Nos. 3 & 4 - p58-61/64




    (Whilst collecting material for the recently published "The Severn & Wye Railway", "Dean Forester" uncovered much interesting detail on industrial systems in South Wales. A coach tour today with Mr Keeling as guide, if that were possible, would without doubt be heavily oversubscribed. – Hon. Ed.)

    In 1863 the Severn & Wye Railway & Canal Company possessed a comprehensive system of horse-worked tramroads, of 38" gauge angle-plate type, in the Forest of Dean. These lines were the principal means whereby the coal, iron, stone and other products of the major part of the Forest were taken to the rivers and the South Wales Railway for onward transit, and had been the subject of increasing discontent from the traders and communities concerned over a number of years, the mode of conveyance being slow and expensive.

    The Company, however, was loath to incur the heavy capital outlay in converting the system to a locomotive railway without Crown assistance, and their engineer, George William Keeling, decided to make enquiries into the use of steam locomotives on the tramroad. The proposition was not completely novel as am engineer named Stewart had tried a locomotive on the line as early as 1814, but had not developed its use. In 1856 T.E. Blackwell, consulting engineer to the Severn & Wye, had asked Daniel Gooch, locomotive superintendent of the broad gauge Great Western Railway, for advice in introducing locomotives, but in this case no trials were made.

    Keeling accordingly set out on a fact-finding mission to see locomotives at work on industrial railways and tramroads, and to enquire about their performance and cost. The record of these activities, taken from the Severn & Wye Board Minute Books, is of great interest.

    Keeling’s first visit was to the Sheepbridge Ironworks at Chesterfield, in December 1863. Here he found a 30" gauge edge railway on sleepers, employing rails weighing 30 lbs. per yard, and serving three collieries, two ironstone mines and four blast furnaces. He was told that one small locomotive, costing £775, had for upwards of two years performed all haulage. Unfortunately, no details are given but it seems that the engine would be LITTLE NELL, an 040 saddle tank, the first locomotive built at the Boyne Engine Works, Leeds, by Manning, Wardle & Company, and delivered to Sheepbridge on 5th February 1859.

    Later Keeling visited Messrs. Brown & Company, 18 Cannon Street, London, a firm described as "manufacturers of contractors locomotives", although it is more likely that they were either agents for builders, or crane builders.[1] They recommended for the Severn & Wye a 12−horsepower locomotive costing £450 (with a possible £50 increase due to a rise in iron prices), with 6½" by 13" outside cylinders, and weighing 5½ tons (6½ tons in working order); the wheels would be 26" in diameter on a 44" wheelbase. The locomotive would be able to take 40 tons up a gradient of 1 in 200, or 8 tons (15 empty tram wagons) up 1 in 30 at 6 m.p.h. The fuel consumption was estimated at 8 to 9 cwts. per day.

    A crew of two would be carried, a driver and "a man to shoe the tram waggons, etc." For details of their workmanship Keeling was referred to Mr Richardson, engineer to the Bristol & South Wales Union Railway, to whom Brown & Company had supplied steam cranes, etc. If an engine was purchased which was not satisfactory, Brown & Company offered to try and sell it but they would not take it back. Charles Richardson wrote on 24th February 1864 that they had a steam crane which was well made, but which had not yet been put into service. "Mr Brotherhood (the contractor) has two locomotives by Brown & Company, with vertical boilers, and multiplying gear between the driving wheels and the engines, a principle not so good as that of the horizontal boiler…." They worked well, but repairs were heavy and he suggested a speed limit of 5 to 6 m.p.h., and 20" diameter wheels. "I should therefore be inclined to put the limit at 5 m.p.h., particularly as, from all my experience, I find it to be next to impossible to limit engine drivers to any fixed rate of speed when they have it in their power to go faster."

    In March 1864 Keeling made a tour of various South Wales industrial railways, and visited the Blaenavon Ironworks on the 1st of the month where he was shown all over by Mr Ellis. The Blaenavon Tramway was about two to three miles long, of 33" gauge, laid with Lplates having a slight rib underneath for strength and weighing 45 lbs. per yard. The chairs weighed 30 lbs. but could have been lighter; as they were cast direct at low cost it was not thought worth while to alter the pattern. The plates were laid on wood sleepers at 24" to 30" pitch, and the Company had two locomotives, one of which was working, whilst the larger one was kept as spare or reserve engine in the shed. The smaller one was a four-coupled locomotive with 36" wheels at 45" centres, and weighed nearly 8 tons in working order. It drew 35 loaded trams (66 tons) at 10 m.p.h. on the level, and 30 tons up an incline of 1 in 60. It had worked most satisfactorily for fifteen years. The larger engine (Keeling noted in brackets "Gan−y−Erw" – presumably its name) was comparatively new and more powerful. It had six coupled cast iron wheels 36" in diameter at 53" centres, with wrought iron tyres having about 23/8" tread, outside cylinders 12" by 18", and weighed 10 tons in working order. It cost between £800 and £900, and could draw 50 loaded trams (90 tons) at 10 m.p.h. on the level, or 25 loaded. trams (45 tons) up an incline of 1 in 60. Both engines were built by the Usk Side Iron Company, of Newport, Mon., the larger one having been designed by Mr T. Dyne Steel.[2] The track was poor, but the small engine did 8 to 10 m.p.h. and was quite independent of horses, even at the coal banks and tips. "By means of a chain and a hook she pulled the trams out of the sidings and ran them up into the sidings at the other end, either by pushing behind or hooking the chain to the sides of the trams." The driver was paid five shillings a day and the stoker three shillings and fourpence.

    At Brynmawr, Keeling found a tramroad (probably the Llangattock Tramroad) of similar gauge to Blaenavon, and worked by locomotives similar to the smaller engine seen there. At Tredegar and Rhymney there were tramways worked by locomotives of varying sizes, some being similar to those at Blaenavon and others being the "old fashioned ones formerly used by the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company". These were presumably the Tredegar Ironworks’ "vintage" 0−6−0’s which were reminiscent of the early Stockton & Darlington Railway engines.

    At the Plymouth Ironworks, near Merthyr, Keeling found the works served by a tramway over a mile long, laid with a combined edge rail and tramplate of channel section in small chairs on sleepers about 30" apart. The tram wagons ran on the bed of the plate but the locomotive, "a perfect little model of an engine beautifully constructed by Messrs. Hawthorn & Company, Leith", had flanged wheels and ran on the outside flange of the channel rail. The engine which so excited the admiration of the engineer had 8" by 15" outside cylinders, weighed 7 tons in working order, and cost £650. She drew a prodigious train of between 60 and 80 trams "varying according to the weather", equal to a load of 70 to 90 tons up a long incline of about 1 in 200, and made some fifteen trips a day. Formerly a dozen horses had been employed, and the engine was then doing the work of twenty. The Plymouth Ironworks were part-owners of the Penydarren Tramroad, but the above tramway appears to have been independent of this, and was probably laid to a narrower gauge. [3]

    Messrs. Fothergill’s Ironworks at Abernant (owned by The Aberdare Iron Company), where the engineer, Mr Hosgood, was the host, was said to have "several locomotives of all sizes on different gauges". The narrow gauge line was laid to 29" gauge with edge rails, and two locomotives were employed. No.1 was built by Fletcher, Jennings & Company, of the Lowca Engine Works, near Whitehaven; it was a saddle tank with 8" by 15" outside cylinders, weighing 7 tons 10 cwts. in working order, and it cost £550.[4] No.2, by the Neath Abbey Iron Company, was also a saddle tank, with 8" by 16" outside cylinders, weighing 7 tons in working order, and also costing £550. This Abernant railway had one particularly steep section a mile in length, with gradients varying from 1 in 29 to no less than 1 in 15 on one 200−yard stretch. Each of the engines took up 17 or 18 empty wagons (equal to 7½ tons), and No.2 had taken 22. Well did Keeling remark, "Many engineers have come to Abernant on purpose to see it". Sixteen horses were formerly employed, and the Company had then just ordered two more locomotives from the Neath Abbey Iron Company.

    The next place to see was obviously the Neath Abbey Iron Company’s works, an establishment with a history as venerable as its name suggests, having been established in 1792. Keeling saw "small engines being made for South America", and close to the works he was shown a 30" gauge edge railway which ran for about three miles "down to the shore", and worked by a locomotive built at the Neath Abbey Works. It had 8" by 15" cylinders, 24" diameter wheels at 40" centres, and used eight cwts. of coal a day. Keeling made a footplate trip on the engine, which delighted him by running up a 1 in 40 gradient at a "tremendous pace" with 30 empty trams weighing 12 cwts. each, and later it "rushed round a curve of certainly not more than two chains radius with great velocity". Neath Abbey’s price for such a spirited steed was upwards of £600. This price was confirmed in a letter from the firm dated 19th April 1864, signed by Mr H.H. Price, offering to make a 38" gauge locomotive with 8" cylinders and iron firebox and tubes, for tramplates, but to be constructed for adaptation to an edge railway.

    So Keeling ended his tour. He reported to the Severn & Wye Board, "I am sure that, if the Blaenavon Tramroad will stand a 10ton engine rattling over it at a pace of 10 miles per hour several times a day, our tramway will certainly bear a 7− or 8−ton engine at a speed of 4 or 6 miles per hour". Three firms tendered for the honour of supplying the first locomotive – Neath Abbey Ironworks (£620), Alfred R. Thomas, of Cardiff (£600) and Fletcher, Jennings & Company (£695). In spite of the higher price, the last named secured the order – possibly because they promised to follow up their tender with a personal call and drawings. Severn & Wye locomotive No.1, a humble little 040 well tank with outside cylinders and flangeless wheels, was delivered at Lydney on 31st October 1864.

    This article is based almost wholly upon extracts from the Severn & Wye Railway & Canal Company Board’s Minute books made available by courtesy of the Archivist, British Transport Commission.

A standard Fletcher Jennings saddle tank of & type which may have been seen by Mr. Keeling during his tour of South Wales.

(collection F. Jones)


1    The firm referred to would be Brown & May, founded in 1854 at Devizes, Wiltshire, and whose London agent in 1863 was a Mr S. Holman of 18 Cannon Street, London, EC. Messrs. Brown & May are remembered more for their traction engines and road locomotives which were built for over fifty years .until the works closed in 1912. – Hon. Ed.

2    His obituary (Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers, 1898) reveals that he also designed the smaller engine, and played an interesting role in the later developments of South Wales tramroads.

3    In 1864 two 2' 8" gauge 0−4−0 saddle tank locomotives were supplied by Fletcher, Jennings & Company (their nos. 38 and 39). – Hon. Ed.

4    This would appear to be Fletcher, Jennings 28 of 1862. The builders records show this to have been an 0−4−0 saddle tank locomotive with 8" by 16" outside cylinders, 2' 4" wheels, for 2' 8" gauge, and capable of working on an "incline 1/14 to 1/29". It is not unusual for the records of the builder to differ slightly from those of its customer. Another 0−4−0 saddle tank locomotive by Fletcher, Jennings (27 of 1862) was new here for use on "edge rails or tramplates". It had 10" by 20" outside cylinders, 3' 6" wheels and although the gauge is not stated it is thought to have been standard 4' 8½". – Hon. Ed.