A short history of the line is followed by some information about the locomotives used on the line. This first article then focusses primarily on the horse-powered tramroad which preceded the later Penrhyn Quarry Railway.
Penrhyn is the Welsh word for ‘promontory’.
“The history of Port Penrhyn can be traced back as early as 1713 when it was recorded that 14 shipments totalling 415,000 slates had been sent to Dublin. In 1720, another 8 shipments totalling 155,000 slates were sent to Dublin, two to Drogheda (20,000) and one to Belfast (35,000). Two years later, a shipment of 80,000 slates were sent to Dunkirk. After these few shipments only coastal traffic left from Aber-Cegin (Port Penrhyn) until Richard Pennant took over the ownership of Penrhyn Estates and appointed Benjamin Wyatt in 1786 as agent.” 
The Penrhyn Railway opened as a tramroad in 1801 which ran from quarries a few miles inland from Bangor in North Wales to the coast at Port Penrhyn. The gauge of the tramroad was 2ft 0.5in. It was constructed by Lord Penrhyn at a cost of around £175,000.  The alignment was as shown on the map immediately below.
It was thought that there was an earlier line which ran between Port Penrhyn and Llandegai. That tramway, if it existed, was constructed in 1798. Its route paralleled that of the northern end of Lord Penrhyn’s tramroad. One theory is that this earlier tramway was operational until 1831.  There appear to have been two inclines on the Llandegai Tramway, one close to the port and the other directly adjacent to Llandegai Penlan Mill at Llandegai at the Southern end of that line. Both are shown on the image below.
Research in 2021 suggests that the earlier tramway did not exist. . If it did, it is likely that it was subsumed into the tramroad built by Lord Penrhyn. There is also research, undertaken in 2019, which suggests that a tramway was probably constructed in 1798 in connection with the Penrhyn Mills on the lower Ogwen.  My thanks to David Elis-Williams for providing a link to this research by Barrie Lill.
Lill comments that the Penrhyn Mills at Llandegai had a part in the development of the tramway/tramroad which eventually served the Penhryn Quarry: “The mill had what David Gwyn believes to be part of the first iron-railed overland edge railway of any length in the world, and the first iron edge railway built for the mass movement of stone. However, whereas James Boyd conjectures that originally the Penlan railway only extended from Port Penrhyn to the mill at Llandegai, pre-dated the Penrhyn Quarry Railway by three years, and was only later extended to the Quarry,  Gwyn does not agree. Instead he believes that the Penlan line merely was an off-shoot from the Quarry Railway.  At present there is no available evidence to confirm either theory, although there is a belief that prior to publishing his book on the Penrhyn Quarry Railways, Boyd had obtained supporting documents which no longer are publicly available. Irrespective of the above it seems unlikely that the mill would have opened without an adequate transportation system such as some simple form of tramway being in place, and in this scenario it is likely that the problems encountered with the working of this system are what prompted Wyatt to adapt the system and introduce the iron-railed edge railway to which David Gwyn refers.” 
Lord Penrhyn was persuaded by William Jessop to build the tramroad. “Jessop and his partner Benjamin Outram were then constructing the Little Eaton Gangway in Derbyshire. Samuel Wyatt was also involved in the construction of the gangway, and his brother Benjamin was the Penrhyn estate manager.” 
“Benjamin Wyatt was put in charge of building the tramway. Construction started on 2 September 1800, with the first slate train travelling on 25 June 1801. … The track used oval rails designed by Benjamin Wyatt, and their quoted gauge of 2 ft 1⁄2 in (622 mm) was measured between the centres of the rails. The railroad was operated by horse power along with gravity and three balanced inclines – “Port” (sometimes called “Marchogion”), “Dinas” north east of Tregarth and “Cilgeraint” a short distance north of Coed-y-Parc workshops in Bethesda. The longest was 220 yards (200 m).” 
Before the tramroad was constructed, slate was transported to the port by horses along mountain paths. After the tramroad was brought into service the local costs of transport fell from 4 shillings/ton to 1 shilling/ton. [4: p42-43]
In 1832, “Wyatt’s oval rails were replaced with more conventional … rails. The gauge of this new track was 1ft 10.3⁄4in (578 mm), measured between the inner edges of the rails – the conventional way of measuring track gauge.” 
In 1876 the tramroad was “rebuilt on a new course with steel rails laid on wooden sleepers. Steam locomotives were introduced, supplied by De Winton & Co. Engineers of Caernarvon.” 
Thomas Middlemass tells us that De Winton supplied ten locomotives to the line. “Seven were to be used at the quarries, three were to work the ‘main line’ to the coast, and all* were vertical-boilered 0-4-0 tanks.” [6: p16] They had two cylinders secured below the running plate with direct drive to one axle. The total weight varied between 4 and 5 tons. 
* … It appears that Middlemass has overlooked the fact that 3 of the 10 locomotives were fitted with horizontal boilers and were 0-4-0ST locos. They were named ‘Edward Sholto’, ‘Hilda’ and ‘Violet’, and were supplied in 1876, 1878 and 1879 respectively. 
Between 1882 and 1909 the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds supplied sixteen four-wheeled locomotives for use in the quarry and on the line to Port Penrhyn.” 
One surviving Penrhyn locomotive is 0-4-0 vertical-boiler tank engine “George Henry,” which was built in 1877 and still looks good 140 years later at the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum in Tywyn, Wales.
The new route to suit steam-power obviated the need for the inclined planes, maintaining the easiest possible gradients. “Between coast and quarry it rose 550 feet, and, allowing for a stretch of 1/4 mile at 1 in 37 and 3 miles at 1 in 40, the average gradient emerged as 1 in 91. Flat bottomed rails were laid at first, but these were replaced in 1894 by the 50 lb bullhead variety.” [6: p15-16]
“The first locomotives used on the new railway were three De Winton’s. … Although successful, these locomotives were not powerful enough for the substantial traffic that passed down the line.” 
In 1882 the railway ordered ‘Charles’, a large 0-4-0ST from Hunslet. Charles proved very successful and was followed by ‘Blanche’ and ‘Linda’ in 1893 to the same basic design. These locomotives were the mainstay of the railway for the rest of its life.
In 1882 Penrhyn switched to more conventional locomotion, ordering “‘Charles’, a large 0-4-0ST from Hunslet. Charles proved very successful and was followed by ‘Blanche’ and ‘Linda’ in 1893 to the same basic design. These locomotives were the mainstay of the railway for the rest of its life.” 
“Between then and 1909 a positive spate of tank locos flowed, new, from Hunslet Engine Co. All were 0-4-0 saddle tanks, with weight and power variations introduced to meet specific Penrhyn requirements. Three were designed to work the ‘main line’, three were employed shunting at Port Penrhyn. Four of the smallest were confined to quarry work, and these were supplemented a few years later when six larger tanks arrived. As it happened, the latter were the last new purchases by Penrhyn.” [6: p16]
Among the Hunslet locomotives were the Penrhyn Port Class of three locomotives “built for the Penrhyn Quarry Railway (PQR). These locomotives were built by the Hunslet Engine Company between 1883 and 1885 and supplied specifically to work at Port Penrhyn near Bangor, North Wales. They were a variant of the standard Dinorwic Alice Class design.” 
“The Penrhyn Main Line class was a class of three narrow gauge steam locomotives built for the Penrhyn Quarry Railway (PQR). These locomotives were built by the Hunslet Engine Company between 1882 and 1893 and supplied specifically to work the railway that connected the Penrhyn Quarry near Bethesda in north Wales to Port Penrhyn on the Menai Strait.” 
“All three locomotives were preserved after the closure of the PQR. Charles was donated to the Penrhyn Castle Railway Museum. Linda was loaned to the nearby Ffestiniog Railway in July 1962. For the 1963 season the locomotive was re-gauged to the Ffestiniog’s 1 ft 11.5 in (597 mm) and purchased, along with Blanche at the end of the year. Both have since received extensive modifications including tenders, pony trucks and superheating.” 
The post-First World War years brought such economic instability that second-hand locos were not hard to find. Penrhyn bought 15 such from 1922 onwards. 
In 1923, three ex-US Army Baldwin 2-6-2Ts were also imported for ‘main line’ use, but, as happened elsewhere in Britain, they were never popular, and their working life was short.
The railway was private, providing no public service for either goods or passengers. Quarrymen’s trains were run, paid for by the quarrymen themselves.” 
“Today Porth Penrhyn in Bangor still serves the Penrhyn Quarry at Bethesda. Although today slate production and exports are not at 19th century levels it continues to be a key part of the business of slate. Exports of crushed slate (aggregate) by Penrhyn Quarry, through Porth Penrhyn currently to Rotterdam, or ports along the south coast of England, have grown to become a significant proportion of Welsh Slate sales in addition to several containers of roofing slates being shipped every month to Australia alone (taking approximately 45 days).” 
“Welsh slate is now covering the roofs of buildings as prestigious as the New South Wales Supreme Court and historic as Unwin’s Stores, both in Sydney Australia, as well as the Arts Centre in earthquake-hit Christchurch, New Zealand 2012. Europe also is a prime destination for Welsh slate with shipments of slate and decorative aggregate within Europe continuing to grow and evolve in particular.” 
All rail connections to the quarry disappeared in the mid-20th century under competition from road transport
The Post-1879 Route of the Railway
We start at the North end of the old railway at Porth Penrhyn. Porth Penrhyn) is a harbour located just east of Bangor in north Wales at the confluence of the River Cegin with the Menai Strait.
We follow the route on the Ordnance Survey 6″ Maps from around the turn of the 20th century as supplied by the National Library of Scotland (NLS). 
Before the future A5 was developed as a turnpike in 1820, the tramroad ran within the width of the old highway from this point for a few hundred yards. When the turnpike was created, the road level was lifted and the tramroad crossed beneath the renewed highway and ran along the Southwestern side. The sketch below shows this.
A. The old tramroad
Beyond this point, we first follow the line of the old Tramroad to Penrhyn Quarries. …..
“The Ddinas Incline was one of three gravity-worked inclines on the original line of the Penrhyn Railway, built 1800-1801 to transport slate from the Penrhyn quarries to Port Penrhyn. … About half-way up the incline was an overbridge carrying a minor road, now widened and straightened at this point. To the north a cutting can still be seen, but the lower part of the incline has been destroyed by construction of a sewage works. To the south the line is visible as a terrace in the field. A ruined wall constructed of large roughly squared stone blocks near the top of the incline may be a surviving fragment of the winding house.” 
W J Crompton, RCAHMW, 5 November 2009.
From this point on, the old Tramroad and Penrhyn Quarry Railway followed approximately the same route. The second article about these lines will follow the Penrhyn Quarry Railway to this point at Tregarth.
- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrhyn_Quarry_Railway, accessed on 27th December 2022.
- Dan Quine; The development of Port Penrhyn, Part One: 1760-1879; Archive. No. 110. Lightmoor Press, June 2021.
- James I.C. Boyd; Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caernarvonshire, Volume 2 The Penrhyn Quarry Railways; The Oakwood Press, Usk, 1985. (The British Narrow Gauge Railway No. 5.)
- Susan Turner; The Padarn and Penrhyn Railways; David & Charles; Newton Abbot, 1975.
- https://narrowgaugerailwaymuseum.org.uk/collections/industrial-railways/penrhyn-quarries, accessed on 27th December 2022.
- Thomas Middlemass; Encyclopaedia of Narrow Gauge Railways of Great Britain and Ireland; Patrick Stephens Ltd., Sparkford, Yeovil, 1991.
- Both these photographs can be found on the DeviantArt website: https://www.deviantart.com/rlkitterman, accessed on 27th December 2022.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrhyn_Port_Class, accessed on 27th December 2022.
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- W J Crompton, RCAHMW, 5 November 2009, accessed via: https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/409718, accessed on 31st December 2022.
- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Winton, accessed on 3rd January 2023.
- Barrie K Lill; Richard Pennant, Samuel Worthington and the mill at Penlan: a history of the Penrhyn Mills on the Lower Ogwen; Bangor University, 2019, accessed via https://research.bangor.ac.uk/portal/files/22801787/2019_Lill_B_PhD.pdf, accessed on 5th January 2023.
- J.I.C. Boyd; Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caernarvonshire, Vol.II, The Penrhyn Quarry Railways; The Oakwood Press, Usk, 1985.
- Personal correspondence dated 20th November 2017 alluded to by Barrie Lill in reference 
- Permission sought to share some further photographs of Porth Penrhyn (https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/293353217633?mkcid=16&mkevt=1&mkrid=711-127632-2357-0&ssspo=vFhrxofnRnO&sssrc=2349624&ssuid=afQhrar7TGK&var=592202447151&widget_ver=artemis&media=CO)