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Wye Valley Railway Short History

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

In the Beginning

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.

The 1840s had seen the first of two Railway Manias - eras of massive railway building generating a gigantic unsustainable economic boom. In the aftermath of the following economic collapse permission was given for a railway to be built from Pontypool, through Usk and Monmouth, to Coleford. The Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway (CMUPR) was the first genuine railway to reach Monmouth, terminating at a small two-platform station on the outskirts of the town and under the shadow of the Gibraltar Rock.

This new railway then extended across the river to the village of Wyesham, where it met the tramway from Coleford and gave up. The next stage of railway development was going to have to come from a different direction. In the event it came from two different directions as, in the middle of the Second Railway Mania and against the background of the raging Crimean War, two new railways were authorised. 1865 saw Parliament give consent for the Ross and Monmouth Railway (R&M) to link Monmouth with Ross via Symonds Yat and Kerne Bridge, while in 1866 the Wye Valley Railway (WVR) was authorised to link Monmouth with Chepstow via Redbrook, Tintern and Tidenham.

The two lines, both among the most scenic railways in the country, spent the next ten years in very different ways. A slight accounting error by the Mid-Wales Railway destroyed the Overend and Gurney merchant bank and caused a large recession. The Ross and Monmouth Railway had started work by then and so slogged on through the recession, eating money and struggling to raise more. The Wye Valley Railway management decided to go into hibernation and waited for it to all blow over.

The Ross and Monmouth Railway reached Monmouth in 1873 and built a new temporary station called Monmouth May Hill; the original CMUPR station obtaining the suffix "Troy" at the same time. Completion of the R&M to Monmouth Troy followed in mid-1874. The WVR management, sensing an improved economic situation, began work on their line.

The Good Years

This new railway ran through a historic area. Although most of the areas of population along the line were based around heavy industry, Tintern also had a ruined Abbey to attract tourists (aside from being a noted timber and wire producer) and Tidenham, one of the few villages with any records from Saxon times, was a delightful rural idylic spot for farming. However, it was rapidly noticed that the railway did not offer sidings to Redbrook's tinplate works or Whitebrook's paper mills. It was not tremendously convenient for Tidenham, the intermediate station of Bigsweir was a mile from any form of habitation (it was built as the 19th-century equivalent to a Parkway station) and the line managed to bypass Tintern altogether.

Tintern protested, running a successful campaign for a branch, which was built at enormous expense in 1875 to serve the wireworks. Passengers were told to walk to the station, which was a mile away, as the branch was for freight only. The mainline was completed a year later and opened on the 1st of November 1876 with due ceremony. For most of its life it was the youngest fully-active railway to Monmouth. The Wireworks branch was unfortunately unable to be opened before the owners of the wireworks went bankrupt and left the 1½ mile branch devoid of any traffic.

All three railways to Monmouth were operated by the Great Western Railway (GWR) on behalf of their owners. The owners got half of the operating profit (which was minimal) and rapidly found themselves in financial difficulties. The CMUPR found itself under Great Western ownership before the WVR had opened. The Great Western completed the extension to Coleford, along the route of the Monmouth Tramroad, in 1883. What should have been a profitable railway was doomed from the start by a combination of sharp curves, steep gradients, low speed limits, minimal local traffic (the sole intermediate station, Newland, was a mile from the village it purported to serve) and a dispute with the dominant railway company in the Forest of Dean - the Severn and Wye Railway (S&W). One of a few railway companies to routinely stand up to an agressor (not that it could afford to), the S&W failed to come to an agreement with the GWR over Coleford station. What resulted was two railways which came within a dozen yards of each other without actually linking up.

Two periods of financial difficulty culminated in the WVR being taken over by the GWR in 1905. The Great War killed off the Coleford branch and Tidenham station at the beginning of 1917, briefly leaving the WVR with only three intermediate stations, although it re-opened the following year. Following the cessation of hostilities, the Government produced their new plan for the railways.

The Grouping, as it became known, forced the R&M to sell up to the Great Western in 1922. Services in the area otherwise continued as before, with four trains operating each way each day from Ross to Pontypool and from Monmouth to Chepstow. The Severn and Wye network, now jointly owned by the Great Western and the newly-formed London, Midland and Scottish Railway, withdrew most of its passengers services in 1929 and left Coleford without passenger trains.

The Great Western decided to try to cut costs and increase traffic in the late 1920s. General re-ordering of the line saw Bigsweir become St Briavels and Llandogo (later just St Briavels), Tintern become Tintern for Brockweir (subsequently reduced back to Tintern) and Redbrook become Redbrook-on-Wye. Halts opened at Whitebrook and Llandogo in 1927. Brockweir followed in 1929. Penallt and Wyesham Halts opened in 1931, while Netherhope Halt opened in 1932. Diesel railcars were introduced to the Monmouth branch lines in the 1930s. The Second World War saw the CMUPR obtain a new traffic source (a Royal Ordnance Factory at Glascoed, west of Usk) and saw the lifting of what remained of the Wireworks branch.

The Not So Good Years

1948 saw the demise of the Great Western and the creation of British Railways (BR), which moved all the lines in the area into the Western Region. Things continued more or less as normal until 1954, when BR announced that they intended to close the CMUPR, with Monmouth Troy station being retained (because it was the central point for Monmouth's railways) along with the section from Glascoed to Pontypool. The storm of protest persuaded BR to provide a service of 11 trains each way each day between Monmouth and Pontypool for a trial period of 6 months. This dramatically increased income and costs. The service returned to normal in December 1954 and closure was set for June 1955. An ASLEF strike saw services cease in late May 1955 and the strike was not settled until the day after the formal cessation of services.

A special to celebrate 100 years of railways to Monmouth in 1957 was followed by ominous rumblings regarding the future of the two surviving lines. Steam traction was restored to both the R&M and the WVR in early 1958, with the associated increase in costs, due to the diesel railcars being life-expired. A formal closure notice for both railways went out in October 1958 and at the subsequent inquiry BR set the cost at retaining the lines at £60,000 for the next 3 years. Permission was granted and the date set for the 5th of January 1959.

Trains for the R&M had always been based at Ross; trains for the WVR had lived at Severn Tunnel Junction or Newport. Consequently the two railways had always operated as separate entities and connections at Monmouth Troy had always been more by luck than judgement. This had not been helped by the fact that Troy was essentially a terminus after June 1955, with both operational lines coming into the station at the east end. However, for the final train, on the 4th of January 1959, the two lines were operated together for the first and last time, as GWR pannier tank locomotives 6439 (leading to Monmouth) and 6412 (leading from Monmouth) worked an 8-coach special from Chepstow to Ross-on-Wye and back.

The next day saw the WVR as the only one of the four railways to Monmouth still connecting the town to the national rail network, as goods trains were still operating to serve a quarry at Tintern, tinplate works at Redbrook and a gasworks by Monmouth May Hill. Tintern, Redbrook and Monmouth Troy also retained basic goods facilities. May Hill station and the associated section of the R&M closed in November 1963. The WVR closed to all traffic north of Tintern Quarry in January 1964. Stubs of the R&M and the Coleford branch survived a little longer - the last train over R&M metals to a factory at Lydbrook was in mid-1964, while Whitecliff Quarry near Coleford despatched its last train over the surviving parts of the Coleford Branch and the Severn and Wye system in 1967.

While Redbrook and most of the halts were demolished after closure, Troy stood derelict until 1986, when the main building was removed to the preserved Winchcombe station, north of Cheltenham. The goods shed fell into disrepair and was demolished in 2002. The platform at Llandogo survived for a few years before the track and platform were levelled out in the 1970s. St Briavels was taken over by a fishing group, retaining the main building and the goods shed. Tintern was eventually taken in hand by the local authority (then Gwent, now Monmouthshire) who turned it into a picnic site and refurbished the main building and the signal box.

Tintern Quarry provided all the traffic for the line for a year and then work began on digging a new quarry in Tidenham Chase, by Tidenham station. Most of the woodland was removed and Tidenham station was demolished, to be reborn as a stone loading area. A lengthy section of double line was laid north of Tidenham station to cater for the stone traffic.

Years of decay took its toll on the structures of the line however. A bridge over the A48 at Tidenham was rebuilt in 1978, but this was merely patching the edges. By 1980 Tidenham Tunnel needed a major rebuild. A special train that year terminated at the long-demolished Netherhope Halt rather than pass through the tunnel to the Wye Valley and Tintern Quarry. At the end of 1981 the state of the tunnel and a road bridge over the railway led BR to the decision to mothball the line north of Tidenham. Dayhouse Quarry retained its rail link for 8 more years before the remaining mile of the railway, still claiming to be in fairly good condition, was taken out of use in March 1990.

Of Late

The railway has changed little over the ensuing years. The track from Wye Valley Junction to Tintern Quarry is still down and in comparatively good condition, albeit overgrown and with the junction now removed. Much of the rest of the trackbed is privately owned - mostly as farmland, forest tracks, unofficial footpaths or areas for fishing groups. However, the trackbed between the junction and Tintern, including both tunnels and the Wireworks branch, has passed into the hands of Sustrans, which has repeatedly expressed a desire to amend the status quo and install a cycleway between Tidenham station and Brockweir Halt, with access to Tintern provided by the Wireworks branch.

The Order of the Bed, an organisation devoted to increased use of beds and the pursuit of minimum energy lifestyles and the operator of this website, has repeatedly expressed opinions on this and proposed various ways to re-open the railway with through trains from South Wales.

With the local authorities of Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire repeatedly expressing disapproval at Sustrans' developments neither option looks likely to come to light in the near future. Instead the most intact of the four railways to Monmouth and a possible future transport link though the Wye Valley is being left to return to the landscape through which it was carved over 130 years ago.

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Last modified 16/03/11

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