The Coleford Branch

Monmouth - Newland - Coleford

The Monmouth Tramroad, linking Monmouth with Coleford and opening in 1810, launched rail transport in the area with some success. For 47 years it was Monmouth's only rail link. Originally it was to be the centrepiece of a sizeable network, not all of which was built, and was probably mostly notable for its long tunnel near Newland and the mention in the Act of Parliament of passenger traffic - said to be the first time that a railway of any kind had suggested in its Act that it would make money by carrying passengers.

The second rail link - which was the first "proper" railway - arrived from Pontypool in 1857 with grand plans of converting the tramway into a railway, capable of handling locomotives producing more than 1hp and hauling more than one wagon. It was the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway - a reduced version of the earlier Dean Forest, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway, which had flopped in 1845, but which was now back with plans to rebuild the tramway as a full-scale railway.

But the tramway proved resilient. Monmouth Troy station, terminus of the line from Pontypool, was on the opposite bank of the Wye and it took another four years for the railway to span the gap with an impressive viaduct. This viaduct made up most of the extension to Wyesham Wharf; it must have been one of the most expensive sidings, foot for foot, ever built. Goods for Coleford were "transshipped" and loaded onto tramway wagons which then headed off on the long slog up to Coleford. The tramway also descended around the hillside to the road bridge across the Wye into Monmouth proper, where a wharf allowed goods to be unloaded into waiting river barges.

The barges were largely rendered obsolete by the rail link to Pontypool and even the ex-Coleford produce which was still bound for Chepstow found it quicker to go by train than travel down the Wye. Thus there were few problems in converting May Hill Wharf into Monmouth May Hill station when the railway from Ross turned up in 1873. An alternative, straighter and easier link into the Forest of Dean via the Ross and Monmouth Railway and the Severn and Wye Railway's Lydbrook Branch opened in 1875. The direct link to Chepstow was resurrected by the Wye Valley Railway in 1876, at which point use of the tramway to Monmouth ceased. The Great Western Railway, by now owner of the Monmouth to Pontypool line, began drawing up plans for its replacement.

In 1883 the newer and more heavily engineered Coleford Branch was opened along roughly the same route, with the tramway being finally axed at the same time after 73 years. It had opened before the Industrial Revolution got going and was replaced as the Revolution petered out; its steeply-graded and curvaceous route laid out in a bygone era was made more apparent by the larger trains working up it at a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. The link between Wyesham Wharf and Monmouth May Hill was abandoned and disappeared. The tramway had once continued from Coleford down the other side of the hill to Parkend in the Forest of Dean, but that route had been converted into the Severn and Wye's Coleford Branch some years previously. The result had been the loss of the direct run from the Forest to the River Wye, which failed to be re-instated with the opening of the Great Western's branch. Instead the new brick station building and goods shed on the Monmouth line gazed across the station area at the Severn and Wye's tumbledown timber station building and goods shed. If you wanted to get a wagon from one goods yard to the other you had to take it via Monmouth and Lydbrook.

This final effort to boost Forest industries by improving the outlet to South Welsh industry may have succeeded briefly - although, given that it wasn't an outlet from the Forest to Wales but a branch from Monmouth to Coleford, it was probably always a failure. Services were always slow and worked as "mixed trains" with passenger stock and goods wagons in one formation. By the time the First World War broke out the only traffic which was vaguely prospering was stone from Whitecliff Quarry, near Coleford, so a link was provided between the Severn and Wye and Great Western lines at Coleford and the line between Whitecliff and Monmouth was closed from the beginning of 1917, lifted and despatched to France for the war effort.

Although officially only temporarily closed, the Coleford Branch ultimately turned out to be one of 50 or so minor lines which the First World War killed for good. The link to Whitecliff survived for a further 50 years and it became the second of Monmouth's railways to shut entirely in 1967. The trackbed is now isolated with no rail connections at either end and divided between several owners. At Coleford the goods shed survives but the line's other buildings have largely gone and bits of the route have been built over. At the current time, reopening looks rather unlikely. However, the railway is the subject of a roughly annual walk by the Welsh Railways Research Circle and it was on the third one of these trips that most of these pictures were taken - hence, unusually for us, they have people in them occasionally. Coleford's goods shed is now a museum on the Forest of Dean's rail network, with an imported signal box, engine shed, miniature railway and a few items of standard-gauge stock.

Although most of the route closed in 1917, its Engineer's Line Reference - once "COL" but now "CFG" - counts milepost 0 as being at Wyesham Junction. (The reference is still required for noting maintenance requirements for the large numbers of structures along the route which have spent the last 90-odd years earning nothing and costing a fortune to maintain.) This is actually a fairly new development - the GWR plans of the Wye Valley and Coleford lines have Wyesham Junction at milepost 68 and continue counting from there up to Coleford, so Newland, for example, is 70¾ miles from somewhere. With Pontypool only being 17 miles away and Newport 30 miles away, the exact location of the Coleford Branch's old milepost 0 is a mystery.

All pictures on this page taken in 2008.

Monmouth Troy

Monmouth Troy spent 33 years with the unusual accolade of being the centre of four branchlines - and often acting as the terminus for all of them. The Coleford Branch was the last to arrive and the first to go, so most pictures of the station record it as the centrepoint of the three surviving lines (until 1955), the common terminus of two minor branches (1955-9) or the rather vacant northern goods yard of a solitary rural freight-only branch (1959-64).

The short stay of the Coleford Branch means that it never made much of a mark on the station - although, on the whole, Troy retained a bit of a feeling of a joint station separate from its railways and none of them got preferential treatment. The Monmouth Tramroad went to May Hill rather than Troy. Consequently this station cannot be said to really feature much in the history of Coleford's railways - or Coleford's railways feature much in the history of this station.

This is the view from the surviving bit of the goods yard. The platforms are off to the right, the gas station parked on the railway station throat is the grey blot in the centre and Coleford Branch trains vanished off to the left.

Wyesham Wharf

Wyesham has had three suffixes for its railway operations over the years. Wyesham Wharf was created when the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway reached here in 1861 (the closest to Coleford that the Company would ever get) and set up a transshipment point. No photos or plans seem to readily exist (although there should be a plan out there somewhere) but it will probably have consisted of a platform with the tramway and a couple of loops on it and a railway line with a couple of loops and sidings running alongside the platform.

Passenger trains reached Wyesham when it became Wyesham Junction in 1876 with the opening of the line from Chepstow. It was not the traditional junction where one line diverged from another but an "end on" junction where the new line simply joined onto the end of the older one and the bufferstop was removed. It became a traditional junction in 1883 when the tramway was replaced with the Coleford Branch. This picture is from the WVR's trackbed and the Coleford Branch rose away towards Coleford to the right of the bramble bushes. Much of the junction and the railway into Monmouth has now been squashed by the houses in the distance.

The junction closed in 1917, with the signal box - once sat in the middle of the bank of trees - being formally abolished in 1922 and subsequently removed. Wyesham returned to the railway map when Wyesham Halt opened in 1931 at the Monmouth, or other, end of the site and this was served by Chepstow trains until Monmouth's passenger services ceased in 1959.

Redbrook Tunnels

There were two tunnels above Redbrook - the shorter Upper tunnel and the longer Lower tunnel (which are not to be confused with the villages of Upper and Lower Redbrook). The Lower tunnel replaced a loop around the end of the ridge above Redbrook, cutting through the hill instead. The loop and linked into a steeply-descending rope-worked incline into the centre of Redbrook, which wasn't really compatible with the modern railway and, anyway, had been pretty much rendered obsolete by the arrival of the Wye Valley Railway and the provision of its goods facilities in Redbrook 7 years earlier. So both loop and incline bit the dust; the incline and its bridge over the road between Newland and Redbrook remain clearly visible, but the loop has faded out in the sort of way that minor infrastructure works abandoned 126 years ago fade out.

The Upper Redbrook Tunnel is shown in this picture at the end of the cutting leading to its open Monmouth portal, which is behind a tree (do remember that this cutting was last used in 1917). It replaced another slightly longer loop on the tramway, although that loop ran through its own lower and shorter tunnel a few yards away off to the right. The tramway tunnel's Monmouth portal is open but now hidden behind a garage, while the Coleford portal has been covered over by the rather large back garden of a nearby house. The Upper tunnel's Coleford portal, being somewhat bigger, has only had its bottom six feet buried beneath the nicely-landscaped back garden.

The Lower Tunnel was securely sealed up after closure with full-height brick walls and used for missile storage. It is not really easy to get inside, although some people have, generally taking the opportunity to dump large quantities of rubbish inside (largely expanded polystyrene, oddly).


Newland station was the only intermediate stop on the branch and was located next to the only intermediate level crossing. It had two platforms and a small goods yard, controlled by a signal box which stood on the left of this photograph, which was taken from the site of the level crossing (hence the design of the gate on the left).

The village of Newland is a little distance away - the railway actually gets much closer that this, but the territory there is not as flat. There were also benefits to having the station at a road junction - mainly that some additional traffic might come from the surrounding area and one signal box could control the station and the level crossing. The village features the "Cathedral of the Forest", also known as Newland Parish Church, and the "Ostrich" pub, which does pretty good food.

Newland was one of three stations on the Monmouth network to be killed on the 1st of January 1917 - the other two being Coleford (GWR) and Tidenham (WVR) - and the village was the only one on the Monmouth rail network to be left without services after the end of the war. The nearby tunnel was used for growing mushrooms and the station remained intact, being used by the Army while it awaited the return of services. It featured in a 1927 issue of The Railway Magazine with a picture of the then-rare idea of a station without tracks, where it was confusingly called Redbrook. But the trains never came back and in the 1970s the station was partially demolished, losing its signal box and becoming a private house. It remains that way today.

Dog Kennel Bridge

The curiously-named Dog Kennel Bridge really has to be seen to be believed. The original tramway bridge was a low timber girder on stone abutments crossing a minor road serving a couple of farmsteads. This created a large loop up this side valley, which initial plans for the railway involved amputating and replacing with a gently curving viaduct.

Viaducts are expensive, however, and taking a straight course means going a shorter distance and consequently trains would have to climb more steeply. So the viaduct was dropped from the plans and replaced by a huge embankment which made a smaller loop up the side valley. Stuck through this embankment was the new bridge for the minor road. Although it is a rather large structure (particularly by single arch standards), the top of the arch is still well below the top of the embankement, which carried a minor single track railway. It now carries an overgrown trackbed which is about the same width as the road below. The railway was built to last and, 92 years after the last train to Monmouth from Coleford, the Dog Kennel Bridge remains in excellent condition.

Whitecliff Tunnel

Whitecliff Quarry kept the top end of the line open for five decades after closure overtook the bulk of the route in 1917. A convenient moment to ask the current owners of the (now closed) quarry if we can pop in and take some pictures has not yet arisen, so this picture of the longest-lasting of the line's four tunnels - Whitecliff Tunnel - will have to do. This is the Coleford portal of the tunnel.

The quarry traffic left Coleford for the rest of the world via the Severn and Wye Railway. The track layout at Coleford kept train lengths down to no more than 8 wagons - rather screwing up any claims to mass transport - although this was fine by locomotive crews, since it meant that they only had to work 8 wagon trains down the nasty banks and round the tight bends of the Severn and Wye's Coleford Branch. The junction with the Severn and Wye mainline was called Coleford Junction, not to be confused with the Coleford Junction on the Exeter to Barnstaple line, and was located on the northern outskirts of Parkend. The original tramway had descended steeply through Parkend to point southwards and head down to the docks and mainline at Lydney. This "steeply" was too steep for a railway, so a four-foot high step was put into the tramway for a few years to act as a transshippment point and called Marsh Sidings. Coleford Junction eased the gradients by being half a mile further up the mainline and pointing north, so once trains had descended from Parkend locomotives had to run around again before they could head south to Lydney.

This took a while, so the Coleford Branches were shut in 1967 and for nine years the stone was taken to Marsh Sidings by road. After 1976 the rail link was cut out altogether and remains of the Severn and Wye line closed. It is now preserved by the Dean Forest Railway.

Whitecliff Tunnel's Coleford portal is now sealed up in this rather original manner. The Monmouth portal is on quarry land and so remains open, albeit inaccessible.


Coleford was once one of the smallest towns to claim the accolade of having two stations - and not just two stations, but two complete sets of facilities conveniently situated for the town centre and slap bang next to each other. The Severn and Wye station was off to the far left, with trains heading out behind the brick building in the distance and gently uphill for half a mile before descending steeply towards Parkend at a ruling gradient of 1-in-29. The brick building is the former Great Western goods shed; its station filled the gap between there and the camera, before passing beneath the road on which the photographer is standing just to the right of the phone box and descending to Monmouth.

In later years the Severn and Wye Railway passed into the hands of the Great Western and Midland Railway companies and became a "joint" railway. No use was made of this opportunity to connect the two networks, concentrate all workings on the Great Western's newer (and larger) buildings or inaugrate through trains between Cinderford, at the north-eastern extremity of the Severn and Wye network, and Pontypool. After closure of the Great Western's line its station building remained intact, slowly decaying but surviving until the cessation of all trains to Coleford. Meanwhile the Severn and Wye's timber building decayed and in 1922 was burned to the ground. It was subsequently replaced with a brick building, which remained in use until passenger trains to Coleford were withdrawn due to inadequate passenger numbers (about 8 per train) in 1929. It also remained derelict into the 1960s. Although divided in life, Coleford's stations are now united and equal in death - except for the GWR goods shed which, as mentioned above, is now a museum.

Curiously in nearby Cinderford the Great Western and Severn and Wye came to an agreement and built a joint station. In Cinderford the GWR's passenger services outlasted the Severn and Wye's by 30 years and were finally axed in 1959. Whether the hatchet-burying had any effect is another matter.

The background image shows the south portal of Newland Tunnel. It was so securely sealed that even the access door was bricked up (though a nice secure locked door has since been refitted). It is the second tunnel along this alignment; the original Monmouth Tramroad had a rather smaller tunnel through here, most of which was expanded for the railway to fit through. However, it was decided to ease the curve at the southern end of the tunnel by starting the railway's turn towards Coleford slightly earlier, so the tunnel was ripped open and this portal installed at the south end of the expanded bore. Off to the left the side wall of the tramroad tunnel continues; once the railway has got off the original alignment the tramroad tunnel resumes for a final 20 yards or so to its old south portal.

The north portal of the railway tunnel is a hundred yards or so further into the hill than the tramroad tunnel's was. It is guarded by a residential property. Like most tramroad tunnels, Newland is dead straight throughout.

There is some uncertainty as to whether to count this line as part of the Forest of Dean rail network or part of the Monmouth rail network; the tramroad probably falls into the former category but for the first part of its life the railway fell into the latter. After the closure of the Whitecliff-Monmouth section the former Severn and Wye network adopted the remaining bit and it became part of the Forest network for the rest of its life. This sort of uncertainty has been known to result in stations and halts being simply left out of the history of all areas involved on the basis that they are somebody else's responsibility, but it is hard to ignore 5¼ miles of railway and so the line has simply been covered twice as often as any other line in the area - each individually publishing a pretty good selection of the 10 pictures taken of the line between Whitecliff and Monmouth while it was in some form of use.

H.W. Paar covers the entirity of both tramroad and railway in his book The Great Western Railway in Dean (A History of the Railways of the Forest of Dean: Part Two), which was published by David and Charles in 1965; Ian Pope and Paul Karau discuss the Whitecliff to Coleford section in The Severn and Wye Railway Volume 3 (Wild Swan, 1988); Peter Smith also covers Coleford, Whitecliff and Newland in his 1983 volume An Historical Survey of the Forest of Dean Railways: Layouts and Illustrations (Oxford Publishing Company). It is then implicitly viewed as a Monmouth railway in the Great Western's official survey of the line, where it is bound in with the Wye Valley Railway (to be found in the National Archive as Rail 274/79); this designation has been followed by Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith in Branchlines to Monmouth (Middleton Press, 2008) and Brian Handley in The Wye Valley Railway and the Coleford Branch (Oakwood Press, 1998, 2008).

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Last modified 06/04/11

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