The Glyn Valley Tramway for most of its route meandered alongside a former toll road close to the swift flowing waters of the Afon Ceiriog.
For around 60 years it provided an important lifeline to those who lived and worked in this beautiful Welsh borderlands valley.
Promoted as an easier, safer and cheaper means of transporting slate, from the Cambrian & Wynne Quarries above Glyn Ceiriog, down the Valley for onward distribution to buyers via the regional canal and rail networks, the Glyn Valley Tramway was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1870.
Originally worked by horse, the line was built to the unusual gauge of 2ft 4¼in (exactly half Standard Gauge) and opened in 1873. A service for passengers was introduced in April the following year.
The line initially ran for some six miles from Glyn Ceiriog to Gledrid Wharf (near Chirk Bank) on the Shropshire Union Canal.
The passenger service only ran between the New Inn (now the Glyn Valley Hotel) in Glyn Ceiriog and Pontfaen, the remainder of the journey into Chirk having to be made on foot or by alternative means.
Intermediate halts were at the Queens Head (Dolywern), Pontfadog, Herber Toll Gate and Castle Mill. Spur tracks were laid at Castle Mill (for the nearby Bronygarth Lime Kilns) and at Trehowell Bridge (for the Quinta Colliery and an interchange with the Great Western Railway).
In 1885, a further Act of Parliament authorised diversion of the line from Pontfaen to a new interchange with both the Shropshire Union Canal and the Great Western Railway at Chirk, conversion of the Tramway to steam power, and a mineral line extension from Glyn Ceiriog to Hendre Quarry.
On 31 March 1886 the horse-worked passenger service was suspended, although freight continued throughout the conversion process. Heavier section rail was used for the 'main line' and the gauge widened to 2ft 4½in. It wasn't until 15 March 1891 that the first steam-hauled passenger service was introduced between Glyn Ceiriog and the GWR station at Chirk.
The Pontfaen to Gledrid Wharf section of the original horse-drawn tramway was abandoned and the tracks lifted.
The converted and re-routed line was operated initially by two 0-4-2T steam engines built in 1888 by Beyer, Peacock & Co of Manchester, No.1 Sir Theodore and No.2 Dennis. A further engine to a similar design, No.3 Glyn, was supplied in 1892.
A fourth and final steam engine was acquired second-hand in 1921, an un-named War Department 4-6-0T locomotive built by Baldwin of Philadelphia in 1917.
The Tramway had a significant number of 4-wheeled rolling stock - 14 open and enclosed carriages, 2 brake vans, 2 goods vans and some 250 wagons of varying types.
No.1 SIR THEODOREBuilt 1888, Beyer, Peacock & Co, Works No. 2970
No.2 DENNISBuilt 1888, Beyer, Peacock & Co, Works No. 2969
No.3 GLYNBuilt 1892, Beyer, Peacock & Co, Works No. 3500
'The Yankee'Built 1917, Baldwin Locomotive Works, No. 45211
Up until the First World War, the steam-powered Tramway operated as a viable concern. But after 1918, labour costs rose significantly while revenues from mineral and passenger traffic did not. Income and the overall financial position steadily declined throughout the 1920s as road access and surfaces improved and commercial lorries began to collect mineral products directly from quarries.
In 1932, a new motor bus service was introduced to the Valley, easily able to beat the Tramway's 12mph permitted speed limit. Unable to compete despite slashing its fares, the Tramway withdrew scheduled passenger trains from 6 April 1933.
The end of mineral and freight services followed on 6 July 1935 when the Tramway went into voluntary liquidation.
Sadly all four of the Tramway's locomotives were scrapped by 1936 along with most of the wagons and carriages. The rails were sold off to other enterprises and scrap dealers.
A number of enclosed carriage bodies were sold off to local farmers and others for use as sheds or field huts. Fortunately two of these survived long enough to be identified and acquired by the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in the late 1950s, who subsequently restored them with new underframes for running on the Talyllyn Railway.
The remains of one tipper wagon used at Hendre Quarry were recovered by the Milner family in the 1970s. The wagon was subsequently fully restored and is now on loan to and displayed in the Old Tramway Engine Shed Museum at Glyn Ceiriog.
At Pontfadog and Dolywern, both of the passenger waiting rooms have survived and been preserved. The Pontfadog building is now owned and maintained by our Heritage Trust, the Dolywern building by Leonard Cheshire Disability Ltd who run the adjacent care home.
At Glyn Ceiriog, the station building survives but is now a private residence adjacent to our Museum site. Also surviving at Glyn Ceiriog as part of our Museum are the old tramway engine shed and perhaps the oldest Glyn Valley Tramway item, a 2 ton jib loading crane first used in the horse-drawn era.
The small Coal Yard Office on the GVT Coal Wharf at Glyn Ceiriog has also been preserved after re-positioning.
At Chirk, the station building and other structures survived for some time after closure of the Tramway, finding alternative uses with the Forestry Commission, but sadly were demolished in the late 1960s after their tenure ended. A project is being undertaken by a separate charity organisation, Glyn Valley Tramway Trust, to rebuild the GVT station building and platform at Chirk as part of a new narrow gauge tourist railway.
A carriage roof lamp with cover, an acetylene locomotive headlamp and a nameplate from locomotive no.3 GLYN are part of the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum collection at Tywyn. Many other small Tramway artefacts and ephemera are on public display at our Museum in Glyn Ceiriog.
History Study Books
A series of four detailed study books authored by John Milner & Beryl Williams, published by RailRomances / Ceiriog Press, tell the respective histories of:
the slate industry of the Ceiriog Valley,
the Glyn Valley Tramway, and
the quarries and works of the Ceiriog Valley served by the Glyn Valley Tramway.