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How Ganymede Came to Carmarthen

By T. L. EVANS, B.A.

The railway came to Carmarthen on 17th September 1852, but the earliest railway company in Carmarthenshire was the Llanelly Railway Company (1835). Even so, there was an earlier railroad in the south-west of the county; it is shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey map and was called the Coygin Railroad, which was working in 1828, carrying lime from the Coygin Quarry to the Tâf estuary at Railsgate Pill.

The railway mania lasted a long time in Carmarthenshire; even in 1922 there were meetings at Llandeilo to consider constructing a railway from Llandeilo to Lampeter, using the Upper Cothi valley. In the 1890s the committee searching for a site for the new Intermediate School for Girls in Carmarthen refused to consider the possibilities of Tabernacle Terrace, as a proposed new railway to join the North Pembrokeshire Railway with the L.N.W.R. near Abergwili was planned to the north of the town.

Some of the earlier schemes for a railway to the Carmarthen area were prompted by the transport costs of coal. The cost of transporting coal by cart in 1836 from Llanelly was 1/6d a day for a man's labour and food, Gates (i.e. Turnpike) cost 6d, and two horses 4/6d. The cost of the coal at the pit was 6/-d for 12 cwts. As a result, at a meeting of the Vale of Towy railway in 1836, it was agreed to make a survey from Mynydd Mawr (Tumble) via Middleton Hall and Capel Dewi to Carmarthen, but the scheme never materialised. Another unsuccessful but more unusual undertaking was the "Carmarthen, Kidwelly and Llanelly junction Railway Company which intended to connect the whole of the coal and lime districts, the Vale of Gwendraeth, the Kidwelly canal and Mynydd Mawr with the river Towy". The actual railway was to be some four miles from Kidwelly to Ferryside, where the coal trucks were to be transferred to boats for the journey up the Towy to Carmarthen. In the same year a grandiose scheme called the England & Ireland Union Railway proposed linking Gloucester, Llandovery and Llandilo with Fishguard. The more down-to-earth plans came in the following decade, and substantial deposits had to be found. In 1844 the prospectus, of the South Wales Railway Company proposed a track linking the G.W.R. at Gloucester with Cardiff, Neath, Swansea, Carmarthen and Fishguard, with a branch to Pembroke. The plan in the Carmarthen Record Office shows the route running from Eglwys GlanTave (Whitland) to Narberth, Reynalton, Yerbeston, Lawrenny, Cresswell Quay, Cosheston to Pembroke and Pater. This is not the route ultimately followed and in use today. Another company with a deposit of £25,000, namely the Tenby, Saundersfoot & South Wales, intended to join the South Wales at Reynalton.

As far as Carmarthen was concerned, the line was to go north from Kidwelly, along the Gwendraeth Fach and cross to the town via a tunnel at Llangunnor, crossing the river by a bridge 28ft above water level, but the Town Council opposed the plan because they thought the bridge was not high enough. The plan was therefore altered to follow the coast route along a gentler gradient. It was also agreed to run a branch from near the present Clarbeston Road station to Haverfordwest.

Many Navvies, Little Trouble
By 1846 there were several reports in the Carmarthen Journal about work on the South Wales line — the cutting near Wenallt west of the railway bridge over the A40 at Bancyfelin was complete, fifteen yards had been cut into Whitland tunnel and there were works at Ferryside (visited by the Carmarthen St. David's Sunday Schools Outing). In the following year there were 500 men working between Carmarthen and Kidwelly. Although there were large numbers of navigators (labourers, hence the term navvies), there was very little trouble reported in the local press — in 1848 the Carmarthen Journal reported that one R. Morgan, navigator, was charged with breaking into a dwelling-house, Tynest at Llandefeilog.

In 1849 the Secretary of the South Wales Railway Company, N. Armstrong, absconded with £5,000 and this misfortune, together with the scarcity of investment money, the general poverty and great famine in Ireland led the Directors to suspend the building of the line westwards to Fishguard and concentrate on completion of the line to Swansea.

A feature of the coming of the railway was the encouragement of feeder services. The opening of Swansea station on 18th June 1850 resulted in an increase of the omnibus (horse) service to Swansea from the west — one was scheduled to leave the Boar's Head, Carmarthen at 2 p.m. and in the reverse direction the "Old Company's Railway Coach leaves Mackworth Arms Station after the arrival of the 10.48a.m. train for Carmarthen, Haverfordwest & Tenby". An omnibus garage of this period still survives in Swansea.

After the opening of the Swansea station the Directors decided to concentrate on the line to Carmarthen. For economy, Barlow's patent rails were laid on ballast without timber support, but unfortunately for the Company the rails began to spread under heavy load and ultimately the whole line from Swansea to Haverfordwest had to be relaid.

When the line reached Ferryside it was visited by Carmarthen worthies who thought that the rails were very thin and that Mr. Brunel would not allow First Class passengers to risk their lives on it. Work was held up at Ferryside in April 1852 when there was delay in the arrival of the ship containing the "saddles & other appendages required for laying down Barlow's Patent rails". There was also a lack of forges to "redheat the rivets". In 1852 the major engineering feats remaining were the finishing of the tunnel at Cwmbwrla (now Cockett tunnel), the bridge at Loughor and the bridge at Kidwelly.

At Carmarthen it was the intention to site the station at John's Town, but because of the time that would be required to build the bridge over the Towy it was decided to erect a temporary station at Myrtle Hill outside the town beyond Pensarn and in May 1852 a cargo of timber for the construction of the station was unloaded on the marshes opposite Rhydygors. But even this temporary structure — it was dismissed as a "plaster & lath" affair — was not finished in time for the first train. In an effort to have traffic rolling, a single line was completed from Pembrey, the second line to Carmarthen not being completed and tested until 11th February 1853 and this time there was general satisfaction with the Barlow rails. Even so, the people of Carmarthen were very disappointed that the station was not ready and had to be content with an illustration published in the Illustrated London News, which prematurely showed a completed station with two platforms, two lines and an overall roof. However, in one respect the drawing was faithful, for the engine was correctly portrayed, but more of that later.

Ganymede, Pearl and Caliban
On the 17th September 1852 the townspeople of Carmarthen gathered at the new Market Place and led by the Bronwydd band, marched to Myrtle Hill, where unfortunately they had to wait one and a half hours because the train was late. The first train departed from Swansea at 12 midday and stopped at all stations for speeches of welcome. The train of twenty carriages was pulled by the 'Ganymede', a 2-2-2 tender engine of the Firefly class built in Leeds in 1842. This engine had 7ft. driving wheels but no great hauling power and had to be assisted by two goods engines of 0-6-0 tender type, built at Swindon, namely the 'Pearl' of the Ariadne class built in May 1852 and the 'Caliban' of the Pyracmon class built in 1848, both with 5ft. coupled wheels. Engines, engine drivers and carriages were supplied by the Great Western. The driver of this the first train into Carmarthen was the famous G.W.R. engine designer Daniel Gooch (later knighted), who became chairman of the Great Western.

On the train was the band of the 48th Regiment (a company of the same Regiment was stationed at Carmarthen), which led the procession back to town to a large shed in the Market Place where the welcoming breakfast was held. Tickets cost 12/6d for a gentleman & 7/6d for a lady. The Welshman gave a full account of all the food supplied, but it will suffice to say that it was plentiful and "the champagne was the finest". Many complimentary speeches were made and toasts drunk, including one to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer of this broad (7ft.) gauge line.

The celebrations continued in the evening. At 8.30 there was a fireworks display on the railway embankment. For the more sophisticated there was a Ball & Supper in a marquee — specially decorated by a Mr Edgington from London — in the garden of the Ivy Bush hotel. Music was supplied by the Band of the 48th Regiment (conducted by Signor Tamphini), and the local Quadrille Band. Among the stewards were the Hon. W. H. Yelverton of Whitland Abbey, a great supporter of railways, and Grismond Philipps of Cwmgwili.

First Accident
Some guests did not stay for the Ball and among the passengers returning to Swansea on the 9p.m. train was J. W. Williams, one of the proprietors of The Cambrian, the Swansea newspaper. Near Pibwrwen Williams, who was leaning on the door of the train, fell out and a wheel went over his foot. It seems that there may not have been a travelling porter who usually sat on the tender facing the train and whose duty it was to watch for any signal from the guard, for as yet, there was no emergency chain to pull in the carriage. Be that as it may, the train did not stop until it reached Ferryside and two porters were despatched to search for the victim. He was found and taken to the Infirmary (not the present hospital in Priory Street) and later taken to Swansea, where his foot was amputated. J. W. Williams of The Cambrian was thus the first passenger on the Swansea-Carmarthen line to be involved in an accident. But there were many accident victims involved in the building of the railway.

The timetable began on 11th Oct. 1852 and on weekdays the first train departed from Carmarthen at 6.30a.m.; this was for 1st, 2nd & 3rd class passengers. Third-class passengers could not travel on all trains, e.g. the Express which departed at 10.30 a.m. and required supplementary fare; at 12 noon the train was for 1st and 2nd classes only, the 2.15 p.m. was for 1st, 2nd and 3rd class passengers, but only 1st & 2nd class passengers could travel on the last up train at 8 p.m. On Sundays two trains departed — at 9 a.m. and at 6.30 p.m. Since the first up train departed before the arrival of the first down train from Swansea, engines had to be shedded at Carmarthen and the shed was located on the banks of the Towy. Only two goods trains have I found mentioned: from Carmarthen a goods train departed for Paddington at 7.15 a.m. and the down goods for Carmarthen left Chepstow at 6.30 a.m. Notices proclaimed that goods for rail transport must be in the station at least three hours before the train departed. The Carmarthen agent for the railway company was one Probert in Lammas Street.

The Autumn of 1852 was very wet and stormy. The engine shed on the bank of the Towy was blown down and it was rebuilt alongside the station by a Carmarthen builder. In December the Carmarthen Journal recorded a severe gale which stripped the roof off the carriage shed at Myrtle Hill and the wooden building was severely shaken. Heavy rain resulted in severe flooding, which submerged the road to Pensarn to a depth of five feet and intending railway passengers, including Lord Dynevor, had to be ferried across the flood.

There had not been sufficient time for vegetation to grow and anchor the soil in the cuttings, so that on 19th November a rock of some two tons was washed down and fell between the rails near Allt y Wathen (or Coed) five miles from Carmarthen. The down mail train hit it and as a result the firebox of the engine was severely damaged and the first carriage was unfit for further use. There was no mention of any casualties. The storms also damaged the embankment near Kidwelly and Pembrey, and on one occasion the 7 a.m. mail did not arrive until noon.

The first casualty after the misfortune which befell J. W. Williams occurred at Myrtle Hill station, where a porter coupling carriages was crushed. At the inquest the railway was represented by a Superintendent of Police, for it seems that the shunting orders were given by a policeman. The driver of the engine came too fast and, despite the danger signal (two hands upraised) given him by the policeman, failed to avoid an accident. Further culpability arose from the fact that the duty driver, who had gone home, had left the shunting in the hands of his stoker. Matters of interest which emerged from the inquest are that policemen, who were sworn in as constables, controlled the switches and signals, collected tickets and did many other railway duties.

Disorderly Passengers
Some of the railway's influence can be deduced from the number of excursions arranged. These gave large numbers of people their first chance to travel quickly and fairly cheaply and so experience new environments. An early excursion was to Swansea on a Sunday, when between 500 and 600 made the trip. In October 1852, 300 from Llanelly, Swansea and Merthyr Tydfil visited Carmarthen. Sunday excursion trains were arranged to run to Ferryside, leaving at 3 p.m., thus affording many folk a chance to enjoy the seaside. But this train was stopped in 1854 and did not reappear until 1865; the reason for the cancellation ostensibly was the disorderly and drunken behaviour of some of the passengers. Even so, my researches revealed only one case where a drunken man was arrested for his behaviour on the Ferryside train.

The more adventurous and better off were able to go further afield in 1853, when an excursion was organised to London so that they could visit the "Grand Military Spectacle" at Cobham. The train left Carmarthen at 6a.m. on 9th August, reaching London at 4.30 p.m. and returning at 8 a.m. on 16th August. The cost was: 1st class, 28/-d and closed carriages 22/6d (this was 2nd class, as at that time 3rd class carriages were open). Movement was not one way, for an excursion train came from London to Carmarthen. In 1854 the Order of Oddfellows organised an excursion to Merthyr Tydfil at 2/6d a person and 1500 passengers travelled in a train of thirty carriages, probably open. Another organised trip brought 2000 Teetotallers from Aberdare to Carmarthen. Thus there was a greater movement of people and speedier transit of goods, but at Carmarthen the station was not well sited to suit local merchants, one of whom bitterly complained of the cost of transport from Myrtle Hill. The complainant had ordered goods from Llanelly and the railway had charged him 10/-d whereas the cost of transport from Myrtle Hill to Town was 12/-d

Pensarn road was very busy at this time with all sorts of horse-drawn traffic. Both the Boar's Head and the Ivy Bush had omnibuses going out to meet the trains. On one occasion the conductor of the Boar's Head omnibus was instrumental in recovering one D. Jones, a porter, who had fallen into the ditch alongside Pensarn road and was unable to extricate himself as the ditch was five to six feet deep.

The omnibus provided an important feeder service to the railway, and the traffic must have been great if we are to judge from the fact that one owner transferred his stable of seventy horses from Swansea to the Ivy Bush. The following timetable illustrates the omnibus service in 1853, departures being controlled by train times: To Tenby 7.40a.m. (Mail), 1.0p.m. (North Mail), 4.45p.m. (Express); Haverfordwest 7.40a.m. (Mail); Cardigan 8a.m. (Mail), 1.0p.m. (North Mail) Aberystwyth 8a.m. (Mail), a four-horse coach; Brecon 8 a.m.

Bridge Destroyed
Carmarthen remained the terminus until 2nd January 1854, when the line was extended to Haverfordwest. This extension was a single line and the first major obstacle in its construction was the bridging of the Towy. The Town Council were very concerned that the bridge should not impede river navigation, with the result that Brunel devised a drawbridge on two spans, one end being lifted by hydraulic machinery and rolling back on the rails. The bridge was painted white, hence the name 'White Bridge' which is still used, although Brunel's bridge was replaced by another bridge in 1911. On 17th December 1853 a special train slowly and carefully crossed the bridge for the first time and when it was safely across the event was celebrated with champagne. The first official train left Carmarthen on 28th December 1853 at 11a.m.; it consisted of seventeen carriages, carrying 100 people, and arrived at Haverfordwest at 12.30. Beyond Whitland the next station was Narberth Road (now Clunderwen) and a coach left the White Lion, Tenby at 7.30a.m. to meet the express there. The next station was called Pentypark after a nearby mansion, but later the name was changed to Cross Inn station; today it is called Clarbeston Road. The line west of Carmarthen was also to suffer from the elements, for in 1854 a severe storm totally destroyed the railway bridge over the river Cywin near Bancyfelin for a time the bridge was replaced by a temporary wooden structure over which carriages were moved one at a time.

The next railway to be opened at Carmarthen was the Carmarthen & Cardigan in 1860. This company provided a station at Kidwelly Fach, but this was closed in 1902 when Carmarthen's present station was opened.

The coming of the railway to Carmarthen in 1852 ended the comparative isolation of the town, at least for the majority of its population. Speed became a major factor and there was great satisfaction when it became possible to read The Times in Carmarthen on the day it was printed. In 1853 came the electric telegraph, making the world still smaller. But while these improved comununications helped to integrate the English and the Welsh, they brought about an unfortunate result in contributing towards the decline of the Welsh language.

The present Town Mayor of Carmarthen (1974), Mr. Ivor Morris, is a link in a family chain connected with the coming of the railway to Carmarthen. His grandfather Mr Griffith Morris, a native of Wiston (Pembs.), born in 1834, joined the railway at Neath and later came to work at Carmarthen. Already an engine-driver in the broad gauge days, he was injured when he fell off an engine and was later employed at the White Bridge. His son and grandson (Mr. Ivor Morris) were also employed on the railway; thus three generations of the family worked on the railway throughout the era of steam before it gave way to diesel power.
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