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Sunday, 30 November 2014

What's Left of the Mumbles Railway?

(Main article first published in the South Wales Evening Post, 'Back on the Tracks' supplement,  Saturday 21 February 2004 and in edited form in the main paper, Monday 15th March, 2004.)

The Mumbles Railway was incorporated as the Oystermouth Tramroad, which began operating in 1806 and became the World’s first passenger-carrying line when a contractor was permitted to run a horse-drawn coach a year later.
The Oystermouth Tramroad, of course, eventually became the Swansea & Mumbles Railway which closed at the beginning of 1960 amongst much wailing and gnashing of teeth - sporadic outbursts of which continue to this day. 
Electrification of the Mumbles Railway took place in March, 1929.
 It is believed that this photograph was taken on the first day.
If one considers the emotions which are stimulated in Swansea by mention of the words “Mumbles” and “Railway” in the same sentence, it is perhaps surprising that so little of it has been preserved, particularly in comparison with similar situations elsewhere in the UK.
In January 1960, however, the transport preservation movement which has given rise to splendid organisations such as the Severn Valley Railway and the National Tramway Museum, was still very much in its infancy. And Richard Beeching was still eighteen months away from being appointed Chairman of the British Railways Board; abandoned railways were a relatively unusual concept.
Contemporary press cuttings confirm that there was very little interest locally in preserving anything substantial, not even by local museums. One of the electric cars eventually found a short-lived home at a fledgling preservation site in Leeds, but it was only relatively minor items which gravitated to local museums and, inevitably, to private collections.
Retired: Three gents contemplating the downward path of civilisation 
since the Mumbles Railway closed. 
(Swansea Museum, 22nd January 2006).
Those items which have survived now take on greater significance and a convenient place to start tracking down relics of the line is Swansea Museum. Exhibits include the end section of electric railcar no.7 which was operated the last service all those years ago and which later was left abandoned for over a decade at the rear of Swansea’s Royal Institution. Thankfully, it is now in excellent condition and can be seen daily in its proper context as the last surviving part of a fleet of thirteen similar vehicles.
The 1954-built replica horse car at Rutland Street depot. 
The car is now housed in the annexe of Swansea Museum.
Also at Swansea Museum is a replica of the first passenger vehicle of 1807. This yellow and black horse-drawn coach is itself of some vintage, having been constructed in 1954 as part of the railway’s 150th anniversary celebration. It was built at South Wales Transport’s Ravenhill depot and the underframe was part of a Hardy four-wheel petrol locomotive purchased in 1929 to shunt the electric cars at Rutland Street depot. The museum also has a number of smaller exhibits, such as a pantograph current collector, tickets, signs and photographs.

Older readers will be aware that the start of the Mumbles Railway’s route to the pier was from Rutland Street Terminus, alongside what is nowadays Swansea Leisure Centre. This fact is commemorated by a plaque on the seaward pillar supporting Oystermouth Road footbridge. The depot was on the site now occupied by St. Davids multi storey car park. 

In its heyday - 
the Mumbles Railway as it will be remembered;
 a line up of cars at Rutland Street depot.
From Rutland Street to St. Helens, the central reservation of the Oystermouth Road dual carriageway marks approximately the position of the railway with the only remaining structure being the short underpass opposite the Tesco store through which once ran the lines connecting the Mumbles Railway to the South Dock rail network. 
At St. Helens (the ‘Slip’) the Bay View pub - itself a landmark of some history - for a while acknowledged the railway in its overhanging sign. The Mumbles Railway formerly along what is now centre of the road here, with the LMS Victoria to Pontarddulais line between it and the beach.
A remnant of the railway can be found here on the landward side of the road where two old electricity control boxes exist alongside the footbridge. One bears the legend ’SWT Co. Ltd.’ and was once part of the power system of the railway.
There is little to be found between here and Blackpill, the trackbed having been totally consumed beneath the roadway until that point. It is worth mentioning, however, that Swansea University Library houses SWT and tramway minute books which give a significant insight into the operation of the railway. Included in the collection is a cash book from the very early days of the Oystermouth Tramroad.
On the approach to Blackpill, those with sufficient motivation to go exploring in the undergrowth alongside the service station will find evidence of the Clyne Valley tramway, formerly a branch off the Mumbles Railway and used to extract minerals from the Rhydydefaid area.

Electric car 11 at Blackpill during the final years of the railway 
with the electricity sub-station that converted power for use on the line.

Blackpill today, with the substation now converted to 'The Junction' cafe.
 After many years as a storage unit, the one time Blackpill substation now has found use as the commendable ‘Junction’ cafĂ©. This largely red brick building was constructed in 1927 and formerly converted power to 600 volts DC for supply to the railway’s overhead wires. The concrete ‘Blackpill’ name above the canopy still exists and from a distance on the seaward side the remains of wartime camouflage paint can just be made out.
The greatest legacy of the Mumbles Railway is the footpath-come-cycleway between Blackpill and Mumbles which is one of the finest short walks anywhere in the UK. Sharp-eyed walkers will spot evidence of the occasional traction pole footing in the sea wall. The traction poles were use to support the overhead wires, or catenary.
The whole raison d’etre of the Mumbles Railway was to collect the products of mining in the Mumbles area. There is ample evidence of quarrying to the rear of the guest houses on the approach to Oystermouth and, later, in the cliffs between Southend and Mumbles Pier. The remains of wooden sleepers dating back to steam days can be found in the grassy bank at the rear of the present Oystermouth bus shelter.

Car 3 departing from Oystermouth with 
the wooden station building much in evidence. 
The railway connected with bus services to and from Newton,
 Caswell and Langland at this point.
The present scene at the same spot as the previous picture. 
Note the two remaining traction poles and the last vestige 
of the station building.

The wooden building at Oystermouth car park is the last vestige of the station structure. One hears a lot about bus-rail interchanges these days, but prior to 1960 we had an excellent example here at Oystermouth with a spinal light rail route feeding into local bus services! Also nearby are two white traction poles dating back to the 1920s.
Approximately opposite the former station building is a plinth bearing a plaque commemorating the various stages in the Mumbles Railway’s history. The same story is told by a stained glass window unveiled in March 1982 at All Saints Church, Oystermouth.
Beyond Oystermouth most of the trackbed is still identifiable, although developments at Knab Rock have obliterated part of it. Incidentally, between Oystermouth and Southend a considerable amount of land was reclaimed from the sea when the railway was built and so the small park at this point is yet another legacy of the railway. At Southend, where the footpath widens, is the location of the former Southend Station. 

Car 9 leads a twin set at the Pier terminus. 
Note the section of rail acting as a marker for drivers.
The same spot today. 
The traction poles remain in situ, now acting as lamp posts!
On the approach to Mumbles Pier the former trackbed passes through a short cutting and ceases just before reaching the Pier Restaurant and the terminus of the railway. Many of the lamp standards at this point are former traction poles from the railway and the Pier itself, opened in 1898, once was owned by the same company.
One of the boundary markers situated in the roadway at  Mumbles Hill.
The final relics of the line can be found at the top of Mumbles Hill, the steep climb which leads from the Pier towards Bracelet Bay. At the top of the hill on the pavement is a small marker bearing the initials SWT which indicated the limit of the land owned by the company in railway days.
Car no.2 abandoned at the Middleton Railway, Leeds in about 1966. RIP.
As with all railways, total obliteration following closure is a process which can take many years and there is still plenty of evidence of the Mumbles Railway’s existence. One suspects that a great number of relics of the Mumbles Railway also survive in private collections; indeed, some emerge at auctions from time to time. Although they are not of any great monetary value, the surviving artefacts still remind us of a once very popular railway which continues to stimulate animated discussion whenever the subject is raised.
Cover of a 36-page souvenir 
brochure issued in 1928
 to mark the electrification
 of the railway.
1932 timetable and fares.
1932 fare table showing 
through ticketing arrangements
 between local bus services
 and season ticket rates. 
Summer 1947 timetable.

Cover of a timetable supplement 
issued in 1960 detailing revised
 bus services as a consequence 
of the line's closure.
Poster issued by the 
Light Railway Transport League 
during their campaign to 
prevent the line's closure.
1930s Bell Punch
 style ticket, for a 
child rate 3d. fare.

1930s 1/- Bell Punch 
style ticket for a return
 journey between 
Rutland Street 
and Mumbles Pier.
Integrated transport! 
Exchange ticket for
 through journeys between
 Craddock Street 
and St. Helens.
Bell Punch 'Bellgraphic' style ticket.
 Journey and fare details were 
handwritten by the conductor 
and details stored on a counterfoil 
ticket roll which was stored inside
 the ticket machine for auditing.
Destination blind from a Swansea 
& Mumbles electric railcar. 
This in fact is one of the smaller 
side displays which were seldom 
used in later years.
Enamel notice listing principal stopping points.
These were fixed to the electric cars
 on the rear of the drivers cab,
 at the foot of each stairway
 - one at each end of the car.
Adult (1/-) 150th Anniversary 
souvenir ticket issued in 1954.
Child (6d) 150th Anniversary 
souvenir ticket issued in 1954.
Cover of a commemorative brochure
 issued in 1954 to mark the 150th Anniversary of the railway.
Child (10d) souvenir ticket 
of 1960 issued in connection 
with the closure of the railway.

Adult (1/8) souvenir ticket 
of 1960 issued in connection 
with the closure of the railway.
Cover of a commemorative brochure 
issued in 1960 to mark the closure 
of the railway.

Notice placed on buses 
and trains advising travellers 
 of changes to bus services as a consequence of the closure 
of the railway on 5th January 1960. 
The morning 'peak' flow into 
Swansea was operated 
by the railway, with buses taking 
over from approximately 10.00am.
An incredible survival is
 this signwritten notice from the office
 at Rutland Street. 
It was recovered after the 
railway closed and was being 
 used for mixing cement! 
(Courtesy C. Riddle).
A set of steps from one of the electric cars
which was offered for sale online in 2007.


  1. In 1960 as a student I helped dismantle Mumbles Railway car no 2. The top deck was unbolted and winched up under the old railway bridge near the MR depot. The lower deck was then lifted off the bogies using the original service jacks from the depot and the parts were loaded onto low loader rail waggons for its ill fated journey to Middleton. Photos and, I think, a film were made but I have never seen anything reproduced. Does any material survive from this exercise? Maybe the Swansea Evening Post archines have something. Dick Weekes

  2. Locally, the word 'Cutting' can be confused with the narrow road cut through the rock by 1888, which is only yards away from the line of the railway, but at a much higher level, This narrow road was completed ten years before the Railway was extended to the Pier and was widened later.

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