Monday, 8 May 2017

Once upon a time on the Talyllyn Railway

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As they say, every picture tells a story. So here is a picture which really has to have a story behind it.
Wrightscale 16mm 0-4-0 Bagnall 'Excelsior' live steam model with model of slate slab truck built from a Wrightscale kit
Once upon a time, a little locomotive started life in Staffordshire. The only air he knew was sooty, but scented of home. He was loaded up on to a big railway wagon and spent a long, bewildering journey. When his wagon was unsheeted, he found himself on the Kerry Tramway among the woods. Although the air was fresh enough, locomotives don’t like trees. They tend to catch fire and blister the paintwork, so he was homesick. He worked hard, but all you get for working hard is to be told one day: ‘Job done. We don’t need you any more’  While he was there, working on the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway, he met a small wagon. They said to each other … Another long journey later and he woke up in a workshop. They bashed him around until he had a new pair of wheels. Then he was carted off to Devon by the sea.
'I'm lost too! The slab truck was used in North-west Wales for transporting slate from quarry to workshop. These little wagons did  get out of the quarry, mostly to be lost in undergrowth down the line, but some must have travelled a long way. Perhaps it was being taken to the Ayrshire estate of the McConnells (see below) and took a wrong turning.
The slab truck pictured was home-made for the Talyllyn Railway of north west Wales, opened 1866. It was built to serve a slate quarry and the communities which grew up, extracting, working and exporting slate for roofing. The little railway connected the quarries up-country to the harbour and the Great Western Railway system at Towyn, a small town created by the short-lived slate bonanza. The great name of Spooner is attached to the early story, though he is normally associated with 2’ gauge rather than 2’3” (gauge of TR).
On the Talyllyn, finances were always tight. In 1902, the last of the original promoters of the TR, William McConnell died, aged 92, at his Ayrshire home. Though not Welsh, the local newspapers praised him and his manager. Though he had, as the local phrase went ‘come in Wales’ he had public spirit for the railwayand all his employees. He believed that a sound home makes a good worker. The railway needed a new benevolent owner.
Mr Henry Haydn Jones, newly elected as Local MP, bought the enterprise, complete, in 1911. Various other landowners thought they had rights over railway and land – they hmore or less had to hand over their rights in order to keep the railway and quarry running. In those days, the threat of 150 people losing their jobs could make an altruist of even a stingy and self-rightheous soul. Oh! The days of social pressure!
EDWARD THOMAS Kerr Stuart locomotive at Towyn terminus in 1980. Photo Malcolm Wright. The house behind is still recognisable from photos taken in the 1930s
By 1918, the railway was failing. The uniform of the faithful Jacob Rowlands, station-master at Dolgoch, was worn out, but he carried on, now wearing clothes he supplied himself. Dafydd Jones, who for years had tended the garden at the station of Rhydyronen was old and the garden disappearing. 
The 20s were to bring some relief.
The railway sought to attract tourists. ‘Objects of interest in the neighbourhood’ it promised, included, ‘the Bryneglwys Slate quarry, the village of Llanfihangel-y-Pannant, most picturesque in its antiquity, with the celebrated Bird Rock and the ancient Castell-y-Bere close by. Conveyances for Talyllyn Lake can be hired at Abergynolwen’ (Text taken from an undated timetable of the 1920s). This text did not mention the attractive Dolgoch Falls. Photos taken through the 20s and into the 30s prove taht tourists did come, then as now.
It is hard to put precise figures on the decline of the railway. Haydn Jones never made the required returns to the Board of Trade, or to anyone, it seems! JIC Boyd, the faithful historian of the Line remarked (TR p 63) that the best available records were pencilled graffiti on the walls of the workshops. Photos of the period show the sharp decline in maintenance. The state of the trackwork became a byword.
Abergynolwen Station, the official end of the line. Located to the east is the site of the slate quarries. The bogie carriages are painted in authentic colours - vermillion with gold lettering - as used on the original railway. Photo Malcolm Wright
Another valuable record was made when ‘Picture Post’ sent a photographer, the artist ‘Emmett’ and a journalist up the line on a train headed by DOLGOCH (see below). Local worthies who accompanied them included Jones the Bard. The most evocative of the many memorable photos taken that day must be of the locomotive waiting while  ‘Die’ Pugh (undertaker and garage owner) and ‘Gas’ Jones (engine driver and fitter) carry out emergency trackwork. Emmett was looking on, guarding the workers’ jackets.
Modified Kerr Stuart 0-4-2 EDWARD THOMAS in gentle steam. Photo Malcolm Wright
Just before his death in 1950, Haydn Jones was knighted for services to the public. The railway was clearly a large part of his public service. With his death, it looked as though all was up. But Edward Thomas, the Manager, persuaded Sir Haydn’s widow of a new plan. The railway could be run for nothing! Though this was a novel idea, enthusiasts had already been visiting the line, Tom Rolt and Rev W. Awdry among them.
In February 1951 history was made in a solicitor’s office in Machynlleth. W. Trinder, P.J. Garland and Tom Rolt represented what was to become Talyllyn Holdings Ltd, the holding company for the first preserved railway in Wales. Sir Haydn's widow, Lady Barbara Annie Gwendolen Davies Jones, represented the old dispensation with Edward Thomas as go-between.  She handed over the line for a trial period of 3 years.
Ah! This was no fairy tale. It all actually happened. The original lease was extended and Talyllyn Holdings Ltd runs the railway to this day.
The two original locomotives were TALYLLYN 0-4-0 built by Fletcher Jennings of Whitehaven in 1964. Incredibly, it was still running in 1952, as was DOLGOCH built also by Fletcher Jennings in 1866. There were rebuilds and modifications. Both had a cab added and DOLGOCH was changed from 0-4-0 to 0-4-2. For a few years after the Boer war, DOLGOCH was known as PRETORIA. They can still be visited.
In 1951, two locomotives were bought from the Corris Railway. Also 2'3" gauge, it had just closed. Number Three, from the Falcon Works, Loughborough, was named Sir Haydn. Number 4, a modified Kerr Stuart, was name EDWARD THOMAS in honour of the manager who had facilitated the birth of the preserved line.
Other locomotives came too.
DOUGLAS on the TR at Towyn 1980. Photo Malcolm Wright
DOUGLAS, an 0-4-0 Well Tank Andrew Barclay modified E-class, was donated in 1953 by Douglas Abelson. The narrow gauge line at RAF Calshott had just closed.
Go up to the Talyllyn Railway and you can see these and other locomotives, a range of rolling stock and take a ride.

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