Cuffley Industrial Heritage Society

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Whilst it is less than 15 miles long including its branches around the quarries, yet it has many claims to fame. It introduced the first steam locomotives on a narrow gauge railway  in 1863 and we still have both of them  (Princess and Prince).  Prince is almost certainly the world’s oldest locomotive still working on its original railway.


When in 1869 the first double-engine Little Wonder was introduced to increase train capacity, engineers, diplomats and  dignitaries from all over the world beat a path to Portmadoc to learn about this new technology.


Following the success of Little Wonder an improved engine was ordered from Avonside Engine Company and delivered in 1872. In 1877, the company decided that a third double-engine was required, and that it should be built “in-house” at Boston Lodge, only the boilers being constructed externally, by Adamsons . This engine became Merrdin Emrys now the oldest articulated steam locomotive in existence.

The Welsh Highland Railway

Whilst the route and history of the Festiniog Railway may be regarded as straight-forward, that of the WHR and its antecedents is the most convoluted you could imagine !


Once steam locomotives had been proven for narrow gauge use by the Festiniog Railway, many new schemes were developed.  One was the grandly titled “North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways” (NWNGR) which proposed no less than eight linked railways in the area between Caernarfon, Porthmadog and Betws-y-Coed, with links further east to Corwen.  Only a small section from Dinas to Rhyd Ddu and the mineral branch up to Moel Tryfan were ever constructed, starting in 1872. At the southern end of what became the WHR, the Croesor tramway had operated out of Porthmadog along the early Madocks embankment running north.  In 1901, The Portmadoc, Beddgelert & South Snowdon Rly. was proposed to use this and then branch off up the Aberglaslyn pass through Beddgelert, and along the Gwynant valley to Betws-y-Coed . This undertaking was to be electrically operated.  One of the few tangible results was construction of the Cwm Dyli power station.

The through route from Porthmadog to Dinas was finally completed in 1923 with support from central and local government, under new Acts of Parliament which created the WHR out of the previous companies.


However, the WHR went into receivership in 1927, succumbing to road competition and was finally closed in 1937. Some items of rolling stock were sold off at this time and then in 1941 all its track and other metal work was removed as scrap metal for the war effort. Formally though the Railway company and its rights of way still existed, and these are now vested in the revived WHR as a subsidiary of the Festiniog Railway.


The line is now open again from Caernarfon to Rhyd Ddu (thanks to Millennium grants), and for about one mile northwards from Porthmadog, with construction still proceeding from both ends to reconnect this wonderful railway.

(And that’s the simplest I can make it !!)

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2003 Page 3 of 7 Study tour case notes

Power Generation by Water

Early water power took the form of  water wheels to drive the mills – both woollen mills and slate mills.  We will see the huge wheel at the Welsh Slate museum.

 As this area of North Wales has no indigenous coal,  alternative power sources are  the more attractive. Use of water supplies (usually plentiful !!) to create electrical power started quite early.  Several Slate quarries and mines had their own equipment, and three commercial power stations were constructed in the early 20th century, all later taken into the CEGB.  The earliest was at Cwm Dyli on the southern flank of Snowdon began operation in 1906. Dolgarrog followed in 1907 in the Conwy valley, and Maentwrog in the vale of Ffestiniog in 1928.  All three used pelton wheels (see diagram on next page) – of which we will see an example at the Welsh Slate Museum.



RAF Museum (Cosford)

Over 80 aircraft are displayed in three fully heated wartime hangars on an active airfield. The collection spans nearly 90 years of both civil and military aviation history, and also includes missiles, aero-engines,  armaments and road vehicles.


Chirk:  Ellesmere Canal aqueduct, adjacent railway viaduct, and canal tunnel

As we turn off the present A5 onto  the  B5020 to Chirk, we are on the beginning  of Telford’s Holyhead Road. We pass alongside the Ellesmere canal,  and to the left we get a beautiful view of the aqueduct with the higher viaduct immediately behind it.

The aqueduct at Chirk is 710 ft long overall.  Construction started in 1796 and was completed in 1801.  It carries the canal 70 ft above the River Ceiriog. Although apparently a masonry structure, Telford used cast-iron plates to form the bed of the 5ft. deep channel, thereby reducing the depth of masonry, and hence the weight, above the piers.

The adjacent canal tunnel is 459 yards. long, and is unusual in having a towpath throughout its length obviating the need for “legging” the boats through. The portals are flared, making the bore look larger than is actually the case

Alongside the aqueduct, the viaduct for the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway was originally laminated timber, but replaced in by the existing brick and stone structure in 1859.

Telford’s Route to Holyhead (aka A5)

As we leave Chirk and rejoin the A5, we find ourselves for the next 20 miles on a road which is still substantially of Telford’s creation. Given the rugged nature  of the landscape, it is notable for a gentle grades, well suited for the mail-coaches of the late-18th / early-19th century.

Note the toll-house on the left as we enter Llangollen. We’ll see another on Anglesey.

2004 Study tour case notes

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