Dean Forest Tramway

Gauge: 3ft 6in nominal (1.06m)

The Dean Forest Tramway consisted of several plateway lines built in the Forest of Dean in West Gloucestershire. Although parts were converted to conventional railways, the last plateway continued in use until 1946.

The Forest of Dean in West Gloucestershire was a centre of industry for centuries, based not only on timber but also on stone, iron ore, charcoal and later coal. The period of greatest industrial development was from 1780 to 1850. In 1787 coal production in the Forest had risen to 90,000 tons, with 37 pits at Parkend alone. The Forest roads at this time were impassable in winter and unsuited to the heavy traffic generated. A system of tramroads, completed by 1812, was built by three companies. Two of them, the Severn & Wye Company, and the Forest of Dean Company, ran to purpose-built ports on the Severn at Lydney and Bullo Pill. The third company served the town of Monmouth. The tramroads used L section flanged plates, with a gauge of around 3ft 6in, over which wagons with flangeless wheels were pulled by horse, ponies or mules. The network was very extensive, with branches and spurs servicing the pits, quarries and stoneworks in area.

In 1810 the Forest of Dean Tramway Company began to develop Bullo Pill as a major port for exporting Forest coal and stone. This involved building of a large dock basin with tidal lock gates. Work was completed by 1833 as was a tramway extension running from Cinderford. In 1826 the Tramway Company was sold and an Act of Parliament formed the Forest of Dean Railway Company. The tramway would be in use for another 25 years, but as time passed, it became less suited to the needs of its users.

In later years, some of the main lines became steam hauled railways, including the Forest of Dean Railway Company’s line, which was converted to a broad gauge line by the South Wales Railway in 1854. As industry in the Forest went into a slow decline this eventually became the last remaining railway into the Forest and was closed by British Rail in 1976. The line was purchased for preservation by Dean Forest Railway in 1985 and slowly upgraded to Lydney Junction, by 1995, to provide a connection with the national network.

Many of the tramway branches continued to work with horses. Some were remarkably long lived, the Wimbery Slade tramway lasting until the 1930s and Bicslade to 1946.