Category Archives: Railways Blog

The Plymouth or South Duffryn Colliery in the Taff Valley

South Duffryn or ‘Plymouth’ Colliery, situated to the south of Pentrebach and just north of Troedyrhiw, was opened by the Hills Plymouth Company in 1862. It was served by the Taff Valley Railway and the Penydarren Tramroad. I have been prompted to write this short post by reading an article written by Clive Thomas in the Archive Journal of September 2014. [1]

The featured image above shows the colliery sidings in a postcard image from the early 20th century. [2] The colliery itself is just off the picture to the right. Most of the wagons in the picture seem to be privately owned by the Plymouth Collieries. The sidings are all standard-gauge and were served by the Taff Valley Railway. A number of the buildings of the disused Duffryn Ironworks can be seen in the centre of the image. Some of these were later used as workshops for the colliery. [1]

Some basic information about the area us provided by Alan George in his website about Old Merthyr Tydfil. [4] … Clive Thomas tells the story of the Plymouth Ironworks and Collieries in Archive Journal No. 83:

“In 1786, a lease was secured from the Earl of Plymouth on a tract of land on the East bank of the River Taff and to the south of the hamlet of Merthyr Tydfil. From that date, the name of the ironworks established there became synonymous with that of the Hill family. For seventy years, first Richard and then each of his three sons, Richard (Jnr), John and Anthony played their part in its development as one of South Wales’ pre-eminent iron-making concerns.

The Plymouth Ironworks, which grew at the three sites of Plymouth, Pentrebach and Duffryn, although never seriously rivalling it’s neighbours at Cyfarthfa and Dowlais in terms of size and iron ore production, should not be regarded as an insignificant player in the history of iron manfacture. By the mid 1840s, the ironworks consisted of ten blast furnaces, twenty-four puddling furnaces, four forges and seven rolling mills, as well as the ancillary machinery and mines associated with iron production. The works had been advertised for sale in 1834, but no buyer was found. While the managerial roles of Richard (Jnr) and John changed and gradually diminished, it was Anthony, as early as 1826, who was responsible for the progress of the enterprise and on the death of Richard in 1844, assumed full control. … Unlike any other Merthyr Ironmaster he provided for his workers, constructing good quality housing, building and endowing schools and churches in the villages of Troedyrhiw and Pentrebach. As recently as 1958, children in the village school at Troedyrhiw, whose grandfathers had worked in the Plymouth Collieries benefitted from a clothing grant when entering the Iocal grammar school.

To ensure the efficient continuity of the iron production, it was necessary to develop extensive coal and ironstone mines which comprised numerous adits and shafts. Almost all of these were to be found on the mountainside, feeding the works by a series of tramways and inclines. The seams exposed on the hillside were exploited by levels and drifts, while shallow pits intersected those found below the valley floor. While the ironstone mined here, like that available to the other Merthyr iron companies, was not of the highest quality, the coal was the best, with seams of bituminous and dry steam found within the property. … The year before Anthony Hill’s death, the Hill’s Plymouth Collieries mined 250,000 tons of coal, 10,000 tons more than Cyfarthfa and only 15,000 tons short of the production of the Dowlais Collieries.

Following Anthony Hill’s death, the assets of the company were acquired by Messrs Hankey, Fothergill & Bateman for a sum of £250,000, a concern that had already bought what remained of the Penydarren Ironworks which had closed in 1859. Under the enthusiastic direction of Richard Fothergill, the Aberdare Ironmaster, efforts were then made to re-vitalise the Plymouth Ironworks.

In an article written for the Mining Journal of October 1869 the virtues of this enterprise were still being proclaimed, with the mention of developing the ironmaking plant at the three sites. The author, M. B. Gardner, however is evidently more impressed with the exploitation of the property’s remaining coal reserves and mentions that ‘the area of coal leased has been greatly increased since the present proprietors purchased the works.’ Coal production we are told averaged 1,300 tons per day. … Of this output, four hundred tons were sent to Cardiff and Swansea with the rest still being used in the production of iron in the works. Eight hundred to a thousand tons of ironstone were still being mined from the property. Mr Gardner details various technical aspects of the Plymouth mines which by this time had developed in a linear fashion along the valley side, between the Plymouth and Duffryn sites and parallel with the Penydarren Tramroad.” [1]

This is the first and only mention in Thomas’ article of the Penydarren Tramroad. Nonetheless, it is a significant reference. It makes it clear that the Penydarren Tramroad was one of the critical factors associated with the siting of the various works which comprised the Plymouth estate. He emphasises this fact by providing a sketch drawing of the Taff Valley. The Penydarren Tramroad is the rail route which runs from top to bottom of the sketch map, to the East of Plymouth Ironworks. [1]The Taff Valley Railway was opened in stages in 1840 and 1841. [3]  Although the Plymouth Colliery itself opened in 1862, many of the significant industrial sites associated with the Plymouth Ironworks and Collieries had been in operation for 20 years or more before the Taff Valley Railway was completed. The Penydarren Tramroad was of significance in determining the siting of these industries in a way that the Taff Valley Railway could not have been.

Thomas highlights a number of the sites shown on the sketch above: the Ellis, Clynmill and Original pits were oldest and were mines for both coal and iron ore; the Graig, Taibach, North Duffryn and South Duffryn pits were newer and around one mile to the Southeast. All would have been in operation for about 40 years by the 1860s. Coal quality was good but extraction methods were relatively primitive. Although coal was good, iron ore was less so, and by 1875 the Plymouth Ironworks and others were in liquidation. “In 1882 the Plymouth Ironworks was for the second time advertised for sale, but once again without success. Consequently it was then possessed under a mortgage of the executors of the late Thomas Alers Hankey. … The firm of Messrs Samuel and John Bailey, Mining & Civil Engineers of Birmingham was engaged to take over the concern with Mr T. H. Bailey as agent to supervise the whole of the colliery property.” [1: p50]

T.H. Bailey kept a typed journal of his first full year in charge of the collieries. The Archive article [1] is based around that journal. It “offers an interesting insight into the life of a mining engineer, working at a time when the South Wales coalfield was enjoying a period of rapid development and for some, great prosperity.” [1: p51]

References are made throughout the diary to train travel on the standard gauge lines which served the valley. Bailey spends time on the internal tramways which served the mines and on providing adequate numbers of coal wagons for distributing the coal countrywide. He also dealt with the planning of new sidings to accommodate wagons and the upgrading if railway links to the main railway lines. [1: p53]

There is no mention of the Penydarren Tramroad in Bailey’s 1883 diary.


  1. Clive Thomas; All Change for Plymouth: A Year in the Life of a Mining Engineer, the Diary of T.H. Bailey, 1883; in Archive No. 83, Black Dwarf Lightmoor Press, Lydney, 2014, p49-61.
  2., accessed on 18th September 2019.
  3., accessed on 19th  September 2019.
  4., accessed on 13th November 2019.




Early Railway History in King’s Lynn

The first two railways to enter King’s Lynn were the lines constructed by:

  1. The Lynn & Dereham Railway which received its Royal Assent on 21st July 1845 built a short section of its line between King’s Lynn and Narborough which opened on either 17th or 27th October 1846. [1][2] The line was extended to Swaffham on 10 August 1847. [2]
  2. The Lynn & Ely Railway Company which received its Royal Assent on 30th June 1845, [2] opened from King’s Lynn to Downham Market on 27th October 1846. On the same day, this railway opened its harbour branch which connected with the main line just to the South of King’s Lynn and ran for 1.25 miles to the wharves on the riverside. Ships using these wharves sat on the mud at low water. [3] The original line ran South, via Downham Market, towards Ely. The first station south of King’s Lynn was St. Germain’s. It took another two years to reach Ely. [2]

These two companies merged to form the East Anglian Railway on 22 July 1847. [2] Wikipedia claims, contrary to Fell, that the spur connecting to the harbour was not opened until 1849. At one point that harbour spur was a complicated network of lines, boasting two swing bridges, serving premises on and around the town’s South Quay. [2]

Expansion followed with the opening of several branches. A line running north to the seaside resort of Hunstanton was opened in 1862. [2][4][5] A journey along the line was celebrated by former Poet Laureate John Betjeman in a short BBC film. [6]

King’s Lynn to Fakenham:  The Lynn & Fakenham Railway was received Royal Assent in July 1876, it opened to traffic between Gaywood Junction and Massingham on 16 August 1879 and between Massingham and Fakenham in August 1880. It was an early constituent of what became the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway.

The Lynn & Fakenham Railway, first used King’s Lynn station, but ran into it from the north, via Gaywood Junction.  When first amalgamated the Lynn & Fakenham Railway became part of the Eastern and Midlands Railway. In November 1881, Eastern & Midlands Railway gave notice to amalgamate after agreement on such periods and terms to be fixed or agreed and the rights of the Midland & Great Northern Companies and of the Midland Railway and of the Great Northern Railway: Peterborough, Wisbeach and Sutton Railway; Midland & Eastern Railway; Lynn & Fakenham Railway; Yarmouth & North Norfolk (Light) Railway; Yarmouth Union Railway; into one Company to be called the Eastern & Midlands Railway. That amalgamation was given Royal Assent on 18 August 1882. [2][12]

By the early 1890s further amalgamations and renaming were considered and Royal Assent given to the Midland and Great Northern Railway Companies (Eastern and Midlands Railway) Act 1893 authorising the Eastern & Midlands Railway to be vested in the Joint Committee of the Midland & Eastern and Norwich & Spalding companies on and from 1 July 1893 and for the combined organisation to be incorporated under the title of the “Midland and Great Northern Railways Joint Committee”. [12]

The line from Gaywood Junction east towards Fakenham was abandoned on the opening of the station at South Lynn. The “Lynn Avoiding” line (South Lynn to Bawsey) was the last link in the chain which brought the eastern lines, which had reached Norwich in 1882, and Cromer in 1887, in direct contact with the lines west of Lynn. The Lynn Avoiding Line opened in January 1886. The South Lynn Station opened for goods traffic in November 1885 and for passenger traffic on 1st January 1886. [12] South Lynn closed to all traffic on 28th February 1959. [2]

In the same year, 1862, the Great Northern Railway reached Sutton Bridge from the West. The King’s Lynn to Sutton Bridge line was the last part of the East-West route to be built, opening in 1864. It later formed part of the larger Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway line between Spalding and King’s Lynn, after its formation in 1893. [7]

The line was single track and originally used the southern half of the second Cross Keys Bridge to cross the River Nene, following the embankment to the east of the bridge and continuing on to King’s Lynn. The construction of the third Cross Keys Bridge in 1897 required slight alterations to the course of the route immediately out of Sutton Bridge. This part of the route was closed to all traffic in 1959, and the track was soon dismantled, allowing the widening of the adjacent A17 road in its place. [7][8][9] The changes in the route can be picked out on historic OS Maps (1884-1888. 6 Inch Ordnance Survey County Series Map – First Edition. TF 42 SE and 1902-06. 25 Inch Ordnance Survey County Series Map – Second Edition. TF 42 SE).King’s Lynn Station in 1948. [14]King’s Lynn Station: 1: Passenger Facilities; 2: Good Facilities; 3: Maltings; 4: Docks Branch (c) Historic England [10]

King’s Lynn’s Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway connection was served by the station at South Lynn. A connecting shuttle service ran from King’s Lynn to South Lynn as often as twenty times a day. [2][11: slide 106]

South Lynn Station from the Air in 1946. [13] Train approaching South Lynn Station across the River Great Ouse. [13]South Lynn Station. [13]

There is excellent material on the history of the railways in King’s Lynn on the “King’s Lynn Forums” (KLF) on a thread entitled “South Lynn and King’s Lynn Railway Stations – M&GN.” [13][15]


  1., accessed on 5th October 2019.
  2., accessed on 5th October 2019.
  3. Mike G. Fell OBE; The King’s Lynn Docks & Railway Company; in BackTrack Magazine Volume 25, No. 3 Pendragon, Easingwold, York, March 2011, p144.
  4. Leslie Oppitz; Lost Railways of East Anglia; Countryside Books. 2002, p15.
  5.  Insight Magazine; January 2005., accessed on 2nd September 2007[Wolferton Station’s] origins go back to the opening of the Kings Lynn to Hunstanton branch railway line in 1862[.]
  6., accessed on 16th October 2019.
  7., accessed on 16th October 2019.
  8. N.R. Wright; Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton: An Industrial History; 1980, p8, p15.
  9. Alan Stennett; Lincolnshire Railways; 2016, p59-60.
  10., acccessed on 21st October 2019.
  11. Richard Adderson & Graham Kenworthy; Ely to Kings Lynn, including the Stoke Ferry Branch; Middleton Press, 2000.
  12., accessed on 23rd October 2019.
  13., accessed on 23rd October 2019.
  14., accessed on 23rd October 2019.
  15., accessed on 16th October 2019.

The TNL Tram Network – The Changes in the Urban Network (1929-1934) (Chemins de Fer de Provence 86)

This post continues a series of reflections on the tramway network in and around Nice which are based on Jose Banaudo’s French language book “Nice au fil du Tram Volume 1: Histoire.” The text below includes elements translated from Jose Banaudo’s book. [1]

A Changing Urban Network in/around Nice

The 1930s through to the 1950s saw major changes in the urban environment. As elsewhere, the car began to dominate people understanding of progress. Other firms of transport, to a greater or lesser extent, took a secondary place. Independence, rather than interdependence, came to dominate political thinking. Strengthening democracy after the Second World War valued the perspective of the individual. By the end of the 1950s the place if the ‘expert’ in any debate was beginning to be challenged. No longer were people as willing to be told what was best for them. In a significant way, the car became a touchstone for that growing independence and self-confidence. The tram and the train began to be seen as part of the past rather than an important part of the future.

We noted in the last post in this series how buses began to replace trams on the longer routes. Road improvements swept away the tram infrastructure. The rails were replaced, at first,  in some places, by trolleybuses. In others the change to petrol/diesel engines vehicles was more rapid.

Banaudo, writing in French, says: “While the tramway disappeared from most interurban lines, the monopoly of this mode of transport was not immediately threatened in the city of Nice. Initially, in 1925-26, TNL had simply created three ‘automobile omnibus’ lines serving routes complementary to the tramway network. These services were designated from 1928 onwards by letters:

A Masséna – St. Sylvestre;

C Masséna – Caucade; and

D Masséna -St. Isidore. 

On March 20th of the same year, two new links were created to serve Mont-Boron Hill, to the east of the city: 

B1 Masséna – Miramar, and

B2 Masséna – Col de Villefranche. 

Their routes were modified several times, only stabilizing in September 1929, the first taking Boulevard Carnot (Basse Corniche) and the second, the Chemin du Mont-Alban (Moyenne Corniche).” [1: p93]

He continues: “The year 1929 was marked by the development of road transport in the city, with the delivery of Renault buses of a Parisian type which were put into service on eight new lines which opened from 19th January to 7th October:

A: Place Masséna – St. Sylvestre, by Boulevard de Cessole;

D1: Place Masséna – Digue-des-Français, by St. Augustin;

E: The PLM Station – Port, via Berlioz, Rossini, du Congrès and Paradis streets;

F: Square Masséna – St. Etienne, by Boulevard Carabacel, Avenues Désambrois and Lambert, Streets Mirabeau, Vernier and Chemin de Pessicart;

G: Square Masséna – Le Ray, by Streets Gubernatis and de Lépante and Avenue St. Lambert;

H : Place Masséna – St. Roch, by Place Garibaldi, Rue Bonaparte and Boulevard de Riquier;

S1: Place Masséna – La Bornala, by Rue de la Buffa;

S3: Rue de l’Hôtel-des-Postes – Rimiez, by Avenue des Arènes.” [1: p93]

After this, there was a lull in the development  of bus routes with some routes opening and then closing within short periods of time.

However some routes were set up which survived. Line K: Masséna – Madeleine-Superior was created in February 1932 and in March 1933.

The tramway  is eliminated from the centre of Nice

Banaudo says:  “All the bus-lines created by the TNL between 1925 and 1933 in the municipality of Nice were established on routes complementary to the main routes travelled by tramways, either by taking streets in the city centre that had previously been left out of the network, by climbing hills that were not suitable for trams, or by opening up suburban districts that were undergoing urbanisation. Operated by limited-capacity buses where the driver issued tickets to passengers, these lines had low frequencies and carried relatively modest traffic.” [1: p95]

Early in the 1930s, following the example of Paris. TNL and the municipality began negotiations to extend the use of buses to a main route, that from Place Massêna along the Avenues of la Victoire, Malaussena and Borriglione. It was envisaged that this move would improve traffic movement and eliminate the need the costly maintenance of an electrical power supply. “On 5th June 1931, the municipal council decided to convert the lines serving St. Maurice, St. Sylvester and the Boulevard Tzarewitch to a bus-service.” [1: p95]

To implement this program, it was necessary to finance the purchase of a further sixty buses. These were ordered from ‘Renault’ and ‘Panhard et Levassor’ from 1933 onwards. The road vehicle fleet reached 144 units by the following year, surpassing the number of motorised trams. In addition, the TNL finally won a number of legal actions against interurban line operators who picked-up and put-down passengers inside the city in direct competition with trams and buses. [1: p95]

Lines were either provided with new termini, as in the case of lines to the West and East of the centre of Nice, or diverted along alternative routes as in the North of the city. Place Massena lost its trams altogether. We now know that this decision was one which came to be regretted by the municipality towards the end of the 20th century as they began to develop plans for a new tram network. [1: p95]

The first stage of this transfer was carried out at the beginning of 1934, with the opening on 3rd January of the new “Gare municipale d’Autobus” on the Couverture du Paillon, between the Casino Municipal and Place Massena. The departures and arrivals of all long-distance lines were moved, to the chagrin of some carriers who were used to using favourable locations for the Place Masséna, Avenue des Phoceens or Place St François. The opening of the new station required police protection, as the most disgruntled entrepreneurs threatened to block the streets of the area with their buses. In the end, everything settled down and passengers got used to the new arrangements.  With the end of the tramway programme, the kiosk in Place Masséna was demolished and the head office of the city buses was moved about 200m further east: a new “TNL Station” was built in the shade of plane trees south of the Casino Municipal, along Boulevard des Italiens (now Jean-Jaurès). [1: p95]

The Tramway kiosk in Place Massena in 1913 [2]Place Massena again. [3]Avenue de Malaussena. [4]Avenue de la Victoire [5]

Monday 8th October 1934 was chosen as the date for the changes to take place. On the Sunday evening, the trams ran for the last time on Place Masséna and the south-north axis through the Avenues de la Victoire, Malaussena, Borriglione, du Ray and St Sylvestre, as well as in Joseph-Garnier Boulevard, Tzaréwitch Boulevard and on the left bank of the Paillon, between Place Masséna and Place Garibaldi. The next day, the network was completely reorganized, creating thirteen tram lines (including those of Contes and La Grave, the last vestiges of the departmental network) and twenty-two city bus lines. A new pricing system based on tickets sold in booklets came into effect. [1: p95]

There were initial problems. Users were disrupted by changes in numbering and new tram routes. The buses were considered noisy. polluting and at certain times their capacity was notoriously insufficient compared to that of the old trams and their trailers. The Nice daily newspaper “L’Eclaireur”, which from the beginning had unreservedly encouraged change, began to doubt whether it had been worthwhile. [1: p95]

The staff complement was reduced by a further 27 employees. This triggered a strike that lasted from 13th to 26th October. In addition to the teething problems on the bus network, the trams were hit by bad weather. On 1st November 1934, the overhead line of the No. 34 Masséna – St. André line was seriously damaged and the service was replaced by buses. On the Contes line, a landslide cut the track between the cement plant and the terminus and traffic did not resume until March 1935. [1: p95]

My understanding of Banaudo’s comments is that the changes were hastily brought in so as to satisfy a variety of different political agendas. Hindsight suggests that the conurbation would have been better served by renovating/refurbishing its tramways rather than allowing them to fall into disrepair and be replaced by what ultimately has proved to be a poorer series of alternatives.


  1. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil due Tram Volume 1: l’Histoire; Les Editions de Cabri, 2004.
  2., accessed on 14th October 2019.
  3., accessed on 14th October 2019.
  4., accessed on 14th October 2019.
  5.,illustrateurs,nice–41-avenue-de-la-victoire-tramway–signee-beraud-,8390.html, accessed on 14th October 2019.

Bicester Military Railway – Book Review

The Bicester Military Railway. …

This book, written by E.R. Lawton and Major M.W. Sackett in 1992, [1] gives a comprehensive history of the Bicester site which extends from the original concept to the date of publication of the book.

In the 21st century, large areas of the complex have been given over to civilian use.

Lawton and Sackett chose, when putting their book together, to frame the whole text with two hand-drawn images showing the rail map of the site. These are placed inside the front and back covers of the book. My scans below are not of the highest quality. The two drawings are centred on Graven Hill, closest to Bicester; and Arncott.This book is written by two people with extensive experience of work on the railways, and particularly at Bicester. …

“Ernest Lawton served for 42 years on the LMS and later BR, including wartime duty with the Royal Engineers. During this time he became a locomotive driver on the Bicester Military Railway followed by promotion to Locomotive Supervisor at Arncott Depot. After the war he had various appointments on BR(LM) until retirement in 1981 from the Divisional Passenger Manager’s Office, Liverpool.” [1: dust-jacket]

“Major Maurice Sackett ISO [came] from a railway family, his grandfather working on the LSWR and his father on the SECR. He joined the LNER in 1937, became a member of the 6th Railway Battalion of the Home Guard on its formation, and left the Railway in 1942 on being called up to the Corps of Royal Engineers, which he served until 1947, his last military appointment being O.C. of the Railway Operating & Maintenance Detachment at Bicester. On demobilisation he accepted an appointment as a civilian operating officer on the BMR, which he served until promotion to Divisional Officer at Reading in 1961 and subsequently as the first civilian Superintendent, Army Department Railways in 1979.” [1: dust-jacket]

The introduction to the book provides a potted history of the military use of railways within the UK. The first such use was way back in 1830 when a ‘Regiment of Foot’ was transported over the recently opened Liverpool to Manchester Railway. “The movement took 2 hours compared with a march of two days after which the soldiers would have arrived exhausted and with some 20% stragglers.” [1: p8] Since then full uses has been made by the military of the civilian railway system. “Additionally they have developed their own railway expertise in the Corps of Royal Engineers and since 1965, in the Royal Corps of Transport.” [1: p8]

“It was soon recognised that railways had an important part to play in the running and organisation of military stores depots. Not only did they make connections with the civilian railways for the transfer and transport of military stores but also provided internal transport for the movement of goods within the depot.” [1: p8]

In 1805 military trials were undertaken at Shoeberryness, Essex to evaluate shells developed by the military. “By 1849 a Detachment of the Royal Artillery arrived in the tiny village of Shoeburyness to set up a School of Gunnery. … Sappers constructed a standard-gauge tramway to connect the various installations.” [1: p8] After a time using canal barges on the Theames, the military decided that a rail link to the site was required and the War Office cajoled the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway (LT&SR) to “extend their line to Shoeberyness ao as to connect with the tramway and this was completed in 1884. The size of the guns increased, the ranges were expanded as was the Tramway. … It was also required to provide a quite intensive passenger service.” {1: p8]

Shoeberyness became the forerunner of a series of different sites around the UK: Vickers made use of Eskmeals in Cumbria as a Test Range; Aldershot was provided with sidings; the LSWR constructed a line to serve military establishments at Amesbury and Bulford. During the 1914-1918 war, “a depot was built at Chilwell just outside Nottingham, which by 1916 was producing shells in great quantities. By the end of that War the railway serving the Depot had moved some 227, 000 inward loaded wagons and despatched 224,000. It was just one of six such installations.” [1: p8]

“By the mid-thirties it was becoming increasingly likely that there would be another major war and the War Office began to plan new depots to meet the situation. In sortie cases construction was commenced, such as the under-ground ammunition depot at Corsham and the large Ordnance Depot at Donnington. Amongst those planned was that at Bicester, …. Kineton (Ammunition), Long Marston (RE Stores), Longtown (Ammunition), Steventon & Lockerley (Motor Transport), West Moors (Petroleum), Cairnryan and Marchwood (Military Ports). Some were entirely new projects, others the adaption of an existing industrial facility. In the case of the Ammunition Depot at Nesscliffe the War Department took over the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway in 1941 with a detachment of officers and men from 193 Railway Operating Company RE. The Depot was built alongside the main line with connecting lines to the various sub-depots and in addition to providing the military railway requirement the Royal Engineers continued to run a minimal public freight and passenger service. The line experienced the busiest period of its entire life!” [1: p9]

Detailed looks at a number of the military sites mentioned above are available on my website ( [2][3][4][5]

By 1942, there were some 39 significant military railway systems in the UK. Around 600 miles of track were in use, with over 200 locomotives. In addition there were a further 200 sites where sidings existed and agents undertook work on behalf of the military! “Some 2,400 personnel were controlled from … Headquarters … through six Divisional Commanders. … There were additionally six Railway Construction Groups.” [1: p9]

This is the context in which the Bicester Military Railway was developed, Lawton and Sackett look in detail at the development of the site. In the first Chapter of the Book, the site is developed. Known initially as ‘X’ Depot, it was renamed Bicester Central Ordnance Depot in 1940. Land was acquired in 1941 and tented camps were set up for the people involved in the building work. Early in 1942, around 1,500 Royal Engineers were working alongside others (including prisoners of war) on the building of what was becoming a vast Depot. By early 1943, over 30 miles of track had been laid. by the end of the year, the system was almost complete – over 47 miles of track and 234 turnouts/points.

The second chapter focusses on signal control system and level-crossings. The third chapter is substantial and covers the railway system at work. It is copiously illustrated with photographs coming for the life of the system from the 1940s to the late 1980s. The fourth chapter covers the Motive Power used by the military at Bicester from the early ‘Dean Goods 0-6-0 locomotives, later ‘saddle tanks’ and the series of different diesel locomotives in use in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.0-4-0 Diesel Locomotive – Storeman – on the BMR in 2014 [8]

I particularly found the examples of small railcars, photographs of which are shown alongside the text, which were supplied by Wickham, Baguley-Drewery, Hudswell-Clark and Clayton of interest.

Chapter 5, a really short chapter, highlights arrangements made for passengers on the network. There were 12 passenger platforms provided, none of them provided with passenger facilities such as waiting rooms.

Chapter 6 covers maintenance arrangements for the motive power and rolling stock; and Chapter 7 covers the maintenance of the permanent way. A final short chapter then covers the main line links to the site.

Comprehensive appendices tabulate first steam locomotives, then diesel locomotives and finally the railcars in use on the system.

The authors offer a final postcript [1: p156] which reflects on reviews which were undertaken on the value of the site up to the early 1990s. Their final comment being, “after half-a-century the BMR is still fully operational, a valuable asses in the deference structure of the United Kingdom.” [1: p156]. Sadly, with the benefit of hindsight we can say that the operation of the site was kept under review and over the years it has been downsized as parts have been sold off for civilian use.

The Garrison once occupied an area of 12½ square miles. The Garrison roads stretched over 32 miles and the Army railway had over 41 miles of track. The storage areas were enclosed by 21 square miles of perimeter fence.

In April 1999, the depot changed its name to Defence Storage and Distribution Centre (DSDC) Bicester.

In 2000, the Garrison had 850 servicemen and 2500 civilians working within its boundaries. They were the largest employer within Cherwell District Council. [6]

The BBC reported, in 2013, on the opening of Bicester Bomb Disposal Training Base. [7] So the future for Bicester Garrison is not all bleak. The railway, however, seems top have a very limited role in whatever that future might be. Perhaps others can enlighten us!


  1. Ernest Lawton & Major Maurice Sackett ISO; Bicester Military Railway; Oxford Publishing Co., 1992.
  2. Roger Farnworth; Bicester Miltary Railway;
  3. Roger Farnworth; MOD Kineton and its Railway History;
  4. Roger Farnworth; The Shropshire & Montgomersyshire Light Railway and the Nesscliffe MoD Training Area and Depot – Part 1;
  5. Roger Farnworth; The Shropshire & Montgomersyshire Light Railway and the Nesscliffe MoD Training Area and Depot – Part 2;
  6., accessed on 12th October 2019.
  7., accessed on 12th October 2019.
  8., accessed on 12th October 2019.



Two Pocket Books about the Forest of Dean

In the Autumn of 2019 we spent a week in the Forest of Dean. I came across two books about the Forest which are both quite small. Both are facsimile copies of much older works.

A Week’s Holiday in the Forest of Dean

The first appears in the featured image above. It is a copy of a book written by John Bellows, a well-known publisher based in Gloucester. “A Week’s Holiday in the Forest of Dean” was first published in the 1880s and facsimile copy was prepared and published in 2013 by Holborn House Publishing. [1] A preface has been added, written by Ian Standing, it gives some biographical details about John Bellows and covers the publication history of the book.

Bellows chose to travel from the Midland Station in Gloucester to Berkeley Road and then through Sharpness along the Severn and Wye Joint Railway. His journey took him across the Severn Railway Bridge and on through Lydney into the Forest.

He describes the station at Speech House Road and the walk up to Speech House from the Station.

Then, the following morning, Bellow’s party travelled down the hill from Speech House to Cannop Brook. Crossing the bridge, they spent a short while viewing the chemical works which were at that location before pungent odours chased them away. Their route, for a short way, was then along an old tramway. [1:p25] Might this tramway have been the Bixlade Tramway or part of the route of the Severn and Wye Tramway which was the fore-runner of the later standard-gauge railway?

Perhaps the more likely tramway is that which ran up Wimberry Slade, the route of which ran through what became Cannop Colliery and in much more recent times a Highway Depot for the Forest and a Cycle Hire Centre.

There are references throughout the text to the railways in the Forest. … In Bellows journeys around the Forest, trains were used, as were the railway lines which carried them. Bellows casually remarks that the route to Trafalgar Pit from Speech house involved his party walking, “straight across the open turf and down the path across the Beechen Hurst, til [they] strike the Railway in the Valley, mount the embankment, and walk along it to the right as far as the signal-box, where we leave it for a forest path on the left, running parallel to the line, which brings us to the huge ‘dirt-heap’, on which the rubbish of the pit is shot.” [1:p59]

Bellows party goes on to visit St. Briavels. He comments: “The train from Speech House Road would deposit us at Millwall Station, with no fewer than nine important iron ore mines within the circuit of a mile.” [1:p61]

This little facsimile book is a pleasure to read and a excellent way if getting a feel for what the Forest of Dean was like in the late 19th century.

Fine Forest of Dean Coal

The second little book was originally published by the Forest of Dean Colliery Owners’ Association, Cinderford. It carries a lot of contemporary advertising and is itself a publicity booklet for the coal mining industry in the Forest of Dean. It has been reproduced in the Lightmoor Facsimile Series and is No. 2 in that series.

The booklet contains a short history of mining in the Forest, clarifies the status of Free Miners, explains the arrangement of the different coal measures underground.

The Fuel research board had just completed a survey of the coalfield focussing on the Coleford Highdelf Seam which was worked by the remaining large collieries. The moisture content of the coal prior to extraction and treatment was 3.4%. Once air-dried, the moisture content reduced to 2.8%. The volatile matter in the coal amounted to close to 40%.

All of the collieries in operation in the forest were fitted with modern screening arrangements and picking belts. Cannop had recently had a Dry-Cleaning Plant installed for small coal below 2″.

The booklet focusses on each of the collieries in the Forest in turn: Cannop, Lightmoor, Eastern United, Northern United, Lydney & Crump Meadow, Parkend Deep Navigation (New Fancy), Princess Royal, Park Collieries. Each has at least one photograph.


1. Ian Standing and David Harris; A Week’s Holiday in the Forest of Dean; facsimile copy of a publication with the same title written by John Bellows; Holborn House, 2013.

2. J. Burrow, Ed.; Fine Forest of Dean Coal; Forest of Dean Colliery Owners’ Association, Cinderford; facsimile published by Lightmoor in the series … Lightmoor Facsimile Series, No. 2.

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]


  1., accessed on 30th August 2019.
  2., accessed on 30th August 2019.
  3., 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., 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;, 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., accessed on 20th September 2019.
  9., accessed on 22nd September 2019.
  10., accessed on 22nd September 2019.
  11., accesed on 22nd September 2019. … Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
  12., accessed on 22nd September 2019.
  13., accessed on 24th September 2019.
  14., accessed on 24th September 2019.
  15., 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 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]


  1., accessed on 7th September 2019.
  2., accessed on 7th September 2019
  3., 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;, accessed on 7th September 2019.
  6. Nant Mawr Lime Kilns; Nant Mawr Visitor Centre;, accessed on 7th September 2019.
  7., accessed on 16th September 2019.
  8.,_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., 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., 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.