Horse-Drawn Tramways of the Wye Valley

A great Christmas purchase from Rossiter Books in Leominster! (£12.99, ISBN 978-1-910839-60-7, Paperback, 176 pages, 242 x 171mm). NB: The images in this article are sourced from the internet.

Horse-Drawn Tramways of the Wye Valley [1] by Heather Hurley, published by the Logaston Press in Novber 2022, is an excellent introduction to the early tramways in the Wye Valley. A short-lived transport system of horse-drawn waggons on rails, operating from the late eighteenth century to the introduction of steam locomotives in the middle of the nineteenth century, primarily used for transporting goods such as coal and wood.

Heather Hurley explores all of the tramways known to have existed in and around the Wye Valley from Kington, through Brecon and Hay to Abergavenny, Monmouth, the Forest of Dean and Hereford; the routes taken, the companies that built and ran them, and the people who used them. She draws on extensive research of Tramway Company archives, Acts and ledgers, maps and plans, newspapers and journals, archaeological reports, books and illustrations, as well as detailed fieldwork.

As the back cover states, Hurley’s book is richly illustrated and offers captivating insights into early nineteenth-century transport history, trade routes and the beginnings of the steam railways on the Welsh border.

Heather Hurley has a keen interest in local history. She has written several books, including ‘The Scudamores of Kentchurch and Holme Lacy’, ‘The Story of Ross’ and ‘Landscape Origins of the Wye Valley’. She is planning to produce a parallel volume about the railways of the Wye Valley in due course.

Horse-Drawn Tramways of the Wye Valley is an easy to read but well-researched introduction to tramways in the Southern Marches. Evidence of Hurley’s detailed research can be found in the extensive notes which support each chapter. Solid research does not, however, mean that this is primarily a dry academic book. It is accessibly produced with appropriate illustrations and a confident narrative.

The first chapter gives an overview of transport systems which predated the introduction of tramways. A chapter is devoted to the development of the horse-drawn tramways which includes an important section focussing on the horses used, before the more usual engineering matters of waggons, rails and stone ‘sleepers’ are covered.

The Monmouth Tramroad (or Railway),
© Afterbrunel and licenced for use under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 4.0). [2]

Individual chapters are devoted to the major networks which developed along the Wye Valley:

  • The Monmouth Tramroad
  • The Severn and Wye Tramroad
  • The Bishopswood, Scott and Teague Tramways
  • The Hay Railway
  • The Kingston Railway
  • The Abergavenny and Hereford Rail Road.
Brecon – the longest railway in the world: … This ‘diorama’ was installed by British Waterways in the ‘noughties’ beside the canal at Brecon. It commemorates the one-time ‘longest railway in the world’ which ran from Brecon to Kington via Hay-on-Wye. It was actually two horse-drawn tramways which met end-on at Eardisley – The Hay Railway and the Kingston Railway. The combined length exceeded 36 miles and claimed the title of the longest railway between 1820 and 1837, © Copyright Alan Bowring and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0). [3]
Grosmont Tramroad: Behind Werngifford are the remains of a tramroad built in the early 19th century. It formerly connected with the Llanfihangel Tramroad to form a through route between Abergavenny and Hereford until replaced by the modern railway in 1854, © Copyright Alan Bowring and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0). [4]

Two further chapters cover some local tramways of interest and the coming of steam-power.

The history of each of the major lines is recounted is some detail, each route is surveyed and details of goods carried are provided. For each line, some notes are provided on remains visible in the 21st century and on where documents recording its life can be found.

The extent of the coverage in a paperback book of 176 pages is to be commended. No doubt some readers will want to look at one or more of the routes portrayed in more detail than is possible in a book of this nature. The book might have benefitted from the addition of maps to support the detailed route descriptions provided towards the end of each of the major chapters. The book is, however, a wonderful introduction to its subject and has been an excellent post-Christmas read!

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in the industrial history of the Welsh Marches and the Forest of Dean. Anyone interested in the history of tramways/tramroads in the UK would do well to purchase a copy, not only for the informative narrative and illustrations but also for the detailed endnotes.

The Logaston Press takes its name from the hamlet of Logaston, in the beautiful countryside of rural north-west Herefordshire. It was here that Logaston Press was set up by Andy Johnson in 1983, and later run by Andy together with his wife Karen.

In 2018 Andy and Karen handed over the reins to Richard and Su Wheeler, who now run Logaston Press from the nearby village of Eardisley.

Logaston Press publishes books on local history, landscape, archaeology, architecture, and a range of walks guides – all focussed on the ‘Logaston heartlands’ of the Southern Marches: Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, Radnorshire, Breconshire and Montgomeryshire.

In almost four decades, Logaston Press has published more than 350 titles, with more than 100 books currently in print. Its books are beautifully produced, ethically printed and reasonably priced. They are are a pleasure to own.

Logaston Press is rooted in the people and places of the Southern Marches and is dedicated to publishing books that explore and illuminate this extraordinary part of the world.

References

  1. Heather Hurley; Horse-Drawn Tramways of the Wye Valley; Logaston Press, Eardisley, 2022.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monmouth_Railway, accessed on 1st January 2023.
  3. https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/757089, accessed on 2nd January 2023.
  4. https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/635820, accessed on 2nd January 2023.

2 thoughts on “Horse-Drawn Tramways of the Wye Valley

  1. Randall Hees

    Horses as locomotives were not unheard of in the United States. Likely the best known line was the South Pacific Coast Railroad’s Centerville Branch (in today’s Fremont California) which used horses from its inception until about 1910, pulling three scheduled round trip passenger trains, with one being mixed with freight cars, and occasional extra freight trains. The line used as many as three horses on longer (10+ cars) trains. The SPC had a second rural horse drawn branch at Agnew (today’s Santa Clara) with a passenger car but not scheduled, as well as a horse powered street railway line in Oakland that would handle freight cars, and connected with a private horse powered industrial line serving a powder works. The horses on the powder works line were shod with brass shoes to prevent sparks.

    Reply

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