Monthly Archives: September 2019

Trafalgar Colliery and Railway

OS Grid Reference: SO625144The featured image above is taken from the Way-Mark site covering the Forest of Dean . [3]

The History of the Colliery and its Tramway and Railway Connections

The Trafalgar gale was leased to Corneleus Brain in 1842, but work does not  to seem  to have  commenced until 1860. After 1867, coal from the adjacent Rose-in-hand gale was also worked. [1]

Since at least 1847 Corneleus and Francis Brain had been lessees of the Rose-in-Hand gale and in 1867 they obtained permission from the Crown  to effectively amalgamate the two games into one for the purpose of working the coal which would have been raised via the shafts at Trafalgar.  No record a shaft for the Rose-in-Hand exists. Coal, prior to 1867, was brought to the surface via the Royal Forester gale which ultimately became part of Speech House Hill Colliery. [2]

It seems as though the Brains also acquired the Strip-and-at-it Colliery which lay close to Trafalgar across a small ridge.  Strip-and-at-it had already been worked for some time ,The probably since 1832.  The gale was surrendered to the Crown in 1864 and was then acquired by the Brains. [2]

There were two shafts at Trafalgar, which were worked by the same winding engine. They extended through the Upper Coal Measures (Supra-Pennant Group) down to the Churchway High Delf Seam at a depth of 586 ft. The two shafts were less than 40 yards apart. Coal was lifted up one shaft and empties were taken down the other shaft. [1][2]

The Lightmoor Press website comments as follows :

“One shaft was the downcast, where fresh air went down into the workings, and the other had a kind of bonnet fitted over the tacklers which covered the top of the land pit so that very little air was lost.  The main upcast shaft was called Puzzle, as the pit had been driven up-hill to the surface.

The cage was guided down the shaft by wooden guides running inside metal shoes on the side of the cage.  Wooden guides were used on both pits.  Ten men and boys could ride in each cage.

A report in the Gloucester Journal  in February 1867 tells how in working the ‘large vein of coal’ at the colliery the declavity was so great that the ordinary method of hauling to the bottom of the shaft, presumably horse or man power, was impracticable.  Corneleus’ son, William Blanch Brain, the colliery engineer therefore erected a small winding engine on the surface close to the pit’s mouth in order to draw the loaded carts from the coal face to the bottom of the shaft.  The carts were connected to a long chain which ran to the far extremities of the workings.  Initially the great drawback was the delay in communication between the coal face and the pit bank when hauling was required. So W. B. Brain, who was also an electrician, procured a pair of electric bells and placed one in the winding engine house and the other at the top of the ‘dipple’ or haulage road.  Several tappers were then placed along the road allowing the men in any part of the works to signal for the starting or stopping of the haulage engine.  The bell at the top of the dipple kept the men at pit bottom informed as to what was happening.  The success of the system was such that communication between pit bottom and the main winding engineman was also electrified.  At pit bottom, a pair of tappers, one white and one red, were provided and on touching the white one a bell in the engine room sounded and the words ‘go on’ appeared on the dial plate attached.  On touching the red the word ‘stop’ was shown.

Electrical communication was also used on the surface, enabling W. B. Brain in his office to be kept in touch with the happenings at the pit.  Another snippet mentioned in the article was that a patent pump was in use at the colliery which instead of throwing successive stream of water threw a continuous one.” [2]

It is of interest that in the 1880s, when the Forest of Dean was a highly industrialised area, people were chosing to take a holiday in the forest and choosing too to visit working pits. John Bellows wrote a guide book in 1880 entitled, ‘A Week’s Holiday in the Forest of Dean’. It contains a commentary about the Trafalgar Colliery. The Lightmoor Press website quotes from it:

Before going down (underground) we may as well look at the large sandstone quarry on the premises where stones are cut for supporting the galleries below.  Let us pass through the tramway tunnel, 150 yards long, cut through the ridge of the hilltop, to a shaft on the other side.  This narrow ridge is the outcrop of the measures, and in the tunnel we can examine, rock, clod and duns, and a little thin coal with rock again below it. Having seen this we turn back again, enter the cage, and, closing our eyes to avoid the giddiness, are lowered 600 feet so smoothly, that we are hardly conscious of motion.  At the bottom we go into the underground office, and are supplied with a little brass lamp, and a bunch of cotton waste to wipe our hands upon, and then attended by ‘the bailey’ enter one of the main roadways. … Where necessary, the underground workings are lighted with gas, and one of the partners, Mr. William Brain, is now preparing to adopt the electric light (which is already in use on the surface at night) and also to utilise electricity as a motive power at many of the underground inclines, or dipples, in the colliery, where steam is not available; and thus save many horses.  There are more than forty horses living in this pit.  They never return to daylight until worn out or disabled. Some of them have been down here a dozen years, and are in excellent health.

Fire damp is wholly unknown in the Forest of Dean, and miners work with naked lights. Choke damp breaks in rarely, and seldom gives any trouble.  The pit is remarkably free from water, and being furnished with every known appliance, and most admirably kept, is probably one of the best in the Forest, or out of it.  Eleven hundred men and boys are employed here: 600 underground getting coal, and 500 as labourers &c., above ground, and in subsidiary occupations.  Good colliers earn, at present, 3s 8d per day; masons 3s 4d; and labourers, 2s 4d.  One can hardly imagine anything more severe in the way of labour than that of a miner lying on his side in a four foot passage, cutting away with his pick the hard rock encasing the seam. … The output from Trafalgar, at the moment we are writing, which is a dull season is seven hundred tons of coal per day.” [2][4]

Trafalgar Colliery. [10]Trafalgar Colliery. [11]

The Trafalgar colliery was unique in Dean in being lit by gas, and electric pumps were installed underground in 1882, the first recorded use of electric power in a mine. [1] Gas was forced down the shaft by means of a one horse horizontal engine erected in the gas house at the pit bank. The gas house appears as a building shown on the 1898 Severn & Wye plans containing a circular structure. [2][8] It appears on the 5th map extract below.

Francis William Thomas (Frank) Brain had been associated with the use of electric floodlights on the Severn Bridge in 1879 where they had been used to enable construction work to continue at night to make the best use of the tides. After use on the bridge, the apparatus, consisting of a couple of powerful lamps supplied by a Gramme machine, was re-erected at Trafalgar on the surface to light the colliery yard. The Lightmoor website continues:

Electricity was also used at Trafalgar when the first underground pumping plant was installed in December 1882.  The installation at Trafalgar was the first recorded use of electric power in mines. The equipment consisted of a Gramme machine on the surface driven by a steam engine and a Siemens dynamo used as a 1.5 horse power motor belted to a pump underground. The Gramme machine still exists today, preserved in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.  It attained such success that three additional plants were erected in May 1887 and these did the larger part of the pumping.  The last installation consisted of a double-throw nine inch plunger, by ten inch stoke, situated 2,200 yards from the generator and 1,650 yards from the bottom of the shaft.  The pipe main was seven inches in diameter and at its maximum speed of twenty-five strokes a minute the pump lifted 120 gallons to a height of 300 feet.  The current was conveyed to the motor by an 13/16 copper wire carried on earthenware cups.  The E.M.F. was 320 volts and the current required was 43 amperes.  The installation cost of the engine and the electrical plant was £644, whilst the weekly cost for maintenance, including 15% for depreciation and interest on capital was £7 17s. or .002d. per horse power per hour.  The efficiency attained throughout was only 35% but the engine which was an old one lost 6.49 horse power, or 22% alone.  If this was removed from the equation then the efficiency was 45%.” [2]

In the mid-1880s, the Trafalgar Colliery got into some financial difficulty. This was resolved in a way that kept the creditors at bay and left the Brain family in overall control. To do this a new company was formed – the Trafalgar Colliery Co. Ltd. This new company saw the amalgamation of the interests of the Brain family at Trafalgar and the Wye Colliery Co. who leased Speculation Colliery. Both mines came under the control of this new company. [2]

A narrow-gauge tramway (Brain’s Tramway) was built soon after the opening of the colliery to connect to the Great Western Railway’s Forest of Dean Branch at Bilson [1] The single line of 2ft 7.5in gauge utilised edge rails laid on wooden sleepers and ran east from the colliery, turning south-east at Laymoor, and terminated 1.5 miles away at interchange sidings at Bilson. It would appear that the authorisation for its construction was a Crown licence for ‘a road or tramway 15 feet broad’ dated May 1862. The date the line was opened for traffic is unknown as, although the first of three locomotives used on the tramway was built in 1869, it is possible that it may have been horse worked before this date. [2] Brain’s Tramway will, I hope, be the subject of a future post in this series. 6″ OS Map from 1901 showing both Mr Brain’s Tramway and the standard-gauge sidings of the Colliery and their connection to the Severn & Wye Railway close to Drybrook Road Station. [8]The extent of Mr Brain’s Tramway when first built to the Bilson Exchange Sidings. The point of conflict with the Severn and Wye near Laymoor (as mentioned below) can easily be picked out on the map extract. [8]Two pictures above taken along the line of Brain’s tramway – August 2017. [14]

Tramway locomotives hauled trains of 20-25 trams of coal on each trip along Brain’s Tramway to Bilson, until 1872 when the Severn & Wye built their branch to Bilson. This crossed the tramway on the level near Laymoor and resulted in the need for the two companies to negotiate an acceptable coexistence. This became more urgent once the Servern and Wye extended beyond Drybrook Road an when, in 1878, passenger trains began running over the crossing.

Although a connection had been made to the Severn and Wye Railway in 1872 [1] at a point between Serridge Junction and Drybrook Road station, a large element of Trafalgar’s output still travelled along the tramway to Bilson. [2]

In 1872, agreement had been reached between the Severn and Wye and Trafalgar Colliery for sidings to be put in to serve the colliery screens. Soon after the Mineral Loop of the Severn and Wye was completed, a loop off the main line was installed and sidings were laid. However, the Severn and Wye was dismayed to note that Trafalgar was still making heavy use of the tramway.

The Lightmoor Press website comments that:

An approach was made to the colliery company to provide arrangements for loading hand picked nut coal on the Severn & Wye sidings as well as on the Great Western at Bilson. This was rejected at first but by January 1887, after further negotiations, Trafalgar approved a proposal whereby the Severn & Wye altered the sidings and shed whilst the colliery company altered the screens, thus resolving this ‘vexed question’.

Finally, in December 1889, an agreement was entered into between the Severn & Wye and the Trafalgar Colliery Company who, it was said, ‘are desirous of obtaining railway communication to Bilson Junction in lieu of their existing trolley road.’
It was agreed that on or before 31 March 1890 the colliery company would construct new sidings and the railway company would lay in a new junction at Drybrook Road. Although the new junction was a quarter of a mile closer to Drybrook Road than the old sidings, the mileage charge was to remain the same.  The accommodation, on approximately the same level as Drybrook Road station, was to be constructed so that traffic to and from the Great Western would be placed on a different siding to that which was to pass over the Severn & Wye system. For taking traffic to Bilson Junction for transfer to the Great Western the colliery was to be charged 7d per loaded wagon, although empties were to pass free. The transfer traffic also had to be conveyed ‘at reasonable times and in fair quantities so as to fit in with the ordinary workings of the Railway Company trains’.

The new sidings were brought into use on 1st October 1890.” [2]

This agreement resulted in the abandonment of the length of the tramway from Laymoor to Bilson Junction. Two of the colliery’s narrow gauge locomotives were put up for sale, neither sold. [2]

The colliery appears to have owned three locomotives: ‘Trafalgar’ and ‘The Brothers’ were 0-4-2 side-tank locos. The third locomotive was ‘Free Miner’, an 0-4-0 side-tank. Trafalgar continued in use until 1906, working on the northern extension of the tramway, built in 1869, to the Golden Valley Iron Mine at Drybrook. [2]

Trafalgar was one of the larger pits, employing 800 men and boys in 1870, and producing 88,794 tons of coal in 1880 and about 500 tons/day in 1906. [1]

However, by 1913 difficulties were being encountered with water. The managements of both Foxes Bridge and Lightmoor Collieries were worried about the threatened abandonment of Trafalgar. They feared that if pumping ceased, their own collieries might be under threat from the build-up of water within Trafalgar’s workings.  The colliery was offered for sale to Crawshay’s, the owners of Lightmoor and with an interest in Foxes Bridge, but at a figure they would not entertain at that time. [2]

At the beginning of 1919 the main dip roadway at Trafalgar was suddenly, and unexpectedly, flooded.  A report in the Gloucester Journal  on 25 January stated that as a result of the flooding 450 men were temporarily unemployed.  Apparently the electric pump, which had drained the deep workings for over 30 years, failed. [1][2]

The flooding once again led to worries by the Foxes Bridge and Lightmoor managements  about the dangers to their concerns.  Trafalgar was now offered for sale at £16,000. The Foxes Bridge and Lightmoor managements were prepared to offer £10,000 and, in an attempt to meet the difference, the Crown agreed to provide £4,000 should the sale go through.  It was estimated at this time that there was still 2.5 million tons of coal to be worked in the pit and its associated gales which would give the Crown an annual return from tonnage rates of £1,000 for 20 years, certainly paying back the £4,000. Trafalgar was sold in November 1919. It continued to be worked until 1925, producing around 4,500 tons of coal each year. After closure, it may have been that pumping continued for a while but was interrupted by the coal strike in 1926, one report stating that upon the conclusion of the strike the workings were found to be flooded.  The effects of the colliery were sold off by auctions between 1925 and 1927. [1][2][3]

Various Locations around the site of the Colliery

  1. Trafalgar Arch – between Serridge Junction and Drybrook Road, the Severn and Wye Railway ran very close to the large spoil heap of Trafalgar Colliery. The line was protected by a stone retaining wall braced at one point by a brick-lined stone arch. This was built by the S&WR at a cost of about £200 in 1878 or thereabouts, after lengthy negotiations with the colliery company, who wanted to tip spoil on the other side of the line. It is uncertain whether or not the bridge was used for this purpose and tipping appears to have continued on the original site. In 1887 the retaining wall was damaged by a major slip. It was replaced by a stronger one in 1904, but this soon collapsed, and was eventually rebuilt. The bridge was renovated when the old railway track-bed became a cycleway. The arch was restored to as-new condition before October 2001. [9] It is highlighted on the 25″ OS Map extract below. [8] We walked to the colliery location in September 2019 and took the picture of the arch below.

    Trafalgar Arch – taken on 18th September 2019. (My photograph)

    The Strip-and-at-it end of the Tramway Tunnel [12]The Trafalgar end of the Tunnel. [12]The locations of the two shafts at Trafalgar Colliery. [14]

    A view from immediately to the North of the East end of the Spoil Heap at Trafalgar Colliery. [15]

  2. The Disused Tunnel – the tunnel between Trafalgar and Strip-and-at-it Collieries was  cut through a small ridge between the two collieries. It had a very narrow bore as is evident in the adjacent pictures. The north portal, in the first of the photographs, is very difficult to access. The south portal was in the wall of an old quarry facing the site of the Trafalgar Pit.
  3. The Colliery Screens – there are remains of retaining walls from the screens which can still be seen on site, a picture appears below.
  4. The tip – the Colliery spoil heap still exists on the north side of the cycleway which follows the Severn and Wye Railway formation. “The earthwork remains of the Trafalgar Colliery spoil heap are visible as an earthwork on aerial photographs. This massive spoil heap was situated to the south west of the colliery buildings and is centred on SO 6223 1424. It measures 485 metres in length and up to 120 metres in width. North east of the spoil heap at SO 6241 1445 is a quarry where stone was extracted for colliery buildings and shaft linings.” [13] It was later used as the route of the tramway through the tunnel to Strip-and-at-it Mine. The spoil heap material is derived from the Supra-Pennant Coal Measures.
  5. The Shafts – the two shafts are marked in the early 21st Century by two large standing stones, as shown in the adjacent image.
  6. Trafalgar House – the home of Sir Francis Brain is still in use as a private dwelling. Two modern pictures are shown below. These are followed by a small extract from the 25″ OS Map [8] and a picture of the house and tramway which is in an article by Ian Pope in Archive Journal No. 84. [16]

The remaining colliery buildings and screens. [14]

Trafalgar House. [14]

Trafalgar House,. The picture was taken in 2002. [1]

25″ OS Map – Trafalgar House. [8]

Trafalgar House early in the life of the Colliery. [16]

References

  1. https://www.forestofdeanhistory.org.uk/resources/sites-in-the-forest/trafalgar-colliery, accessed on 30th August 2019.
  2. http://lightmoor.co.uk/forestcoal/CoalTrafalgar.html, accessed on 30th August 2019.
  3. http://way-mark.co.uk/foresthaven/historic/trafalgr.htm, accessed on 30th August 2019.
  4. John Bellows; A Week’s Holiday in the Forest of Dean; 1880, replica edition Holborn House, 2013.
  5. Cyril Hart; The Industrial History of Dean; David & Charles, Newton Abbott, 1971.
  6. https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/the-branch-tramways-and-sidings-of-the-severn-and-wye-tramroad, collated in February 2018. This link gives some background information on all of the branch tramways of the Severn and Wye. I hope to be able to provide some more specific detail on a number of these tramways in the future.
  7. Gloucestershire County Council Historic Record Archive which holds a great deal of source information. Monument No. 5701; https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=4329&resourceID=108, accessed on 20th September 2019. … The Severn and Wye Co built a branch from Mirystock to Churchway, where a junction was made with the Bullo Pill tramroad in 1812 (This became the GWR Forest of Dean Branch). A short loop line at Mirystock was constructed in 1847 to give better access to the Churchway branch from the south, a second spur to the Churchway branch was constructed in 1865. … The Churchway Tramway closed in 1877 and was lifted almost immediately. I hope that this tramway will be the subject of a future post. The 25″ OS Maps of the time, very fortunately, were drawn over a significant time frame. This means that one part of the Mirystock Mine appears on the maps (below) but not the southern half which was the part which obliterated the junction of the Churchway Tramway with the Severn and Wye Main line. Four extracts from those maps appear below. The first three show the length of the Churchway tramway, the fourth shows the junction with the Severn & Wye Tramroad in slightly greater detail. These are sourced from reference 8 below.
  8. https://maps.nls.uk/os/25inch-england-and-wales, accessed on 20th September 2019.
  9. https://www.forestofdeanhistory.org.uk/resources/sites-in-the-forest/trafalgar-arch, accessed on 22nd September 2019.
  10. http://way-mark.co.uk/foresthaven/historic/hstcin0e.htm, accessed on 22nd September 2019.
  11. https://www.flickr.com/photos/8812089@N06/15926122657, accesed on 22nd September 2019. … Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
  12. https://aboutangiekay.blogspot.com/2019/04/strip-and-at-it-and-other-reprehensible.html?m=1, accessed on 22nd September 2019.
  13. https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=8597&resourceID=108, accessed on 24th September 2019.
  14. http://www.industrialgwent.co.uk/wuk12c-fodne/index.htm, accessed on 24th September 2019.
  15. https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4957275, accessed on 24th September 2019.
  16. Ian Pope; Mr Brain’s Tramway; in Archive No. 84, Black Dwarf, Lightmoor Press, Lydney, 2014; p3-31.

The Dishonest Steward – Luke 16:1-13

I find it almost impossible to talk to people when the TV is on. Somehow the television just grabs my attention. Perhaps more amusing is what happens to me at the cinema. I’m one of those people who get completely engrossed in the film, so completely drawn into the story that I’m oblivious to anything else.

I once went with some friends to watch Braveheart (Mel Gibson) – if you’ve seen it you’ll remember that there were lots of graphic battle scenes. I’m told that every time anyone got hit by an axe or a spear my body convulsed in sympathy. After one particularly grusome bit I glanced along the row and was embarrassed to find all my friends watching me rather than the screen. … As we were leaving the cinema a friend grabbed my arm and said that it was almost as entertaining watching me as watching the film itself.

Films are meant to take a hold of us. Good films draw us into the plot. The skill of a film director is measured by how well s/he is able to draw us into the story. Gifted preachers and story tellers are just the same; they draw us into the plot of their sermon or story.

Do you remember the story in the Old Testament of the prophet Nathan confronting King David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He told him a story about a poor man with only one lamb whose rich neighbour took the lamb to feed a guest. David was indignant when he heard the story and shouted, “The man who did this deserves to die”. … And after a long pause, Nathan replied, “You are that man”. … He had trapped David. His skilled storytelling brought David to the point where he couldn’t but admit his guilt.

Jesus was the best story teller of all. His stories interested, gripped and intrigued people. People were drawn to listen and to make judgements on what he said. In our Gospel reading today Jesus tells one of these stories. A story which seems to condone dishonesty. Perhaps you can imagine the possible responses of those who heard the story:

Some might have said, “There you are, I told you there was nothing wrong with the way that I am running the business. If Jesus says its alright that’s good enough for me”.

Others might have sat in the corner shaking their heads and tutting.

Perhaps others wanted to write in and complain about standards. “This Jesus is teaching things that will corrupt our children”.

Some might just have been confused, … “Why is Jesus condoning something that we know is wrong?”

Others, who were well aware of the moral complexities of life might have felt something of the strength of the dilemma the steward in the story faced. For decisions that many people face in their working lives are not black and white issues but are made up of many shades of grey. Perhaps Jesus is letting us know that he understands the difficulty of such decisions.

Whatever response it provoked, J esus’ story would have had everyone gripped and intrigued. Wondering what to make of it.

We are told, specifically, of two groups of people listening to the parable:

•     his disciples – who seemed to be the main audience;

•     and in the verse immediately after our reading we are told that the Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. The response of the two groups and the message they heard was completely different:

Τhe disciples may have been confused by the story but they listened to the lessons that Jesus had for them.

In the Gospel reading, we heard Jesus challenging his first disciples about their attitude to wealth and responsibility. The same challenges apply to us! ……

First, Jesus challenges us to use what God gives us here on earth (wealth, gifts & time) for his eternal purposes, for the work of his kingdom.

Secondly, Jesus says that God gives us smaller responsibilities through which we can learn faithfulness to him, before he places heavier or bigger burdens on us (at church or in the world).

Thirdly, (in v13), he reminds us that if money & material things become too important to us we’ll lose sight of the God that we worship. In fact we’ll become worshippers of money and possessions.

Τhe Pharisees, on the other hand, sneered at Jesus. They heard the same as the disciples but they chose not to listen. We know from the rest of the NT that the disciples continued to struggle to follow Jesus but that the Pharisees saw themselves as superior to him. They rejected him and his teaching.

These questions or lessons about money and responsibilities are important ones. Many people in business struggle with just the same kind of issues as the steward or manager in the parable. It is so hard to decide where the narrow dividing line falls between dishonesty or sharp practice and a healthy competition for work. It is sometimes difficult to know when we have crossed that fine line. Ultimately, Jesus seems to be making it clear that money and wealth, jobs and security are all intended to be our servants and not our masters.

Don’t worry if you struggle to understand what Jesus is saying. Keep struggling, for in many ways that is the point of the parable. Let the parable worry away at you. For honest doubt, tentative faith and belief are all part of growing as a Christian.

14042-12697-man_fog_walking_edited-1200w-tn-1-1200w-tnWhen God speaks we always have a choice – we can respond with faith (struggling faith) like the disciples, honesty admitting our doubts, or we can sneer at what Jesus is saying to us, like the Pharisees did. We can turn away from Jesus. There is always a choice. God draws us into the story and brings us to the point of decision, but the choice is always ours. As disciples, we can trust him, struggling to work out our faith in the midst of a confusing world, or like the Pharisees we can reject him, turn our back on him and walk away.

The Tanat Valley Light Railway and the Nantmawr Branch – Part 1

Llangynog Railway Station in 1930.

The Tanat Valley Light Railway (TVLR) was a 15-mile (24 km) long standard gauge light railway. It ran westwards from Llanyblodwel in Shropshire, about 5 miles (8 kilometres) south-west of Oswestry. It crossed the Wales–England border and continued up the Tanat valley, terminating at Llangynog in Powys. It opened in 1904, providing access to a fairly remote area, and transport facilities for slate production and agriculture. Its promoters were unable to raise the capital to construct the line, but a number of government grants and generosity by the Cambrian Railways company enabled the building of the line. The company was always in debt and in 1921 was obliged to sell the line to the Cambrian Railways. [1] But, in confirming these things, we are getting ahead of ourselves. … Suffice to say, this post looks at the history of the line and the Nantmawr Branch. A subsequent post will look in more detail at the length of the line and its infrastructure.These two plans show the route of the Tanat Valley Light Railway and its place within the local railway infrastructure. [1]

There were several schemes put forward over the years for the construction of a line in the Tanast Valley, but they failed due to lack of interest from subscribers. One ambitious scheme was to extend the West Midland Railway [7] through the region, passing through Montgomery and Bala penetrating the Berwyns by a long tunnel. If this scheme had been successful, it would perhaps have given the Great Western Railway a trunk line to Holyhead; as it was, the Chester and Holyhead Railway was adopted instead. [1]

In 1866 the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway [8] opened from Shrewsbury to the quarries and Nantmawr. That railway was intended to continue through the Tanat Valley to Porthmadog, but it failed to raise the necessary capital. [9]

In 1882 an Oswestry and Llangynog Railway had been authorised by Act of Parliament, but it failed to raise the necessary capital and was formally abandoned in 1889. [10]

The Light Railways Act [11] was passed in 1896, enabling the construction of low-cost railways. This encouraged renewed consideration of a railway in the Tanat Valley, and two alternative schemes were developed. One was for a narrow gauge line from the Llanfyllin terminus of the Cambrian Railways branch. The other was for a standard gauge line from Porthywaen, four miles south of Oswestry. After deliberation, the latter was adopted. [12]

Two months after the passing the of Act, the Oswestry and Llangynog Railway Company met and formed the Tanat Valley Light Railway Company (TVLR). On 5th August 1897 the Company presented its grant bid to the Earl of Jersey who was presiding at the enquiry on behalf of the Light Railway Commission and a grant was awarded. [20]

Wikipedia asserts that, “the Cambrian Railways agreed to work the line for 60% of gross receipts, and a Treasury grant of £22,000 was agreed, as well as an interest-free loan of £6,000. Financial assistance was also made available from local councils; the share capital of the Company was £15,000. The General Manager of the Cambrian Railways, Mr C. S. Denniss, estimated the capital cost of the line at £46,000. Receipts would be £2,950 per annum. After interest and fixed charges, this would enable a dividend of 4% to be paid.” [1] It was noted that the margin for dividends was small.

Wikipedia points out, however, that others saw things differently: alternative figures were “provided by the Town Clerk of Oswestry, Mr J. Parry-Jones. The total capital of the Company was to be £65,500. Local authorities had promised £18,500 in loans or share subscriptions; £18,000 had been promised as a free grant (though with conditions) by the Treasury; £20,000 had been promised by the Trustees of the Llangedwyn Estate, probably as a share subscription; £1,500 in shares by the Earl of Powis, and about £4,000 by other local investors. “The company’s borrowing powers are £12,000, so that towards the £65,500 capital required, they are sure of over £55,900.” [13][1]

The Light Railway Order was granted on 12 September 1899, [14] although modifying Orders were needed in 1904 and 1908 to assist in raising capital.[1]

Cambrian Railways Train operating on the Tanat Valley Light Railway in 1904. [1]

Construction started until July 1901. [14]. The line was inspected by the Board of Trade Inspecting Officer on 21 December 1903; [10] the line was formally opened on 5 January 1904, and the public passenger service started the following day. [9][14]

Industry in the Tanat Valley

The Berwyn Hills are part of the range that begin in Llangollen and end at Cader Idris near Dolgellau. The Western and Northern sides of this range drop steeply into the Dee Valley, but the Eastern side is broken into steep sided channels which form the routes for a number of streams and rivers that begin in the Berwyns. One of these rivers is the Afon Tanat which arises about 5 miles to the West of the small village of Llangynog, flowing eastward past the Llangynog for 12 miles until forced by Llanymynech Hill to flow South to a confluence with the Afon Vyrnwy. [2]

Slate and stone have been quarried across the Berwyn Hills for many years and mining has taken place since prehistoric times. The first documented evidence of mining comes from the latter part of the 17th century. A mine at Craig-y-Mwn was providing considerable amounts of lead but early miners found transporting goods to smelters at Pool Quay by the River Severn, difficult. [2]

Although there is no evidence to show that the South Llangynog Lead Mine was closed because of the inadequacy of the transport system, most authors imply this to be the case for other mines in the area. In 1870, the Craig-y-men Lead Mine closed despite having an annual turnover of £30,000 – a significant sum at the time. [20]

The lead mine at Cwm Maengwynedd and the phosphate mines at Cwm Hirnant and Cwm Gwenen were in a similar situation. Raw materials and supplies sent to Llangynog cost 20s a ton more than at Portywaen. Timber sold at Llangynog raised 7d a foot whereas, at Oswestry, it would sell for 1s a foot. The lack of a railway had limited the industries and was threatening their future. [20]

Joseph Parry, the Liverpool water engineer, reported in 1897 that, without the railway, the Vymwy aqueduct could not be completed. Damage to infrastructe would be too great and repair costs would mean that the venture would have been unprofitable. Industry needed a more sophisticated transport system. The railway was needed for the survival of the industrial life of the valley. [20]

The delay in the coming of the railway meant that the slate mines at Llangynog also found that they could not compete with other areas and gradually declined in importance. The arrival of the Tanat Valley Light Railway came too late to rescue the slate mines as by then the slate industry was in general decline. [2] Only line slate Maine remained open until 1936 (the Rhiwarth Slate Mine). [20]

However, the arrival of the Tanat Valley Light Railway gave new life to other mines in the area. Improved transport made it viable to quarry the granite chippings that abounded and which were being used as surface dressing for roads needed by increased popularity of the car. [2]

At the opposite end of the Tanat Valley there were a number of Limestone quarries which had been enjoying good transport links via the Ellesmere Canal and the associated tramway links for over 100 years. Considering the mineral and ore potential of the Tanat Valley it seems odd that a narrow gauge railway was not considered. [2]

Permission to build the railway had been granted in 1897, yet it was 7 more years before it was completed in 1904. The railway brought a renewed sense of hope to the Tanat Valley which had long been in decline. By 1900, only one of the 19 mines and quarries which had been operating in the valley was still in use. This was the Craig-y-Mwn Mine, 3.5 miles to the north-east of Llangynog. The mine survived because it was closer to the Rhaeadr Valley which had a better road than the Tanat Valley. [20]

By 1913, six mines or quarries had been re-opened. All of them were sited at the western (Llangynog) end of the line and all of them used the TVLR. All were stimulated into new life by the arrival of the railway. Prior to the opening of the line, all of the mines which opened in 1904 had, between 1898 and 1900, been worked by the Belgian Vieille Montage Company. This was one of the most prestigious mining companies of the time but it had been, in every case, unsuccessful in the Llangynog area. [20]

The mines were not workable until the arrival of the railway and the railway, in turn, was the stimulus for the re-opening of the mines. Three of these mines, Craig-y-men, Cwm Orog and Cwm Glenhofen, had closed by 1911, but the others all remained open until at least 1936.  These mines included the Rhiwarth Slate Mine, the West Llangynog Granite Quarry, the Makers Granite Quarry and the Craig Rhiwarth Granite Quarry. [20]

Noticeable remnants of the industrial activity in the valley still remain. Most noticeable are the spoil heaps at Llangynog whilst at the other end of  the valley the limestone quarry remains have mostly been reclaimed by nature. [2]

Agriculture in the Tanat Valley

While the Tanat Valley contained at least 19 mines or quarries, the maiority of its inhabitants worked on the land. A survey carried out on 28th July 1897 showed that 296 vehicles, 777 people and 793 travelled down the valley. Most of this traffic was agricultural in nature. The modes of transport used were old-fashioned and inefficient. [20]

Mark R. Lucas comments: “Many farmers could not afford the time to make these Journeys and were forced to sell the animals at their farms for £2 or £3 less per head than if they had been sold in the open market. The absence of a railway was causing a population decline because farmers could not afford to pay their labourers. [20]

The conditions of the grant that the TVIR applied for stated that the railway must “be profitable to Agriculture.”  As the grant was awarded, we can assume that the Earl of Jersey thought that the railway would “be profitable to Agriculture” [20]

The Tanat Valley Line

Perkins and Fox-Davies described the line in The Railway Magazine of May 1904.

“Passenger trains ran from Oswestry, southwards over the Cambrian Railways line as far as Llynclys, then turning west on the Cambrian Railways Porthywaen branch, leaving that at Porthywaen passenger station, a very small building, and now entering on the Tanat Valley line itself. The track was of much lighter construction now, consisting of Vignoles pattern (flat-bottom) rails [15] dogged direct to the sleepers. The Nantmawr branch of the Cambrian Railways converged from the north. The first TVR station was Blodwel Junction, a single platform station. Blodwel station had been opened in 1866, the terminus of the Potteries line, and known then as Llanyblodwel, part of the mineral branch crossing the path of the TVR. A road crosses the railway by a bridge at Blodwel; this is the only place where there is a bridge crossing of a road.

The next station stop was at Llanyblodwel; a short distance after the station the train stopped for the engine to take water. Glanyrafon was next geographically, but was not yet open when Perkins and Fox-Davies visited, and it was not referred to by them. This section was followed by a crossing into Wales, climbing at 1 in 64. Llansilin Road is the next station, serving Penybont. Llangedwyn station is next, where there was provision for crossing trains on the single line, followed by the small station of Pentrefelin, and then Llanrhaiadr Mochnant, also built as a passing station. A reservoir for Liverpool Corporation Waterworks was built at a location five miles away, and the railway was used for importing some construction materials. The line continues, calling at Pedair Ffordd and terminates at Llangynog. The journey time from Oswestry was 70 to 75 minutes.

The gradients on the line generally rose to Llangynog. It fell with a short section at 1 in 72 to Blodwel Junction, and then rose with a half mile at 1 in 64 but generally more moderate gradients all the way to the terminus. Porthywaen was at 132 feet above Ordnance Datum and Llangynog at 320 feet.” [9]

It seems as though passenger carriages ran with the mineral trains from 1904, but this ended on the first day of 1917. [4] Mineral revenue was about twenty times the value of passenger receipts, and the latter declined further in the 1920s and 1930s as reliable road transport was developed. [1]

From its opening in 1904, the Tanat Valley Light Railway Company was continuously in the hands of the receiver,[17][18] as its income did not enable it to pay the interest on loans. The Cambrian Railways subsidised it, but by 1921 it was obvious that improvements to the track and bridges were required, and this was beyond the financial resources of the bankrupt company. Takeover by the Cambrian was the only way out, and this was authorised by Order of the Light Railway Commissioners. [19]

The Cambrian Railways were themselves taken over by the Great Western Railway the following year. [1]

The passenger train service in 1922 consisted of three trains each way between Oswestry and Llangynog, with an extra train on the first Wednesday of the month. [1] By July 1938 the service was more complicated: successive trains ran from Oswestry to Llangynog respectively on Wednesdays; daily except Wednesday and Sunday; Monday, Tuesday and Friday; Wednesday Thursday and Saturday; daily except Saturday and Sunday; on Saturday only; and on the first Wednesday of every month, but also on 30 July. The return service was a little simpler, running respectively on Wednesday; weekdays only; weekdays only; Monday to Friday; and Saturdays only. [16]

While railways had an inherent advantage in transporting heavy minerals, the line’s viability was dependent on the commercial success of local quarries, and when local quarries output declined the finances of the line became irretrievable. [4]

Passenger services were discontinued on 15 January 1951. The line west of Llanrhaiadr was closed completely in July 1952, a residual goods service continuing as far as that point for the time being. The line closed completely in December 1960. [4]

In the short time that it had served the Tanat Valley, the TVLR had been efficient. regular and useful, but it was no longer needed as the area lapsed back into an agrarian lifestyle The industrial potential of the valley had declined so significantly that the railway could not be sustained. [20]

The seeds of the railway’s failure were sown right at the start of its existence. We have already noted the convoluted arrangements made to finance the line. The opening of the railway was an optimistic and joyous occasion and the then Chairman even announced that a second line between LLanrhaedr and Cwm Maengwynedd would be buikt. This was notbto see the light of day as the TVLR never managed to deal with it own financial difficulties. [20]

In March 1904, the Treasury withdrew all furthwer funding. This left the TVLR with an overdraft of £2,460 and an outstanding contractors bill of close to £14,000. By June 1905, the company owed £20,000 and went into receivership. By 1917, a writ for £40.676 18s 8d issued and six years later the TVLR had to sell its land to the GWR in order to make the repayment. [20] The TVLR was not able to invest in it future. It was in a desperate cycle of financial loss which eventually caused its downfall.

There appears to have been a very significant reduction in all forms of traffic on the line. Agricultural traffic, for some inexplicable reason declined between 1923 and 1938 from 732 wagons per annum to less than 450 wagons per annum. Passenger traffic leached away to the roads. The advent of the motor car and of  parallel bus service were the major factors here, although it is also possible that the condition of the passenger carriages was deteriorating. The close of moist of the mines meant that mineral traffic fell drastically as well as the table below highlights. [20]

Crippling debts and no forecastable traffic inevitably brought about the closure of the line. The Coal Crisis of 1951 was the final straw and after closure because of a lack of coal the line never reopened. [20]

The Nantmawr Branch Line

The Nant Mawr Branch of the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway (The Potts) was opened in 1872 to supply Limestone primarily for road-building and for the manufacturing of Lime. This was a primary incentive for the construction of what became eventually the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway.

Access to the Nant Mawr branch was gained using ‘Cambrian’ lines (which the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway had running powers over for this part) these met South of Llanyblodwel station at a twin junction where Nant Mawr traffic then turned northwards onto the actual branch then slowly travelled north-west underneath the Llanfyllin Branch then across the River Tanat by means of a wooden viaduct, underneath the main road bridge and finally across the river once more using a second wooden viaduct and so into Llanyblodwel itself. [3]

The junction was known as Nantmawr Junction until the first world war after which it became the Llanfyllin Branch Junction.

The Nant Mawr branch was on a rising gradient all the way to Nant Mawr, starting from Llanddu it passed under the A495 road-bridge and then across Whitegates crossing which has recently been refurbished. The branch then curved gently to the left, crossing a small stream and finally entered the Nant Mawr quarry complex.

In the early 21st century, only the line from Llanddu to Nant Mawr with a run round loop at each end still exists, there is undoubtedly signs of the former workings buried under the made up land at Nant Mawr, some of which have already been uncovered.

The industrial heritage of the area is to reasonably well documented and like the railway which served it, has a slightly checkered past, in 1860 the Nant Mawr quarry was owned by Mr R France who as main contractor for both the Potts and the Mawddwy railways enjoyed similar interests to Thomas Savin.

Around the same time the Lilleshall Company based at Donnington in Shropshire was finding it difficult to source enough supplies of lime to ensure continuity at its iron furnaces (Lime was used in the fluxing process) and they took a lease on Nant Mawr quarry, after almost 60 years they surrendered the lease sometime in the late 1920’s early 1930’s for by 1938 the quarry was being worked by the Chirk Castle Lime and Stone Company who continued until Amey Roadstone took over in the late 1960’s before the quarry finally closed in about 1977. [3]

Rural passenger use collapsed and the railway closed to passengers in 1951, and completely in 1964. [4]

A new Tanat Valley Light Railway Company was established, and in 2009 opened a heritage railway centre at Nantmawr Lime Kilns, close to the earlier Tanat Valley line. [5][6]

The Nantmawr Lime Kilns

The imposing structure, reputed to be the tallest Lime Kilns in the country, provides a fantastic backdrop alongside the original (now excavated) kiln sidings and the first section of the railway to be restored.

Built in 1870 by a Mr France to service his quarry located further up the valley, the colourful and fractured history of the kilns, the quarry and the railway is only matched by that of Mr France himself who was a Victorian Visionary with a roguish side to his life.

Further work is being carried out in the vicinity of the kilns in order to create a static exhibition of how they would have been worked in their early years. The kilns provided the perfect setting for the return of steam to Nant Mawr in November 2009. [6]

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanat_Valley_Light_Railway, accessed on 7th September 2019.
  2. http://www.nantmawrvisitorcentre.co.uk/tanat-valley-light-railway/industry-in-the-tanat-valley, accessed on 7th September 2019
  3. http://www.nantmawrvisitorcentre.co.uk/tanat-valley-light-railway/the-nant-mawr-branch, accessed on 7th September 2019.
  4. Peter E. Baughan; A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 11: North and Mid Wales; David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1980.
  5. Tanat Valley Light Railway; Nant Mawr Visitor Centre; http://www.nantmawrvisitorcentre.co.uk/tanat-valley-light-railway, accessed on 7th September 2019.
  6. Nant Mawr Lime Kilns; Nant Mawr Visitor Centre;  http://www.nantmawrvisitorcentre.co.uk/nant-mawr-lime-kilns, accessed on 7th September 2019.
  7. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Midland_Railway, accessed on 16th September 2019.
  8. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potteries,_Shrewsbury_and_North_Wales_Railway, accessed on 16th September 2019.
  9. T. R. Perkins and F. E. Fox-Davies, The Tanat Valley Light Railway, in the Railway Magazine, May 1904.
  10. E. F. Carter, An Historical Geography of the Railways of the British Isles, Cassell, London, 1959.
  11. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_Railways_Act_1896, accessed on 16th September 2019.
  12. C. P. Gasquoine, The Story of the Cambrian: Biography of a Railway, Woodhall, Minshall, Thomas and Co., Oswestry, 1922.
  13. The Wrexham Advertiser: 16 September 1899.
  14. Peter E. Baughan, A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 11: North and Mid Wales, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1980.
  15. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_profile#Vignoles_rail, accessed on 17th September 2019.
  16. Bradshaws July 1938 Railway Guide, David and Charles Reprints, Newton Abbot, 1969.
  17. C. P. Gasquoine, The Story of the Cambrian: Biography of a Railway, Woodhall, Minshall, Thomas and Co., Oswestry, 1922.
  18. Preamble to the Cambrian Railways (Tanat Valley Light Railway Transfer) Order, 1921.
  19. Cambrian Railways (Tanat Valley Light Railway Transfer) Order, 1921.
  20. Mark R. Lucas; The Industrial History of Llangynog, North Wales; GCE Project, 1986. I came across this paper in the small museum in St Melangell’s Church at Pennant Melangell in August 2019.

Different Railway Gauges in operation the Forest of Dean

In September 2019, my wife and I spent a week in the Forest of Dean. On one day, we visited the Dean Forest Railway at Norchard. [1] Around the site at Norchard are a number of permanent outdoor displays.

The featured image in this post shows three gauges that for a very short time were all in use on the trackbed of the Severn and Wye Railway through the Forest.

The original gauge was the track-gauge used by the Severn and Wye Tramroad. Rails were cast iron and each section was around 1 metre in length. They were held in place not by timber sleepers but by stone blocks placed on the line of the rails. The gauge (or spacing between the two rails) was 3ft 6ins. This gauge was used by many of the branch tramways in the forest.

When the Severn and Wye became a Railway rather than a Tramroad the standard gauge for the Great Western Railway was what we now call ‘broad-gauge’ – 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm). The Severn and Wye was constructed to the same standards as the Great Western, so avoiding the need for transhipment facilities at railheads such as Lydney Junction.

The Great Western Railway lost the ‘gauge war’  in the UK. Standard-gauge became the gauge first used by George Stephenson – 4 ft ​8 12 in (1,435 mm) gauge. After the decision was made that all future lines in the UK would be built to the standard-gauge, there was period of mixed-gauge operation (tracks were laid with three rails), the Great Western Railway did not complete the conversion of its network to standard gauge until 1892. [2]

All three of these gauges could be found on the formation of the Severn and Wye Railway until 1892.

However, these were not the only track gauges in use in the Forest.  An example of a different gauge in use us provided by Mr Brain’s Tramway which linked Trafalgar Colliery and Drybrook to Bilson Sidings and Transhipment Wharfs. It had a gauge of 2 ft ​7 12 in (800 mm). Brain chose this gauge for his tramway because it matched the gauge used underground within his collieries and so saved an additional transhipment cost at the pithead. [3]The display outlining the use of tramways which is on show in the Dean Forest Railway Museum at Norchard.The display outlining the change of gauge which is on show in the Dean Forest Railway Museum at Norchard.

 

References

1. https://www.deanforestrailway.co.uk, accessed on 14th September 2019.

2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard-gauge_railway, accessed on 15th September 2019.

3. Ian Pope; Mr Brain’s Tramway; Archive No. 84, Lightmoor Press, Lydney, p2-32.

 

Just telling a joke! – Luke 15:1-10

How do you recognize a joke? What are the signals you look out for?

There’s: ‘Did you hear the one about…’ or ‘A man goes into a pub …’ or ‘A man goes to see his doctor …’

The introduction tells you that there is a funny story coming and you set yourself up for it, you’re ready to laugh!

Have you noticed as well that often when we tell jokes, even though we’re telling a story about the past we use the present tense.

Someone once told me that much as English comedians tell jokes about Irish people. (Although, of course, we don’t do it so often now because we have recognized that it causes offence.) Much as we tell jokes about the Irish, people in Jesus day used to tell jokes about shepherds. They were considered to be country bumpkins of relatively low intelligence. Now I really don’t know how true that statement was. But there is one story in the Bible that really does seem to me to be a case of Jesus telling a joke, or at least a funny story to make a point. And that is the first half of our Gospel reading this morning.

I can almost imagine Jesus starting his parable with the words. ‘Did you hear the one about the shepherd who had a hundred sheep …’ And how does the story run? ‘Did you hear the one about the shepherd who had a hundred sheep – he left 99 out in the open field and went searching for the one that had gone missing.’

And I can imagine the sniggers, the knowing looks, perhaps even the ribald laughter. ‘How foolish, how stupid, typical of a shepherd,’ some of Jesus listeners might say.

And can you imagine the increased laughter when Jesus goes on to say that the shepherd goes home when he finds the lost sheep and has a party. Not a thought anymore for the 99!! As far as this shepherd is concerned they can look after themselves.

It is manifestly stupid. It is a silly story. No sensible shepherd would do anything like this. The loss would be too great. Better to leave the one who is lost and look after the 99 that are still fine. That makes economic sense. And Jesus audience fall around laughing, all their prejudices confirmed.

But laughter has softened them up for the punch-line. … Says Jesus, ‘This is what God is like, this is what it is like in heaven. God is more concerned for the lost than those who are OK.’

God is more concerned for the sinner who needs to repent than he is for the Pharisee who believes that he is righteous. God is more concerned for the backslider than for the good upstanding Christian. God seeks out the lost and rejoices when they are found again – even if in the doing of it, he seems foolish and ludicrous – even if everyone else thinks that God is on a wild goose chase. God chases after the lost, longing to show them his love, longing to draw them back into relationship with him.

This means that if we, in our wisdom, feel sure enough of ourselves to say what is right and what is wrong; if we, in our wisdom, define someone as a sinner. Then, rather than putting them beyond the reach of God’s love, we place them at the centre of God’s love. … Our parable suggests that God is happy to leave us to fend for ourselves as God focusses on them, as he turns his love towards them. The joke is on us!

And if we were to go on to read the story of the Prodigal Son later in this chapter 15 of Luke, it would be little different. In that story the Father is prepared to make a mockery of himself, all for the sake of a worthless good for nothing son. A fine upstanding Jewish father is prepared to suffer the shame of his village seeing him running through the streets to greet his wayward Son. And the story tells us that the Father places the lost Son ahead of the faithful but self-righteous Son! … We’ve got to be fools to miss the point of these parables. God cares nothing for what people think of him. God’s eyes are focussed on those who are lost, spiritually and physically. God’s eyes are fixed on those in need.

This is what God is like. God seeks out those who are lost, who feel unloved and abandoned. God doesn’t mind looking foolish, if only God manages to draw one lost human being back from the brink, back into his arms. And God is so taken up with joy when one of us hears of his love and responds to that love, that everything else for that moment fades completely into insignificance.

God’s love centres on the cross where Jesus died. It is consummated as Jesus rises from the dead. Just like the sheep that was lost allowed the shepherd to pick it up and take it in his arms, so God encourages us all to have that kind of trusting faith. To allow God to throw his arms around us in love. ‘Yes, Lord, I want that kind of love, please be my shepherd, now and always.’

And God calls us to have this same self-negating, self-deprecating, foolish, silly love, that goes after the lost with complete abandon. Nothing sensible, nothing thought out. Just a headlong rush to share God’s love with those who need him. To love and not to count the cost. To seek out those in need and commit ourselves to their welfare.

imagesJohn in one of his epistles says, ‘This is love – not that we loved God, but that God loved us and gave his Son to die for us.’ This is the measure by which we judge our love for our partners, for our family for our friends, for our neighbours and for others who are in need. Love that reaches out unconditionally, foolishly, ridiculously without thought for the cost. That is love like God’s love. This is no joke, it’s the gist of Jesus parable set for today!

Speech House (Hill) Colliery and Railway

Speech House Hill Colliery was located at OS Grid Reference: SO614119. The featured image above comes from the Sungreen website © Mark Ward. He comments: “This lantern slide shows the Speech House Hill Colliery in c1908; I believe coal winning had ceased some years earlier and it looks as though dismantlement of the engine house had begun.” [2] Elsewhere the colliery is referred to as “Speech House Colliery.”The signboard on the site of the old Speech House Colliery sits close to the climbing wall in the Beechenhurst Lodge area which is maintained by the Forestry Commission in the 21st century.

The Royal Forester Gale was first recorded as being worked in the 1830s and 40s by Richard James [1] of Whitecroft. In April 1832, he applied to the Crown for the gale but it was not granted to him.  Undeterred he erected buildings and commenced work ‘at considerable cost’ and his right to work the gale was confirmed by the Awards of 1841. [3]

It was later bought by the Brain brothers, who had the adjoining Rose-in-Hand gale. [1] It was in January 1847, that Cornelius and Francis Brain, as lessees of the adjoining Rose-in-Hand gale, were applying for an extension of time for beginning work and it was stated that they had bought Royal Forester in order to drive a level through it to drain Rose-in-Hand. [3]

In July 1856 an application was made to the Crown by the registered owners of Rose-in-Hand, Ephraim Brain and John Holingsworth, to make a tramroad connection to the Severn & Wye by means of an incline parallel to the Coleford-Cinderford road.  It would appear, however, that this was not costructed until 1869. [3] The Speech House Hill Colliery Co. had, by this time, taken over the Royal Forester gale. [1]

The Rose-in-Hand gale became part of Trafalgar Colliery and remained in the ownership of the Brain family. [3]

The Speech House Hill Colliery Co. was turn bought out by the Great Western (Forest of Dean) Coal Consumers Co. Ltd (a Crawshay company) in 1873. [1]

Although the tramroad connection was only completed in 1869, it was superseded by a railway connection  to  the Severn and Wye Railway in 1874. [3] The sidings in place in the early 20th century are shown below in the extracts from the OS Maps of the time. [4]This extract shows what was to become the access to the Cannop Colliery heading West from the Severn and Wye Railway. The Severn and Wye runs north-south in the extract. The Speech House Colliery head-shunt is on the right. [4]Rail access to Speech House Colliery involved leaving the Severn and Wye Railway in a Northerly direction and then setting back into the colliery. [4]The approach to Speech House Colliery sidings. [4]The track arrangement at the Colliery. [4]

The organising of the link to the colliery from the Severn and Wye was a matter for serous negotiation. “Crawshay offered the prospect of 100,000 tons of coal traffic per year, but laid heavy emphasis on the expenses to be incurred by the colliery in laying sidings, and intimated that they were considering sinking two pits near the Forest of Dean Central line at Foxes Bridge to avoid a steep underground pitching betwen the coal face and the existing pit bottom.  Concerned at the possible loss of such a lucrative traffic to the Great Western, the S & W agreed to loan rails, sleepers etc. if the necessary earthworks were done by the colliery company.  Following further discussions, it was decided to let the construction of the branch, and by July 1874 J. E. Billups was appointed contractor.  Part of the estimated cost of £3,300 was met by the Severn & Wye whose committee, on 5th April 1875, were conveyed to the colliery where they ‘had the satisfaction to find the Branch Line leading thereto as well as the Colliery Works in good order.  This colliery is now delivering excellent coal upon our line.'” [3]

Yields were not necessarily as good as Crawshay had intimated, 56,976 tons of coal were produced in 1880 from the Supra-Pennant Group (the top part of the Upper Coal Measures). The winding shaft (eventually 420 ft deep) reached the Churchway High Delf Seam (3 ft 3 in. thick) at 393 ft. [1]

The website, http://www.archive-images.co.uk has a series of images of the colliery, one of which is an underground view. These can be viewed, with watermark on their site or purchased for a relatively significant sum for each image. [5]

The colliery had a rather chequered history, passing through a succession of owners, until it was finally bought by Henry Crawshay & Co. Ltd, owners of the adjacent Lightmoor Colliery, in 1903. [1]

The barrier to the latter colliery was opened up and most of the surface works at Speech House Hill, no longer being required, were closed by 1906. [1] Crawshay’s prediction of traffic finding its way to other lines bore fruit some years after it was first intimated.

The main shaft at Speech House was maintained as an emergency exit for Lightmoor until the gale was surrendered in 1937. [1]

The area has been landscaped and now forms the Forestry Commission’s Beechenhurst Picnic Site which is a very popular Forest location. [1]

The pictures below were taken on 20th September 2019 and show the line of the branch off the Severn and Wye Railway which is now a cycle path, the the route of the sidings leading to the colliery screens. Finally some pictures of the location of Speech House Road Station on the Severn and Wye Railway and it’s small goods yard.

Looking South along the old Severn and Wye Railway along what is now the visitor access road for parking at Cannop Ponds.

The view South from what would have been the end of the station platform at Speech House Road Station on the Severn and Wye Railway.

At the midpoint of the old station, the Forestry Commission have provided a station name board.

The view South from a point close to north end of the Station facilities.

The view from the modern highway into the old station site. In taking this picture, I am standing at the location of the old railway crossing.

Looking across the old railway crossing from the North.

Looking North from the same point.

The area of the station goods yard is seen here from the South. The access road to Cannop Ponds runs through the site.

References

  1. https://www.forestofdeanhistory.org.uk/resources/sites-in-the-forest/speech-house-hill-colliery, accessed on 30th August 2019.
  2. https://www.sungreen.co.uk/Beechenhurst/speech_house_colliery.html, accessed on 14th September 2019.
  3. http://lightmoor.co.uk/forestcoal/CoalRoyalForester.html, accessed on 14th September 2019.
  4. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=17.072932776256412&lat=51.8093&lon=-2.5670&layers=168&b=1, accessed on 15th September 2019.
  5. http://www.archive-images.co.uk/gallery/Archive-Images-of-the-Forest-of-Dean-Coalfield/pages/4, accessed on 15th September 2019.

Railways and Cycleways No. 1 – A Top Ten?

The headline article in the Guardian Travel supplement on Saturday 31st August 2019 was entitled “Railway Lines Recycled.”

It highlighted 10 former railway routes in different parts of the UK which offer the opportunity for off-road cycling:

1. The Camel Trail, Cornwall: the Guardian asserts that this is the nation’s best-known former railway cyclepath. It is the best part of 20 miles long. It starts at the south-western edge of Bodmin Moor and follows the River Camel through Wadebridge to the coast at Padstow, and us almost entirely off-road.

2. The Callander to Killin Cycle Route, The Trossachs: a challenging route through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park following the path of the Callander and Oban Railway through the narrow valley of the River Garbh Uisge, the East bank of the River Balvaig and over the summit before setting down towards Killin.

3. The Bristol and Bath Railway Path, Somerset: A delightful route between Bristol and Bath with splendid views of rural Somerset and Gloucestershire.

4. The Cinder Track, Yorkshire: This route needs a mountain bike. The track is, as it claims, a cinder path.

5. Marriott’s Way, Norfolk: This trail runs between Norwich and Aylsham. It is named for the innovative railway engineer, William Marriot.

William Marriott built and went on to run the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GN) for 40 years. Marriott has often been called the “Father of the M&GN”, with just cause, and the Railway gained the title of “Marriott’s Tramway” in some quarters. [2]

6. The Deeside Way, Aberdeenshire: does not always follow an abandoned railway. The old Royal Deeside Railway takes cyclists out of Aberdeen to Banchory. After a section away from old railway, the route returns to railway formation once again for the journey to Ballater in the Cairngorms national park.

7. The Ystwyth Trail, Ceredigion: once upon a time there was a desire among the ‘great and the good’ to promote a railway from Manchester to Milford Haven – the M&MR. It was to link the Cotton Mills of North West England with the Welsh Port. The ambitious scheme failed and only managed to link Milford Haven to Aberystwyth.

Despite its title, the railway planned to connect to other railways at Llanidloes and Pencader, near Carmarthen, and so to achieve the object in its name by connections with other lines, most of which were only planned.

The M&MR had continuous difficulty in raising capital and also in operating profitably, but thanks to a wealthy supporter it opened from Pencader to Lampeter in 1866. Realising that its originally intended route to Llanidloes would be unprofitable, it diverted the course at the north end to Aberystwyth, which it reached in 1867.[3]

The trail links Aberystwyth and Tregaron. It does not always follow the route of the old railway. [4] The cycle path leaves Aberystwyth following the banks of the Afon Ystwyth before dropping south along the Teifi to Tregaron.

8. The High Peak Trail, Derbyshire: follows the line of the old Cromford and High Peak Railway. [5] which linked the Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal at Whalley Bridge

9. The Lanchester Valley Railway Path, Co. Durham: provides fantastic views over rural Co. Durham and the River Browney.

10. The Forest Way, West/East Sussex: is a designated linear country park as well as a cycleway. Leaving East Grinstead, the trail passes through Forest Row, Hartfield and Withyham to reach Groombridge.

The Guardian’s method of selection of these 10 trails is not outlined. There is no doubt that these are beautiful trails with much to be said in their favour. But, are they the best 10 old railway cyclepaths? Or are others better?

Countryfile provided a similar list in 2017. [6] A number of the same routes feature in the Countryfile list. The order is different and there are alternative suggestions for routes to explore. Countryfile’s list includes the following trails in the order shown (using the names from the more recent Guardian article where appropriate):

1. The Camel Trail

2. The Cinder Track

3. The Ystwyth Trail

4. Marriott’s Way

5. The Hornsea Rail Trail, East Riding of Yorkshire: starts in Hull and us mostly flat and is traffic free. [9]

6. The Downs Link, Surrey/ West Sussex: is over 36 miles long, and runs between St. Martha’s Hill, near Guildford, to the coast at Shoreham-by-Sea. The route largely follows the course of the Cranleigh and Steyning Lines, which, like many others on this list, were closed due to the infamous Beeching cuts of the 1960s. A small part of the route includes a main road. [11]

7. The Deeside Way, Aberdeenshire

8. The Formantine & Buchan Way, Aberdeenshire: Like the Deeside Way, The Formartine & Buchan Way starts from Aberdeen. [10] It connects Dyce, in the north of the city, to the coastal fishing ports of Fraserburgh and Peterhead, the latter via a branch line from the village of Maud. The trail was opened in the early 1990s after the railway closed in 1979, and takes in a patchwork of farmland and countryside. It’s very easy to follow, but isn’t completely tarmacked so some sections tend to get very muddy. Horse riders may need a permit for some parts of the trail.

9. The Devon Coast to Coast: At just over half the length of the Tarka Trail, the Devon Coast to Coast route sounds easy. It is still nigh on 100 miles long, and squiggles across Devon from Ilfracombe in the north, to Plymouth in the south. 70% of the route is traffic free, and the trail includes the 31-mile section of the Tarka Trail listed below. The Coast-to-Coast trail takes in the beautiful beaches and estuaries of the north of the county, and passes through luscious green valleys and the western edge of Dartmoor. [12]

10. The Tarka Trail, Devon: At nearly two hundred miles long, the Tarka Trail [8] is by far and away the longest rail-to-trail path in the UK. It is made up of quite a few sections of dismantled railway, and winds its way around Barnstaple and North Devon. One of the sections is an unbroken stretch of 31 miles between Braunton and Meeth, which is free of vehicles, mostly tarmacked and a lovely smooth, flat ride. The trail name comes from the route taken in the ‘Tarka the Otter’ book, and there are a number of audio posts along the trail giving information.

Many of these, and other, routes are owned or maintained by local authorities, Railway Paths Ltd.[13] or Sustrans. [14]

Interestingly, Edinburgh boasts a huge range of continuous, traffic-free cycle paths, many following old railway lines.  These are all outlined on the Bike Station’s Innertube map.[15]

Neither of the lists above includes the Forest of Dean, an area that I love. The offer to cyclists and walkers in that Forest of Dean is superb. Most of the designated cycleways are on the formation of the extensive network of former railway lines which served the various former heavy industries of the Forest. A number of website highlight what is available. [16][17][18]

Cycling or walking along abandoned railways is a wonderful way to access the countryside in the UK. There are also usually elements of the old railway infrastructure and industrial archeology from areas served by the railways which provide additional interest.

I have provided introductions to both railway and industrial archeology in the Forest in a series of posts on this blog. [19]

References

1. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/aug/31/top-10-former-railway-cycle-tracks-uk, accessed on 13th September 2019.

2. https://www.visitnorfolk.co.uk/Holt-William-Marriott-Museum/details/?dms=3&venue=0727364, accessed on 13th September 2019.

3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_and_Milford_Railway, accessed on 13th September 2019.

4. http://www.discoverceredigion.co.uk/English/what/cycling/Pages/Ystwyth-Trail.aspx, accessed on 13th September 2019.

5. http://www.pittdixon.go-plus.net/c+hpr/c+hpr.htm, accessed on 13th September 2019.

6. https://www.countryfile.com/go-outdoors/days-out/britains-best-rail-to-trail-cycling-and-hiking-routes, accessed on 13th September 2019

7. http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/devon-coast-to-coast, accessed on 13th September 2013.

8. http://www.devon.gov.uk/tarkatrail, accessed on 13th September 2019.

9. http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/hornsea-rail-trail, accessed on 13th September 2019.

10. http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/aberdeenshire/formartine-buchan-way.shtml, accessed on 13th September 2019.

11. https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/leisure-recreation-and-community/walking-horse-riding-and-cycling-routes/downs-link, accessed on 13th September 2019.

12. http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/devon-coast-to-coast, accessed on 13th September 2019.

13. http://www.railwaypaths.org.uk, accessed on 13th September 2019.

14. https://www.sustrans.org.uk/find-a-route-on-the-national-cycle-network, accessed o 13th September 2019.

15. https://thebikestation.org.uk/about/projects/innertube-map, accessed on 13th September 2019.

16. https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/location/bike/47411951/cycling-in-forest-of-dean-overview-of-all-cycle-routes, accessed on 13th September 2019.

17. http://www.wyedeantourism.co.uk/fct, accessed on 13th September 2019.

18. https://pedalabikeaway.co.uk/trails/familyleisure-cycling,accessed on 13th September 2019.

19. A series of detailed introductions to both railway and industrial archeology in the Forest can be found by following this link: https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/wp-admin/edit.php?s&post_status=all&post_type=post&action=-1&m=0&cat=3177062&filter_action=Filter&paged=1&action2=-1