Swansea and Mumbles Railway

Swansea and Mumbles Railway
Swansea and Mumbles Railway
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Swansea Harbour Trust
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Rutland Street
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St Helens
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Ashleigh Road
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Llanelly Railway
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West Cross
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Norton Road
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Southend (Mumbles)
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Mumbles Pier

The Swansea and Mumbles Railway was the world's first passenger railway service,[1] located in Swansea, Wales.

Originally built under an Act of Parliament of 1804 to move limestone from the quarries of Mumbles to Swansea and to the markets beyond, it carried the world's first fare-paying railway passengers on 25 March 1807 (the same day the British Parliament abolished the transportation of slaves from Africa). It later moved from horse power to steam locomotion, and finally converted to electric trams, before closing in January 1960, in favour of motor buses.[1]

At the time of the railway's closure, it had been the world's longest serving railway and it still holds the record for the highest number of forms of traction of any railway in the world - horse-drawn, sail power, steam power, electric power, petrol and diesel.



An early horse hauled train

In 1804 the British Parliament approved the laying of a railway line between Swansea and Oystermouth in South Wales, for transportation of mined materials to and from the Swansea Canal and the harbour at the mouth of the River Tawe. and in the autumn of that year the first tracks were laid. At this stage, the railway was known as the Oystermouth Railway. It later became the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, but in common parlance its name was the Mumbles Train.

There was no road link between Swansea and Oystermouth and the original purpose of the railway was to transport coal, iron-ore and limestone. Construction seems to have been completed in 1806 and operations began without formal ceremony, using horse-drawn vehicles. As constructed, the line ran from the Brewery Bank adjacent to the Swansea Canal in Swansea, around the wide sweep of Swansea Bay to a terminus at Castle Hill (near the present-day Clements Quarry) in the tiny isolated fishing village of Oystermouth (colloquially known as 'Mumbles' although, strictly speaking, that name applies only to the headland at the south-western tip of Swansea bay with its distinctive twin islets, on one of which is mounted the Mumbles lighthouse). There was also a branch from Blackpill which ran up the Clyne valley for nearly a mile to Ynys Gate which was intended to promote the development of the valley's coal reserves.

In 1807, approval was given to carry passengers along the line, when one of the original proprietors, Benjamin French, offered to pay the company the sum of twenty pounds for the right to do so for twelve months from 25 March 1807. This is usually cited as the date when the first regular service carrying passengers between Swansea and Oystermouth began, thus giving the railway the claim of being the first passenger railway in the world. The venture was evidently a success because the following year French joined with two others in offering the increased sum of twenty five pounds to continue the arrangement for a further year, but the construction of a turnpike road parallel to the railway in the mid 1820s robbed it of much of its traffic and the passenger service (by that time in the hands of one Simon Llewelyn) ceased in 1826 or 1827, ironically just as events elsewhere in the United Kingdom (particularly in the north east of England) were paving the way for the development of railways as a truly national and international transport system.

In its early days the line operated in the same manner as the contemporary canals and turnpike roads. Tolls and charges were laid down in the enabling Act of Parliament and any trader could use the line on provision of a suitable waggon and after paying the appropriate toll to the owning Company. The railway was laid in the form of a plateway, with the rails being approximately 4 ft  (1,219 mm) apart.[2]

After cessation of the passenger service the line became derelict and the original company of proprietors virtually moribund. However, the Clyne valley branch was relaid in 1841/2 and extended for a further mile (as a private line) to the Rhydydefaid colliery where George Byng Morris, the son of one of the original proprietors, had started to exploit the coal and iron reserves of the valley. From about 1855, George Byng Morris took the line in hand, relaid it with edge rails (i.e. as a conventional railway) to the standard gauge of 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) and reintroduced a horse-drawn passenger service between Swansea and a terminus at The Dunns in Oystermouth.

Steam power first replaced the horses in 1877 when trials were undertaken with one of Henry Hughes's patent tramway locomotives. These were adjudged to be a success, although a dispute between the Swansea Improvements & Tramways Company (which owned the locomotives) and the line's then owner, John Dickson (who had come into possession following the death of George Byng Morris) meant that horses continued to operate certain services until 1896. At this time there was a junction between the Mumbles Railway and the Swansea town tramway system at the Slip, allowing S.I. & T. cars to run through from Swansea town centre to Oystermouth. The nature of the dispute was such that the Swansea & Mumbles company demanded that the S.I. & T. horse cars should follow their own steam-hauled services on the line. In 1889, a new company, the Mumbles Railway & Pier Company, was incorporated to extend the railway beyond Oystermouth to a new pier close to Mumbles Head. The first section, to Southend, was opened in 1893 and the remainder, including the pier, in 1898.

The Clyne valley branch continued to be used for coal traffic from Rhydydefaid pit until its closure in 1885 after which the entire branch fell into disuse. In 1896 the promoters of the Gower Light Railway proposed incorporating it into their scheme but nothing came of it. The original branch to Ynys Gate (as authorised in 1804) was relaid in connection with the Clyne Valley slant (opened 1903) and used for coal traffic until the colliery closed in 1915. The extension of 1841/2 remained abandoned until 1920 when a narrow-gauge tramway was laid on its formation to carry coal from Ynys slant to Ynys Gate. This was used only until 1921 when the slant closed. There was then no further traffic on the branch, although the track remained in situ and was still usable as late as 1936 when it is recorded that a diesel locomotive made a trip up the branch as far as Ynys Gate.

A somewhat motley collection of steam locomotives was used to maintain services between 1877 and 1929, beginning with the Hughes tramway locomotives mentioned above (which were actually owned by the S.I. & T. and therefore not able to be used on the railway after 1878), through locomotives constructed by Falcon, Manning Wardle, Hunslet, Black Hawthorn, Brush and Avonside. All were tank locomotives of 0-4-0 or 0-6-0 wheel arrangement. Ownership was vested variously in the Swansea & Mumbles Railway Company or the Mumbles Railway & Pier Company (and sometimes transferred between the two for accounting purposes)[3] and as early as the 1890s there is evidence that the railway was having to hire in locomotives to supplement its own fleet. By the 1920s, locomotives were regularly being hired from a local dealer, Charles Williams of Morriston, and frequently appear in photographs of the railway taken at that time.

The line celebrated its centenary in 1904, producing a special commemorative brochure for the occasion. Two years previously, a notable experiment had been carried out, namely the introduction of battery-powered 'accumulator' cars. These were not a success, but one of the cars was retained after the electrical equipment had been stripped out and used to convey parties of visiting dignitaries, including no less a personage than King Edward VII when he and his consort, Queen Alexandra, visited Swansea for the ceremonial cutting of the first sod of the King's Dock in July 1904. The car was used again for the visit of King Edward's successor, King George V, in 1920, when he officiated at the opening of the Queen's Dock.

The line was electrified in 1928 at 650 V DC [4] using overhead transmission – giving it the distinction of having used three forms of regular locomotive power over the years. Trials began on 6 July 1928[5] and full electric services were introduced on 2 March 1929, using a fleet of eleven double-deck cars built by the Brush Electrical Company of Loughborough, in Nottinghamshire. These were the largest ever built for service in Britain and each could seat 106 passengers. Furthermore, they were frequently operated in pairs, giving a total seating capacity of 212 per train. Two further cars were added later, bringing the fleet strength up to thirteen. A four-wheeled petrol-mechanical locomotive was acquired from Hardy Railmotors of Slough, Berkshire, to handle the residual goods traffic on the railway, but this proved to be underpowered and was replaced after a few years by a diesel-mechanical locomotive by John Fowler & Co., of Leeds. The Hardy locomotive was retained for a few years and used for shunting the cars in the depot, which was on the site of the former carriage sheds, adjacent to the Rutland Street terminus, and for inspection of the overhead line equipment, but it had been dismantled by 1954, when parts were used in the construction of a replica horse-drawn car to celebrate the line's 150th anniversary.

In 1958, The South Wales Transport Company (the principal operator of motor bus services in the Swansea town area) purchased the railway from the old owning companies (the Swansea & Mumbles Railway Limited and the Mumbles Railway & Pier Company), having previously been the lessee in succession to the Swansea Improvements & Tramways Company since the 1930s, and the following year went to Parliament with an Abandonment Bill. Despite vociferous local opposition, the Bill became law as the South Wales Transport Act, 1959. The railway was closed in two stages. The section from Southend to the Pier was closed on 11 October 1959 to facilitate the construction of a special road to the Pier for the buses that were to replace the trains. Then, at 11.52 on Tuesday 5 January 1960, the last train (a ceremonial special, carrying local dignitaries) left Swansea for Mumbles driven by Frank Duncan, who had worked on the railway since 1907. Within a very short time of the train returning to the Rutland Street depot, work began on dismantling the track and cars. One car (no. 2) was saved for preservation by members of Leeds University in Yorkshire and stored for a while at the Middleton Railway in that city, but it was heavily vandalised and eventually destroyed by fire. The front end of car no. 7 was also saved for preservation at Swansea Museum; following many years of neglect it was initially restored in the early 1970s by members of the Railway Club of Wales and is now on display in the Tram Shed alongside the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea's Maritime Quarter.

A Mumbles Railway Society was formed in 1975 to formally archive material and to maintain the hope that one day the line would re-open.

Railway or tramway?

The original name of the company of proprietors of the railway was the Oystermouth Railway or Tramroad Company, but here the word tramroad is being used in its pre-railway context. The original right of way was unique and it was only after the construction of the turnpike road in the 1820s that the line assumed its roadside character. The introduction of steam locomotion in the 1870s was facilitated by a clause in the original Act which authorised the "haling or drawing" of waggons by "men, horses, or otherwise" and owed nothing to the Tramways Act of 1870. However, the passenger rolling stock used in steam days bore little resemblance to conventional railway carriages, employing open-top, "toast-rack" and "knifeboard" seating, and being built by companies associated with the construction of urban tramcars (Milnes, Starbuck & Falcon, etc.). After electrification the resemblance to an urban tramway became more marked with the introduction of the huge Brush-built electric cars and because of the operation style (the signalling was used only to regulate entry to the passing loops and not to control the actual running of cars). However, the track was always laid with conventional railway-type rail and not grooved tram-rail and the railway also handled conventional goods wagons (exchanged with the London Midland & Scottish Railway at Mumbles Road station and with the Great Western Railway at the Swansea terminus). In the last analysis, the railway may be said to have been "claimed" by both Railway (e.g. "the first passenger railway") and Tramway enthusiasts (e.g. the British book listed in the sources below, which states that the Swansea and Mumbles Railway was usually considered to be a tramway). It should also be noted that definitions may change over time. In the early nineteenth century a tramway was a line for mineral wagons (trams), the term railway being used when edge rails replaced plates. After the passing of the Tramways Act of 1870 the term tramway became almost exclusively associated with urban transport systems.


The railway had a multitude of stopping places over the years,[6] but at the time of electrification and after the officially-recognised stations from Swansea to Mumbles (as published in Bradshaw) were:

  • Rutland Street
  • St Helen's (frequently known as "The Slip")
  • Brynmill
  • Ashleigh Road
  • Blackpill
  • West Cross
  • Norton Road
  • Oystermouth
  • Southend
  • Pier (adjacent to Mumbles Head)

Suggested re-opening

Re-opening has frequently been discussed in the local press and local politicians frequently bring the topic up. However the project has not yet got to the drawing board and unlike other councils, Swansea Council has not submitted a plan to central government for funding, as transport is devolved in Wales. Meanwhile road traffic problems between Swansea and Mumbles are forever increasing and the case for re-opening continues.

The Campaign to encourage Swansea Council to look again at the option for trams is being promoted by Councillor Rob Speht and the Trams 4 Swansea Campaign.

As Chairman of the City & County of Swansea's Cabinet Advisory Committee for Economic Development 2004–2006, Councillor Rob Speht brought the idea of trams back onto the Council's agenda. The committee started the process of looking into the feasibility of trams for Swansea, even visiting Sheffield, Manchester and Nottingham to take evidence from their City Councils.

The committee looked at trams routes in Swansea from:

  • Port Talbot (via SA1 / Fabian Way) to Mumbles
  • County Hall (via Bus Station, Railway Station and Liberty Stadium) to the Enterprise Park and Morriston
  • Blackpill to Dunvant, Gowerton and Llanelli

In 2006, the committee structure was re-organised following new rules from the Welsh Assembly and the Cabinet Advisory Committees abandoned, along with their policy development work.

The Trams 4 Swansea campaign started in 2007.

On 16 February 2009, the City & County of Swansea started the process of looking at the feasibility of trams for the Swansea bay area again. The ERC (Environment, Regeneration and Culture) Overview Board, which is a policy making committee chaired by Councillor Rob Speht, discussed the options for feasibility work and scheduled tasks to assess the technical, financial and social feasibility of bringing trams back to Swansea.

See also


  1. ^ a b BBC - South West Wales Swansea - Mumbles Railway 1807 to 1960
  2. ^ The Swansea & Mumbles Railway by Charles E. Lee, pub. Oakwood Press, Oxford, 1988, p.48
  3. ^ S & M and MR & P company minute books, deposited in University of Swansea archives
  4. ^ Journal of the Stephenson Locomotive Society, Vol. 43, No. 509 (December 1967), p.364
  5. ^ Ibid.
  6. ^ See Opening Dates of Public Passenger Railway Stations in England, Wales and Scotland by M.E. Quick, published by the Railway & Canal Historical Society

External links

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