History of the line



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The society is grateful to Glyn Evans for providing us with the following information. The map page is a particularly useful point of reference to the information below.


Background

The Oswestry and Newtown Railway opened throughout on August 14th 1860. It had been authorised in 1855 but delays in securing land, shortage of money and contractors going bankrupt delayed construction.

In July 1864 it joined with its neighbours, Newtown & Machynlleth, Llanidloes & Newtown, Oswestry, Ellesmere & Whitchurch, to form the Cambrian Railways. A year later the coast lines joined too.

The Potts

In September 1860 there was a scheme to build a 90-mile line called the West Midland, Shrewsbury & Coast of Wales from Shrewsbury to Portmadoc via Llanymynech.

This company promised to link Llanfyllin to its line rather than connect directly to Llanymynech. The driving force behind the Llanfyllin line was a local solicitor called John Pugh, whose grandson, O.V.S. Bullied, became the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway company.

After much delay, the line from Shrewsbury, now known as Potteries, Shrewsbury & North Wales (PS&NWR), was promoted in 1862, by Richard Samuel France. He also built the Shrewsbury & Welshpool and was secretary of the Mid Wales Railway (Llanidloes to Brecon). The PS&NWR crossed the Cambrian on the level at Llanymynech and under the Llanfyllin line at Wern. It opened on August 13, 1866. The money ran out at Llanyblodwell (later called Blodwell Junction) and the engineer, R.S. France, built a branch to his own quarry at Nantmawr. France also owned quarries at Llanymynech.

The line’s traffic was meagre and the area that it served lacked population and it closed on December 21, after a writ was served by an angry debenture holder. It reopened to passengers two years later as far as Llanymynech with passenger service extended to Llanyblodwell in 1870.

The Potts Criggion branch opened in 1871, followed by Nantmawr in 1872. Just over a mile of track was situated in Montgomeryshire at Llanymynech to justify the North Wales in the company name.

When the two quarry branches opened is not known. There seems to be uncertainty with the official dates given above.

Nantmawr quarry, which provided the line with substantial traffic, seems to have taken a long time to be connected to the main line. A goods train guard was killed during shunting on 19 December 1867, when the line was closed! Was France operating the line himself to sell his own stone?

The Potts continued to lose money although there was a few hundred pounds profit in the early 1870’s, which was a poor return on one-and-a-half million pounds of capital.

During receivership the line became more decrepit and passenger trains from Llanyblodwell took 2 hours to get to Shrewsbury. First a 25 m.p.h. was imposed in 1880, followed by suspension of all traffic in June of that year.

Upon closure France offered the Nantmawr quarry traffic to the Cambrian, who then made an agreement dated 28 January, 1881, with the Receiver. The Cambrian (C.R.) would work and maintain the branch for 2 years. It would operate from June and the C. R. would pay a royalty of 3d per ton to the Potts. The agreement was renewed but the toll was reduced to 2d a ton in January 1886.

Further Developments

On 11 April 1894 the Cambrian reached an agreement with the (by now) Shropshire Railway’s Receiver, to build a half-mile deviation from its own Llanfyllin line to join the Nantmawr line at Wern. This saved a double reversal of the Llanfyllin trains via Rock siding. Llanfyllin trains now had a more direct route, using 55 chains of the Nantmawr line.

The Nantmawr branch reopened on 1 January, 1896 and the deviation followed on 27 January.

A lease for 99 years followed on 12 April 1900, with the Cambrian paying £555 a year. Half was to be paid by the Cambrian and half by the Tanat Valley Light Railway, which opened finally on 5 January, 1904.

The Tanat Valley railway used the Cambrian’s Porthywaen mineral branch at its eastern end and part of the Nantmawr line between Llanddu quarry and what became Blodwell Junction.

Colonel Stephens had reopened the Potts in 1911 but the Cambrian retained the Nantmawr branch. The Cambrian had reballasted the branch and replaced the bridges. Part of the agreement with the earl of Bradford (owner of the land around Blodwell Junction) was that there would be a through carriage from Llangynog to Shrewsbury when the TVLR was opened. Hardly anyone made use of this service and it was suspended in 1917.

There was another agreement on 30 December 1916 when the annual charge for the branch was raised to £705. The Shropshire Railway (SR) (in name only) continued to exist to collect this money. The rent was paid by the GWR after 1923 and the rent was raised to £886 on 1 September 1939. The SR and the S&M remained independent at the 1923 grouping.

By 1925 all traffic had ceased on the Wern – Blodwell Junction section. The northern section had been lifted by 1930 and southern section had all gone by 1938.

Meanwhile the S&M continued to slide. All passenger traffic had stopped by 1936. There was one goods train a week to Criggion.

In 1941 it was all requisitioned by the military. The whole line, apart from the Criggion branch, was re-laid with new concrete sleepers and 75 pound rail. Sidings and stores were erected on the 23 square miles of requisitioned land. The whole lot was valued at £25 in 1947 although the scrap value was said to be over £32,000. The last train ran in February 1960 and lifting started. Part of the line at Hookagate near Shrewsbury was used to make continued welded rail until the 1980’s.

The TVLR closed west of Blodwell junction in 1960. Goods traffic on the Llanfyllin line went in 1964 and the passenger service on 18 January, 1965, in common with the Welshpool to Whitchurch line.

Stone traffic from Nantmawr ceased on 21 October 1971. Class 24 no.5048 hauled the last train but the lower part of the branch was used to shunt trucks for Llanddu quarry until 1985. Then a loop was constructed between Llanddu and the road bridge on A 495 to Llansantffraid. By now the bridge marks the end of the line and Blodwell Junction has been levelled. Traffic from Llanddu ceased in 1989 and the branch from Gobowen was mothballed.

The Present

In 2004 the Cambrian Railway Society bought the Nantmawr line from British Rail Property Board after years of negotiation. Since September the saplings and tall trees have been cut from over half of the line from Llanddu to beyond White Gates by early 2005. White Gates level crossing was re-laid in January, 2005. New gates were hung on Saturday, 2nd April 2005.

Further Reading

# The Colonel Stephens Railways - A pictorial survey, John Scott Morgan, David & Charles 1990
# The Colonel Stephens’ Railways - A view from the past, John Scott Morgan, Ian Allan 1999
# The Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway, Keith & Susan Turner, David & Charles 1982
# The Cambrian Railways, Rex Christiansen & RW Miller, David & Charles 1967 / 1971
# The Tanat Valley Railway, Wilfred J Wren, David & Charles 1968. Oakwood have also published it without the industrial history.
# Branch Line Byways - Volume Two - Central Wales, GF Bannister, Atlantic Publishers, 1987. Includes 1 colour picture on back cover of BR 2MT 2-6-0 no.46510 leaving White Gates crossing for Nantmawr in April 1965.
# British Railway Pictorial CAMBRIAN LINES, Rex Christiansen, Ian Allan, 2004
# Narrow Gauge & Industrial Album, Ann & Gordon Hatherill, RCL Publications 2004

The last two have some delightful shots of the line. Gordon Hatherill and RW Miller travelled on the last train to Nantmawr.


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