Glyn Valley Tramway

Gauge: 2ft 4¼in (717mm)

The Glyn Valley Tramway connected the quarries near Glyn Ceiriog in North East Wales with the standard gauge railway and Shropshire Union Canal at Chirk. It ran alongside a road for most of its 8¼ mile length. Opened in 1873, it carried passengers from 1875. The tramway closed in 1935.

Two groups are now preserving parts of the line. The Glyn Valley Tramway Trust are working to reopen a section of line at Chirk. The New Glyn Valley Tramway and Industrial Heritage Trust are aiming to preserve the heritage of the valley, and have a museum at Glyn Ceiriog.

The Ceiriog Valley, Denbighshire, was rich in minerals such as slate, chinastone, granite, limestone and silica. Limekilns burnt coal mined at Trehowell, near Chirk and the earliest slate was quarried in the early 1500s. The Wynne slate quarry opened in 1750 followed by a larger concern, the Cambrian Slate Company, which was formed in 1854. Slate from Glyn Ceiriog had to be carried four miles by packhorse over the mountain to the canal at Llangollen, as there was no satisfactory road up the valley. After years of proposing various schemes a Turnpike extension was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1860. The Cambrian Company offered the Trustees of the Turnpike half of the capital required to extend the road up the valley in exchange for a lease on it. In 1861 they sought the exclusive right via a Bill to lay down a horse tramway along the road but this was rejected, as the uniting of road and railway was at that time unprecedented.

Meanwhile a public Bill was introduced in Parliament to promote urban street tramways, which by definition allowed that they might follow a public road. Before it obtained Royal Assent on 9th August 1870 a private Bill was presented promoting the Glyn Valley Tramway and including the authorisation to lay rails beside the turnpike road in the valley. Royal Assent was granted on 10th August 1870. The Act stated that no part of the Tramway Act 1870 would apply to this Act and then quoted all the sections that would apply!

By this time the Cambrian Slate Company had withdrawn their support. Eventually the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Co. was persuaded to subscribe half the £10,000 required. It would oversee construction, operate the completed tramway and supply horses and wagons. Colonel Biddulph of Chirk Castle was obstructive with the result that the tramway had to be built via an arduous route on the south side of the valley to reach the railway and canal, instead of to Chirk.

Surveyor and Engineer was Henry Dennis who had been surveyor to the Cornwall Railway. He chose the gauge of 2ft 4¼in (half standard gauge). The Tramway was completed by the end of March 1873. Local residents soon asked for a passenger service and this was provided by 1875. The Tramway was inefficient due to the gradients, which limited the loads that could be moved by horses.

The Ceiriog Granite Company opened a new granite quarry at Hendre, above Glynceiriog, and in 1881 the company became the new operator of the tramway. Of no help was the fact that on 16th March 1882 the Cambrian Slate Co. was closed and there was little or no slate traffic until it reopened in 1886.

It was decided to extend the tramway up to the Hendre quarry to take advantage of this valuable business and at the same time to introduce steam power. Despite previous refusals, an Act was given Royal Assent on the 31st July 1885 enabling the tramway to be converted. This time Col. Biddulph consented to a new route through his land, with easier gradients, from Pontfaen to the GWR station at Chirk and the canal nearby.

The Glyn Valley Tramway directors took over management and adaptation of the line for steam locomotives. In 1890 an able solicitor, Sir Theodore Martin was appointed Chairman. Despite his work the tramway was hopelessly over-capitalised and expenditure on construction was high. Although the Tramway nearly always earned more than its operating costs the balance was never enough to pay dividends.

Soon after the 1885 Act the 25lb rails were replaced by 50lb ones spiked to wooden sleepers. The contractors used two locomotives loaned by the Snailbeach District Railway of which Henry Dennis was a director and Engineer.

The Glyn Valley Tramway bought three locos from Beyer Peacock & Co. All were 0-4-2Ts and conformed to strict conditions laid down by the Board of Trade for tram engines, normally intended for urban use where there were many horses. Mechanism and fire were hidden from view; noise from the blast pipe and machinery was eliminated; a skirt was fitted to hide the motion; a bell warned of the loco’s approach. The speed limit was 8mph and an automatic brake came in at 10mph. The locos generally ran backwards, to give the driver a clear view of the road ahead. Coke, rather than coal, was burnt – for a while anyway! In 1921 an ex-military Baldwin locomotive was acquired, re-gauged by Beyer Peacock. By that time no one was bothered that it didn’t conform at all to Tramway Regulations.

In 1919 the GVT carried its greatest number of passengers – 53,720. Peak granite carriage was in 1930 when 75,989 tons made up almost 92% of freight carried. At this time there were four mixed trains a day in each direction. Mail was carried too. An extra train down the valley ran on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which were market days in Oswestry. Excursions were run, often needing extra carriages, for which scrubbed-out goods wagons fitted with seats were used. There were two freight trains, one of which ran to and from Hendre Quarry. Freight was exchanged with the GWR and Shropshire Union Canal at Chirk.

Sir Theodore Martin died in 1910 and was succeeded as Chairman by Dyke Dennis, son of Henry who died in 1906. Albert Wynne, Secretary and Manager from 1923, did much to improve maintenance of track and stock, but a motorbus service direct to Oswestry and lorries taking tarmac direct from Hendre to road works, without transhipment, sounded the death-knell of the tramway. The last passenger train ran in April 1933 and all traffic ceased on 6th July 1935. The GVT was delightful and had it laboured on for a few more years it may well have been preserved.

Two of the original coaches are preserved on the Talyllyn Railway.

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
1 DennisBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.2970 of 18880-4-2TScrapped 1936
2 Sir TheodoreBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.2969 of 18880-4-2TScrapped 1936
3 GlynBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.3500 of 18920-4-2TScrapped 1936
4 Baldwin Locomotive Works No.452214-6-0TEx-WD 1921. Scrapped 1936