the Institution of Civil Engineers.
  • Merthyr Tydfil Tramroads and their Locomotives, by Gordon Rattenbury and M. J. T. Lewis, ISBN 090146152-0.
  • Pontygwaith entry on Wikipedia.
  • Bringing the people of Merthyr closer to nature, the Forestry Commission press release from 29 August 2003 announcing the plan to create the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve.
  • Pontygwaith on Alan George’s website.
  • Cefn Glas Tunnel, on the excellent Cardiff Rail website.
  • Quakers Yard and Merthyr Joint Railway, on the excellent RAILSCOT website.
  • The Taff Vale Railway by D.S.M. Barrie, published on the Trackbed website.
  • The Edwardsville Viaducts on Alan George’s website.
  • Building Control Regulations for Merthyr County Borough Council, which includes a list of listed buildings in the borough.
  • Trevithick and the Penydarren Tramroad on Deryck Lewis’ WalesRails website.
  • ST0799 on the website.

Much of the route can still be followed, though in places it is buried in industrial waste, and most of the southern part has been thoroughly disturbed in recent times by the laying of a large water main. [1] We will follow the route of the line is the next post.


  1., accessed on 1st February 2019.
  2., accessed on 1st  February 2019.
  3., accessed on 1st February 2019.
  4., accessed on 2nd February 2019.(cf.: Mercer, S., Trevithick and the Merthyr Tramroad, in Transactions of the Newcomen Society, xxvi (1947-9), p89-103).
  5., accessed on 2nd February 2019.
  6., accessed on 2nd February 2019.
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  8., accessed on 2nd February 2019.
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  11., accessed on 2nd February 2019.
  12. F. Trevitick; “The Life of Richard Trevithick”; quoted from …, accessed on 2nd February 2019.
  13. The Penydarren Tramroad; Notes and News; The Railway Magazine Volume 97 No. 599, March 1951, p206-208.
  14. E.W. Twining; The First Railway Locomotive; The Railway Magazine Volume 97 No. 599, March 1951, p197-201.
  15. Stuart Owen-Jones;  The Penydarren Locomotive; National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; 1981. p6–10. 
  16., accessed on 2nd February 2019.
  17., accessed on 2nd February 2019.
  18., accessed on 2nd February 2019.
  19., accessed on 2nd February 2019.