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Completing the Railway

Those little bits which got done later

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

Most railways were pretty much complete when they wrote to the Board of Trade, the main railway regulator and safety authority of the time, and asked for an inspection. Not the WVR. After opening it spent the next four years communicating with the Board of Trade requesting extensions for various things which it was supposed to have built before it opened. These are detailed in a nice fat bundle of letters, compiled by the Board of Trade and now to be found in the Public Record Office.

At the end of April 1876 the Engineer, S.H. Yockney, wrote to the Board of Trade from his offices in Wye Cottages, Tidenham. He wanted to inform the Board that the railway was now nearly ready for inspection. Some months later the Company got around to providing the requested paperwork for the line. On the 22nd of September it reported that the railway should be ready for inspection from the 27th and wanted a precise date for the Inspector's visit. The Inspector visited on the 30th of September and wrote his report. This suggested some tweaks (which are illegible) and said that the railway could open in a month or so.

A few small points of interest crop up in the report. The railway was single track but bridges were wide enough for double track. Enough land had also been purchased for the second line, although it is again often not clear how this second line would have fitted in. A second line was eventually laid over the ¼-mile north of Tidenham station for the use of Dayhouse Quarry, but this step was not taken until 1981. A loop was provided in the 1930s for Tintern Quarry and this presumably took advantage of some of this extra room.

Details are provided explaining what structures the railway had built. The largest were the two viaducts (Tintern and Penallt) and two tunnels (Tintern and Tidenham). There were four stations, at Tidenham, Tintern, Bigsweir and Redbrook. The line was 14 miles long with the sharpest curve at 12 chains and the steepest gradient at 1-in-66. Aside from the two overbridges, there were 14 underbridges and two authorised level crossings (Bigsweir and Whitebrook). This last is important, as there was also one unauthorised level crossing on the Bishton lane between Tidenham station and Tidenham Tunnel, which the Railway was instructed to replace with a third overbridge as soon as possible.

The Railway answered on the 16th of October with a letter explaining that most of the alterations were now complete, although there was no crossing keeper's house at Whitebrook and no bridge at Bishton. The Board of Trade asked for details of the Railway's terminal stations. The Railway said that it didn't have any (it ended at junctions at both ends and while Monmouth Troy was essentially the northern terminus the WVR's metals ended a mile short of this station). It then followed this up with another letter asking for the Board of Trade for a copy of their last letter because they had neglected to take one.

The Great Western Railway began operating the new line at the beginning of November 1876, but rapidly drew the WVR's attention to another omission. One of the issues raised with the neighbouring Ross and Monmouth Railway when it opened had been that it did not have a turntable at its Monmouth terminus. Turntables are used to turn locomotives around so that they are facing back the way that they came - three point turns are difficult with 40foot locomotives. While little tank engines can run in either direction equally well, larger steam locomotives tend to have a tender behind carrying the coal and water, while the main body merely burns the coal to boil the water, creating steam to power the train. This allows the main body of the locomotive to be bigger and more powerful without being too heavy. However, the weight and size of the tender means that locomotives with tenders are rarely allowed to push them, since the crew can't see so well and the loco is less stable at speed, so a turntable is used to allow the locomotive to be turned and go back down the line with its tender behind. Speed was not really an issue on the Wye Valley lines and only one tender engine ever worked to Monmouth (for Charles Stuart Rolls's funeral; there is no reason why any others should have wanted to) but the Great Western had signed up to an agreement that said that the Wye Valley Railway should provide turntables at Monmouth and Chepstow, just in case the Great Western ever wanted to send a tender engine that way.

The former goods yard at Monmouth Troy station in 2005. The turntable would probably have been on the right. In the absence of a turntable the station never saw tender engines.

Tank engines - like this Great Western 1400 class - were preferred traction for rural branch lines. This one now lives a few miles from Monmouth in the depths of the Dean Forest.

Tender engines tend to be much larger than tank engines and former London and North Eastern Railway A3 class No.4472 is possibly the most famous example of the genre.

Although rather more than 42 feet long, Didcot's turntable is one of the few remaining in the country. Most preserved railways do not have one and their tender engines run tender first half the time.

Enter 1877 and on the 16th of January the WVR wrote to the Board of Trade to explain that it had organised groundwork for turntables at Monmouth and Chepstow but was not going to be completed by the due date. It wanted some more time. The Board of Trade duly consented to this 6 days later.

On the 14th of March the Great Western wrote to the Board of Trade laying out the situation and explaining that, while they waited for the turntables to appear, tank engines were being supplied. The Board of Trade duly wrote to the WVR and asked for an update. The WVR took quite a while to organise this update but eventually explained on the 20th of April that the Chepstow turntable had been delivered and was ready to be installed. The Monmouth turntable had been put together and was now awaiting delivery. It was a 42foot turntable, quite short by turntable standards (about 12 metres or four Mini cars long) but quite large when compared with Monmouth goods yard. Therefore some more land was needed. The WVR had apparently sorted out a piece of land and asked the Duke of Beaufort for it. The Duke had requested that money owed to him by the railways (the WVR inferred that it was owed by the other railways) should be repaid first. The Great Western had apparently declined but the WVR had settled some kind of deal and the turntable would be ready shortly.

The Chepstow turntable was commissioned on the 30th of April 1877. It was located at the south-western end of the Chepstow station site and was probably 42foot long. In the absence of any rows over it, details in the letters were able to remain sketchy. Meanwhile the next letter, on the 24th of May, concerns the completion of the gatekeeper's lodge at Whitebrook, which the Board of Trade promised to inspect as soon as possible.

Monmouth's turntable was once again an issue for those involved towards the end of June when the Great Western reminded the Board of Trade of the situation. The Board of Trade asked the WVR for another update. A holding letter with flowery heading (Wye Valley Railway Co of 53 King William Street) acknowleged receipt nearly a month later. The final letter was sent on the 31st of July explaining that the Duke was still being difficult and requesting another extension. This was granted and the Wye Valley Railway reminded that it should move over to tender engines once thet turntable had been installed.

The next extension request, on the 23rd of October, was for another six months in which to build a bridge for Bishton Lane to cross the railway. The Board of Trade did not sound very happy, but the request was granted.

The 17th of November saw the WVR send another letter to the Board of Trade apologising for the ongoing delays to their turntable but explaining that it was because the Duke's solicitors wouldn't co-operate. The Board of Trade decided to write to the solicitor directly and explained to him that the turntable was essential for public safety. They seemed to be somewhat surprised when the solicitor said that this was the first he'd heard of the matter for six months, when he had received a distinctly unforthcoming letter from the railway's engineer S.H. Yockney saying that the Railway was thinking about it. As far as the solicitor was concerned the matter was over. He included copies of the letters. The next letter the WVR received from the Board was one which hoped that the Directors would explain matters at the earliest possible opportunity.

The WVR's solicitors, in their reply two weeks later, blamed the Duke's solicitor. They said that he had rejected their offers and demanded £5 for the land, with threats of insisting on a professional valuation if they didn't pay. It was suggested that they could ignore Baker but not get the turntable or accept his demands but have to spend far more than planned on the turntable. It was felt that all corresponding with Baker did was cost the railway money. The Board of Trade just gave the Railway another extension.

Chepstow's turntable was installed in 1877 and lasted about 40 years. The site has now been demolished - in the 1910s the line to the docks was run through it, and though that has long since gone too there is little evidence of its existence.

Whitebrook crossing keeper's house has been extensively extended since its construction. It is seen here at the age of 122, with the crossing to the right and various additions on the back and this side.

The railway's initial headquarters were in 53 King William Street at the north end of London Bridge. The current building on this site is the right age but rather large - presumably it was shared.

After a period in Chepstow the railway returned to London at 110 Canon Street, which, just down the road from Halifax and opposite McDonalds, has changed a bit over the ensuing years.

Bishton Bridge was finished and ready for inspection by July 23rd 1878 after nearly six months of silence. Six days later another letter from the WVR sounded suspiciously as though it wanted the Board of Trade to grant them compulsory purchase powers if they couldn't have another extension on their turntable. They got another extension. On the 31st of August the Board of Trade approved Bishton Bridge for general use and the number of issues for the WVR to solve slumped to 1 as Bishton level crossing was removed.

The 20th of September 1878 saw the GWR acknowledge the further extension and emphasise that they were under no obligations as to how they chose to work the railway (which probably translates as saying that they could continue to use tank engines indefinitely). The Board of Trade passed this information on to the WVR, hoping that no more extensions would be needed.

Come 1879 and it was not until the 7th of February that the Board heard from the WVR again. It was having more problems with its turntable. The Duke had finally sold the land - but not to them (a name is provided but it is illegible). This someone else appeared to be putting a siding on it. With the loss of the preferred location, the WVR wanted another extension. As a PS, they added that the Board might want to note that the Company had moved to Chepstow. This was noted and a three-month extension granted.

Following this extension the WVR wrote again on July 14th asking for another extension while they sought Parliamentary powers for their turntable. Parliament had gone into recess for the summer so the WVR had until October to organise this Bill; the extension was granted on the basis that it would be submitted as soon as possible. Until then tank engines would continue.

No further mention is made for a year and the next time the railway crops up is 53 weeks later. The Company wrote to the Board of Trade to explain that it had entered receivership and therefore had no money at all. It wanted to know if the turntable was really all that essential. After all, tank engines were being used without issue. The Board thought about it and on the 4th of August 1880 delivered judgement. No turntable would be required.

A final Great Western letter just under four years later settled the matter; there was a turntable at Chepstow but not at Monmouth so the branch continued to be worked by tank engines. The Great Western hoped the Board of Trade was satisfied. As it never commented further, one may assume that it was.

So came to an end the saga of the Monmouth turntable. It disappeared and was never heard of again. Presumably some railway somewhere obtained a second-hand, never used 42foot turntable in late 1880 once it had been deemed unneccessary, although it may have been broken up on site (if it ever existed). The Chepstow turntable had gone by 1920. Tender engines, as mentioned above, never ventured to Monmouth on regular services, which was only served by the lighter tank engines and the Great Western's diesel railcar fleet. There are no records that diesel locomotives, which almost completely eliminated turntables in the 1960s due to most designs having good visibility from cabs at both ends, ever visited Troy station.

The crossing-keeper's house at Whitebrook is now a well-maintained private residence. The three overbridges across the Wye Valley line are still standing today. The arch at Netherhope is in good condition. Just east of Wye Valley Junction a girder bridge carries an access road from a farm across the main and branch lines into a field; years of light use mean it is still in good condition. Heavier use of the younger Bishton Bridge means that its condition was probably a reason for the closure of the line between Tidenham and Tintern Quarry. Constructed across a section of the railway which is in one of those very shallow cuttings which seem to be there purely for tax reasons, it is now excitingly (and probably uniquely) held up by big metal supports which block the running line. For some time its current owners, Sustrans, were of the opinion that it should be demolished and replaced with a level crossing for their new cycleway.

One feels that if the Engineer, S.H. Yockney, had known about this threatened doom for his final Wye Valley Railway structure in 1877 he would almost certainly have used it as a reason for not building the bridge to begin with.

The remains of Bishton Bridge in January 2009. It was built for double track. The single running line passes under the left side of the bridge under the four girders and their supports.

Small diesels like this one, seen in 2006 at Parkend, took over the remaining Great Western branch line freight traffic in the 1960s. Few such locos or branch lines survived beyond 1970.

 

Larger diesels finished off turntables and tender engines in the 1960s but very few of the pioneering designs - such as this 138ton 'Peak' - remain in traffic.

 

A cycleway is now deemed to be the future for the WVR; it is progressing almost as well as Monmouth's turntable. This vehicle was stolen from under the watchful eye of a CCTV camera in 2008.

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Last modified 16/03/11

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