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The Wye Valley Railway


In Development

Construction and Operation 1876-1880

Operation 1880-1905

Great Western Ownership

British Rail Ownership 1945-1959

British Rail Ownership 1959-1990

Since abandonment

Wye Valley Railway

Introduction bits
Welcome to the Wye Valley Railway
Full History
Abridged History
Location Maps
How would we re-open it?
Main Scheme
Part 1: Wye Valley Junction to Netherhope
Part 2: Tidenham Tunnel
Part 3: Tintern Quarry to Tintern
Part 4: Tintern Station
Part 5: Brockweir to St Briavels
Part 6: St Briavels to Redbrook
Part 7: Wyesham to Monmouth
Part 8: Signalling
Part 9: Rolling Stock
Part 10: Imagine the Journey
Local Entertainment
Does that picture really show that?
From Rags to Power
Other pages on this topic
Of Roads, Railways and Cycleways
Frequently Asked Questions
The Railway
Interesting snippets of history
The originally proposed alignment
Getting money off ex-directors
Completing the Railway
Social and economic effect of building culverts
Later Wye Valley Railtours
Remains of the route
It really is 50 years ago...
The Abandoned Wye Valley Railways
The Area
Wye Valley Journey
Brockweir Bridge: Dibden v Skirrow
Wye Valley Railway Menu

The Wye Valley Railway opened on the 1st November 1876, linking the south-east Welsh towns of Chepstow and Monmouth (then both in England) via stations serving the villages of Tidenham, Tintern, St Briavels and Redbrook. The line was 14¾ miles long. At Monmouth Troy station passengers could change for trains serving the towns of Pontypool (15 miles south-west), Ross-on-Wye (10 miles further north) and, from 1883, the town of Coleford, 5 miles to the east in the Forest of Dean.

Ultimately it lost large sums of money and closed to passengers in 1959. Freight followed in 1964. The continued occasional use of a miniature gauge railway at Tintern station means that the line has not quite been abandoned by rail transport but all the sections still carrying track are currently being proposed for conversion to a new cycleway.

Rail travel offers an unusually intimate way of viewing the landscape. Maybe it's the way in which the railway sweeps across the land, variously viewing it from above, below or occasionally the level that the land is actually at. Maybe it's the fact that railways tend to be quite narrow when trundling through rural landscapes. Maybe it's just the way that the trees brush against the windows when Network Rail forgets to prune them back to the viaduct's parapet walls.

This intimacy was readily available on the Wye Valley Railway. It climbed away from the mainline just east of Chepstow and turned north on a high embankment, which carried it across fields and through Tidenham station into a cutting. This cutting carried it through more fields and Netherhope Halt before the railway plunged into Tidenham Tunnel. After a minute or so of pitchy blackness trains emerged into the peace and solitude of the Lower Wye Valley, clattering along the hillside below Offa's Dyke and vanishing into Tintern Tunnel just as they approached Tintern and its Abbey. Beyond the tunnel, the railway crossed to the west bank of the Wye, passed through Tintern station, descended to river level, ran under Brockweir bridge and paused briefly at Brockweir Halt.

North of Brockweir was a tamer landscape of fields, with woods only on the steeper slopes. The railway ran along the river bank, hemmed in by steep hills, past Llandogo Halt and the adjacent Llandogo Church, to the sylvan settings of St Briavels station next to Bigsweir Bridge. More fields bounded the railway as it ran up to Whitebrook, but the east bank of the river was now covered in trees and trains entered a similar forest once through Whitebrook Halt. Nearly two miles of stationless track followed before Redbrook came into view; the line passed through Penallt Halt, crossed back to the east bank of the Wye and ran through Redbrook station in quick succession. More woodland followed, although green fields climbed up the hills on the west bank to the hamlet of Penallt. Eventually the landscape opened out and the railway passed over Wyesham Junction (for Coleford), swept through Wyesham Halt and past the suburb of the same name and descended across the Wye on a vast stone viaduct, with the line to Ross on an embankment on the right, into station of Monmouth Troy.

In Development

This varied line was inaugurated by an Act of Parliament in 1866 at the end of the Second Railway Mania (the first occurred in the 1840s). It was to be the third railway to reach Monmouth. The first arrived from the west from Pontypool in 1857 after a difficult construction including a collapsing tunnel by the intermediate station of Usk. This line, the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway, was sufficiently bankrupted after building its main Monmouth station that it never bothered to extend over the older Monmouth Tramroad to Coleford, making do with building a large viaduct across the Wye to Wyesham in 1862 to provide a link with the tramroad.

Shortly afterwards, the Ross and Monmouth Railway was approved by an 1865 Act of Parliament and began work to reach Monmouth from the north. This work included uncooperative scenery, which collapsed across the line at every possible opportunity, and an economic collapse which left the railway unable to reach older station at Monmouth. Instead it built its own station at May Hill, which was convenient for the very bottom end of the Monmouth Tramroad and Monmouth itself but not for its fellow railway. An extension in 1874 connected it in to the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway and their station, now suffixed "Troy".

The Wye Valley Railway's Act was passed only a year after that of the Ross and Monmouth Railway but the economic collapse delayed work on the line, which was to be built from Wyesham Junction to Wye Valley Junction for single track. There were initial worries that the line would be built to broad gauge (7ft) but this opposition to the line was withdrawn when it was confirmed that standard gauge (4ft 8 ½ inches) would be used. One passing loop would be installed at Tintern, but trains would be able to pass at Wye Valley Junction and Wyesham as well, and freight trains could be held, if necessary, in loops at Tidenham, Bigsweir, and Redbrook.

The northern part of this initial scheme was largely similar to that which was built, although the landscape through which it was to run was somewhat different - for example, in order for the railway to pass the now remote village of Whitebrook it was going to have to pass close to and possibly demolish a warehouse. Whitebrook had a quay for the loading of the paper traffic into river-going vessels at the time, of which no trace now remains and both warehouses are long gone. South of Llandogo there were also to be substantial variations to the route. Rather than follow the east bank of the river to Brockweir, the line was to climb sharply up the hillside and cross over the turnpike road which is now the A466. It would then run around the hillside above Tintern, crossing the side valleys on embankments and giving excellent views down on the Abbey. Then trains were to proceed gently down the hillside, around the inside of a meander since quarried away, over the river on a fine bridge and into a steeply-climbing 282 yard tunnel through another meander. A hundred yards or so in the open, near the bottom of Wintour's Leap (a rather fine cliff overlooking the Wye north of Chepstow), would be followed by a second tunnel, 712 yards long, carrying the line inland towards Tidenham. It could then swing round and descend to join the mainline, with the proposed junction pointing west at the eastern end of the mainline's bridge over the Wye. A chord would provide an eastbound link to the mainline, although it appears to have targeted a hypothetical alternative route rather than the railway which had actually been built.

The line would be operated by the Great Western Railway (paying 50% of income to the WVR). Care was to be taken to ensure that there would be no damage done to Tintern Abbey or the surrounding grounds.

The Bill received its second reading on Tuesday, 27th of February 1866 and reported on page 6 of The Times the next day. It then was passed on its third reading on Monday July 23rd 1866 and reported in The Times the following day again, although this time on page 5. On Monday May 11th The Times reported, now on page 4, that the shares were being issued to raise capital, and that "It will further open up a new and much shorter route from Liverpool and the North, Birmingham and the Midland districts, to Newport, Cardiff, Bristol and the West of England, and this through route will be very materially improved by the completion of the Severn Tunnel now in the course of construction ... The railway will command a very large traffic to and from the Forest of Dean and the ports of Newport and Cardiff, as well as a considerable through traffic of passsengers and goods between the districts of England and Wales north and south of the line. ... A very great traffic is anticipated from tourists visiting Tintern Abbey and the far-famed valley of the Wye, and also both in goods and passengers from the resident population as well as from the quarries [near Tintern], wireworks [Tintern], papermills [Whitebrook], tinplate works [Redbrook], foundries [Tintern and Redbrook], and other manufactories" which mostly shows that, despite vast increases in speed, single track branch lines do not carry nearly as much as they used to. In fact, only the local traffic was to prosper with some tourists in summer.

The full prospectus was even better, featuring as it did a carefully drawn Map. This Map was drawn almost to scale but with some slight liberties around the alignment of certain junctions. The idea of a mainline between Newport and Gloucester is no problem, since that was then part of the mainline from South Wales to London. The idea of a mainline from Merthyr Tydfil to Worcester is a little more misplaced, given that there was a way of doing that journey but about half of it was on steeply-graded and/or single track lines; such a journey required two changes. The WVR was to form part of a line which would link the two - the rest would be provided by the Ross and Monmouth Railway and a proposed line from Ross-on-Wye to the little village of Dymock and from thence to join the line linking Merthyr and Worcester at the market town of Ledbury. The Map also introduces the curious claim that the South Wales Railway terminated on the eastern side of Cardiff and inferred that at least as much traffic went from Pontypool to Hereford via Monmouth (single track with passing places) as via the still-open line through Abergavenny (double track throughout). There was a prediction that "lime and limestone will form a satisfactory feature in the traffic returns" - a point on which British Rail agreed with them for a change, although not enough to retain the entire line. A minimum return of 6% per annum was promised with total gross traffic per annum raising £36,779 (a remarkably precise figure, given how incorrect it was. One wonders where they got it from).

So much for the prospectus, which was mostly wrong - there was no through traffic, there are few records of intensive paper traffic (not aided by the Whitebrook paperworks having to use St Briavels, a mile away, as their railhead) and only one dividend is recorded as having been paid - that was before the railway opened and no dividend was paid afterwards, let alone 6% (which was being paid at this time by the very profitable South Welsh Rhymney Railway, which was short, double track, lacking in major structures, and carrying intensive coal traffic). There are lies, damned lies, statistics and then there are railway prospectuses, to add to a famous quote from then Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. The shares were sold for £20 each, in batches of 5, so £100 per batch; by 1904 the report to the shareholders revealed that this had fallen to £12 10s 0d for the £100 of shares, or £2 10s 0d per share. The shareholders lost 87.5% of their original investment, yet this was what the prospectus called "An English investment of unusually satisfactory character" which generates the question of what an English investment of unsatisfactory character did with your money. Burying it tends to obtain a better return. Perhaps they were thinking of the neighbouring Forest of Dean Central Railway, which had been started in 1861 and had already spent all its funds for the entire 6½ mile line on building about three miles of route in twice the time that had been predicted for building the complete line. At least the WVR was eventually completed without going too seriously bankrupt; however, if you ever find yourself in the Public Record Office at Kew or the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth, do not forget to read the Wye Valley Railway Prospectus. It is a marvellous piece of comic literature. The sad thing is that there were plenty more like it; we forget many of them because the lines which they dealt with (like Ross on Wye to Dymock) were never built.

One reason for many of them not being built was a major economic collapse in mid-1866. It originated with the Norwich merchant bank, Overend and Gurney, which had grown enough to expand into the London market, become Britain's second biggest bank after the Bank of England and lend large sums of money to various enterprises such as a Greek shipping line, some East London engineering firms and a scheme to turn Galway into a major transatlantic port. When these enterprises failed the losses were too big to acknowledge and so were allowed to remain on the books, ostensibly being charged interest and causing the company some considerable concern. In 1865 it floated on the stock market with suitably discounted shares and hoped thereby to raise enough capital to keep it afloat.

The demise in January 1866 of an engineering firm with "Overend" in its name caused a brief wobble but once it was realised that there was no connection Overend and Gurney returned to sailing a steady passage through the choppy waters of high finance, carefully ensuring that its shareholders never got concerned enough to look at the books and find out what exactly was hiding behind the instution's good name. Such concern was raised when a couple of months later the bank attempted to sue the Mid-Wales Railway - owners of a very impressive but not exceptionally profitable line running up the higher reaches of the Wye Valley between Brecon and Llandiloes via Builth Wells - for an insignificant debt which it officially could afford to lose but everyone knew the Mid-Wales couldn't afford to pay. The claim failed on a technicality; the question was raised as to how many other Overend and Gurney loans couldn't be reclaimed due to technicalities (and, indeed, how many Overend and Gurney loans were owed by basket cases like the Mid-Wales) and within a very short order Overend and Gurney sank beneath the waves, turning the once impressive claim of being "rich as the Gurneys" into something of a non-achievement. The original Norwich branch survived the ensuing turmoil and became a founding partner in the Barclays Bank at the end of the 19th century.

Despite the Bank of England following the demise of Overend and Gurney with the sort of quantitative easing not seen again until after the next run on a bank (when Northern Rock went down), the crash brought the Second Railway Mania to an abrupt halt, leaving Britain struggling through a few years of financial depression, not aided by the ongoing Crimean War. It also saw the construction of the Wye Valley line held off for a few years but work eventually started in 1874. On the 17th of July 1874 the Railway was registered with the list of Joint Stock Companies; the secretary was Edward Mardon. Presumably sometime between then and Saturday,October 3rd 1874, when The Times repeated the prospectus, construction work finally began.

Construction and Operation 1876-1880

The most notable result of the delay in beginning construction was that the opportunity was taken to re-route the line. It would now pass clear of the warehouse at Whitebrook and avoid the twisting route through Tintern. Instead the more familiar riverbank alignment was chosen between Llandogo and Brockweir; the line then rose through Tintern station, crossed the river, passed through a short tunnel and ran along the hillside for a couple of miles, before plunging into a 995 yard tunnel to emerge near Netherhope Lane, from where it would run south to join the mainline about quarter of a mile east of its Wye bridge.

The Times handily details most of the General Meetings, while the Register of Joint Stock Companies took in accounts - theoretically every six months, although being the WVR they were in fact rather less regular - which means that it is possible to get a good impression of how things progressed through the Company's independent career. This latter shows that by the 19th of June 1875 the Company had issued all its stock and collected half the proceeds, so was going to attempt to raise more money. A half-yearly General Meeting was held on Friday 20th August 1875 when a vote of confidence was passed in favour of Mr William Hawes, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, by the shareholders - little did the poor people know what was coming to them. At this point construction was proceeding according to plan, but stations would have to be enlarged as they were for passengers only and not suitable for the projected goods traffic (which had been planned to travel over the line nine years prevoiusly but evidently no plans had been made to actually accommodate it). The line was £64,115 in pocket - riches which would never be achieved again. A few sidings would have to be laid to benefit the railway - probably mostly in goods yards - but one was of particular interest, partly for the great difficulty which it gave its bigger sister, and it would be difficult to say that it was ever of benefit to the railway - and, as the companies which used this long siding of about half a mile in length all went bankrupt, it can not exactly be said to have benefitted them either.

The proposed alterations to the route shortly before construction began resulted in complaints being made by the owners of Tintern Wireworks and the people of Tintern that the line was due to bypass their village. The result was that the new scheme made provision for a highly expensive branch line to placate those protesters who offered profitable traffic. The Tintern (or Wireworks) branch would run from Tintern (or Wireworks) junction to the Wireworks in the valley above Tintern. A viaduct had to be installed over the river with sufficent space for vessels to pass under at high water. £500 (then) had to be paid for each tree taken out to make way for the railway. To top it all, the WVR was not allowed to charge for use of the branch (except for use of a now demolished weighbridge) but the railway company did have to supply all stock to run the branch and keep it in a good condition. There was still annoyance, as the line was to be for freight only and the locals would still have to use the official station, about a mile away.

The Wireworks branch was completed in August 1875 to a proud announcement from the engineers that it was now ready to commence operations. This was just a tad optimistic to say the least, as the main WVR was not to be completed for another thirteen months.

September 1875 saw the Registar of Joint Stock Companies receive accounts showing that the Railway had taken out £76,600 in debentures. Debenture creditors have a little bit of paper called a debenture which says that in the event of the company going bankrupt they get paid before anyone else (including those poor shareholders, who come at the bottom of a very long list including various people who might appear to have no claim to any money from the sale of assets) and such people were probably popular following the 1866 financial crisis, being safer than banks, and useful for borrowing money from for a short time - basically, they were just a smaller version of a bank. Being a debenture creditor isn't much different from being a shareholder, except that it's much safer - interest is paid regularly and you are going to get your money back whatever, although this is balanced by not getting voting rights in general meetings - and this breed is likely to have been taken on in about 1874 to pay for the Wireworks Branch. They would cause trouble later, but just for now the Railway was looking forward to a period of comparative financial peace and quiet.

On Thursday November 18th 1875 the WVR was given another hurdle to cross - which hit the weather column of The Times - when a landslide near Redbrook blocked the nearly finished line. This was lighter than the finished Ross and Monmouth railway to the north got however, as there part of the embankment was removed by the Wye south of Symonds Yat - fortunately the next train stopped before following the removed embankment down the Wye to Chepstow.

Upon opening of the WVR on the 1st of November 1876, a train loaded with delegates went from Chepstow to Monmouth and back, stopping off at Tintern for lunch with the Duke of Beaufort on the outward journey. The return journey took place in the evening and from Tintern to Tidenham Tunnel (the Shorn Cliff section) the rocky hillside alongside the railway was lit by flashing lights. Mysteriously the completed Tidenham Tunnel was some 185 yards longer than proposed and therefore qualified for inclusion among the ranks of GWR-worked tunnels which were over 1,000 yards long. (There would ultimately be 29 such tunnels, though Tidenham was the only one on the Monmouth rail network.) The Wireworks branch was opened shortly afterwards to an opening ceremony that was "a little deflated" (Brian Handley) owing to the owners of the Wireworks having gone out of business.

The Wireworks was eventually reopened and two locomotives were acquired from the Taff Vale Railway (between Cardiff and Merthyr) in the form of Nos 33 and 34. One was used to assist with spare parts to keep the other running. The complete locomotive was named "Tintern". Later locos came in the form of a small vertical-boilered loco nicknamed "Coffee Pot" owing to the shape of the boiler, and a group of horses which worked along the trackbed to a local sawmill after the Wireworks closed for good.

The original timetable was a basic affair set up to allow the railway to be worked by one passenger train shuttling between Chepstow and Monmouth Troy, offering four trains each way each day. The first train arrived in Monmouth at 09:23, having left Chepstow at 08:30 and made four intermediate stops at Tidenham, Tintern, St Briavels (then Bigsweir) and Redbrook. The last train from Troy was at 19:10 and returned to Chepstow at 20:03, giving a journey time of 53 minutes for a 14½ mile journey. It appears that a bay was eventually provided at Chepstow, then on the mainline from London to South Wales, for Wye Valley trains, although they shared platform space at Monmouth with the more established railways from Pontypool and Ross. The initial timetable also omitted the stop at Bigsweir on the second train of the day from Monmouth; it is not clear why. By 1884 services had been extended five miles south to Portskewett. In those days a ferry ran across the Severn from Portskewett to Pilning; it was met by a number of express trains and offered a faster, if rougher, way to get from London to South Wales than going via Gloucester. It was reasonable that the WVR should link into this. Following the opening of the Severn Tunnel in 1886, the WVR's services - still four trains each way each day - were extended to meet express trains from London coming through the new tunnel at Severn Tunnel Junction, which added a further 2¾ miles to the journey. The WVR's bay platform at Severn Tunnel Junction is still clearly visible today at the eastern end of the central island platform, with edging slabs still in place and the buffer stop - a lump of concrete at the back of the bay with rails nailed to it - still intact; it is now a popular sitting place at the base of the footbridge. The track and signalling, however, is long gone.

Nowadays the locations of the stations seem to be almost singularly useless, with only Redbrook being conveniently situated for the place that it was meant to serve. Various points should be noted in relation to this. Firstly, railway stations are always more use when they are on the railway. The railway had to follow a route which through trains could use with some degree of ease and the stations then had to be arranged along it as best as they could be. It could have been laid out as a local line instead, going through Tintern as originally proposed, but that would have resulted in a slow, steep and twisting line that would have closed with other such slow, steep and twisting lines in the 1930s. The original formation through Tintern was not conducive to through traffic and wouldn't have left enough room for a decent station on the steep hillside. Secondly, the line was built in an era when people were still used to walking everywhere. If you lived in St Briavels and wanted to go to Lydney, Coleford or the river, then you would walk. Therefore having to walk to the station was not as much of an issue as it is now, when railway stations have to compete with a car parked neatly 10 feet from the door and capable of getting within a few hundred yards of the ultimate destination. If you weren't the sort who would walk then you would have a horse to hand and you would be grateful that the railway would reduce the distance that you were about to have to spend on the back of the thing or in the coach that it was pulling over the usually bumpy roads. Thirdly, the four stations were arranged in a manner which was jolly useful operationally. They were each about ten minutes apart, allowing a theoretical capacity of three trains each way each hour. Tidenham was located where heavier goods trains would have to stop anyway to "pin down brakes" for the descent to Chepstow; Tintern was roughly halfway between Portskewett and Monmouth (slightly favouring Portskewett, so when everything was stretched to Severn Tunnel Junction it was still roughly halfway; possibly this was planned in so far as you can plan the pre-set geography of a valley); St Briavels was at a road junction and no doubt it was believed that this would pick up more traffic. Putting an additional station at Llandogo might have been far more convenient for Llandogo but would also have disrupted the vast quantities of through traffic which the WVR promoters really believed would use their railway.

Following completion of the Wye Valley line proposals for a line to the village of Pontrilas, several miles to the north-west and on the busy Abergavenny to Hereford route, began to slowly solidify into a company promoting an actual railway, which then ultimately disappeared again. It was not a new scheme; in the 1860s plans had been drawn up, shares sold and a contracter engaged to construct a broadly similar route. This was not "an English investment of unusually satisfactory character" since the original Monnow Valley Railway Company was saved from bankruptcy by the collapse of the contracter, Thomas Savin, after he had bored ten yards of tunnel at Monmouth Troy station. The tunnel ultimately formed a useful storage facility for the station and now makes an interesting talking point for the owner of the house which has the complete works of the Monnow Valley Railway in its back garden. Had the tunnel actually been completed, it would now have been sliced into bits by the dual tunnels of a new road passing through the same hill at right-angles to the line to Pontrilas.

In 1877 The Times for Saturday August 25th reported the receipts on page 7, which were quite good, offering a profit of £26,955, resulting in a decision to begin developing the wharves at Chepstow "moderately and in conjunction with the Great Western Railway". In the meantime, "as regarded the main line and stations, the works were practically finished, and before their next half-yearly meeting they believed that the construction and maintenance would be completed." We may hope that two things inferred here were not actually the case - the line should have been finished (it had been open for nine - nearly ten - months by this point) and maintenance should have continued to be carried out after completion. However, the fact that debates continued over several bits of construction work (a bridge at Bishton, between Tidenham and Netherhope, and turntables at Monmouth and Chepstow - see here) and the line's infrastructure was not noted for its reliability all suggest that in fact the works were not finished and, once they were, the WVR ceased to carry out proper maintenance works.

There had also been an Act put before Parliament in 1876 for more sidings at Chepstow and Redbrook and a road bridge at Brockweir, together with the near-mythical third side of the Monmouth Triangle, none of which the WVR ever built but which were presumably part of these planned developments. (The sidings at Chepstow and the road bridge at Brockweir were built by other parties; the sidings at Redbrook were quietly forgotten and the old tramways continued to be used; the third side of the Monmouth Triangle is near-mythical since everyone offered to built it but the half-mile long chord between Wyesham and Monmouth May Hill which could have saved Monmouth's rail link - perhaps - was lost with the demise of the Monmouth Tramroad and has now completely disappeared.) It was agreed that the Great Western made a good operating company and that traffic was improving, the decision was taken to change the dates of future meetings (to March and September rather than February and August) and the meeting closed.

Meanwhile in May 1878 the Railway reported to the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies that it wanted to borrow another £17,400 in debentures. There are two things notable about this. One is that it shows that the Railway was making a quite impressive operating loss, since it was having to borrow large sums of money at a time when it had fairly minimal costs (the GWR paid operating fees and it had finished most of the construction work, barring the turntable at Monmouth, which was never built anyway). The other is that this bit of paperwork was some five months late. The WVR never was good at punctuality.

Monday June 28th 1880 (page 16) saw The Times print proof that there were paper mills at Whitebrook - the Fernside Paper Mills were advertised as being up for sale, with a supply of water that was "constant and pure", along with 12 acres of land. The Wye Valley Railway was available to provide transport of raw materials and manufactured goods, it was added. This would have generated 14 tons of traffic per week for the railway - good backup business, albeit only about two wagonloads per week, but there are no records of the WVR getting in on it - however, as the mill was up for sale again two years later it probably didn't sell this time round.

Operation 1880-1905

On the 18th of October 1879 paperwork had arrived with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies to say that the Railway had changed its designated signatory to their new Secretary, Mr George Sneath; the Company was now chaired by Mr Charles Cotton Ferard. This was presumably directly connected to the Railway's appearance on Thursday October 28th 1880 in a section of the classified advertising on page 14 of The Times which mentions the Railway in connection with Edwin Waterhouse, a London receiver. Apparently, the WVR, of Act passed in 1866 and Amendment Acts passed in 1871, 1875 and 1876 had spent its money and whatever profits it had actually made and now was having problems with its debenture creditors. A George Frederick Hinsbelwood had pulled the plug and 17 days short of the fourth anniversary of opening the WVR had entered receivership, on October 14th 1880. The case, after beginning in September 1879 (when presumably Hinsbelwood's interest had taken too long to get too him as it evidently hadn't been sent) had claimed the original board within a month but only properly got going twelve months later and had taken about a month to get through to appointing a receiver. A request had gone out for all debenture creditors to appear and prove that they were debenture creditors so that they could get their money.

All in all, 1880 was not a particularly good year for the railway, particularly as it also suffered its first notable rail accident. A picture at The Railway Archive (an external link) looks like the south end of Wyesham Junction. A rather large tank engine flipped over. It had been climbing out of Monmouth at about 8mph when it collided with a rock which had fallen from the hillside above onto the railway in the previous half-hour or so. The weather had been cold and wet recently and the maintenance gang had been removing rocks which looked likely to fall, but this one wasn't expected to do so. The driver survived being doused with the contents of the firebox and the water from the boiler; the fireman was thrown down the hillside onto the muddy (but probably frozen) road. The front three wagons of the nine in the train were derailed. The train was the 1pm goods train departure from Troy to Chepstow, which had left at about 1.19pm. Aside from the fact that the tank engine is upside down the picture is interesting for showing what was typical motive power for the time, along with some WVR fencing and track as they were in the late 19th century. The report, which is bundled with all other 1880 rail accident reports at the National Archive, has no accompanying photo but makes interesting reading for working practices and attitudes of the time.

By March 25th 1881 The Times reported on page 4 that a case started at the same time as Hinsbelwood's, probably also on debenture payments, by a Thomas Buckmaster was still running, but being a railway company in court was obviously the done thing, as someone called Easterbrook had the Midland Railway Company in court later in the day over something - and the Midland owned most of the railways in the industrial Midlands of England.

The appointment of Ferard and Sneath marks the end of the terms of the original Board of Directors of the Wye Valley Railway and another five were engaged to replace them. These included a local vicar, possibly with hopes that he would encourage God to look down on them more kindly. It must be remembered that the Wye Valley has, for several hundred years, been a local centre of religion.

A few weeks later the WVR was still busy getting its publicity in The Times law notices, now against a person called Hawes, and as only one Hawes is known to have been involved in the WVR's affairs it is presumably the first Chairman of the Board of Directors, referred to on Thursday April 28th 1881, page 4. However, the law notice gets no more specific on whom the case involves, but the full law reports of the time state that it concerned a dubious divident payment to shareholders (see here). The following day the case was still going, now in the High Court of Justice rather than the Chancery Division.

Although the report to the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies in January 1880 had included the decision to go for £34,800 rather than £17,400 in the latest round of debenture-based fund-raising, it was also mentioned that they had only been able to obtain £11,400, taking total debt to £88,000. It is quite remarkable that they got anything at all, given that the Company can hardly have had a workable credit rating (until you compare it with the Forest of Dean Central Railway, which had closed the top 2½ miles of its line eight years previously and was running three trains per week over the remainder, at which point the WVR indeed looks like "an English investment of unusually satisfactory character", since the line was at least still open throughout, even if it was broke). This meant that the company headed into 1881 looking for another £23,400; the only point of relief was that the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies had started using a rather fetching red ink on the stamp which he stamped their paperwork with.

By 1882 a page 16 advertisment had come up in the Saturday July 1st issue of The Times, with the Clearwater Mill, "about a mile and a half from Bigsweir station" up for auction. As there is no reference to a private siding anywhere closer presumably the mills were finding transport a bit annoying. This time, 34 acres were up for sale, but there is no reference to production, although the water power was "valuable" (the motor from the waterwheel generated 75 horsepower).

By June 9th 1882 The Times had an advert up for the sale of the Fernside Paper Mills at Whitebrook again, still on 14 tons of paper a week. Evidently the last 2 years had seen few improvements.

In 1883 things changed a bit (though there is no evidence of increases in profit) when Coleford and Monmouth were linked by a railway, as opposed to the tramway which had been in use since 1806. The Coleford Branch opened on December 1st with a short, uncomfortable but regular journey ahead of it (like the WVR, it made little profit); a journey which would see it transporting passengers and goods until the darkest days of the First World War shortly after the Somme. Its life was not aided by the fact that it was practically a branch from Monmouth to Coleford, not a through route to the Forest of Dean and the industries within - the link to the main Forest of Dean network was made with several reversals in restricted space at Coleford - not that the shortage of space was a problem, as both lines from Coleford were steeply graded and trains will never have been long anyway.

Friday, September 25th, 1885 (page 11), saw The Times report on the half-year general meeting, which had occured the previous day. The chairman was Mr. C. C. Ferard. The railway had made some profits, at £1,347, but the debenture creditors were still lurking behind the new company as the Great Western was going to have to put a further £567 on top to pay interest (debenture debt was running at £88,000 at this point, and had been for some time). The Severn Tunnel was nearly complete (at last) and shares had been sold to people apparently on the grounds that this would benefit the railway and share values would shoot up - however, such hopes were dashed by Ferard, who commented that this was a statement "which no-one who had taken any part in the working of the company would be justified in making". Apparently the Great Western was expected to do something sooner or later about taking over the company for a reasonable sum but there was felt to be a need to have enough money to fight the larger company if efforts were made to force a purchase through Parliament for a sum which the WVR felt was "unsatisfactory". The action against "William Hawes and others" had apparently been profitable at £5,700 being taken, showing that you cannot easily get away with leading innocent shareholders into receivership, and this meant that, along with selling general assets in June for £7,400, the company could also feel proud that it knew it had a good future income from action against Messrs. Reed for £2000, and a further £3000 from Baron Grant (sadly not to be as profitable as first thought). It appears that the railway was, by this point, making most of its money from legal cases. Presumably these unfortunates had ommitted to pay their bills at some point.

Twelve months later, Ferard was being pessimistic for the half-annual general meeting, which was reported on page 11 of The Times on Wednesday September 29 1886. September 1st had seen the Severn Tunnel open to goods and mineral traffic, but not passengers as yet, and there was no expectation of massive increase in profit for the WVR. He was still hoping that the WVR would be bought out be the Great Western, on the grounds that both would benefit, but understood that the outlay on the tunnel meant that the Great Western were tempted to "hang back a little at present". The remainder of the report, though, would not encourage anyone to buy out the route - traffic was falling away and business in the valley was poor. The paperwork for the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies two months later was more optimistic, as the railway had reduced its debenture debt to £76,600; it is not clear how.

On March 18th 1887 The Times published what appeared to be a "sneak preview" of the report for the ordinary general meeting, which was not due for 8 days. There is some reference to action being taken against "the two parties who are now in default" but no mention as to who they were; maybe it was Messrs. Reed and Baron Grant, since they are mentioned again in the next report. The Severn Tunnel had finally opened to passengers on December 1st, but this had not saved WVR profits for 1886 being down £337 from 1885 - the report blaming this partly on the Great Western reducing the amount of line which earned the WVR money (possibly by cutting it back to Wye Valley Junction - Wyesham Junction from Chepstow - Monmouth Troy). £24 had come from other sources and interest ran to £1,914, of which £507 was being paid by the GWR. The twice-yearly paperwork for the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies was entered (late, as usual) that August with the normal £76,600 of debenture debt.

By the next meeting six months later it was two years since the previous problems with Messrs. Reed and Baron Grant, and neither had paid up. Page 9 of The Times for Friday September 23rd 1887 revealed that some minor benefits might be coming from the Severn Tunnel, but it had been decided that using the route as a through line was not an option as the gradients were steep. Not mentioned is the fact that traffic from Bristol would have to have the engine run around at Severn Tunnel Junction before proceeding to Monmouth Troy, where it would have to run around again in a short platform, and then go onto Ross-on-Wye, where it would join the line to Hereford - and only at Hereford would the train return to a double track railway which could cope with intensive traffic (about four to five hours later). Despite intense efforts and increasing profits, the attempt to sell up to the Great Western could not be described as going well. By this stage the Duke of Beaufort, formerly a good friend of the WVR, wanted money out of it, a Mr Gumbley was grumbling about how badly the Great Western was working the line (ten years previously it was being done well, according to the WVR) and Mr. A. B. Joyner had replaced Ferard as chairman of the board, although the exact date of this change is unclear.

What with expensive earthworks to keep up and the fact that this is Britain and it rains a lot, putting off tourists, the line continued to make a loss. The first offer to buy out the line was finally, after much courtship by the WVR, made by the GWR in the late 1880s.

On Monday May 6th 1889 The Times reported on a meeting which had been held the previous day, and was called to announce the Great Western's offer to buy the line, which Joyner reccommended accepting, adding that all the directors were planning to resign anyway. Not much time was given - a decision had to be made that day. Apparently Mr R. A. Read junior, also on the Board, had also sent a circular around, this one offering to buy shares for more than the Great Western, at £1. 3s. 0d each. After being questioned who his backers were and what he was up to (questions which Read declined to answer) the matter was discussed and put to the vote, with a three-quarters majority needed to authorise sale. Six shareholders authorised sale - the other seven voted for Read to be allowed to take the company if the shares were to be sold. Then a poll was taken based on how much of a share in the company each shareholder had, with £88,570 going towards the sale to the Great Western, and £45,770 vetoing the idea (total share value rated at £134,340). To sell the line, £100,755 worth of shares were needed to say that the line should be sold - the Great Western, after all the WVR's courtship, must have been very surprised at the announcement that there would be no sale after all. Despite Read's efforts to keep the company going though, the other directors did not remain for long, resigning as promised, although the company was to last a further 15 years.

The Registrar of Joint Stock Companies was instead informed on the 17th of October 1889 that the Secretary was now Edward Bruce Read; Robert Arthur Read was the second of the two signatories from the Board, with the other being William Edward Whadeoat, the new Chairman. Edward Bruce Read did not believe in hurrying his work, it seems, as the next few sets of returns were consistently late, with those for the second half of 1889 and the first half of 1890 being despatched in the wrong order. In August 1891 the Registrar decided to delicately point out that the Railway's returns for the first half of 1891 were late and threaten fines. This note was repeated for the second half of 1891, but neither set of returns appeared. Instead on Friday July 29th 1892 the WVR was back in the Law Notices of The Times, being prosecuted by someone named Cook. The next report, on Tuesday August 9th 1892, announced a change of judge from an Order of the Court. No further details have emerged.

This may, however, have had something to do with the Registrar being informed on the 13th of August that the Railway had a new Secretary (a Robert Ullmer), which was soon followed by the emergence of the paperwork for 1891. It stated nothing new - the railway still owed £76,600 to debenture holders. Punctuality of the paperwork then slowly improved. R.A. Read was replaced with another Whadeoat in March 1896. The Railway was still struggling on independently and even managed to settle an informal agreement with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies, it seems, that paperwork would be sent in batches up to two years late, since nothing was changing. In 1900 the Company found a typewriter to type the covering note to the Registrar, but the note was typed on notepaper with the first two digits of the year already in place - "18". The typewriter had vanished by 1902, but the 19th century notepaper remained. It was replaced with some new notepaper for the final set of paperwork, which arrived in October 1904 and covered the second half of 1902, all of 1903 and the first half of 1904. Debentures remained firmly at £76,600. Had the Company survived, it would probably have delivered the next set in October 1906.

Great Western Ownership

In December 1904 another offer was made by the GWR to buy out the railway, which was accepted unanimously by the shareholders. They got 12.5% of their investment back, which is probably far more than they were expecting, and on 1st July 1905 the Wye Valley Railway Company ceased to exist. The final two returns to the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies were not packaged up with the other WVR documentation and, if they were ever produced, are presumably in with the GWR's papers somewhere. It is unlikely that they say anything new, although it would be interesting to know how much of the £76,600 the debenture holders got back (probably 12.5%, or £9,575, which would again be more than they were expecting, even for "An English investment of an unusually satisfactory character"). Backlogged maintenance which hadn't been done was completed and the service was improved from three to the original four trains each way each day.

Much of the WVR's history consists of problems surrounding the Company, rather than operations of the actual Railway, which ran fairly reliably and with minimal incident. Once it was absorbed into the main Great Western network it was inevitably going to have a much quieter time, due to the fact that it could blend into the background with its losses (which continued for the rest of its career) being underwritten by the Great Western and its attempts to provide a service to support rural communities. This social service could not justify major investment based soley on its financial returns and so could only continue for as long as local residents continued to support its inadequate operation on a daily basis. Once they ceased to do so, it would be lucky to cling on until the next big maintenance bill loomed. There was no alternative transport in the Wye Valley in 1905 - the old turnpike road was inadequate and the river-going ships had long since abandoned the valley - so there was no immediate threat to the line's future at this stage.

In 1907 the WVR was mentioned in passing in The Times with a lengthy article on Monday, November 11th (page 3) when a ferry owner who operated a ferry, charging 1d per person for a service which had been provided "since time immemorial" across the Wye at Brockweir took some local landowners to court because they built a bridge across the Wye and the railway, which might flood his house and ruin his business. It was ruled that having the ferry did not mean that someone else could not open up in competition, in this case by building a bridge, and that it had been agreed by large numbers of people (including the Board of Trade) that his house would not be flooded by the bridge, so his case was thrown out. This case, after investigation by this website, gained its own page - see here.

While the Great Western attempted to improve the service, it still wasn't brilliant, remaining firmly at four trains each way each day and operating with the same old locos and stock. Flora Klickmann, then editor of various London magazines, commented in The Flower Patch Among the Hills (based in the First World War), that "Everybody that is going away scrambles into the train with precipitate haste, as though they were trying to catch a train on the tube or a sprinting motorbus in the Strand! although they know quite well that the peaceful old engine - already twenty-five minutes behind time - won't think of stirring again until it has had a ten minutes nap!" Such reliability was typical of branch lines, which today are looked back on with such fondness.

The First World War also saw a few changes in the area. Another branch line opened up at Chepstow to serve the Government's No. 2 Shipyards - the Sedbury branch opened in 1918 and closed in 1920, although it briefly provided a second junction a little to the east of the WVR's. Chepstow became host to the No. 1 Shipyards, which appears to have eradicated the final traces of Chepstow's short-lived turntable in the process. The Monmouth rail network lost four members of staff to the German guns - Tintern was worst hit, with Mr W. Reynolds (of the Traffic department) and Mr V. Butler (track maintenance) both being killed in fighting. Monmouth Troy lost Mr W. Jones, while Raglan (on the Pontypool line) never regained the services of Mr J.H. Jennings (both men were Traffic staff). Their names remain on the general Great Western war memorial at Exeter St. Davids station (platform 5 - it is hard to picture staff from quiet single track branchlines being recorded for posterity on one of the Great Western's principle stations. Such was the levelling effect of the Great War).

There was also a slight reduction in importance for Troy station with the death of the Coleford Branch on the 1st of January 1917. The rails were shipped to France, and sunk in the English Channel (or at least rumour has it that they were; Brian Handley obtained this interesting nugget from someone, who probably heard it from someone else. Apparently this story is also told about the rails and locomotive fleet of the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appleford Railway and is also circulated about the rails from the Great Western's Uxbridge High Street Branch and the Caledonian's Inchture Village line. Maybe one ship was sunk with rails on board and everybody claimed that it was their railway. Maybe it's just an urban legend. Maybe they were all on the same ship). The line never re-opened, although a stub to Whitecliff Quarry, half a mile from Coleford, survived for another 50 years until mid-1967. Tidenham station also spent a brief period out of use through 1917 to free up personnel (in those days it would have released the signalman, station master and a couple of porters - every little helps), briefly leaving the line with three intermediate stations at Tintern, Bigsweir and Redbrook. The WVR's southernmost station re-opened in 1918 and services returned to normal.

Following the end of the First World War, large numbers of ex-service personnel bought their Army lorries with their demobilisation payout and set up haulage firms. These were able to operate a more competitive service than the increasingly distant monolithic railways, firmly regulated by 70-year-old Acts of Parliament and with infrastructure which had not been properly invested in during the First World War. The old turnpikes had been abandoned by long-distance transport for 60 years, but they were better than the mud tracks that the lorries had been built to drive across. The Government solved the problem by making the railway companies bigger, more distant and more monolithic by Grouping them into the Big Four during 1922. This brought the Ross and Monmouth Railway, which had managed to remain independent, under full Great Western control for the first time. It gave the Great Western some more funds, as it was essentially taken over by the excessively profitable South Welsh colliery railways, which were perfectly happy to pour money down holes in the ground since they knew lots of big holes which they could dig more money out of. It resulted in no immediate change to the Wye Valley line. When Government investment did come, later in the 1920s, it came to the road network, building new roads and beginning a massive improvement scheme which involved surfacing a vast number of roads with tarmac. This new, improved road network, built for a competitive future, was very well placed to destroy the railways, built for a monopoly-based past. The WVR, like many similar lines, was pretty much doomed; it was more a matter of when it would go rather than if.

1925 brought the railway back to the Great Western's attention again briefly. On the 7th of March the 3.55pm "down" train from Monmouth was 15 minutes into its journey and rolling happily down the long, gentle bank past Whitebrook when the rocking train swayed at about line speed (38-40mph) into the curve a ¼ south of Whitebrook Crossing, about a mile north of St Briavels station. It derailed. The locomotive, No. 1254, was a little tank engine running bunker first and hauling some five coaches - Nos 1213, 1119, 6049, 1138 and 543, none of which more than 30ft long (so the entire train, with its 30ft locomotive, was 186ft long - about the length of a modern three-car Sprinter set). The accident report, available at The Railway Archive (again an external link), is uncertain about the causes. There don't appear to have been any; the train simply left the rails, possibly due to the axles not being able to sway enough when the loco scuttled around bends, and the only conclusion come to was that the GWR might like to consider deploying something other than an 0-6-0 pannier tank on this sort of working. Despite the lack of knowledge on why the train derailed, the report is very informative about the track and trains of the time. The loco appeared to be one of four regulars to the line, while the stock was the normal set. The train was naturally running late (about two minutes, but it was making no attempt to make up time); it is interesting that both trains involved in accidents on the WVR were late and prompts thoughts that this was probably routine. With ten passengers and three crew members on board it was not what one might call well-loaded - there were about two people per vehicle and one crew member for every three passengers.

Assuming that this sort of loading was typical during the early inter-war years, it is no particular suprise that during the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Great Western Railway attempted to fight back and added several Halts along the line (well, maybe it is a surprise - similar loadings on the nearby Severn and Wye network got its passenger trains axed in 1929. Evidently the GWR reckoned that the WVR offered some increased revenue opportunities. The fact that it owned the entire WVR, while the Severn and Wye was shared with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, probably helped). Trains then stopped at Tidenham, Netherhope Halt, Tintern, Brockweir Halt, Llandogo Halt, St Briavels, Whitebrook Halt, Penallt Halt, Redbrook, Wyesham Halt, and Monmouth Troy. Wyesham Halt was built on the site of Wyesham Junction, where the lines for Chepstow and Coleford divided. Two trains ran each way each day on Sundays (any Sunday service was unusual on branchlines at the time). Diesel railcars were introduced to the area in place of steam traction and, despite being experimental, worked rather well and became very popular. An example of the earlier half of the fleet can be seen in a photograph at Netherhope in Camp Coach Holidays on the GWR (page 11; by Mike Fenton). Comments in the advertising for the railcars suggest that the rural branch lines that they ended up on would otherwise have been doomed to closure in the late '30s or early '40s.

The late 1930s batch of railcars, with a more angular front end, easier access to buffers and coupling gear and gears set up for slower speeds and frequent stops became a defining feature of the Wye Valley and Pontypool lines as several were based at Newport - the line between Ross and Monmouth had its stock supplied from Hereford and tended to be worked by steam locos throughout its life. Although many of the steam locos which appeared at Monmouth were still 0-6-0 pannier tanks, 0-4-2 side-tank jobbies (initially 48xx, until they were renumbered in 1946 into the 14xx slot) were also common in the area. The improvements seemed to be moderately successful; the June 1935 traffic returns show a more healthy average of about 16 passengers per train at any given moment, so the line may have managed to cover its staffing costs at this point.

In 1935 a very hot summer saw the demise of the Wireworks Branch when the rails buckled. For the last few years it had been worked by horses; horses were still used for shunting and the odd branch line but using them for working a line built for steam engines was very rare (although it had been contemplated for a period by, surprise surprise, the Forest of Dean Central Railway). The line had never made any profit so it was not reopened, and there was no use for buckled rails so they stayed where they were. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, a use for the rails finally appeared, with the line going in 1940 and the junction being lifted in 1945.

British Rail Ownership 1945-1959

The Second World War damaged the Big Four in much the same way (although more impressively) that the First had damaged the pre-Grouping companies. The Government decided that four big, independent companies really didn't fit in with its agenda and nationalised them into British Railways. Monmouth's little network came under the Western Region. The Western Region was the GWR in a new coat but with slightly less independence and much less money. The Second World War had put a nasty dent in South Wales's coal trade. Furthermore, the South Welsh profits now had to be shared with other members of the Big Four. There was less money available for the network around the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean. Little lines, such as the Forest of Dean Central Railway, slipped quietly away. If an unprofitable line was becoming hard to operate or needed major investment, it was liable to face the axe.

Thus it came as little surprise, although it was still rather alarming, when in 1954 British Railways announced plans for the imminent demise of the railway from Monmouth to Pontypool.

This idea met with some controversy - the line was rural and lightly worked but saw moderately good loadings and was generally a good railway. BR was therefore persuaded by the local residents to build a new halt and improve the service instead. For six months 11 trains each way each day were provided, nearly triple the normal 4 for such a remote branch line, but for this two trains and crews had to be deployed, doubling operating costs. To put this figure into context for this single track branch line, Pontypool Road (now Pontypool and New Inn) station currently receives 15 trains each way each day (at irregular intervals) while 16 trains call at Chepstow station each way each day (on a sort of clockface timetable with every third train missing). Few single-track branch lines now receive more than ten trains each way each day. The service improvements meant that revenue was also doubled, but that meant that the gap between costs and revenue doubled too, BR declared that the line was still unremunerative and the closure proposals were revived, much to the complaints of residents who just wanted a better timed service with possibly 6 trains each way each day. The way in which the service was suddenly improved, given just enough time to bed in and then slashed again led to suggestions that it was a deliberate ploy to lose the line. This had no effect on the decision, with a solid Transport Users Consultation Committee (TUCC) decision to close the line with 10 votes to 2.

Had the service been reduced to 6 trains each way each day, a few investments been made in the structures along the route and all the stations reduced to unstaffed halts, possibly with the loss of goods trains except for at Usk and Monmouth, the passenger numbers might well have held up and the railway might have survived. Had BR maintained the 11 trains each way each day for 12 months and made sure that branch trains linked into mainline ones to Newport at Pontypool Road (maybe with a daily through train) passenger numbers could well have grown further, particularly if the service proved reliable, and possibly even attracted population growth from housing development which could have secured the line's future. However, BR didn't want to go to that much trouble for a small corner of the network which would probably still have made a loss and still have needed extensive work on intermediate structures. The railway was not sufficiently mechanised then to work the many gated level crossings without individually staffing each and every one of them and cutting staff would be virtually impossible, as was shown when ASLEF, the footplatemens' union, went on strike on the 28th of May over their claim that the gap between their pay and the pay of guards and station staff was not big enough. The union reached a settlement on the 14th of June - the proposed closure date, so that this railway was closed 17 days early. Following this, the single track line was used for wagon storage. It was not until the 12th of November 1957 that a special train traversed the branch, celebrating 100 years since the railway was opened and, more importantly, 100 years since the first train to Monmouth. The line was dismantled shortly afterwards, and parts of the trackbed have now been obliterated by the A449 dual carridgeway.

The loss of the line to Pontypool turned Monmouth Troy into a terminus with all services entering the station from the eastern end. A timber merchant at the west end of Monmouth Tunnel meant that the occasional train still ran through the station, but such trains were goods only and all passenger trains now went out of the station in the same direction as they had entered from. This offered opportunities to simplify Troy and reduce certain expenses. As goods trains from Ross and Chepstow used the same yard on the north side of the station there was no option of removing all the junction pointwork and giving each branch their own platform, with no physical connection between the lines (although some trackwork and signalling reductions could have been made - but extensive trackwork modifications are expensive compared with leaving be, particularly when dealing with lines with poor short-term futures). However, as Troy had fairly long platforms and trains never exceeded one autocoach and one tank engine in length, it was possible to put all passenger trains in the same platform. Thus it appears that at some point around July 1957 the station footbridge disappeared and Platform 2 essentially fell out of use, with the two branch lines using the main platform with the larger awning and restaurant facilities. The Stephenson Locomotive Society Railtour run to commemorate 100 years of the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway on the 12th October 1957 occupied all of platform 1, pushing regular trains into platform 2, but that seems to have been pretty much the end of the line for the second platform.

Further signalling economies were obtained in the area by closing Monmouth May Hill box in April 1958. At this late stage the savings on the signalman and maintenance costs over the eight months which passenger trains in the area had left were probably negated by the cost of removing May Hill signal arms from their posts and dismantling the interlocking in the signal box. Troy would remain largely untouched until August 1959, when the station was stripped of all signalling and point locking following the end of passenger services.

After the closure of the Pontypool line the diesel railcars fell due for major overhauls. New railcars were being built; the ex-GWR fleet was obsolete, so they were simply withdrawn. There had been enough line closures to displace sufficient steam engines to take up the slack on all services. This led to a certain rise in costs and some damage to passenger numbers as older, dirtier trains took over workings. British Rail had a very simple solution to this, which prompted the final appearance of the Wye Valley Railway in The Times on 19th September 1958. It was a short letter from the Monmouth Town Clerk, pleading for support for the railway. There were plans to close it, and all the local councils and most of the locals were against it. Two major issues emerged: firstly, this time Monmouth would be losing its rail service; secondly, the lines could be made to make more money by improving the service. The response from BR to the first one was that Monmouth wasn't using the trains anyway, while the second point probably got "we've heard that one before" and the closure process continued.

The TUCC decision was that the only two places which could not be served easily and much more cheaply by buses were Whitebook on the Wye Valley and Hadnock on the Ross and Monmouth. Both places - especially Whitebrook - are now exceedingly remote and hard to get to, but as the combined populations probably amount to less than 100 people even today, 25 miles of otherwise unprofitable railway could not be justified, especially with separate working on both lines and a reversal with a possible long wait for connections at Monmouth (one of the major points of contention - the two lines, with stock provided from different sheds, had never produced a timetable where connections were possible at Troy all through the day). BR refused to reverse their decision, and inhabitants of Monmouth and many other beautiful, romantic places in the lower Wye Valley lost their passenger rail service from the 5th of January 1959. This time closure went without a hitch.

It is believed that only one train actually ever ran direct from Chepstow to Ross-on-Wye via Monmouth - it was provided by the Stephenson Locomotive Society on the 4th of January 1959 as the closure special. There seems to be little which had prevented starting such a service in 1955 following the closure of the line to Pontypool, but the Ross-on-Wye trains instead just terminated at Troy, more or less on the same timetable for the half still operated as when they had gone all the way to Pontypool. This was probably a combination of habit and the issues around the Ross and Monmouth and Wye Valley trains being provided by different sheds which drew up their train diagrams without consulting their colleagues too much. Certainly they would wish to avoid the risks of locomotives ending up at the wrong shed which would be brought about by through running. The special was hauled by 6412 and 6439, a pair of pannier tanks of a design in the picture below, and while 6439 was broken up for scrap many years ago, 6412 is now based on the South Devon Railway, between Totnes and Buckfastleigh in South Devon, with occasional excursions elsewhere. It was on one of these adventures that it was tracked down and photographed by the WVR research team, and is seen below at Toddington in 2003.

British Rail Ownership 1959-1990

The northern end of the Ross and Monmouth Railway and the entire Wye Valley Railway were retained for goods traffic. This offered savings in wear and tear and on the expense of operating passenger trains but retained the what profits there were along the lines to offset the cost of maintaining the structures along the line. It also reduced the paperwork that would have to be filled in if one of the lines' decaying structures fell to bits around train. The Ross and Monmouth served a wireworks near Lydbrook, about halfway up the line, which kept the northern half running into 1965. The WVR was left to serve Monmouth's gas works (Monmouth May Hill), Monmouth's general goods requirements (Monmouth Troy), Redbrook's tinplate works, Tintern's general goods traffic and Tintern Quarry. This left the Wye Valley Railway with full possession of both of Monmouth's stations. Monmouth Troy, which had once been a fairly bustling country junction with services peaking at 19 trains passenger and three goods trains each day in 1954, now seemed very big and empty less than ten years later around the pannier tank, short rake of goods wagons and "Toad" brake van which had worked the solitary daily freight train (Sundays excepted) from Chepstow. However, it was still a more satisfactory investment than the Forest of Dean Central Railway, which was dismantled in April 1959, had ever been.

In 1961 the line north of Tintern Quarry was finally placed under the threat of a finishing blow, with the closure of Redbrook tinplate works, an end to a long history of tinplate working in lower Redbrook, and the closure of the last manufacturing facility in the Lower Wye Valley. The site has been steadily cleared since, and not much now remains. Trains to Monmouth gasworks ceased in November 1963, leaving only basic goods traffic working north of Tintern Quarry. Five or so wagons a day did not bring in enough money to justify 13 miles of track and wagonload traffic was deemed to be unprofitable. A line depending on it exclusively for its income was not going to last long.

The WVR managed to survive like this for just under two months before the axe finally fell on 6th January 1964 when goods facilities were withdrawn north of Tintern Quarry. A requirement of the 'closure to passengers' bill was that the line had to be left in place for three years after abandonment, with the aim of providing the opportunity for the local authority or a handy preservation group to take over the line. BR honoured this promise, and then started dismantling at the end of the period in 1967. Although the northern end of the Ross and Monmouth line had survived into 1965, the section between Lydbrook, Symonds Yat and Monmouth May Hill had closed altogether in 1959 and so was lifted in 1962. Once dismantling here had commenced, the Wye Valley line gained a slightly dubious honour - the last railway serving Monmouth along which it was still possible to run a train to Monmouth Troy station.

After closure, the stations all had very different histories. The halts were demolished shortly after closure, excepting Llandogo and Netherhope. Llandogo remained as a large platform-shaped object in the middle of a field; the area for the track was filled in during the 1970s and the halt site is now much harder to spot. Netherhope's platform also survived into the 1970s and even retained the posts for the halt nameboard, but it appears to have been removed around its 40th birthday. Given that both finally vanished around the same time, it is quite likely that the timber platform walls were beginning to give way and there was a risk of the mud platforms collapsing.

Monmouth Troy was acquired by a coal merchant who demolished the refreshment room, the shelter on the second platform and the signal box. He also found that the demise of the railway gave him more room but meant that he had to use lorries for all his transport. After that business finished the site fell into disuse and the main building was taken to Winchcombe station on the preserved Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway in 1986. The goods shed remained on site and was demolished in 2002 to make way for a small housing estate. However, the two platforms remain abandoned with the gap for the tracks filled in. The only identification features are the tunnel at the west end of the station, and some of the ramp at the east end. The two viaducts cross the Wye to the east.

Redbrook station was demolished in the late 1960s. It was briefly taken over by a restaurant and a petrol station. Redbrook, however, had proved too obscure to retain its rail service and was hardly going to attract enough business to keep services available for the motorist. Both had gone by 1980 and now two back gardens lie across the station site. The site is crossed about half way up its length by the English-Welsh border, so the Northern half is in Monmouthshire, Wales, and the Southern half in Gloucestershire, England.

St Briavels is still in situ and in use by a fishing group, who have allowed ivy to grow on the unused (but, unlike the other three built by the WVR, intact) goods shed and lost the signal box to road improvements, but are generally keeping the site in very good condition. The small, well-looked-after building remains; the one at Redbrook was essentially identical.

Tintern was derelict for many years, before being preserved as a tourist attraction. Here there are an exhibition, facilities and a miniature railway, making it an excellent place to break a journey. There is also a shop in the old signal box, which is the only one of the four built by the WVR to survive.

Tidenham has a rather more interesting history, which means that it has lost its goods shed (identical to that at St Briavels), its signal box (probably identical to that at Tintern) and its station building (which was unique to this one of the four). After being closed as a halt in 1959, the station was converted into a stone loading area for Dayhouse Quarry, with a new loop being constructed. Stone trains also ran through to Tintern Quarry, just north of Tidenham Tunnel, until rocks started falling from the tunnel lining and an intermediate overbridge began to collapse. The route was mothballed north of Tidenham, the line being left in situ but the services being withdrawn. Dayhouse Quarry continued to provide traffic for the stub of the line.

Sunday 13th August 1978 was an important day in WVR history - it was, to date, the last working of a locomotive-hauled passenger train through Tidenham Tunnel when the Tintern Totter railtour worked from Worcester to Tintern Quarry, in the control of a single-cab 1000hp locomotive with a long nose which is technically known as a Class 20. This machine could still operate a repeat as it is now owned by the Type One Locomotive Company (and doesn't weigh much), but the WVR would not be capable of taking it and the three coach train now unless major vegetation clearance was carried out. The special was one of several to Tintern Quarry during the 1970s and the only one to be hauled by a locomotive. Stone traffic through Tidenham Tunnel to Tintern Quarry ceased at the end of 1981 and the condition of the route soon precluded the running of further specials.

This was followed by what might pass as a resurgence of interest, with proposals for re-opening, a society being set up locally to preserve materials relating to the railway in 1980 (the current status of said society is unknown), and a string of further railtours, which now have their own webpage here. The final few tours terminated in the loop at Tidenham, which presented an interesting opportunity to stand on a length of double track railway and photograph the train without a risk of being run over.

A group also emerged calling for the line to be re-opened along the lines of the Tyne and Wear Metro in Newcastle, arguing that it would be quite cheap compared to certain parts of the defence budget (e.g. Eurofighter aircraft) and would provide a much bigger boost to the quality of people's lives in the Wye Valley area. The proposal - to re-open not just the Wye Valley line but also the Ross and Monmouth and Hereford, Ross and Gloucester railways - eventually sank in 1995. It maintained awareness but was constantly beset by funding problems. If money grew on trees it would be easy to rebuild railways in the wooded Wye Valley - unfortunately it comes from taxpayers and politicians, of which there are very few. Even obtaining money for an extension of the quarry line to serve Tintern again proved too difficult.

Instead, the rest of the route was taken out of use in March 1990, bringing down the curtain on special trains over what by this time was a mile-long quarry branch - one which still offered an interesting journey, albeit only taking in views of the Severn Estuary. This section, which had seen more investment than the rest of the line and featured a 1978-rebuilt bridge over the A48 at Tidenham and concrete sleepers with modern rails, was duly left to become overgrown like the rest, pending a resumption of traffic (at which point the line could theoretically be resuscitated at a moment's notice) or a handy buyer.

Since abandonment

In 1993 the national rail network was mostly privatised. Along with many other sections of abandoned railway, the Wye Valley Railway was not included. It instead remained in full public ownership with British Rail until 1999, when some 200 miles of railway were partially sold by BR in a 50:50 split with Sustrans for a token £1. This leaves them open to reopening but also opens up the option of converting them to cycleways in the future.

Accordingly Sustrans began drawing up plans to turn the WVR into a cycleway, involving the re-opening of both tunnels, the reinstatement of the bridge across the river at Tintern, and sticking a cycleway through Tintern station. Some years ago someone tidied up the section between Tintern village and Tintern Quarry and installed an ash surface for walkers; this was to be extended to provide a fully-fledged multi-use path. When the original path went in Tintern Quarry to Tidenham presented problems as that length was still an operational railway. Although the tunnel and "rare life" around the quarries presented difficulties for Sustrans, the scheme was approved by Monmouthshire (but not Gloucestershire) in 2006 - except a judicial review was sought in August 2007. Monmouthshire responded by settling "out of court" and the proposal was quashed - instead, a new 12" gauge line was suggested for Tintern station. With Monmouthshire County Council reported to be on the verge of bankruptcy, the idea of providing funding probably didn't appeal anyway.

Despite this setback, in 2008 Sustrans (ever game for a go) had another attempt at getting a cycleway through what was once the 20th longest tunnel on the GWR, with its lengthy rugged unlined section and alleged bat population. Gloucestershire had little difficulty in justifying rejection. Monmouthshire rejected the new miniature gauge railway at Tintern station again to make way for the cycleway but was saved from having to pass comment on the cycleway itself. Subsequently, with Tintern's proposed new miniature railway scrapped and the cycleway doing little, the old miniature railway has been seeing occasional use.

The removal of the junction pointwork over an two-year period between Spring 2007 and January 2009 resulted in the surviving length of the WVR being deleted from Ordnance Survey maps and the route now appears from one end to the other as a dismantled railway. Looking down from bridges 4 and 5 (Bishton Lane and Netherhope Lane) onto the overgrown running line, it is hard to believe that the track actually survives yet. The 2009 planning application for the cycleway, however, is now being considered and so there is a possibility that the overgrown remnants won't be there for much longer.

The 2010 planning decision was rather good fun all-in-all. The cycleway now had some funding - about £375,000, derived from Sustrans winning £50million from the Big Lottery Fund in 2007 to spend on building bridges to link communities. Several residents around the former Netherhope Halt had set up the Action Committee for the Protection of the Lower Wye Valley and sent in lengthy letters of complaint to both local authorities, threatening to sue them under human rights law and take out injunctions preventing work being carried out if the scheme was passed. The letters also contained some marvellous statistics showing that people did not want cyclists using dangerous roads to get from Brockweir to St Briavels (the planning application suggested that once people had got to Brockweir they should proceed to St Briavels up some roads which are steeper and twistier than the roads that Sustrans were trying to get cyclists off). The Lord of the Manor in Tidenham wrote in to express his concerns while his feudal underlings in Tutshill and Chepstow largely seemed to support the idea of the route. Wyedean School got confused over the difference between Wye Valley Communities for Safe Cycling and Sustrans so had to re-write its statement saying that cyclists were free to use its car park out of school term. So many letters were received by the Forest of Dean District Council that they stopped acknowledging them; instead they extended the consultation period from the normal three weeks to until the Planning Committee met to consider the scheme.

The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review enjoyed the controversy in its letters page, generally publishing one letter from each side in each issue (the letters getting steadily longer as time went on). This all remained fairly amicable (by controversial cyclepath standards) until Tidenham Parish Council announced that they were opposing the scheme on a variety of largely reasonable grounds, at which point the cycle lobby threw their toys out of the pram. Teenager Tom Edwards led the charge that the Parish Council hadn't paid adequate attention to the under-18 section of the population and had failed to answer his questions properly. (One wonders how someone interested in partipating in local affairs can get to age 17 without realising that British democracy relies on not listening too much to people.) A generic Sustrans leaflet from 1999 was waved around to show that the security fears from Netherhope and Brockweir were entirely unfounded and Tidenham residents were encouraged to lobby their Parish Council to stop claiming that Tidenham residents would have to pay through the nose with massive council tax increases for maintenance. (Apparently Gloucestershire County Council would foot any maintenance bill not paid by Sustrans, so Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud would actually cover most of it. The figure quoted by Sustrans is an average of normal cycleway costs and excludes the tunnels and the Wye crossings. It is therefore of similar value to the profit figures produced in the same way for the prospectus of the Manchester and Milford Railway, which never reached Milford or Manchester, preferring to spend its time in the bankruptcy courts. The original WVR probably got its proposed profit figures in the same way - and look what happened to them.) Unfortunately the lobbying led to claims that one Tidenham Parish Council representative had been treated aggressively and Wye Valley Communities for Safe Cycling had to ask everyone to calm down - it was, after all, only a cyclepath. Instead they pointed to their list of supporters, the county development schemes and their glorious collection of rent-a-quotes who had rolled out to say how good cycleways can be. There was even some reference to Handley's noted reference material on the line, though sadly this website saw little extra interest, probably due to the politics being of no benefit to either side.

Much was made by those opposed to the scheme of the reasons why the line was closed in the first place (closure overtook both tunnels because they were falling in) and the fact that the ensuing years of disuse have done little to repair decaying structures. Sustrans, meanwhile, explained that bringing the route back into use would help to prevent the decay and two supporters wrote into the local press to dispute any claims that the condition of the infrastructure had anything to do with the closure of the lines. The bat lobby came out against it; this section of the rail lobby put in a couple of letters of objection and then sat back to watch with interest (occasionally struggling to supress the urge to send in more letters to anyone vaguely concerned and eventually putting in a last-minute roll of the dice which had very little effect).

Legal threats made several appearances - aside from the offers made by the Action Committee for the Protection of the Lower Wye Valley, there were threats from the cycling lobby to refer Tidenham Parish Council to a standards committee for not considering the scheme properly and active consideration by the council of the option of suing path supporters for being nasty to them. The whole affair became somewhat reminiscent of the original railway company's brief existence. There is a small body of thought which expects the scheme to bankrupt Sustrans if it ever gets built; it is, after all, a railway which bankrupted its original builder and Sustrans wants to reuse the most expensive section for non-revenue-earning purposes.

The scheme was nonetheless approved by the Forest of Dean District Council on the 9th of November 2010. Tom Edwards got to make his speech to the local authority and did very nicely. Monmouthshire neglected to make a decision, leaving the cycling lobby to make tweets about "less supportive comments on the Monmouthshire website" and spend five months with little to lobby about.

In April 2011 the legal threats took on a substantive edge when Brockweir Cycling Concern, who successfully killed proceedings in 2007, took the Forest of Dean District Council off for judicial review at what the cycling lobby called the "lastest possible opportunity". This is normal for judicial review, which is a last resort remedy that you can't use until all other options are exhausted. Legal proceedings are slow things and so the decision ended up in abeyance until they were completed. Accordingly Sustrans began to make noises about the low liklihood that the Connect2 bits of the scheme would be completed before the December 2012 deadline for spending the Connect2 money. Monmouthshire's planners watched with interest from the sidelines, presumably loath to spend money on full planning enquiries (and judicial reviews) when a High Court judge was likely to scrap the whole (increasingly likely to be unfunded) scheme at any moment.

In the event the High Court judge decided after 6 weeks or so not to take the judicial review, leaving Sustrans with free planning permission to build a cycleway in the Forest of Dean once Monmouthshire approved it as well (and several residents of Brockweir with a hefty legal bill). Monmouthshire asked for more information on the scheme. Sustrans threw in the towel and on Friday 13th May 2011 announced that the Connect2 money was being taken elsewhere. (Naturally this doesn't solve all clock-ticking problems; the Forest of Dean dropped a three-year time limit on starting work, so permission expires in November 2013.) Thus the WVR story essentially returned to its 1866 position - authorised for development, but stuffed funding-wise.

Currently the railway itself almost seems to have had a curse put on it to prevent anyone from doing anything with the remaining track (a curse probably known as Tidenham Tunnel). It doesn't make them come out in spots or turn into a frog, it just means that they give up fairly rapidly and leave people to continue destroying clothing in their bids to reach Tidenham station and Netherhope Halt.

From early November until late March can probably be considered to be the closed season for the Railway as the weather is wet and cold, and the brambles are more annoying when they're covered in water.

The line is officially still available for reopening; unofficially, it doesn't look like another national rail network train will ever use the line again. 

Wye Valley Railway

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Last modified 14/05/11

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