Pant y dwr on the Map
The Mid Wales Railway lasted almost 100 years. It literally put Pant y dwr on the map. The section through St Harmon parish was the most expensive and technically challenging part of the whole construction. Between Tylwch Station and Marteg Bridge Halt there were eight river crossings, a 372 yard tunnel at Gilfach, rock cuttings at Tylwch and numerous road crossings. The summit of the line was at 974 feet above sea level and the station and sidings built here were named PANTYDWR, after the village shop. A quick and cheap method of bridge building was employed, with the result that the size of engine on the line was limited. The average speed of the trains was 24 mph. Freight traffic was always more important than the passenger business.
The World Comes to Pant y dwr
The line never made much money and had four different owners over its lifetime. The railway was built in 1864 to connect the industries of south Wales with the north of England and to provide rail links between north and south Wales and the rural centres in between. Locally it enabled the shop at Pant y dwr to grow into a thriving business, it served the lead mines and the woollen mill at Tylwch and opened up the rest of the world to local people. The station at St Harmon was built in 1879, with part funding from the parish and was later downgraded into a halt in 1936. Halts were also introduced at Glan yr avon in1928 and Marteg Bridge in 1931.
Sarah the Gate
The line was served by three trains per day in each direction, Monday to Saturday, and one train on Sundays. This increased to four trains per day after World War 1. The first summer service between Cardiff and Aberystwyth, via the Mid Wales line, ran in 1880. Most services terminated at the Moat Lane Junction, near Caersws, for connection to the rest of the rail network. By 1901 there were 12 people in the parish working for the railway – two Station Masters, eight platelayers and a clerk and a porter at Pant y dwr. One of the longest serving employees was Sarah Hughes, who married Evan Jones, the Builder. She began work at the age of 14 and her headstone in St Garmon churchyard records that she worked at St Harmon Station for 36 years, as Gatekeeper and Station Mistress, until her death in 1901. In the 1890s the railway received a boost from the construction of the Elan Valley dams. In 1894 the waterworks company built their own line from a junction just south of Rhayader, bought their own engines and the link continued for the next 25 years.
A Holiday Catastrophe
On Saturday 16 September 1899 at Tylwch an excursion train to Manchester collided with the morning mail from Llanidloes, causing the death of 27 year old Maggie Rowlands of Bryncenarth and injuring nine others. It was raining. The signals were against the excursion train as it came round the bend approaching the station. The mail train was stationary at the platform. Apparently there was brake failure on the excursion train and the Inquest on Maggie Rowlands, held the following Tuesday in the Ladies Waiting Room at Pant y dwr, recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Two World Wars
During World War 1 the passenger trains and normal goods traffic was halted to allow for the ‘Jellico Specials’ traffic – intensive day and night movements of coal from the Welsh mines to Scapa Flow for the Royal navy ships. Elsewhere the movements of coal tended to conflict with troop and munitions trains so the use of the Mid Wales line provided a valuable resource for the war effort. The line became busy again during World War 2, carrying raw materials and troops. After the war the railway entered a period of decline. After St Harmon Station was downgraded in1936, Tylwch Station followed in 1939 and the Station Master at Pant y dwr Station was now part time (Robert Llewellyn Sharp was also the innkeeper at the Mid Wales Inn). According to local author, Monty Williams, in this period the trains travelled more leisurely. During summer months goods trains would stop opposite Allt Goch Farm, St Harmon or Cnych Farm, Pant y dwr for the crew to gather mushrooms in the adjoining fields. When a couple were married it was customary to give a tip to the engine driver for him to blow his whistle in congratulations, especially if the couple were on the train.
The worst winter for decades occurredin the early months of 1947. In March a train between Llanidloes and Rhayader became blocked by snowdrifts. A relief engine was sent out from Llanidloes,which itself became stuck in a snowdrift. So a third train was sent and that too became stranded near Pant y dwr Station. The three engines and 20 passengers were snowbound until they eventually got through the following midday.
John Jones Outlives the Railway
The whole of the Mid Wales line became a victim of the ‘Beeching’ cuts in 1962. The British Transport Commission was charged with the task of making the railways profitable and, despite much spirited local opposition, the Commission said that the Mid Wales line, along with three other lines, came into the ‘hopeless’ category and that nothing could be done to make these lines profitable. The last scheduled service took place, in freezing weather, on 29 December 1962 and one special passenger was 102 year old John Jones, originally from Gifachwen, who as a four-year-old child had been taken by his mother to see the first train to pass through Panty dwr in 1864. The very last train was a Stephenson Locomotive Society special excursion, Shrewsbury to Brecon and back, on 30 December 1962.
More than 50 years has passed since then and, if you know where to look, you can find a few remnants of the line. Virtually all of the former railway land has reverted to its original use as pasture and woodland. All three stations have been converted into houses. A couple of bridges carry minor public roads and other bridges have been retained for farm access. The impressive skew-arched bridge over the River Marteg at Gilfach is fenced off as a precaution because of fears about its condition. Two houses and a community centre have been built on the track bed at Pant y dwr. The remains of platelayer’s huts are still evident and in many farm yards you can find old goods waggons, mostly at advanced stages of decay, once used for storing winter feed. The tunnel at Gilfach is now a bat refuge, home to five species of bat.
© PB 2016
The Mid Wales Railway, R W Kidner, 1990
County Railway Routes: Brecon to Newtown, Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, 2007
A Glimpse of Beautiful Mid Wales, R M Williams
End of the Line 1962, George Bufton Scarfe, Transactions of the Radnorshire Society, 2015
Morning Post, 26.8.1864
Montgomeryshire County Times, 22.9.1899
Brecon and Radnor Express, 21.9.1899 and 13.3.1947
Many thanks to Brian Matthews for his helpful comments and suggestions
Photograph of St Harmon Station courtesy of Keith Alan Jaggers
Photograph of Sarah Jones courtesy of the Radnorshire Society
Photograph of Pantydwr Station courtesy of the Mid Wales Inn