The Story of the Cambrian - A Biography of a Railway
by C. P. Gasquoine
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Transcribed from the 1922 Woodall, Minshall, Thomas & Co. Ltd. edition by David Price, email


A Biography of a Railway by C. P. GASQUOINE (Editor of the "Border Counties Advertizer.")

[Picture: Cambrian Railways Company stamp]


Printed and Published by Woodall, Minshall, Thomas & Co. Ltd. (Incorporating Hughes & Son).

Principality Press, Wrexham, and Caxton Press, Oswestry.


Credit for the inspiration of this book belongs to my friend, Mr. W. R. Hall, of Aberystwyth, who, in one of his interesting series of "Reminiscences" of half a century of Welsh journalism, contributed to the "Cambrian News," recently expressed his surprise that no one had hitherto attempted to write the history of the Cambrian Railways. With the termination of that Company's separate existence, on its amalgamation with the Great Western Railway under the Government's grouping scheme, "the hour" for such an effort seems to have struck; and Mr. Hall's pointed indication of Oswestry as the most appropriate place where the work could be undertaken, not only by reason of its close connection with the official headquarters of the Cambrian, but because, in a certain newspaper office there lay the files containing so many old records of the railway's birth and early struggles for existence, even the selection of "the man" appeared so severely circumscribed that to the present writer it virtually amounted to what, in certain ecclesiastical circles, is termed "a call."

Responsibility for its acceptance, however, and for the execution of the task, with its manifold imperfections and shortcomings, rests entirely with the author, whose only qualification for assuming the role of biographer of the Cambrian is the deep interest he has always taken in a subject worthy of a far abler pen. Not even the attempt would have been possible had it not been for the valuable assistance readily given by many kind friends directly or indirectly associated with the Cambrian Railways.

Special thanks are due, and hereby gratefully acknowledged, to Mr. Samuel Williamson General Manager, not for only much personal trouble taken in supplying information and looking through proof-sheets, but for placing no small portion of the time of some members of his clerical staff at the disposal of the author, who has troubled them on many occasions, but never without receiving prompt and patient response; to other officials and employees, past and present, of the Company for information regarding their several departments, and their personal recollections, including Mr. T. S. Goldsworthy, the senior officer and sole surviving member of the "old guard," who played their part in the battles of the Parliamentary Committee-rooms of long ago, whose reminiscences of the days of old have proved particularly useful; to the Earl of Powis for permission to inspect the voluminous papers of the late Earl, whose name was so intimately associated with the early development of railway schemes in Montgomeryshire; to the family of the late Mr. David Howell for similar facilities in regard to his papers; and, for the loan of photographs or assistance of varied sort to Colonel Apperley, Mr. E. D. Nicholson, Park Issa, Oswestry, Mr. W. P. Rowlands and Mr. Edmund Gillart, Machynlleth, Mr. Robert Owen, Broad Street, Welshpool, Mr. J. Harold Thomas, Garth Derwen, Buttington, the Misses Ward, Whittington, Miss Mickleburgh, Oswestry, Mr. E. Shone, Oswestry, the Editor of the "Peterborough Advertiser," the publishers of the "Great Western Magazine," and others.

The indexing has been compiled by Mr. Kay, Public Librarian, Oswestry, to whom thanks are due for the efficient discharge of a rather irksome duty.

As to the arrangement of the book itself: in tracing the various stages of construction, often simultaneous or overlapping in point of time, of the several separate and formerly independent undertakings into which the Cambrian system was subsequently consolidated, and still further augmented by later local amalgamations, it has been found well-nigh impossible, chronologically, to maintain at once a clear and consecutive story. Recourse has, therefore, been had to the method of dealing with each section of the line in separate chapters, and the same plan applies to some departments of development in later years. But an endeavour has been made to follow, as comprehensively as such circumstances permit, the general course of the Railway's growth; and it is in the hope that, however imperfectly, it may serve to recal seventy years of struggle, triumph and romance in Welsh railway annals that to Lt.-Col. David Davies, M.P., its last Chairman, and Mr. Samuel Williamson, its last General Manager, and his numerous other friends among the officers and staff of all ranks, the writer begs to dedicate this little story of the Cambrian, in memory of many happy days spent in travelling, as a privileged passenger, along its far-reaching lines.

C. P. G.

"Border Counties Advertizer" Office, Oswestry, 1922.

[Picture: Directors & Offices on a Farewell Visit to Aberystwyth, May 1922. Reading from left to right:—Mr. W. K. Minshall (Solicitor); Sir Joseph Davies, M.P.; Mr. Alfred Herbert; Lord Kenyon; Lt.-Col. Apperley; Mr. G. C. McDonald (Engineer and Loco. Supt.); Mr. S. G. Vowles (Assistant-Sec.); Mr. C. B. O. Clarke; Mr. H. Warwick (Supt. of Line); Mr. T. Craven (Deputy Chairman); Lt.-Col. David Davies, M. P. (Chairman); Mr. T. C. Sellars (General Manager's Assistant); Mr. S. Williamson (General Manager and Secretary). Photo by H. H. Davies & Son, Aberystwyth]


"No Engineer could succeed without having men about him as highly gifted as himself."—ROBERT STEPHENSON.


When what eventually became the Cambrian Railways was born it was a very tiny baby. Compared with its ultimate frame, it possessed neither arms nor legs, nor even head, and consisted merely of heart and a small part of its trunk. It began "in the air" at Newtown and ended, if possible, in still more ethereal poise, at Llanidloes. Physical junction with existing lines there was none, and the engines—four in number—which drew the coaches that composed those early trains had to be brought by road, from Oswestry, in specially constructed wagons, not without difficulties and adventures, and placed on the metals at the railhead, to live their life and perform their duty in "splendid isolation." It was only gradually that limb after limb was added, and subsequently constructed railways were incorporated or absorbed, until the consolidated system obtained the rather attenuated proportions with which we are familiar to-day, stretching from Whitchurch, on the Cheshire border, to Aberystwyth, on the shores of Cardigan Bay, with its two chief subsidiary "sections," one (including some half dozen miles of the original track) from Moat Lane Junction to Brecon, and another from Dovey Junction to Pwllheli; shorter branches or connecting lines from Ellesmere to Wrexham, Oswestry to Llangynog, Llanymynech to Llanfyllin, Abermule to Kerry, Cemmes Road to Dinas Mawddwy, Barmouth Junction to Dolgelley, and two lengths of narrow gauge line, from Welshpool to Llanfair Caereinion and Aberystwyth to Devil's Bridge, altogether exactly 300 miles.

Such, in briefest outline, denotes how "the Cambrian" began and what it has grown to be; but there is little virtue in a mere recital of statistics, and the writing of "history," of the kind once defined by the late Lord Halsbury as "only a string of names and dates" would be no congenial task to the present author. Nor, happily, is it necessary to confine oneself to such barren and unemotional limits. It is not in the record of train miles run, of the number of passengers and the weight of the merchandise carried, or even in the dividends earned, or not earned (though these factors are not without their value to the proprietors) that the chief interest in the story of a railway lies. {2} Very often it is the tale of unending trial and difficulty and even apparent failure which holds for the spectator the largest measure of romance, and such is certainly the case of what, at one time, was, with quite as much sympathetic affection as contempt, popularly called "the poor old Cambrian." There were times when the difficulties which faced its constructors appeared to be absolutely insuperable. What with the enormous weight of its cradle, measured in gold, and the continual quarrels of its nurses, the undertaking was well nigh strangled at birth. Even when the line was actually opened for traffic a burden of financial difficulty rested upon Directors and Managers that might have crushed the spirit out of many a stout heart.

Judged by the maturer experience of long years, it is wonderful to think that, even under the most careful management, the Company should have been able to survive its constant buffetings at the hand of Fate, but survive it has, and by eternal patience and unfailing perseverance these many troubles were at length overcome, and if to-day the railway offers facilities and comforts to the travelling public that stand the test of comparison with such as are provided by the great trunk lines of England and Scotland, it is no small tribute to those who have worked long and labouring to bring its services to their present high standard of efficiency.

But of the Cambrian as we know it to-day there will be something more to be said presently. Biography, by time-honoured custom, if not necessity, begins with birth and parentage; and, though corporate bodies may often experience some difficulty about laying claim to a "lang pedigree," even a railway company cannot come into existence without considerable pre-natal labour.

Among its parents the Cambrian possessed some men of rare grit and determination. Prominent among them was one who ranks high among the makers of modern Wales, whose name has become a household word not only in his native land, but wherever Welshmen congregate throughout the world, and is still, by happy coincidence, intimately associated, in the third generation, with the Cambrian to-day. The story of David Davies of Llandinam has been fully told in other pages, {4} but it is so closely woven around the romance of the railway which he did so much to bring into being that no record of that undertaking would be complete without some reference to it, however brief. Born at a small holding called Draintewion, perched on the hillside overlooking the Severn Vale near Llandinam, the eldest of a family of nine children, on December 18, 1818,—"three eighteens," as he used in later life jocularly to remark—his boyhood was spent on the little plot of land tilling its rich soil, or helping his father, in the work of sawing timber into planks, a commodity for which public demand was then rapidly increasing. His only schooling was received in a little seminary carried on in the village church, and that wonderful educational institution of rural Wales, the Sunday School. But at the age of eleven the desk was deserted for the saw bench, and the rest of his instruction was derived at "the University of Observation, in which he took not a mere 'pass' but very high 'honours'." A keen observation of human nature, a shrewd judgment of men and beast, and a ready aptitude for application of native wit to the problems of life developed David Davies into the man of wealth and power he ultimately became. Even in his school days, however, these latent traits were not unobservable. It is recorded that "he was the winner of every game." He may have had a generous portion of what men call "luck," but to it was added the still more valuable element of industry and perseverance and healthy ambition. He knew how to take the chances which came his way, which is probably the secret of success with many who "get on." When opportunity offered to enter a new path he readily seized it, and from the hewer of wood he became the modest contractor, and ultimately the greater builder of bridges, docks and railways.

[Picture: Some Parents of the Cambrian: reading top left to bottom right: The later MR. DAVID DAVIES, M.P., one of the first contractors; The late MR. THOMAS SAVIN, Mr. Davies's first partner and a contractor of other parts of the line; The late MR. BENJAMIN PIERCY, Engineer of many of the early lines; The late MR. ABRAHAM HOWELL, Solicitor of the Oswestry and Newtown, and a promoter of Montgomeryshire Rys]

Passengers travelling along the Cambrian line from Moat Lane Junction to Llanidloes, may notice, at Llandinam, the roadway which runs below the church, and crosses the river on an embankment to the station. The construction of that highway was the first contract which David Davies held, and it stands to-day, hard by the statue of him which has since been erected, as a monument of his self-reliant zeal and sound workmanship. Other contracts followed, including that for the construction of Oswestry Smithfield, and it was during one of his visits to that town that Mr. Davies formed a friendship which led to a partnership that, in its turn, played a potent part in the making of the Cambrian.

For in Oswestry there lived Mr. Thomas Savin, who had been born, in 1826, at Llwynymaen, and was a partner in a mercer's business with Mr. Edward Morris (who afterwards purchased and sold the Van Mine near Caersws), under the style of Messrs. Morris and Savin. Mr. Savin's mind, however, was not entirely concentrated on measuring cloth and calico. He took a keen interest in the life of the town, and was an energetic supporter of local institutions. Elected to the Town Council in 1856, he was mayor in 1863, and appointed alderman in 1871, an office he retained to the end of his varied life. But these honours had yet to come. Already, at the time of which we are now writing, Mr. Savin had visions of a larger enterprise beyond the boundaries of his native borough.

Like many large and generous-hearted men, Mr. Savin was very impetuous and impatient of delays. On one occasion, it is related, when still a mercer at Oswestry, he drove over to a Welsh border market town to sell his wares. It was the custom there for farmers to decline to look at any other business till the sale of the live stock was disposed of, and the market being loth to start and Mr. Savin eager to be home again, he rushed into the arena and startled the company present by buying a thousand sheep. This was before he became associated with railway pioneering, but it is a characteristic example of that dramatic impulsiveness which led to his subsequent success—and failure.

Caught by the spirit of venture and enthusiasm, which had swept over the country after the successful opening of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway in 1830, his thoughts had begun to turn to railway production, and the meeting with the young Montgomeryshire road and bridge builder opened the looked for door. In a room over the tobacconist shop now occupied by Mr. Richards, opposite the Post Office, in Church Street, Oswestry, and close to the premises in which, some fifteen or sixteen years earlier another notable man, Shirley Brooks, afterwards editor of "Punch," had toiled as a lawyer's article pupil to his uncle, Mr. Charles Sabine, Mr. Davies and Mr. Savin were brought together by Mr. George Owen, himself destined to play no small part in the planning of the Cambrian. A man of Kent, native of Tunbridge Wells, Mr. Owen had begun his business career in the office of Mr. Charles Mickleburgh, land surveyor, agent and enclosure commissioner, of Montgomery, one of whose daughters he subsequently married. He worked side by side with another young engineer, of whom we shall hear more presently,—Mr. Benjamin Piercy, under whose initial leadership, Mr. Owen, as resident engineer, was to serve the local railway for many a long year. Nor was that the only capacity in which his gifts were displayed. Making Oswestry his home, he became a member of the Town Council in 1860, mayor in 1864 and 1865, and alderman in 1874. For twenty years he was a member of the General Purposes Committee, served as borough and county magistrate, and was a member of the School Board from its inception, and chairman from 1891 till his death in 1901. Indeed, there was no interest in the town,—administrative, commercial and recreative,—in which he did not fill a conspicuous role. But, perhaps, of all his services to the community, none was more opportune or more prolific of far-reaching results than that happy inspiration of introducing Messrs. Davies and Savin.


Still, it takes more than a couple of contractors, however enthusiastic, to construct a railway. Though the more visible, the organiser of the labour is not the only parent. Not less essential, in his creative function, is the capitalist; and even the powerful combination of capitalist and contractor is insufficient to carry matters to a practical conclusion without the expert guidance of the engineer. Nevertheless, Messrs. Davies and Savin, as the new partnership was termed, had not long to wait before their opportunity arrived.

The great "railway mania" which reached its climax on that notable Sunday, November 30th, 1845, to be followed by the catastrophic bursting of the bubble, had left men rather sobered in their outlook upon the future possibilities of speculation in this alluring direction. It had witnessed the formulation of no fewer than 1,263 separate railway schemes, involving an (hypothetical) expenditure of 560 millions sterling, of which 643 got no further than the issue of a prospectus, while over 500 went through all the necessary stages of being brought before Parliament and 272 actually became Acts—"to the ruin of thousands who had afterwards to find the money to fulfil the engagements into which they had so rashly entered."

Amongst these was a Bill for converting the Montgomeryshire Canal into a railway line, for which an Act was passed in 1846, but it was a hare-brained scheme and soon came to nought. Other proposals, however, developed into what promised, and have since proved, to be highly profitable enterprises. The western Midlands and North Wales had been linked by the line from Shrewsbury to Chester, which Mr. Henry Robertson, M.P., for the former town and afterwards for the County of Merioneth, in which his residence, Pale, near Corwen, was situate, had carried over the great viaducts of Chirk and Cefn. From Chester, Mr. Robert Stephenson, even more daring, had flung his extension of the North Western system, by way of

"The magic Bridge of Bangor Hung awful in the sky." {8}

across the Menai Straits into Anglesey and so to Holyhead. The air was again thick, and to become thicker, with new adventures. Hardly a valley in North or Central Wales but had its ardent advocates of connecting lines. Within a short time newspaper columns were to be flooded with prospectuses of all sorts of schemes. Parliamentary committee rooms buzzed with forensic eloquence about the advantages and disadvantages of this or that route. Expert witnesses swore this, that, or anything else, as expert witnesses generally will, provided, that like the gentlemen who question and cross-question them, they are sufficiently briefed. In vain did the secluded Lake Poet protest:

"Is there no nook of English ground secure From rash assault?"

The iron road was to come, and come it did, all conquering and, not so unbeneficial, after all, in its rule.

Amidst this welter of proposals and counter-proposals there emerged, sometime during 1852 a scheme, propounded by Mr. Bethell, of Westminster for constructing a railway connecting the existing line at Shrewsbury with Aberystwyth. It was to run by way of the Rea Valley, through Minsterley, and to strike the Severn Valley again in the neighbourhood of Montgomery, whence it was to continue through Newtown and Llanidloes. This was quickly followed by another for a line from Oswestry to Newtown, which was projected under Shrewsbury and Chester Railway auspices. To the latter Mr. Bethell replied by transferring his scheme to the North Western Company, whose engineers remodelled it. With a view to driving any rival Montgomeryshire scheme out of the field, the proposed new line was diverted from the Rea Valley to pass by way of Criggion and Welshpool to Newtown, with a branch from Criggion to Oswestry, and between Newtown and Aberystwyth it was altered to go by Machynlleth, instead of Llanidloes.

This sort of strategy, however, only seemed to stimulate the men of Montgomeryshire to fresh determination to show their independence, and in this they had the adventitious aid of a very influential neighbour, Mr. George Hammond Whalley.

[Picture: The late MR. G. H. WHALLEY, M.P., from a Portrait presented by the citizens of Peterborough, and now hanging in Peterborough Museum]

Mr. Whalley was a very remarkable man. A native of Gloucester, according to "Debrett," he was a lineal descendant of Edward Whalley (first cousin to Oliver Cromwell and John Hampden), who signed the warrant for the execution of Charles I. At the University College, London, he carried off first prize in rhetoric and logic, afterwards was called to the bar, for some years went the Oxford Circuit and acted as Assistant Tithe Commissioner, and Examiner of Private Bills for Parliament. He lived at Plas Madoc, Ruabon, was a deputy lieutenant for Denbighshire and a magistrate for that county, Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire. In 1853 he acted as High Sheriff of Carnarvonshire, and at the time of the Crimean War he volunteered the services of the troop of Denbighshire Yeomanry Cavalry of which he was Captain and received the thanks of the War Office. Some years earlier, during the Irish famine, he established fisheries on the west coast of Ireland, and, in his own yacht, explored and ascertained the position of the fishing banks. The electors of Leominster declined to return him to Parliament in 1845, as did also the Montgomery Boroughs in 1852; but later that year he was elected for Peterborough, unseated on petition, re-elected the next year and again unseated. He unsuccessfully contested the same constituency in 1857, but was elected in May 1859 and sat till his death in 1878, during his Parliamentary career devoting a good deal of attention to the reform of private bill procedure on which he carried a not unimportant measure. But he was no mere meticulous lawyer. His frantic espousal of the Protestant cause, supposed by the timid in the middle of last century to be in some danger in England, earned him a good deal of notoriety and a popular name. Hardly more eccentric was the warm support he gave to the cause of Arthur Orton in his claim to the title and estate of Sir Roger Tichborne. On one of the last visits he paid to Oswestry he called to see a friend. As he was leaving his friend's office he suddenly turned round and asked "Do you believe in the Claimant?" The reply was an emphatic negative. "Ah," exclaimed the departing visitor, "you will come to!"

But if Mr. Whalley was a bad prophet in this respect, his instinct did not always mislead him. He believed in himself, which was not only a more substantial faith, but more to the point in this narrative, for it enabled him, by dint of self-assurance, largely to dominate, and occasionally to domineer, the railway world of Montgomeryshire and the adjacent counties and to contribute in no small measure to the successful accomplishment of several local schemes.

Conspicuous among them was the Llanidloes and Newtown. Though an isolated link in itself, it was intended to form part of a chain that was to stretch from Manchester and the industrial north to Milford Haven, a famous Welsh seaport, and this dream was constantly in the mind of local promoters whenever and wherever such sectional schemes were discussed. On October 30th, 1852, a meeting was held at Llanidloes, with Mr. Whalley in the chair, at which the project was cordially adopted, a committee formed to further its achievement by raising the necessary subscriptions, and arrangements made for carrying the fiery cross of propaganda to Newtown and Rhayader, and as far afield as Aberystwyth. On this effective errand Mr. Whalley and his coadjutors stumped the countryside, and "inn bills" began to form no inconsiderable item in the promoters' balance sheets. But nothing can be accomplished in this world without effort and expenditure; and to the missionaries' warning words against "the evil of conceding to an overbearing leviathan neighbour any privileges calculated to endanger the independence of their little company," we are informed by a chronicler of the day, "the county nobly responded, and petitions were sent from every district, praying for the recognition by Parliament of the principles so ably enunciated by Mr. Whalley."

The "little company" had, indeed, good reason to be apprehensive; but fortune favoured its course. Before this onslaught, even the "overbearing leviathan" quailed. After long and costly struggle in the Parliamentary committee rooms, accommodation was reached, and in the House of Commons the Montgomeryshire promoters' scheme passed with flying colours; but an unfortunate error, by which the levels were proved to be some 18 feet below the Severn water, wrecked it in the Lords. In August, 1853, however, the scheme received Parliamentary sanction, and out of the long list of "provisional directors" appointed the previous year, the first board was formed. They were:—Mr. Whalley, chairman; Mr. W. Lefeaux, vice-chairman; Alderman E. Cleaton, Llanidloes; Alderman Richard Holmes, Llanidloes; Mr. Wm. Lloyd, Newtown; Mr. Edward Morris, Oxon, Shrewsbury; Mr. T. E. Marsh, Llanidloes, and Mr. T. Prickard, Dderw, Radnorshire. Mr. Rice Hopkins was the engineer, Mr. T. P. Prichard, general manager, and Mr. John Jenkins, secretary. Mr. Jenkins, however, soon transferred his services to the office of auditor, and was succeeded by Mr. Thomas Hayward.


And so, with eager hearts, directors looked forward to a rosy future. It is interesting to recall what, in their opinion, the financial prospects of the line were. Larger schemes loomed in ambitious minds, but, even confined to the local line along the Severn valley, the estimated revenue was as follows:—

Passengers 2,350 pounds

Coal 750 pounds

Lead, Copper, and Barytes Ore 1,700 pounds

Timber (chiefly used in working the mines) 900 pounds

Iron, Powder, and other articles used by miners 75 pounds

Lime for Agricultural and other purposes 900 pounds

Corn, Flour, and other Agricultural Produce 600 pounds

Cattle, Sheep, and other animals 300 pounds

Wool and Woollen Manufactures 225 pounds

General Merchandise and Shop Goods 250 pounds

Building Stone, Tiles, Bricks, etc. 200 pounds

Total 8,250 pounds

Estimating working expenses at 50 per cent., that left a surplus of 4,125 pounds, being nearly 7 per cent. per annum on 60,000 pounds, the required capital. With such a scheme the majority of the local owners readily expressed their agreement, and arrangements were made for cutting of the first sod, in a field which was to form the site of the Llanidloes station, on October 3rd, 1855. Mrs. Owen, of Glansevern, was invited to perform the ceremony, but, owing to what she regarded as a premature announcement of the fact in the "Shrewsbury Chronicle," that lady sent an advertisement to the journal announcing the postponement of the function. Pages of the Company's minute book were devoted to expressions of the Board's "utmost astonishment" and demands for explanations. Mrs. Owen was at no loss for material to furnish equally voluminous reply, the pith of which was that she was simply inspired by a desire to obtain time, both to secure the attendance of her influential friends and to inform herself of the financial position of the undertaking.

It was all a storm in a tea-cup, but it was a very severe storm while it lasted; and Mr. Whalley had to cut the sod himself, in a deluge of rain, taking occasion, however, in doing so, to express, in graceful terms, the disappointment felt at the absence of one "who had done so much to introduce improved means of communication through the county," a reference equally gracefully acknowledged by letter from Glansevern a few days later. "Up to the present period," wrote Mrs. Owen, "we have been strangers in this part of the county to the preparations necessary for inaugurating a railway, and it should not, therefore, be wondered at if our first attempt should not have been attended with perfect success; misapprehension, excess of zeal and inexperience might all lead to mistakes and errors, and it is not, perhaps, possible for us all to escape censure."

Perhaps not. At any rate, it was a philosophic conclusion, and it enabled the Board, with unruffled feathers, to proceed to the business of receiving tenders for the construction of the line. Out of seven, the lowest was that of Mr. David Davies, who was, moreover, prepared to accept part payment in shares, an arrangement which, later, paved the way to the process of leasing these local railways to the contractors, that became almost a custom. Hardly, however, had these preliminaries been successfully negotiated, when Mr. Rice Hopkins died, and after a temporary agreement with one of his relatives to carry on in an advisory capacity, the Board proceeded to select a successor out of four "persons who presented themselves as eligible for this purpose."

Their choice was easily made. The line was being built by a local contractor. Fate was now to throw up a new engineer, whose claims were not less obvious on similar grounds. A native of Trefeglwys, Mr. Benjamin Piercy had, from an early age, taken great interest in railway planning, and, though this branch of the profession did not directly touch his daily routine, he devoted many leisure hours to its study. In his journeys through Wales he was impressed with the necessity of opening out its valleys to the great railway world that was developing beyond the English border, and when Mr. Henry Robertson began to make his surveys of the Shrewsbury and Chester line, Mr. Piercy became one of his assistants. So diligently did the young man discharge his duties here that, it is recorded, he was the means of preventing the loss of a year in obtaining the Act for the making of this line.

It was natural, therefore, that, when the Rea Valley line was being mooted, he should be engaged to prepare the Parliamentary plans. It was in this connection that an untoward incident occurred, which throws some light on the tremendous rivalry that existed among the promoters of various railway schemes and the means that were sometimes adopted to thwart the progress of antagonistic proposals. Mr. Piercy had, with great energy, got his plans ready and taken them to London, but they were surreptitiously removed from his room at the hotel, and the matter was hung up for a year. In the meantime, as we have already noted, the line of route was changed. In the following year, however, he duly deposited the plans for the railway from Shrewsbury to Welshpool, with a branch to Minsterley, already mentioned. Although strongly opposed, at every stage, including Standing Orders, Mr. Piercy succeeded in carrying the Bill through both Houses, and it received the Royal assent. It was in the Select Committees on this Bill that he first made his reputation as a witness in Parliamentary Committees. After this he was engaged upon nearly all the projects for introducing independent railways into Wales, all of them meeting with fierce opposition. For several days consecutively he was as a witness under cross-examination by the genial Mr. Serjeant Merewether, and other eminent counsel, but so little headway were they able to make against Mr. Piercy that, upon one occasion, when a Committee passed a Bill of his, Mr. Merewether held up his brief-bag and asked the Committee whether they would not give that too to Mr. Piercy. {16}

[Picture: The late MR. GEORGE OWEN, Engineer of the Cambrian Railways for many years]

In 1858 Mr. Piercy was formally appointed engineer to the Company. With the assistance of Mr. George Owen, the cordial co-operation of Messrs. Davies and Savin, and under the enthusiastic leadership of Mr. Whalley, he was destined to carry these undertakings into being, and to nurture them in their infancy, and thus to join the little group of pioneer workers who, in their several capacities, may, in special degree, be termed the parents of the Cambrian.


"A birthday:—and now a day that rose with much of hope, with meaning rifeA thoughtful day from dawn to close."


With the advent of the young Montgomeryshire engineer, and his cordial co-operation with the Montgomeryshire contractor, the public began eagerly to count the days, or at any rate, the months, before the due arrival of the first Montgomeryshire railway. The prospects of a punctual delivery were eminently propitious. In his first report, Mr. Piercy was able to announce substantial progress with the work, which was being carried out by Messrs. Davies and Savin, "at a cost below that of any railway yet brought into operation." True, there were one or two inevitable set-backs. One of the engines which had arrived by road, and been set on the rails at Newtown, refused properly to perform its duty; but, fortunately, a Mr. Howell, of Hawarden, who knew all about the intricate interior of these new-fangled monsters, happened to be staying at Llanidloes, and he was called in to diagnose and advise, with effective result.

A more serious problem was the revision of the terms of the lease of the line to Messrs. Davies and Savin, which a committee of shareholders were busily engaged in attempting to carry forward. Complications of another sort led Mr. Piercy to tender his resignation, which, being somewhat peremptorily refused, he withdrew. Still further anxiety and considerable expense was involved in the prosecution of Parliamentary application for power to extend the line from the originally designed terminus at Newtown to the Shropshire Union Canal; for, though it was only a matter of some quarter of a mile, it was strenuously opposed in both Houses. Such were the distractions which beset railway building in those days; but enthusiasm and determination still triumphed, and the work proceeded along the line with sufficient rapidity to admit its being opened for mineral traffic on April 30th, 1859. At the very last moment trouble was experienced in obtaining the necessary certificate of the Board of Trade for passenger traffic, but that precious document came to hand on August 9th, and, with more fortunate outcome than on a previous occasion, Mrs. Owen, of Glansevern, was invited to perform the pleasing duty of declaring the line open.

The day fixed was Wednesday, August 31st, and a local newspaper gives us some account of the proceedings:—"Preparations were made on an extensive scale, and the day was ushered in by cannon firing, bell-ringing, and the hearty congratulations of the people of the town, with their country friends, who flocked in to take part in the proceedings. The houses were elegantly decorated with flags and banners, flowers and evergreens, and a variety of mottoes, more or less appropriate. Amongst others we noticed, on the Old Market Hall (which, by the way, it was a charity to hide from the gaze of strangers), a profusion of flags, with a large banner in the centre, 'Hail, Star of Brunswick.' The Red Lion exhibited a local tribute to its friend, by placing on the door 'Welcome, Whalley, champion of our rights.' The Railway Station was profusely decorated, and the Queen's Head displayed an elegant archway of leaves and flowers. The Trewythen Arms was also gaily covered with flags, and numbers of private houses displayed a variety of gay decorations. The cold and wet state of the weather in no way damped the ardour of the men of Montgomeryshire, and they were rewarded by a speedy dispersion of clouds, and the grateful warmth of the noonday sun. Llanidloes was all alive; business was entirely suspended and soon after 9 o'clock a large crowd collected near the public rooms, where a procession was formed, headed by the Plasmadoc Brass Band, and accompanied in the following order by:—

The Mayor (W. Swancott, Esq.), and the Corporation consisting of Messrs. R. Homes, E. Clayton, T. Davies, T. F. Roberts, D. Snead; L. Minshall, Pugh, J. Jarman, Hamer, J. Mendus Jones,


Banner,—'Whither Bound?' 'To Milford.'

Streamer. Banner. Streamer.

(With the inscription):

'G. H. Whalley, whose unceasing exertions are now crowned with success.'

Mr. G. H. Whalley, Chairman.

Deputy Chairman and Secretary, Directors.

Banner,—'The spirited contractors, Messrs. Davies & Savin.'

Streamer. Streamer.

Banner,—'Our Esteemed Patroness, Mrs. A. W. Owen.'

Mrs. Owen followed in a carriage.

Guests and Shareholders.

Ladies (two and two).

Gentlemen (two and two).

Streamer. Streamer.

Banner,—'Prosperity to the Towns of Llanidloes and Newtown.'

Excavators (with bannerets).

Flag,—'Live and let Live.'

The Public.

"The procession was marshalled by Mr. Marpole Lewis, and after parading the streets, was met by Mrs. Owen, of Glansevern, who was accompanied by some lady friends and Mr. Brace, and at another point by Mr. Whalley, the chairman of the company. These arrivals were acknowledged with vociferous cheering. The procession, like a rolling snowball, gained bulk as it proceeded, and before it reached the station, comprehended a very large proportion of the inhabitants,—ladies and gentlemen,—with a good sprinkling of their neighbours. At the station there was a considerable delay, awaiting the arrival of the train from Newtown. At last it made its appearance, and the band struck up 'See the Conquering Hero comes,'—an air far more appropriate when applied to the 'locomotive' than to one-half of the heroes to whom it has hitherto done honour. The Mayor of Llanidloes, with the Corporation, Mrs. Owen and party, and Mr. Whalley, accompanied by a very large number of the inhabitants, then took their seats, and amidst the cheers of those left behind, and counter cheers of the passengers, the train moved off and proceeded slowly towards Newtown. {20}

"The train arrived shortly after 12 o'clock, when the procession re-formed and escorted the Mayor and Corporation of Llanidloes, Mrs. Owen, of Glansevern, Mr. Whalley, and other visitors, to Newtown Hall, where an elegant dejeuner had been provided by Dr. Slyman. The decorations at Newtown Hall were chaste and beautiful. The verandah at the front, was tastefully ornamented with flowers and evergreens, surmounted by a number of elegant fuschias, in the centre of which stood out a prettily worked 'Prince of Wales' Feathers.' A variety of flags were placed around the pleasure ground, which gave a very striking effect to the scene."

After the party had partaken of refreshments, there were toasts and mutual congratulations, and the procession tramped back to the station.

"Again there was a little delay, awaiting the train from Llanidloes (says our chronicler), and it was half-past three o'clock before The Train of the day fairly started. Filling the carriages and trucks was no joke. Admirable arrangements had been made, and the ladies were first accommodated with seats. One or two gentlemen did attempt to take their place before this arrangement was fully carried out, but they were very unceremoniously brought out again, amidst the ironical cheers of the outsiders. At last the forty-eight trucks and carriages were loaded, and, at a moderate estimate, we should say, 3,000 people were in the train. The two new engines, The Llewelyn and The Milford, were attached to the carriages, and were driven by Mr. T. D. Roberts and Mr. T. E. Minshall. Although the train was so heavily laden with passengers, there was a large crowd of people left to cheer as it slowly passed out of the Station. The appearance of this monster train was magnificent. More than 2,000 of the passengers were in open trucks, and at certain points, where there was a curve in the line, and a good sight could be obtained, the train, as it wound its way through the valley, presented a scene not easily to be erased from the memory.

"Soon after four o'clock Llanidloes Station was reached, and the passengers alighted amidst the shouts of the inhabitants, who had come to welcome them. A large circle was formed in the field adjoining the Station, and Mr. Whalley introduced to those assembled Mrs. Owen, of Glansevern, who declared the line to be opened."

It hardly required her stirring words to enlist the enthusiasm of the company concerning the economic change which the railways were to bring to Wales. Derelict acres were to be brought into cultivation; "the very central town of the ancient Principality," in which that ceremony was taking place, was to become the capital of a new prosperity, and as for Mr. Whalley, were not that day's proceedings "a chapter more honourable than any wreath of laurel that could be won on the battle field by success in war?" The plaudits of the assembled confirmed the sentiment, and "a rush was then made for the tent where the luncheon was provided. Here again the ladies had the same proper attention paid to them; the sterner sex was kept out until they could be accommodated with seats. After a short delay the tent was well filled with visitors, and upwards of 300 sat down to lunch. Grace was said by the Rector of Llanidloes, and for a season the clatter of knives and forks was the only sound to be heard."

Small wonder! For the afternoon was well advanced, and the time-table had gone rather awry. But that did not in the least damp the ardour of the company. Refreshed by their belated meal, more toasts were honoured, more speeches made, and the future continued to assume the most roseate hue. The district, declared one orator, was destined to become "the abode of smiling happiness," and Newtown and Llanidloes "the haunts and hives of social industry." It was, said another, the first link in a chain "which must, ere long, form one of the greatest and most important trunk lines in the kingdom." "People," exclaimed a third, "laughed at it because it had no head or tail"; but let the scoffers wait and see! With all these glowing anticipations, proceedings became so protracted that the ladies had to withdraw, but the gentlemen went on drinking toasts with undiminished energy. They drank to the Chairman; they drank to the Secretary; they drank to the Engineer, and the Contractors, and the Bankers who had lent them the money, and to the success of the other railways springing up around them, including the Mid-Wales, the first sod of which was to be cut in a few days' time, with what strange accompaniment will be noted in a subsequent chapter. Not until the health of the Press,—"may its perfect independence ever expose abuses and advocate what is just, through evil and through good report,"—had been duly honoured did the company disperse.

The workmen, too, were entertained, with good fare and more speeches. Salvers and cake baskets were presented to Messrs. Davies and Savin. Master Edward Davies, aged 5, and Master Tom Savin, aged 6, were held up aloft, and presented with watches, and the cheering, which had gone on almost continuously for hours, broke forth afresh. One of the workmen, who was also, at any rate, in the opinion of his colleagues, something of a poet, stepped forward, and, "amidst roars of laughter and tremendous cheering," sang his thanks as follows:—

Well now we've got a railway, The truth to you I'll tell, To be opened in August, The people like it well; We've heard a deal of rumour O'er all the country wide, We'll never get a railway, The people can't provide.

Well now we have the carriages, For pleasure trips to ride; The Milford it shall run us, And Henry lad shall drive; There's also Jack the stoker, So handy and so free, He lives now at Llandiman, A buxom lad is he.

We have a first rate gentleman Who does very nigh us dwell, And he has got a partner, The people like him well; Look at the trucks my boys, Their names you'll plainly see; They've took another Railway, There's plenty of work for we.

Well now our gen'rous masters Do handsomely provide A store of meat and drink my boys, Come out and take a ride; For we are in our ribbons, And dress'd so neat and trim; Drink up my charming Sally, We'll fill it to the brim.

When these few days are over, The navvies they will part, And go back to their gangers With blithe and cheerful heart; And Jack he will be hooting, And getting drunk full soon; I wish there was a railway To be opened every moon.

And now I have to finish, And shall conclude my song; I hope and trust my good friends, I've stated nothing wrong; All you young men and maidens, That are so full of play, I hope you'll all take tickets On that most glorious day.

"When the song was concluded, Colonel Wynn purchased the first copy, for which the fortunate bard received a shilling. Several other gentlemen followed this example, and the poet must have regretted that his stock in trade was so limited.

"During the latter part of the proceedings, several had left the enclosure to join the merry dance, to the strains of the Welshpool Band, in the adjoining field. We cannot use the usual stock phrase of the penny-a-liner and say to 'trip it on the light fantastic toe,' for in several instances a pair of stalwart navvies might be seen in anything but dancing pumps kicking out most gloriously. In another part of the field, a party were deeply engaged in an exciting game of football. All was mirth and jollity. From the oldest to the youngest, the richest to the poorest, every one seemed to try to get as much enjoyment out of the evening as possible, and if there were any grumblers to be found at Messrs. Davies and Savin's monster picnic, the fault must have been with themselves.

"The same evening rejoicings were being kept up at Llanidloes. All the school children of the place were feasted in the tent. Mr. Whalley (the 'champion of the people's rights,' as the flag had it) was chaired through the town, and the evening was finished by a ball. And on the following day, several loaves of bread and gallons of porter were sent by Messrs. Davies and Savin to the poor people of Llandinam." Finally, a medal was struck in commemoration of the event, and presented to the workmen.

Thus, sixty-three years ago, did the community, already conscious of the momentous influence the steam engine was exerting upon the social and economic condition of the countryside, but yet to discover the not less remarkable potentialities of the electric or the petrol spark applied to the problems of transport, herald the birth of the infant Cambrian.


"We may perceive plenty of wrong turns taken at cross roads, time misused or wasted, gold taken for dross and dross for gold, manful effort mis-directed, facts misread, men misjudged. And yet those who have felt life no stage play, but a hard campaign with some lost battles, may still resist all spirit of general insurgence in the evening of their day."—VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN.

Though one or two earlier bubbles, blown by eager railway promoters, had burst almost as they left the bowl of the pipe, the issue of the prospectus of the Montgomeryshire Railways Company, in 1852, not unnaturally inspired new hope in the border counties of some extension of already projected lines in the locality. At Oswestry, in particular, there was a rapidly growing feeling that such a development was overdue, and they looked with eager eyes towards the possibility of forging a connecting link with the system growing up in the heart of Powysland. The Shrewsbury and Chester Railway, soon to become part of the Great Western, had opened its branch to the busy Shropshire market centre under the hills at the beginning of 1849,—the year which saw the birth of the Oswestry Market and of the "Oswestry Advertizer," which, in its earlier years, was to devote so many pages to the record of the making of the Cambrian. But beyond Oswestry travellers had to proceed by coach. The "Royal Oak," leaving the town daily at one o'clock, arrived at Newtown about five. Goods were carried by more ponderous road transport, and it is rather astonishing to recal that as late as 1853 dogs were employed as draught animals, and local records include the circumstance of the death of a "respected tradesman" by a fall from his horse, caused by the animal's "fright at one of the carts drawn by the dogs, which are much too often seen on the roads in this neighbourhood." Legislation was soon to prohibit this custom, and railways to make it unnecessary.

[Picture: Some early Chairmen: reading from top left to bottom, The late EARL VANE (afterwards Marquis Of Londonderry). Chairman of the Newtown and Machynlleth railway Co. and first Chairman of the Consolidated Cambrian Rys. Co., 1864-1884; The late MR. W. ORMSBY-GORE, First Chairman of the Oswestry and Newtown Railway Co.; The late SIR W. W. WYNN, BART., Second Chairman of the Oswestry and Newtown Railway Co.]

It was, then, in an Oswestry of very different social habits to those of to-day that, on June 23rd, 1853, the townspeople assembled at the call of the Mayor, Mr. William Hodges, to consider the question of a possible extension of the "Montgomeryshire Railway," in their direction, which was declared by resolution to be the "only scheme before Parliament capable of effecting this most desirable object."

But railways are not built by resolution alone, or the whole countryside would soon have become heavy with steam. As a matter of fact, it soon was, but not the sort of steam which drives locomotives or urges on the progress of practical railway construction. Ever since 1844, reliance had been placed in the possibility of assistance from one or both of the great lines which already had access to the Welsh border. Hope was first centred in the North Western, which had designs on a line from Shrewsbury into Montgomeryshire, but, in the Oswestry area, wistful eyes turned towards Paddington, and in propitiation of expected favours to come, four men with Great Western interests,—Mr. W. Ormsby-Gore, who became its first chairman; Sir Watkin, who later succeeded him in the chair; Col. Wynn, M.P., and Mr. Rowland James Venables,—were placed on the Oswestry and Newtown Board. The Earl of Powis, though a "North Westerner," was found to be not without ready desire to look at things all round. He was for a line to Shrewsbury, and also a line to Oswestry, but not to Oswestry alone. Even the line to Oswestry, according to North Western notions, was to be a branch either from Garthmyl or Criggion, according to whether the Shrewsbury and Montgomeryshire line went by the Rea Valley or by Alberbury, and that was not at all to Oswestrian taste. In the end, however, his lordship agreed to support the Oswestry project, and to take the value of his land,—some 10,000 pounds,—in shares, provided the possessor of Powis Castle was allowed to nominate a director, as the owner of Wynnstay was on the Great Western Board. The condition was readily granted, and the Oswestry and Newtown Bill, freed from North Western opposition, was allowed to pass. It obtained Royal Assent on June 26th, 1855, and the first general meeting was held at Welshpool on July 21st of that year.

Local rivalries, however, were not so easily dispelled. Welshpool's impartiality as between the Shrewsbury and the Oswestry lines was anathema at the latter town, where Mr. Whalley, speaking for nearly an hour and a half, readily persuaded a great meeting to register its insistence on the Oswestry scheme as an extension of the Llanidloes and Newtown, and so form another link in the chain that was to bind Manchester and Milford. Anyhow, Oswestry must be made "the initial town and not Newtown." In support of this the local promoters looked for substantial aid from the Great Western. But that company proved singularly unready to render any assistance. "Not only," said Mr. Abraham Howell, in giving evidence before Lord Stanley's Committee some years later, "did the Great Western not aid in the capital for the Oswestry, but they did not support the Shrewsbury. On the contrary they opposed it with all their efforts at every step. They also, by a manoeuvre which their position of power over the Oswestry Company and their railway experience enabled them to carry out, succeeded in separating the Shrewsbury from the main line, and causing it to drift into the hands of the North Western. They, on the day of, or immediately before the Wharncliffe meeting of the Oswestry Company, got their friends to pay into the bankers in respect of their shares, and give their proxies to the extent of the 0.25th in money, against the clauses in the Shrewsbury bill, by which it was intended to connect it with the Oswestry. By this means they cut off from the Welsh line their head and outlet at Shrewsbury, leaving them with the Oswestry head only, to which place they, the Great Western, alone had access, and therefore, under their exclusive power; a result which proved highly detrimental to the Oswestry and the Welshpool lines. During the five years from 1855 to 1859 the advantage given to the Great Western interest placed our company practically under their control."

Small wonder that public impatience began to show signs of strain. Cynical allusions appeared in the Press. "The only danger in making oneself liable for new schemes," wrote one captious critic, "arises from the possibility of their being proceeded with." Not even the "glorious news" of the fall of Sebastopol sufficed to deflect the local mind from the irritating habits of a dilatory directorate. After all, the Crimea was a long way off,—much further than Chirk,—to which place, the Great Western Company, on taking over the Shrewsbury and Chester line, had, under the profession of "revising" the fares, substantially raised them. This habit is one to which the community has become more accustomed in recent years, but that was a first experience of the ways of powerful monopolists, and it effectively emphasised the contention that it was high time "an independent" railway company, more directly under local control, should materialise.

Addresses were exchanged between Oswestry and Welshpool, much after the manner of diplomatic "Notes," some of them phrased in the spirited language which diplomats know so well how to cloak in conventional formulas. Occasionally even the conventional formulas were dispensed with. Questions concerning the legality of certain assemblies were pugnaciously raised and as pugnaciously answered. Four hours' somewhat heated discussion at an extraordinary meeting of shareholders at Welshpool carried matters no further than the decision that the first sod, when it was cut, should be of Montgomeryshire soil, "but whether," adds a critical commentator, "at Llanymynech, Welshpool or Newtown, no one knows." Fresh controversy arose concerning the secretaryship, to which office Mr. Princep had been appointed by Mr. Ormsby-Gore, after a very fleeting appearance on the kaleidoscopic scene of a Mr. Farmer, and the old rivalry of Great Western and North Western "interests" re-appeared in fresh form. The "Oswestry Advertizer," pointing the warning finger at the fate of another Welsh railway which, after 25,000 pounds out of a total capital of 400,000 pounds had been raised, found everything "swallowed up in the gulph of Chancery" under the winding-up Acts, proclaimed,—"We are almost afraid the Oswestry and Newtown is doomed to the same end." It certainly looked as if a true prophet was writing that dirge!

"It is hardly possible," says Mr. Howell, "to conceive a more deplorable state than that to which the company was reduced during this period of five years of Great-western regime. Every shilling that could be realized of the proceeds of a very superior share list was expended, debt was accumulated, every resource was exhausted; but comparatively little was done in the execution of the works; the company was involved in four chancery suits, of large proportions, and a law suit, and with other suits in prospect. It was necessary to provide 45,000 pounds in cash, towards relieving the chairman from a personal liability of 75,000 pounds, and to let free the action of the company from the chancery suits; also further sums to discharge the claims of the contractors and carry on the works." So moribund, indeed, did the whole affair seem, that the North Western, treating it as practically extinct, began to consider a scheme for converting the Shropshire Union Canal, already in their hands, as a railway to Newtown!

And here were the promoters of this ill-starred project fighting amongst themselves. One party was for keeping back the line from Oswestry till, as a newspaper writer put it, "a rival to Shrewsbury is brought into condition to do it damage." Another was for complicating it with other new schemes. One of the sternest of all controversies still raged round the moot point whether the line was to run from Oswestry to Newtown or from Newtown to Oswestry, and even private friends fell out as to the exact spot on the proposed route at which the actual work should begin! "Discord triumphs—local prejudice is rampart—personal ill-will abounds—as a necessary consequence no one will apply for the unappropriated shares. Dissolution alone is imminent," cries the distracted editor.

It was certainly becoming apparent that this was no time for further dallying. The Shrewsbury and Welshpool undertaking, it was reported, was enlisting "an amount of public interest and support seldom equalled in the history of railways," and early in 1856 the directors of the Oswestry and Newtown line found it expedient to assure the community that "preparations for letting the contract were in active progress" and the first sod was to be cut on April 11th. Alas for the optimism of eager pioneers and the credulity of an impatient public! April 11th came and proved nothing else than a slightly belated "All Fools Day"! No sod was cut. Not a spade or a barrow was visible, and the operation might, by all appearances be postponed till the Greek Kalends. Patience, already sorely tried, became utterly exhausted. In June the Shrewsbury and Welshpool Railway Bill was read a third time in the House of Commons, and thus the rival scheme loomed still larger upon the horizon. Men had yet to learn that railways could be co-operative as well as competitive.

But so fully, indeed, was the popular mind at that time obsessed with the rivalry of routes that a rumour was started imputing to the directors of the Oswestry and Newtown Company the intention of "disuniting the line between Oswestry and Welshpool." As if there were not disunion enough already! More genial humorists launched the story that the Prince of Wales was coming down expressly to cut the first sod and had ordered a new pair of "navvys" for the occasion to be made by a Welshpool bootmaker. Feeling, however, was rising again, which was not moderated by the apologia of the directorate suggestive that it was all due to differences between them and the engineers. The engineers themselves were more or less at variance, and, in April 1856, Mr. Barlow, the chief, finding it impossible to agree with his assistant, Mr. Piercy, resigned.

Matters had come to so critical a juncture that eventually, by some happy inspiration, a "committee of investigation" was appointed to examine "the affairs, position and financial state of the Company." The Rev. C. T. C. Luxmoore was elected to preside at this inquiry with Mr. Peploe Cartwright of Oswestry as his deputy, and they issued a voluminous report containing a series of recommendations, of which one of the most interesting is that, to reduce expenditure, the earthworks should be limited to a single line, "in all other respects making preparations for a double line." That, as travellers over the Cambrian to-day are aware, save for the length between Oswestry and Llanymynech, and between Buttington and Welshpool on the Oswestry and Newtown section, was eventually the course adopted. Bridges, including those over the Vyrnwy at Llanymynech, and the Severn at Pool Quay, were built with an extra span for a second pair of rails, but the girders still remain without further completion. The directors did not escape pointed reference to their "heavy responsibilities," but there was at least the "consolitary fact" that, despite enormous expenditure already incurred, "provided the arrears of deposit, calls and interest are paid up, a sum of 60,000 pounds over and above the Parliamentary deposit of 18,000 pounds invested in the hands of the Accountant-General, will be at once available for the works, an amount little short of sufficient to form half the line," and the shareholders are urged, "manfully confronting the difficulties that present themselves" to "merge all local jealousies and differences of opinion, in a hearty and unanimous effort to carry out the works."

It is a long and tortuous story and well may a journalist of those days, bemoan the perplexity of the local historian "when he turns over the files of the various newspapers, to see in one number the praises of certain gentlemen sung by admiring editors and enthusiastic correspondents, and in the next frantic outbursts from distracted shareholders against the devoted heads of the same gentlemen, who, but one short week before were the admired of all the shareholding admirers. One week he would find a noble lord wafted to the skies on the breath of a public meeting, but in the next 'the breath thus vainly spent' would blow his lordship up in a very different fashion, and those whose cheers had wafted my lord to that elevated position, would fain keep him there, so that sublunary affairs as far as regarded railways, would be out of his reach. Then he would find another gentleman on the directory, one day the idol and leading speaker of every meeting, called on the next a 'strife-engendering-judge,' and his place filled by another on the board. Presto! and this same gentleman, again turns up trumps! A professional gentleman is the pet of the whole company, but speedily a woe is pronounced upon lawyers. Again the wheel turns round, and the solicitor's great exertions and painstaking attention to the interests of the line are acknowledged." {34}

"Our historian would next discover 'much talkee' (as John Chinaman would say) anent a certain, or rather uncertain, 'blighting influence' which arrested the progress of some of the works, and to get to the bottom of which a 'committee of investigation' was appointed. He would open his eyes when he saw the revelations made by that committee, and would wonder how in the name of fortune—or misfortune—the shareholders could be such 'geese' (to apply a term used by one of the best directors the line ever had) as to allow affairs to go on as they had done. He would find that committee triumphant in the praises of the people, but snubbed by another committee who conducted the ceremony of cutting a first sod that would not have been cut this century but for them. When the investigation committee's work was ended (but not finished!) he would find rival claimants for honour:—Mr. Soandso here, Mr. Whatshisname there, and other gentlemen elsewhere discovering that they were the 'saviours of the line'—'unravellers of the mystery' while the line was yet in jeopardy, and the mystery as dark as Erebus. He would then go on to disputes with contractors and engineers, a law suit commenced here, and threatened there,—directors retiring, and shareholders well-nigh at their wits end. Lawyers are again at a 'Premium' and three are appointed to lay their heads together in order to make heads of agreement, for the guidance of new contractors, while the old ones, who the shareholders were afraid would sack the company, were themselves sacked!"

That, indeed, is the usual fate of those who attempt to follow dead controversies through their never-ending labyrinths. A sentimental historian has said that "the world is full of the odour of faded violets"; but, in looking back over these yellow pages of the past, the scent which greets us is sometimes hardly as fragrant; and were it not for purposes of comprehensive record, many of these acrid, but not unamusing, incidents might be decently left buried in oblivion. Happily, however, even the battle of the Oswestry and Newtown Railway was not eternal. The day dawned on which it was gleefully acclaimed that the directors had at length "caught the spirit of promptitude from the committee" and before long "it might be expected to see hundreds of navvies engaged in cutting up the earth." Storm clouds might re-gather later, as we shall see, but for the time being peace was restored.

Differences as to policy and even as to the site of the sod cutting were sufficiently composed by the summer of 1857 to admit of a start being made with the work of construction, and on Tuesday, August 4th, the initial ceremony, performed by Lady Williams Wynn, took place, in a field on the east side and adjoining the bowling green at Welshpool. The spot bears no mark to-day, as it might well do, but it may be mentioned that it is between the rails on the down line, as you enter Welshpool station from Buttington, just opposite the signal box. There were, needless to say, great public rejoicings. The long delay in getting to the actual stage of operations gave additional zest to the popular acclaim when that point had, at last, been really reached, and the proceedings were of the most effective and striking character. Crowds flocked in from all sides. Montgomery shared fully in the popular acclamation, and only Oswestry, among the interested towns, stood somewhat aloof. The question of "priority," apparently, still rankled, and "some misunderstanding" spoilt the effect of what was intended to be a general business holiday. "Only two or three shops were closed, while the others remained open as usual," and some of the more prominent Oswestry shareholders were conspicuous by their absence at the ceremony, at which no reference was made to the expediting influence of the "committee of investigation."

[Picture: Sod cutting ceremony of the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, at Welshpool, on August 4th, 1857]

But in Welshpool the streets were bright with bunting. At noon shops were closed in order that everyone might participate in the ceremonial. Bells pealed from the Church tower; cannon, "captured at Seringapatam by the great Lord Clive" were fired from Powys Castle, and a committee, headed by the Mayor (Mr. Owen, grandfather of Mr. Robert Owen of Broad Street), who had taken an active interest in the promotion of both the Oswestry and Shrewsbury lines, assisted by the Town Clerk, carried the day's programme through in triumph, which included the inevitable "procession."

A contemporary record may here supply us with the necessary details:—"The Procession began to form in the Powis Castle Park. After some little delay it proceeded towards the Bowling Green, in the following order:—

Two Marshals, on Horseback.

A body of the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry Cavalry dismounted.

The Band.

The Mayor and High Sheriff.

Aldermen and Town Councillors of the Borough of Welshpool.

The wheel-barrow to be used by Lady Williams Wynn, in performing the ceremony.

The Directors of the Company.

The Officials.

Shareholders and Well-wishers.

Band of the Royal Montgomeryshire Rifles.

School Children,—including the National School, Infant Girl and Boys' School and others.


The First Friendly Society.

Flags and Banners.

The Second Friendly Society.

Flags and Banners.

Third Friendly Society.

Flags and Banners.

Cambrian Friendly Society.

Flags and Banners.

A small body of the Royal Montgomeryshire Rifles.

"This possession extended to a very considerable length, and was followed by an immense concourse of pleasure-seekers and others who had come to the town for the purpose of witnessing the ceremony.

"The body of Yeomanry Cavalry were selected by Sergeant-Major Turner, as a body-guard for Lady Wynn during the ceremony, and being in full dress presented a very creditable appearance.


"At about one o'clock the procession arrived at the spot where the ceremony was to be performed. This, we have stated before, was on the east side of the Bowling Green, on the part of the mound on that side of the green facing the spot, seats were placed which were occupied by anxious and eager spectators.

"After the procession had been properly arranged around the spot, the ceremony was at once proceeded with," not the least impressive item in it being the solemn invocation by Archdeacon Clive that "God would bless the undertaking in the name of His Son Jesus Christ." The Mayor then presented Lady Wynn with a copy of the programme of the day's proceedings printed in gold letters on blue silk; Mrs. Owen of Glansevern read a learned address dipping deep in the classical history of transport, "the first sod was then cut by Lady Wynn, with the silver spade placed in the wheelbarrow provided by the contractor, and wheeled by her along the planks laid on the ground, in a very graceful manner. Her ladyship performed the ceremony amidst the deafening applause of the assembled multitude. Afterwards other ladies and gentlemen, including the directors, contractors, engineers, etc., went through the same ceremony, using a common wheelbarrow.

"The wheelbarrow, made of mahogany, was emblazoned with the seal of the company, while on the silver spade was engraved the following:—

"Presented to Lady Watkin Williams Wynn, by the Contractor of the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, on the occasion of turning the first sod, at Welchpool, on Tuesday, the 4th of August, 1857."

"Under the inscription was a copy of the seal of the company."

Subsequently a "cold collation" was provided in a tent on the Bowling Green; there was a prolific toasting of everybody, or nearly everybody concerned, and what was felt to be one of the most auspicious days in the annals of Powysland closed with rural sports and dancing. That night the shareholders dreamt of prodigious dividends.


"But a child, Yet in a go-cart. Patience; give it time There is a hand that guides.


It is easy to-day to smile at the optimism of our grand-fathers. We know now that railway dividends are not as readily earned in real life as they sometimes are in dreams which follow gorgeous banquets; but, in one respect, at any rate, the future of the Oswestry and Newtown undertaking appeared to justify jubilation. Axes had been, at any rate, temporarily buried; the advocates of rival routes had composed their differences and everything pointed to a rapid consummation of the scheme. As a matter of fact, little delay was experienced in getting to work with the actual construction. Before October opened gangs of labourers were busy on the track between Pant and Llandysilio. The original idea of a broad gauge line, similar to that adopted by Brunel on the Great Western's southern arm, had been abandoned in favour of what has since become the standard one for this country of 4ft. 8.5 ins. {40}

Nevertheless, it was no small undertaking. The Vyrnwy had to be crossed at Llanymynech and the Severn at Pool Quay and again near Buttington. The rest of the line was comparatively free from serious engineering problems, but fresh Parliamentary powers had to be obtained to construct a branch from Llynclys to the Porthywaen lime quarries, and even a little addition of this sort involved endless correspondence over details and other wearing worries. Difficulties of another sort, more formidable, began to appear. The Earl of Powis, whose influence counted for so much, expressing regret for certain differences which had arisen in relation to the policy of the Board, wrote to Sir Watkin resigning his seat, adding the warning note, "I think you should for your own sake watch somewhat jealously the proceedings with regard to the contract." Sir Watkin hastened to assure his lordship of the "grief and astonishment" which his withdrawal had occasioned his colleagues and to deprecate divisions at critical hours.

And it certainly was a critical hour. Money was urgently wanted, borrowing was barred until provisions of the Act were complied with, and though an attempt by Mr. Barlow to seek an injunction in Chancery failed after a hard struggle, the contract had to be dissolved in order to substitute an arrangement by which payment could be made by shares and debentures in lieu of cash. It was on this account that Messrs. Davidson and Oughterson, who had earlier succeeded Messrs. Thornton and McCormick, in turn gave place to the men who had already come to the rescue of the Newtown and Llanidloes undertaking.

The arrangements by which these early undertakings were "leased" to the contractors has been the subject of controversy among railway financial experts, but they were stoutly defended in a letter to the "Times" shortly after the completion of most of them by Mr. David Davies himself, who claimed that by this means "Wales had the benefit of something like 700 miles of railway which would not have been made for at least another century if we had waited for the localities to subscribe the necessary funds." In the present case, at any rate, Mr. Savin's efforts at financial re-establishment were the outcome of the suggestion of the North Western, warmly supported by the Great Western party, including the Chairman himself, who had become practically liable for 75,000 pounds, if the railway was not made and the company set upon a sound footing. To set free the powers of the Company no less than 45,000 pounds had to be paid down, no small task with subscriptions to the share list not easy to obtain. Yet, that Mr. Savin accomplished—and more. He bought up the existing contract, compromised and settled all existing claims and got rid of all liabilities. The rearrangement, however, took a great deal of time, and was later complicated by the dissolution of partnership between him and Mr. Davies, while the works were proceeding between Welshpool and Newtown. Not until July 26th, 1861, was it finally arranged that Mr. Savin should relinquish the lease, and work the line on an amended basis, under which he was to take the earnings, pay 4.75 per cent. to the Company, supplementing the earnings of the line by a draft upon the North Western, who granted rebates. {42}

[Picture: From left to right: The late MR. JOHN WARD, Mr. T. Savin's partner in the construction of several of the Cambrian Railways; The late MR. JOHN SAVIN, who assisted his brother in the construction of the Welsh Coast and other Railways]

Still, it considerably expedited construction. The works came into the new hands in October 1859, and so far as the chief portions of the undertaking went, progress became quite satisfactory. As is so often the case, in these affairs, it was an unexpected development over a detail that caused the greatest perturbation. Another difference arising on the board, this time regarding certain engagements entered into about the site of the station at Oswestry, Sir Watkin, who appears to have had certain misgivings as to the conduct of the business, being out-voted at a meeting of the directors, just before Mr. Savin came into possession of the works, in his turn left the room and a few days later sent in his resignation. He was replaced in the chair by Mr. David Pugh, M.P., of Llanerchyddol Hall, Welshpool, who continued to act in that capacity till, on his death in 1861, he was succeeded by Mr. Whalley.

On the line, however, the navvies went doggedly digging on, despite atrocious weather. By May 1st, 1860, the track was sufficiently complete from Oswestry to Pool Quay to be opened for traffic to that point, and advertisements began to appear announcing "cheap trains" for excursionists to the "far-famed and commanding heights of Llanymynech Hills." In the middle of the month a more venturesome journey was attempted and, by the grace of God, safely accomplished. The last link in the iron road had just been laid, a mile or two from Welshpool, and one fine evening, "shortly after six o'clock" (as a local journalist records) "the 'Montgomery' was attached to a number of trucks, with rough seats placed on them for the occasion. Every available space was filled by a number of Poolonians who were in waiting. The train then slowly proceeded along the beautiful valley of the Severn to the Cefn Junction {43} (that is to be) with the Shrewsbury and Welshpool line, where more trucks were attached, and a considerable addition to the passengers made. Soon Welshpool was reached, and the shrill whistle of the engine—for the first time heard in that beautiful locality—was all but overpowered by the cheers of the assembled people. The train was brought to a standstill on the very spot where, some years ago (we are afraid to say how many) the first sod was cut. Congratulations were passed, and crowds of the very old, and the very young, to whom an Engine heretofore had been a figment of imagination, gazed with wonder at 'The Montgomery' while their more travelled neighbours adjourned to the Bowling Green, where Mr. R. Owen made a short pithy speech. He very properly acknowledged the business-like activity of Messrs. Davies and Savin, to whom the public were so largely indebted for the arrival of a locomotive at Welshpool. Mr. Webb, on behalf of the contractors, suitably responded; and the proceedings were cut short by a warning whistle from the engine, on which sat Campbell, the locomotive superintendent, who very prudently wished to get back over the rough road before the shades of evening overtook them. The train then went off for Pool Quay at a smart pace, considering that the rails were unballasted, and with the trucks loaded with juveniles, many of whom perhaps had this day their first trip by railway. In Welshpool the bells rang out merry peals, and cannons were fired, and everything betokened the hilarity of the inhabitants."

What the Board of Trade would say nowadays to a heavily-ladened train of passengers being run at a "smart pace," or any other, over an "unballasted" road, can be left to the reader's imagination!

Anyhow, the line being finally finished off to the last nut and bolt, was soon approved of by the Government Inspector, Colonel Yolland; and everything was ready for the formal opening on Tuesday, August 14th. "The day (says a contemporary account) proved most auspicious. Early in the morning the weather was very dull, but before the middle of the day it cleared up, and turned out most bright and cheerful. At about a quarter to eleven o'clock the Mayor and Corporation of Welshpool met at the Town Hall, and from thence proceeded (headed by the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry Band) to the Railway Station by eleven, in time for the train that was to convey them, together with the directors, shareholders, and general public to Oswestry.

"As may be readily supposed, a monster train was required for this purpose, and an immense number of carriages were in readiness. After some delay, the passengers took their seats, and the train started for Oswestry. The Corporation were followed by the Montgomeryshire Militia Band, and the 2nd Montgomeryshire Rifle Volunteers, who proceeded to Oswestry by the same train.

"As the train proceeded on its course, and arrived at the various stations, it was hailed with the most enthusiastic greetings from those who assembled along the line as spectators on this occasion.

"The arrival of the train at Oswestry was made the signal for a general discharge of artillery, such as is customarily used on these occasions, and added to this was the discharge of a great number of fog-signals. The bells of the Old Church, too, rang out their merriest peals. At the Station an immense concourse of people had assembled, and the Welshpool Corporation was received by the Mayor and Corporation of Oswestry, who had been escorted to the Station by the Rifle Corps, headed by their band. The Pool Corporation received a hearty greeting from their civic brethren in Oswestry, and the Montgomeryshire Rifles formed in column opposite the Oswestry Corps, and each presented arms, when the Oswestry Band struck up "God save the Queen." They all then proceeded, in the following order, to the Powis Hall:—

Banner. Banner.

Band and Members of the Oswestry Rifle Corps.

Band and Members of the 2nd Montgomeryshire Rifle Corps.

Band of the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry.

The Mayor and Corporation of Welshpool.

The Mayor and Corporation of Oswestry.

Tradesmen, Shareholders, etc.

Drum and Fife Band.

Navvies, etc.

"At the Town Hall the Corporation had most hospitably provided for their refreshment. Punch and wine of the choicest and best descriptions were abundantly supplied, under the management of Mr. Atkins, and Mrs. Edwards, of the Queen's Head Hotel, Oswestry. The company present included the Oswestry Corporation, the Welshpool Corporation, the directors of the railway, the Second Montgomeryshire Volunteers, and the Oswestry Volunteers."

The special train then returned to Welshpool, where Mrs. Owen of Glansevern declared the line opened. Then the inevitable procession, and the not less inevitable "cold collation" and speech making, and dancing. Only one untoward incident marked the day. Owing to the crush to board the returning train from Oswestry, the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry and Montgomeryshire Militia bands got left behind, and the Oswestry Rifle Corps musicians, who had been more successful in the scramble, had to do all the blowing for their stranded comrades. But, it is recorded, they blew with triple vigour, as well they might!

Oswestry was now, at long last, connected with Montgomeryshire, but there were those who felt in no mood for rejoicing in that event. Among the residents of the Severn Valley were those who, like the redoubtable Mr. Weller "considered that the rail is unconstitootional and an inwader o' privileges." They solemnly shook their heads and deplored the doom of the mail-coach. What, they asked, was to become of Tustin? Tustin had driven the mail coach from Shrewsbury every morning, summer and winter, starting from the Post Office at 4 a.m., and covering the score of miles to Welshpool in about two hours. To see him and his fine horses arrive at the Royal Oak was a source of daily pride to Welshpolonians. "In the summer mornings," says a writer in the "Licensing Victualler's Gazette" in 1878, looking back upon those days, "there was always a number of people up to see the mail arrive, and the cordial and cheery welcome given to those passengers who alighted to partake of breakfast at the hotel, by the buxom and genial landlady, Mrs. Whitehall, was a thing to be remembered and talked about. She was the pink of what such a woman should be, and the fame of her cuisine reached very far beyond the county in which she lived." Later in the morning, the thirteen miles between Welshpool and Newtown were done in little more than an hour. But "the days of coaching were drawing to a close even in Wales; the iron horse was slowly to elbow one coach and then another off the road, putting them back as it were, nearer and nearer to the coast; until even Tustin and his famous Aberystwyth mail had to succumb. But they made a gallant fight of it, and died what we may call gamely." In recent years the coach, or its modern counterpart, the charabanc and motor bus, have come into something of their own again, and are providing, in turn, a new form of competition with the railways.

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