The Llangollen Railway's History

In The Beginning

Set up by enthusiasts in 1972 to preserve a standard gauge line in North Wales, the Flint and Deeside Railway Preservation Society looked at a number of lines in the area. The Prestatyn to Dyserth line, at the time still in use for freight, was the preferred choice. The Society's first locomotive, Austin 1, a 1934-built Kitson 0-6-0 saddle tank, was bought in April 1973. It had spent its life shunting at the Austin factory at Longbridge in Birmingham until it was 'retired' in 1971. It was delivered to the Nant Hall Hotel, Prestatyn, where it was envisaged that restoration work would be carried out to return it to working order.

By 1974, attention was turning to the Ruabon to Barmouth line, and more specifically the section starting from Llangollen and heading West. Passenger services on the line had finished on 18th January 1965, with freight on the Ruabon to Llangollen Goods Junction section hanging on until 1st April 1968, and the council had bought the land and stations from British Rail (as it was then) after closure. Initially support for the reopening was received from the council, but alternative uses for the site were proposed in the shape of an hotel or luxury flats. A bypass scheme also threatened to sever the trackbed ¾ of a mile West of Llangollen. However Clwyd Council's planning officer, Colin Jacobs, supported the Railway's plan, the hotel plans were turned down and the road scheme shelved, and the lease to the Railway was agreed by the various committees in 1975. The first lease was for three miles of trackbed for five years at a nominal rent, with the condition that a mile of track was to be laid within that time. Llangollen became the Society's base; from here the railway to Corwen could realistically be rebuilt, and, perhaps, back to Ruabon for a connection to the national network.

Meanwhile two further locomotives were donated by Courtauld's, one from their Greenfield works in 1974, no. 2084, a 1948 0-4-0 Peckett saddle tank which had been out of use for ten years, and a second from their Grimsby works soon afterwards. Restoration was rather optimistically expected to take a year or two and a few thousand pounds!

On 1st July 1975, the Society gained access to the site, and work could begin. The first section of track, 30 feet of rail, came from Courtaulds of Flint, and the chairs to mount it on had to be bought from a scrap merchant. The rails were cut to length with a hacksaw and the fishplate holes were drilled by hand! The first open day was held on 13th September 1975, by which time a further 30 feet of rail had been laid in the station, and over 1500 people turned out to witness the re-opening of the station to the public. The first locomotive had been delivered on site the previous weekend - a diminutive four-wheeled Fowler diesel shunter, later named Eliseg, which had spent its working life at Hawker Siddeley's Broughton aircraft factory. It was permanently loaned by De Havilland until it was finally donated to the Llangollen Railway Trust in the late 1990s. The first footplate ride took place on those 60 feet of rail with that engine! The Peckett from Courtauld's was delivered to Llangollen in October 1975.

The major problem, as with most restoration projects, was finance: waste paper collections, sponsored walks and so on were organised, but could only provide a small fraction of the income required. However, in 1976, Shell UK Oil Ltd came to the Society's rescue, with the donation of one and a half miles of track. The Stanlow oil refinery had been reorganised, and various sections of track became redundant. One of the conditions of the donation was that the Society had to remove the track, which was done with little other than muscle power and determination.

The Llangollen Railway Society was set up in 1977, and the old Flint and Deeside Railway Preservation Society was wound up, transferring all its assets to the new society. With the donation of track from Shell, tracklaying could begin in earnest.

The Llangollen Railway's History

The First Mile

The rolling stock collection was further enhanced in 1976 by the loan of another small diesel shunter, a 0-4-0 built in 1946 by John Fowler and co. (Leeds), from Burmah Oil at Ellesmere Port. The National Coal Board leased 1917-built Richboro, which had spent its working life at Ifton and Gresford collieries, the same year, and restoration work began in the yard. A GWR 'Toad' brake van was purchased from British Rail at around the same time, and the first passenger coach, a 1928 GWR full-brake number W5539, was delivered the same year. A number of redundant freight wagons were also received, including a tank wagon from Burmah, and a tube wagon from TI Chesterfield. Another diesel shunter, in the shape of a Hudswell Clarke from Cadbury's of Moreton, Wirral, arrived in 1977.

The track donated by Shell in 1976 was gradually recovered by hand, starting in mid 1976 and continuing over the next four years, and used to lay a running line in Llangollen station, extending Westwards towards Ffordd Junction. This donation by Shell undoubtedly got the Railway off the ground; without it, the Railway might never have been more than a pipedream.

Meanwhile, Austin 1, now renamed Burtonwood Brewer, had been restored to working order. Burtonwood Brewery sponsored the purchase and restoration of this engine, along with the fitting of vacuum brake gear to enable it to work passenger trains. Built in 1932 by Kitson and Son of Leeds, its working life was spent at Longbridge, where it was named Austin 1. First steamed in July 1976, it was later re-tubed. It moved under its own power for the first time in twelve years, after twelve months' restoration by volunteers at Llangollen.

Track was laid in the goods yard to contain the growing collection of rolling stock, and the former goods shed was reconnected to the Railway to enable it to be used as a loco shed. Tracklaying also continued Westwards, ending with a run-round loop being laid at Pentrefelin. In 1980 new leases for the trackbed were granted, as the condition of the original one had been met: a mile of track had been laid, although part of that was the connecting line into the yard. The first three miles were on a 20-year lease from Clwyd County Council and the remainder, to Corwen, on a 21-year lease from Glyndwr District Council.

On 16th July 1981, the Railway was inspected by the Railway Inspectorate and the first section of track was passed as fit for the use of passenger trains. The first passenger train for over 16 years left Llangollen on 26th July 1981, 700 passengers being carried on that day, and a total of 6,431 during the first operating season. Initially, the trains ran push-pull as far as Ffordd Junction, as there was no run-round loop at the far end of the line, something over ¼ of a mile away.

The Llangollen Railway's History

Onwards to Berwyn

The next major milestone was the extension of the Railway to the next station along the line, Berwyn, which is something over two miles West of Llangollen. Once again, donations of track materials enabled the extension to take place: British Nuclear Fuels Ltd donated 1500 concrete sleepers from their Windscale plant and track from Springfields; Graessers Salicyates Ltd of Sandycroft donated further materials.

A large obstacle to the extension to Berwyn was the Dee Bridge, which required approximately £30,000 worth of work to be done on it. Fortunately the local council came to the rescue with loans and grants enabling the work to be carried out in late 1984 by McTay Construction Ltd of Bromborough. A further grant was obtained, from the Wales Tourist Board, which helped with completion of the track and the refurbishment of Berwyn Station by a contractor.

The first passenger train to Berwyn in twenty years ran in October 1985, when the Railway's diesel railcar ran as part of the Transport Extravaganza that year. Due to platform work being unfinished, passengers could not alight, but this was remedied in time for our first Santa Specials, which were run in December 1985. Full passenger service began in March 1986, with the formal opening ceremony being performed on 13th June 1986 by the Society's president, His Grace The Duke of Westminster.

During the following two years, work concentrated on improving facilities along the running line. Pentrefelin yard had track laid for the storage of wagons and redundant stock; a connecting line was laid to the main yard, and a passing loop at Goods Junction was installed. The Railway's first fully operational signalbox was constructed at Goods Junction to facilitate two train running.

Transferred 12th October 2007 by John Rutter - email webmaster@llangollen-railway.co.uk

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Above: (left) Llangollen station in 1975, before work started, and (right) showing a busy scene in 1999. (Bill Shakespeare and John Joyce)

Above: (left) Fowler 0-4-0DM shunter Eliseg, the first vehicle to arrive on the line, stands on the first panel of track at Easter 1976. (Dave Burns)

(right) An Open Day later in 1976. Tracklaying is progressing along platform 1 in Llangollen Station. (LRS Archives)

Above: An overview of the station and yard area in 1979. In the centre, track is laid along platform 1 of the station; in the lower left corner, the goods shed (later the engine shed) and seed merchants' premises (later the machine shop and carriage shed) can be seen. (Bill Shakespeare)

Above: (left) Our first coach, a 1928 GWR brake. It had been delivered in an unusual fashion: by air! Two cranes hoisted the body over the station wall, lowering it onto its bogies. These had arrived separately and were waiting in the bay platform of Llangollen station, arrival being on 11th December 1976.

(right) Arrival of one of the ex-King's Cross suburbans by road. (both Bill Shakespeare)

Above: (left) Trial steaming of Burtonwood Brewer in 1979 in the bay platform at Llangollen after re-tubing. (Bill Shakespeare)

(right) Burtonwood Brewer takes water before its first triumphant run. (LRS archives)

Above: Berwyn station in 1975 (left) and 1978 (right), showing the overgrown trackbed. (Bill Shakespeare and Dave Southern)

Above: (left) Chairman Bill Shakespeare surveys the Dee Bridge, which represented a major hurdle in the reopening to Berwyn. (right) Tracklaying on the Dee Bridge during 1984. (LRS archives and Bill Shakespeare)

Above: (left) Clearing the trackbed in 1982. The vegetation has thickened noticeably since the photos above. (right) Berwyn station undergoing major repairs in 1985. (LRS archives and Pete Fisher)

Above: (left) 1988, and visiting Prairie 5541 steams off the Dee Bridge with a passenger train for Berwyn. Note the blue and grey mark 1 coach; at the time they could be purchased in ready-to-run condition for around £1500. (Dave Southern) (right) 1998, and Prairie 4141 steams past Berwyn with a demonstration freight during the Transport Extravaganza. (Mick Hollingworth)

Above: Laying track had to be done the hard way: manpower, literally! Very few hand tools were available, let alone mechanical assistance. Sleepers were taken to the railhead on a small trolley and manhandled into position. Rails were laid in a similar fashion before alignment. (Dave Burns and Ray Hughes)