About the Society
Historical Notes








The history of the Aberdare Railway is closely associated with the history of a similar enterprise between Cardiff and Merthyr as in the case of the Aberdare Canal. As early as


Anthony Hill of the Plymouth Works and Samuel Homfray of Penydarren succeeded in getting a Bill through parliament permitting the ‘building of a public iron railway between Merthyr and Cardiff’.

The idea was not developed, however, possibly because the Bill permitting the building


of the Canal had been passed in 1790 and the Canal itself was in operation in 1795.


Richard Trevithick, a Cornish engineer, experimented with a steam carriage at Redruth.


Trevithick at the invitation of the local Iron Masters came to the Merthyr area to submit designs for an engine to transport heavy freight. It is generally believed that Homfray paid Trevithick £10,000 for a share in the design.


This was the year of the celebrated wager between Hill and Homfray (£1,000 or 500 Guineas?).

1804 Feb21

Tuesday. Trevithick’s experimental steam locomotive made a successful trial run from Penydarren to Abercynon, a distance of 9½ miles, at 4 m.p.h. hauling a load consisting of between 60 and 70 persons and 10 tons of iron. It used 1 hundredweight of coal. In spite of this, the tremendous possibilities of the new device were not foreseen and because of the resumption of the war between England and France, the idea went into cold storage until the 1820s when the Railway Mania began.


The Stockton and Darlington Railway.


The Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

1833 Aug 19

1st meeting of the Directors of the London - Bristol Railway Company with their Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

1834 Mar 1

The new company known as the GWR invited Sir J.J. Guest to join them and help build a branch line from Cardiff to Dowlais. Later the same year Brunel surveyed the route and advised Hill, Homfray and Guest of the possibilities of the railway. The only great Iron Master not interested in the scheme was Crawshay, (a leading shareholder in the Glamorgan Canal Co. and the canal entered his own works). Crawshay realised however, that the other industrialists were dissatisfied with the canal.

1835 Dec

Crawshay called a meeting of the Canal Company to discuss improvements in the canal system particularly with regard to the locks at Abercynon.

1835 Oct

First meeting of the Taff Vale Railway Company directors was held at the Castle Hotel, Merthyr. It was decided to negotiate with the Marquis of Bute for the necessary land. It was also necessary to obtain parliamentary sanction for the scheme.

1836 Mar 21

The Bill came before a select committee of the House of Commons. The chairman was Sir J.J. Guest who had invested £15,000 in the project, (also Lady Charlotte Guest £2,000). However, the passage of the Bill was far from easy. At that time, the Committee stage of a Bill was open to public objections and the Canal Co. objected strongly.

Miscellaneous items from the evidence presented in support of the Bill included the following:—
1 By canal, it took 16–18 hours to travel from Merthyr to Cardiff and 18–20 hours in the reverse direction.
2 One of the greatest causes of complaint was the pilfering of merchandise on the canal. Mr. C.J. Powell, a Dowlais Brewer, who strongly supported the Bill, said that his merchandise was constantly being tapped en route “by the insertion of tobacco pipes into the barrel”.
3 The population of Dowlais had doubled to about 11,000 since 1826.

Brunel also gave evidence. He stated that the line was to be 23½ miles long, to cost £86,030 and the annual repair bill was estimated as £8,000.

1836 June 21

Having been approved by the select committee this Bill received the Royal Assent. By this Act, the original share capital was fixed at £300,000 made up of 3,000 £100 shares. For the list of directors, see, ‘The Taff Vale Railway’, D.S.M. Barrie, p.7.

1836 July 16

At a meeting of the Directors, I.K. Brunel was appointed engineer to the Company at a salary of £400 per annum.

The terminus at Merthyr was at Brandy Bridge; the present terminus at High Street was not opened until August 1877. There were endless disputes with the Marquis of Bute with regard to land and also considerable argument with regard to the gauge. The 7' gauge was in common use but Brunel favoured the 4' 8½" gauge, (later in 1846, the Gauge Act made the 4' 8½" the standard for all British Railways).

There was also much agitation against the opening of the railway as there was against all railways at the time. Arguments included the following:—

1 Railway engines will cause panic among farm stock. Cows will not graze nor hens lay eggs.
2 The poisoned air from locomotives will kill birds in flight and it will be impossible to preserve grouse or pheasant.
3 Householders adjoining railway lines will have their houses burned.
4 There will no longer be any use for horses and the species will become extinct.
5 Hay and oats will become unsaleable commodities.
6 Country inns will be ruined.
7 Boilers will burst and passengers will, be blown to pieces.
8 In any case the whole scheme is impracticable because the locomotives required to move a big load will be so big and heavy that its weight would prevent it from moving.

1840 July 31

The first train ran from Cardiff to Merthyr along the oldest railway line in Wales.






A Bill for making a Railway line from the T.V.R, near Ynysmeyrick, to Aberdare, to be called the Aberdare Railway, was passed in the House of Commons for the third time.

1845 July 31

The Aberdare Railway Company was incorporated. Its Capital was £166,600. The scale of Freight Charges approved:—


Manure, undressed material for repair of railways, coal, ironstone etc ½d a ton plus ⅛d. if carried in the Company’s wagons.

1845 Aug

Advertisement to Ironmasters, Timber Merchants and Others.

The Aberdare Railway Co. are ready to receive tenders for the supply of the following materials until 26th August next:


  500 tons of rails
  60,000 Screw Bolts
  10,000 Sleepers of Larch


The Company do not bind themselves to accept the lowest tender.

Signed J.J. Guest

C. Bailey

1846 May

From contemporary newspaper, “Aberdare is improving wonderfully...it is expected that the Aberdare Railway will be finished this year.”

1846 Aug 8

The Aberdare Railway opened. The builder was a Mr. Storm. The Directors and others were conveyed to Aberdare by railway. Cannon were fired en route and they were cheered by a large crowd on arrival. They repaired to the Boot Inn to enjoy a champagne dinner. Among those present were Sir J.J. Guest, the Dean of Llandaff, J.B. Price, C. Bailey, H.A. Bruce, Thomas Powell, Matthew Wayne and Richard Fothergill. The proceedings began at 4 o’clock.

During the day, Thomas Powell sent the first 100 tons of coal down the line to Cardiff.

The following Friday the Directors regaled the workmen at the Black Lion.

1846 Nov

‘Great improvements recently introduced - the whole of the carriages are now illuminated with roof lamps.’

By the end of 1846, the 221 shares of the Aberdare Canal Co. originally priced at £120 each had fallen to £70. See D.T. Alexander, “Reminiscences of Aberdare — 60 years ago”, 1912.

Third class accommodation on the TVR consisted of a long seat the length of the carriage. The latter had no windows and the passengers were locked in by the guard between stations.


The Aberdare railway became part of the TVR.




Some Parliamentary Acts dealing with Railway construction
affecting Aberdare


1 8/9 Vic. 1845 An Act for making a Railway from the TVR near Ynysmeyrick to Aberdare

2 11/12 Vic.1848 An Act authorizing the leasing of the Aberdare Railway with the branch railway and the works connected therewith to the TVR Co.

3 18/19 Vic.1855 An Act for making a Railway through that part of the Aberdare valley in the County of Glamorgan to join the Vale of Neath railway.

4 20/21 Vic. 1857 An Act to enable the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway Company to extend their Railway into the Aberdare and Bargoed Valleys in Glamorgan.

5 21/22 Vic.1859 An Act to enable the above to divert their Railway in the Parish of Aberdare, Glamorgan and to confer other powers.

6 26/27 Vic. 1863 An Act for making a Railway from the Aberdare Railway in the Parish of Aberdare with a branch therefrom to be called the Dare Valley Railway.

7 28/29 Vic. 1865 An Act for authorizing the Vale of Neath Railway Co. to raise further monies and giving effect to agreements between them and the Aberdare Railway Company and the London and N.W. Railway Co.

8 29/30 Vic. 1866 An Act for making a Railway from the TVR at Aberdare to the Neath and Brecon Railway at Capel Coelbren and a branch to the Vale of Neath Railway and other purposes.

9 30/31 Vic. 1867 An Act for making Railways in the County of Glamorgan to be called the Rhondda Valley and Hirwaun Junction Railway and other purposes.

10 35/36 Vic.1872 An Act to enable the Rhondda Valley and Hirwaun Junction Railway and to make a deviation in and an extension of their authorised undertaking.

11 35/36 1872 An Act authorizing the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Co. to construct certain railways in the Parish of Aberdare and for other purposes.

12 41/42 Vic.1878 An Act to authorize the Rhondda Valley and Hirwaun Junction Railway Co. to abandon certain of its authorized railways to lease so much of their Railways as have been constructed to the TVR and to regulate their affairs.






This company was incorporated with an authorized capital of £550,000. The Railway was built from Neath to Aberdare and Merthyr. The construction of the line began on August 29th 1847 and the Aberdare Branch was opened on 23rd September 1851.


There were 215 miles of railway tracks in South Wales.


An advertisement in a Handbook to the Vale of Neath mentions the Railway Company’s open excursion carriages especially adapted for viewing the scenery.

1848 Feb24

Work was begun on a tunnel between Aberdare and Merthyr. The contractors were Fowler Sharp, Davies and Jones. The average cost per yard was estimated as £12, (not including masonry). The tunnel was completed in 21 months. Length: 1 mile 737 yards. 300 men were employed including a large proportion of local miners and sinkers.

1866 Sept 14

The Directors of the Vale of Neath Railway Company stated that the Bill for the amalgamation of the company with the Great Western Railway Company had received the Royal Assent. John Morgan of Abernantygroes, father of W.R. Morgan, was born in the original Ysguborwen House in 1832. As this house lay on the route of the railway, it was razed to the ground prior to the construction of the railway.

1873 July

An accident to one of the trucks of a luggage train going through the Abernant Tunnel closed the line for several days. It appears that many similar accidents occurred to passenger trains during the 1860s and 70s and frequently passengers were marooned for hours. It was suggested that the tunnel, or at least the carriages, be lit. A local newspaper commented, “These suggestions, however, have been scorned by the Vale of Neath Railway”. As this was 6 to 7 years after amalgamation, the use of the term vale of Neath Railway appears to be purely a figure of speech. A comparison of the following timetables for Aberdare-Neath is of interest.



1857 (Rly)

1957 (Western Welsh Bus)

Aberdare Departure

1.40 p.m.

1.40 p.m.

Hirwaun Departure

1.53 p.m.

1.55 p.m.

Glynneath Departure

2.19 p.m.

2.15 p.m.

Neath Arrival

2.45 p.m.

2.49 p.m.







The Manager of the TVR was Mr. Rhys Howells and the Superintendent was Mr Rhys North.


August Bank Holiday Excursion Ticket from Aberdare to Swansea cost 2/6.


The railway line connecting the Aberdare valley with the railway lines to Manchester, West of England and the North was extended from Mountain Ash to Aberdare. It was then known as the West Midlands Railway.

1864 May 6

Wednesday. There was a public meeting at Ebenezer Hall to demand a railway station at Trecynon. Chairman: Thomas Williams, (See Glam. Hist. Vol. 1, p.24).


It was noted in a local newspaper that Trecynon was still without a railway station.


Pontsarn Viaduct was opened. This was 448 feet long and 90 feet high. It gave a railway connection from Aberdare to Brecon via Abernant and Merthyr.


Christmas Day Arrangements.

Abernant – Merthyr. Dep. Abernant 9.40 a.m., 10.30 a.m., 6.55 p.m.

Merthyr – Abernant. Dep. Merthyr 9.15 a.m., 6.00 p.m., 10.00 p.m.

1866 Aug 30

Cheap Excursion: Aberdare - London

Aberdare Dep. 1.30 a.m; Paddington Dep. 10.45 p.m; 3rd Class Return 6/-.


Day Excursion to Swansea cost 1/8 return.

1890 Jan 1

Great excitement and celebrations at Ynysybwl. A new railway service opened with three trains each way daily to Aberdare Junction.


The Aberdare Branch of the Society of Railway Servants held a tea at Carmel Hall, at which the Vicar presided.


Card-sharpers were working local trains. Two men complained that they had lost £6 and £2..17..0 respectively playing three-card trick with a steerer. After a chase the latter was caught. He was defended by Thomas Phillips, solicitor, but nevertheless was fined 40/-.


Early in the year, the Halt at the top of Monk Street was opened. A workmen’s train was to run from Dare Junction to the top of Monk St. to Cwmaman. The builders were John Morgan and Son.


The TVR, (including the Penarth extension and Harbour), had altogether 72 miles of double track line and 52 miles of single track including sidings. During the year, the number of passengers carried, (excluding season ticket holders), totalled 9,973,205. In addition, 18,346,933 tons of minerals and 967,055 tons of general merchandise were carried.


There were in South Wales about 100,000 Railway Wagons belonging to the various coal companies. The Railway Companies themselves had relatively few such vehicles e.g. the TVR had only 2,280 wagons, but over 200 engines.