Manchester and Milford Railway

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The Manchester and Milford Railway was a grand railway scheme supported by the London and North Western Railway to connect the industrialised Northwest England, Manchester and the Midlands with the deep-water West Wales port of Milford Haven, thereby giving an alternative to the Port of Liverpool in reaching North America. In reality, it was a connecting railway between Mid Wales and West Wales, which owing to financial difficulties never achieved its stated aim or profit. It was eventually absorbed into the Great Western Railway in 1911.

The vision[edit]

The port of Liverpool had become both a monopoly and highly profitable by the mid-1800s Victorian era, from a combination of the import of raw goods, and the export of industrialised product, not least associated with the cotton industry of Lancashire.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel had had the vision for the Great Western Railway to become a fast track for passenger carriage from London to the new world of North America, and had hence moved his port of embarcation from Bristol to Milford Haven, through construction of the Severn Tunnel and the South Wales Main Line.

On reaching the West Wales port, a proposal was put forward to Parliament in 1845 to construct a broad-gauge line from Milford Haven to Manchester.[1] However, the scheme was not approved, and it was not until 1865 that the LNWR thought that it could solve its and its customers' problems in the port of Liverpool by offering industry an alternative, through better connecting its standard-gauge network to Milford Haven.[2][3] It hence started sponsoring a series of in-fill railways to make its vision a reality. The proposed route was as follows (North to South):[1]

After the LNWR proposed the scheme, the Midland Railway agreed to sponsor the construction of the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway (Potts) to connect the Cambrian Railway to Shrewsbury, and onwards west in the Midlands. Unfortunately, the LNWR and GWR blocked the scheme, with the LNWR later building the Shrewsbury and Welshpool Railway, leaving the "Potts" as an unconnected railway at its western end.

Planning[edit]

In 1860, the M&MR received the Royal Assent for the section between Pencader and Llanidloes. This was just as the American Civil War (1860-1865) was starting,[4] greatly reducing the opportunity for shipping passengers and goods to North America. The railway company decided to address the easier southern part of the route first, from Pencader to the southern edge of the Pumlumon mountains - its first strategic mistake.[5]

By 1861 a route was proposed north mainly along the east side of the River Teifi valley from Pencader via: Llanybydder; Lampeter; Tregaron; Pontrhydfendigaid; Ysbyty Ystwyth; Pontrhydygroes; to Devil’s Bridge. There, a junction station would be constructed, with the main line proceeding to Llanidloes, and a branch line to Aberystwyth.[5]

The attraction of a junction at Devil’s Bridge and branch to Aberystwyth was driven by freight traffic. This was through the combination of the shipment of wood from the large local forests to the port of Aberystwyth, and the extensive lead mining that had been carried out since Roman times along the River Rheidol valley.[6][7][8]

Negotiations with land owners proved lengthy, and projected construction costs also resulted in an inevitable delay. In April 1864, the M&MR contracted David Davies of Llandinam and Fredrick Beeston for the construction of 27 miles (43 km) of track from Pencader to Pontrhydfendigaid. The route onwards to Llanidloes was excluded, as it required additional surveying to overcome engineering and resultant cost difficulties.[5]

By late 1864, the proposed route had changed again, moving west from the original plan. This would result in both a shorter route to Llanidloes, and moving the junction station from Devil’s Bridge, now considered less important by the M&MR. North of Alltddu Halt, the line was to run across Cors Caron to a new junction station location near Ystrad Meurig. The main line would then climb up to Ysbytty Ystwyth and Cwmystwyth, and onwards to Llanidloes.[5]

This change was for the cost advantage of the M&MR, and negotiated with Ernest Vaughan, 4th Earl of Lisburne of the Trawsgoed estate, who owned the lands north of Tregaron. From 1862 onwards he had been negotiating the route across his lands via his London-based solicitors. Lord Lisburne lobbied strongly for the junction station to be called Ystrad Meurig and not Strata Florida after the derelict Cistercian abbey 3 miles (4.8 km) away, an argument he lost.[5]

Construction[edit]

While construction was outsourced on each section, in line with the practice of major shareholder J.J. Barrow,[9] the surveying of the route was undertaken by a team that included noted West Wales railway civil engineer James Szlumper.[9]

Pencader to Strata Florida[edit]

Given final Parliamentary approval of the revised 1864 route in 1865 as a standard gauge railway, the M&MR junctioned with the C&CR at Pencader, and then drove north to Strata Florida. The team of Davies/Beeston was contracted to construct the line.[5]

The railway station at Strata Florida was positioned for access by three local villages, but its location made railway access difficult. The station itself was positioned on a tight curve, with the line from the south climbing inwards at 1:41, before exiting downwards on the branch line towards Aberystwyth at 1:43.[4]

Llanidloes and Newtown Railway[edit]

The second section was to connect Llanidloes to Newtown, and then via the proposed joint Newtown station with the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, onwards to Whitchurch, directly connecting with LNWR metals. However, Parliament had authorised two schemes between Llanidloes and Aberystwyth. The M&MR was authorised to build its line by an Act of Parliament in 1859,[9] the second in 1860 by the Mid-Wales Railway.

By 1861 both railways were fast approaching Llanidloes, the M&MR from Llangurig in the west, the MWR from Builth Wells in the south. After fierce clashes between engineers and navvies building the two schemes, in 1864 Parliament approved the construction of a joint line, the Llanidloes and Newtown Railway. This would extend southwards with 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of double track to Penpontbren, where the MWR and M&MR would diverge. The M&MR and MWR were to pay 5% per annum on construction costs and maintenance. Also the three companies were to pay equal shares of interest and running costs for the new Llanidloes railway station. These charges were eventually to prove crippling for the M&MR.

Llangurig branch[edit]

Main article: Llangurig branch
The Llangurig branch as built

The M&MR had started building towards Llanidloes from Llangurig, creating the 1.5 miles (2.4 km) stub of the Llangurig branch, connected to the MWR and the L&NR at Penpontbren Junction, itself 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of the joint grand junction station at Llanidloes. The intention then, having secured a supply or materials, was to return to driving the track westward towards the proposed junction at Strata Florida, by navigating the Pumlumon mountains.

Once the Llangurig branch was fully built and connected with the L&NR, a single goods train ran along its length, at which point the L&NR invoiced the M&MR for the cost of the joint station at Llanidloes. The branch service was immediately terminated by the M&MR, being wholly unprofitable without through traffic. The M&MR continued to pay for the cost of the joint station they could not reach.[9]

By 1864 the M&MR changed its plans for crossing the Pumlumon mountains. They now wanted to abandon the route through Pant Mawr, and instead intended to follow the Nant Troedyregair from Llanrug. This caused any work west of Llangurig to be abandoned. The change was, in the event, not authorised by Parliament.[9]

The initial 1861 route survey, which had Parliamentary approval, and a later 1864 route were locally controversial.[3] The unbuilt section between Strata Florida and the railhead of the Llangurig branch would have been through very mountainous terrain, although only 15 miles (24 km) in length as the crow flies.[9]

In 1865 and with the money running out, it was decided by the M&MR to build the branch line to Aberystwyth from Strata Florida instead. This avoided the time and cost of building through the Pumlumon mountains, but abandoned the originally envisaged strategic route.[9]

With the collapse of the London Bank Overend, Gurney and Company in 1886 causing many industrial projects to encounter financial hardship, the opportunity to build the strategic route was lost to the M&MR. It has been suggested that the bankruptcy of Thomas Savin in the 1860s, renowned Welsh railway engineer and investor, may have been partly involved as it was with the failure of several other Welsh railway projects.[citation needed][10]

In 1882 the M&MR started to dismantle the Llangurig branch, lifting 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the essentially unused track for maintenance purposes elsewhere.

Strata Florida to Aberystwyth[edit]

This section of the line was only intended as a branch line from Strata Florida to connect with the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway at Aberystwyth, intended to be constructed after the connection with Llanidloes had been made.[9] However, by 1866 with money running out and the Llangurig branch proving difficult to engineer, the decision was taken to build this section of the line in order at least to complete the route.[1][9] Again, the team of Davies/Beeston was contracted to construct the line.[5]

Vale of Rheidol Railway[edit]

It was not until an Act of Parliament passed in 1897 that Sir James Szlumper could engineer a route for an independent narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway to connect the M&MR to Devil's Bridge. Rock was hand-hewn instead of being blasted, in order to save money. Connection was made at the joint station in Aberystwyth, for mineral traffic in August 1902 and for passengers on 22 December 1902.[6][7][8]

Operations[edit]

Bryn Teifi station, 1962

Under the management of James Cholmeley Russell,[9] the M&MR opened from Pencader to Aberystwyth on 12 August 1867,[11] operating three trains per day.[1] Although selling tickets from Manchester to Milford and vice versa, there were no direct trains, thus requiring both passengers and goods to change trains and companies at least eight times. The result was that it was quicker to travel between the two destinations via London than the three days it took via the M&MR route.[1]

Resultantly, the line went into receivership from 1875 to 1900.[9] After recovering its status, passengers and authorities pressed for its absorption into a larger railway company. The GWR agreed to take over operations in 1906, and fully absorbed the line in 1911 after the passing of two Acts of Parliament.[12] This allowed the construction of the Lampeter, Aberayron and New Quay Light Railway from Lampeter to Aberayron. This was a similar scheme to connect industry with a proposed new harbour at Aberaeron, although in this case whilst the railway line was built, construction of the new quay never started.[9]

During its entire independent operating period, the permanent way inspection of the M&MR was always under the control of the Owen family. The first inspector was Thomas Owen, the second Thomas Edward Owen. After the GWR took over the line in 1906, Thomas Edward Owen left the company to work as County Surveyor for the northern division of Cardiganshire.[13]

Locomotives[edit]

Seven locomotives were acquired by the GWR in 1911, with the M&MR by now operating only 10 locomotives:

Closure[edit]

The inevitable low traffic levels would have led to the line's ultimate demise under British Railways' Beeching Axe in 1965, had not severe flood damage closed the northern part of the line from December 1964.[1] A section of the line one mile east of Llanilar was damaged by the adjacent River Ystwyth. The remaining southern section closed to passengers in February 1965.

Goods traffic continued in the form of milk trains from Carmarthen to the Felin Fach creamery at Pont Llanio. This was propelled using Class 35 Hymek haulage until 1970, and with Class 37 haulage until 1973.

Present[edit]

A 21 miles (34 km) section from Aberystwyth to Tregaron now forms the Ystwyth Trail in Ceredigion.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Manchester and Milford Railway". John Speller. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  2. ^ (Context of) Thomas Edward Owen (Manchester and Milford Railway) Papers at Archives Wales, National Library of Wales
  3. ^ a b Pontrhydfendigaid An archival site about the subject district
  4. ^ a b c "Ystwyth Trail". Ceredigion.gov.uk. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Manchester & Milford Railway". Pontrhydfendigaid. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  6. ^ a b Green, CC (1986). The Vale of Rheidol Light Railway. Wild Swan. ISBN 0-906867-43-6. 
  7. ^ a b Johnson, Peter (1999). Welsh Narrow Gauge: a view from the past. Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-2654-8. 
  8. ^ a b Johnson, Peter (2011). An Illustrated History of the Great Western Narrow Gauge. OPC. ISBN 978-0-86093-636-7. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Holden, J.S.The Manchester & Milford Railway. The Oakwood Press, Second Edition, 2007, Ch 1-4.
  10. ^ Railways that never were Discussion at Google Group UK Railway, January 2007
  11. ^ "Manchester & Milford Railway". coflein.gov.uk. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  12. ^ "Manchester and Milford Railway Company, 1860-1911". NationalArchives.gov.uk. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  13. ^ "Thomas Edward Owen (Manchester and Milford Railway) Papers". National Library of Wales. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 

External links[edit]