Railway spaghetti

It started as a casual comment on a walk with Joe Nicholls as we crossed the Taff by a new bridge we’d seen on a previous walk – “I wonder whether that linked the Coryton line to Radyr?”. I was pretty sure it didn’t but it set in train a really stimulating return to my geographical roots, another walk, and the discovery of maps I’d forgotten I possessed.

A lot of the conversation that took place whilst I undertook my investigations were shared online with Simon Wood who I knew had a great deal of interest in the railway network past and present. So, quite a few links to those exchanges on Google+ – now sadly demised!

It all started  from a comment about “that bridge” which prompted me to look for maps. I found that I had a number of maps including an OS Seventh Series 1″ Map from 1961, a 1:10,000 Cardiff City Map and 1:7,500 Cardiff Photomap all of which showed an extent of sidings on the Radyr side of the bridge and a reference to Tin works.

Cardiff OS Map 1961

These clearly shows the evidence of a large marshalling yard on the floodplain and that the bridge serviced that yard to allow traffic to rejoin the Taff Vale line down to Queen Street and the junction at Mynachdy across to the Roath Docks (along the line of the current Eastern Avenue, past the University Hospital of Wales). [NB I remember, vaguely, this still being in place when I went to school in Cardiff in the 1960’s; I certainly remember this line passing under the road on Pen-y-lan Hill as I cycled to school.]

So one mystery was solved. This bridge didn’t link Coryton to Radyr – in fact if I’d read this earlier, I’d have known that to have been impossible; anyway, the angle of the bridge and the distance downstream should have made that determination much easier. But it got to me thinking about the Coryton Line, and where it went and how it fitted into the railway history of South Wales. I quickly found this excellent history of the Taff Vale Railway, so I didn’t have much to research. There was a rather faint map of the company’s network, so I looked for others, and found these of the area around Taffs Well.

It was now getting interesting. the OS map (from 1961) showed the Coryton line extending to a disused station at Tongwynlais and then extending up the valley passing under another line before going up the valley on the opposite side of the Taff from the present line (the Taff Vale Railway). It was time for more map work! The map on the left (above), to the bottom left-hand side clearly identifies the other tracks as belonging to the Barry (Llantrisant Junction) and Rhymney Railway companies. The Barry line going high and crossing the Taff on a viaduct; the Rhymney staying low and eventually joining the Taff Vale line just north of Radyr. Now I was getting somewhere, and these historic maps (below) showed exactly what was happening.

It’s amazing to think that in the small space that was the natural gap in the southern edge of the South Wales coalfield at Taffs Well and Nantgarw there were four parallel railway lines. All linked to coal and dock companies, competing fiercely for business. I refer you again to D.S.M. Barrie’s excellent history of the Taff Vale Railway, which includes references and links to all its competitors.

I wanted to investigate on the ground these tracks as they pass through Taffs Well and then diverge at Nantgarw, two of them passing over the divide to Caerphilly – so a walk was required.

[NB This is the first map I have produced using GPX files with the new OS DataHub Map Plugin and the Free Premium Subscription.]

What you might observe from the map is the track that leads up the A470 and then off to Rhydyfelin. This was to be the last stage of my investigation. I wanted to track down where the Coryton line would have joined the Taff Vale Railway. I’d already worked out that it was near to Treforest at Rhydyfelin and that the trackbed for the railway had been the basis of the A470 dual-carriageway built in the 1970’s – so a site visit was in order. I particularly wanted to find the site of this bridge, which I have read was only used once for through traffic from the Taff Vale to the Cardiff Railway – the so-called skew bridge. You can also, if you’re interested, read more about the Cardiff Railway Company from this account, I’m afraid I don’t know the name of the author to credit.

This I did which you can see from the picture above it. You can also see the record of my walk and the pictures I took, and where I took them from this album, the photos have captions and their locations are mapped.

Addendum: The Roath Branch of the TVR was constructed between 1886 and 1901. A series of maps show its route. First a map of the Wedal Road area in 1886 shows that it had yet to be built. Then a series of maps in 1891 show the Gabalfa area; the Roath area (with the newly opened Roath Park Lake); the  area; and the East Moors area where the line went into the Docks. These maps are taken from the NLS collection, 6″ Series, Ordnance Survey. [2nd July 2016]

14 Replies to “Railway spaghetti”

  1. Would be interested in finding more about the route of the TVR Roath branch line from Llandaff to the Bute East Dock as there is little trace of it now. Just some bridge abutments at the bottom of Pen-y-lan road near the end of the rec.

    1. Thanks for your interest. The railway lines of this part of South Wales are indeed fascinating.

      As I mention in the post, the route of the former TVR mineral branch line from Gabalfa goes down what is now Eastern Avenue before it swings south-east in a cutting behind houses on Ty-Draw Road which are now an in-fill housing development which you can see clearly from “the bridge” where the line cuts under Pen-y-Lan Hill. It then swung further south to cross the Newport Road where the Dominion Way trading estate now is, crossing the main GWR line and passing west of Splott Park to reach Roath Dpcks.

      The line got to Gabalfa by forking off the TVR (now the main line to Pontypridd from Cardiff Queen Street station to Radyr) crossing the Taff just south-east of “the tin works” where there were substantial marshalling yards. A mineral lime exited the yards to then rejoin the main line and crossed the river by a bridge still in use as a pedestrian bridge. [The bridge that caused this post to be written.] The route then forked near College Road (between Llandaff North and Whitchurch) with the mineral line running towards the present large Gabalfa roundabout.

  2. Apart from the bridge abutments on Pen-y-lan rd there are very few traces of this branch line. The in-fill housing development you mention is called Boleyn Walk behind Ty-Draw Rd. There is a small arch bridge remnant over the Roath brook near Deri Rd and a single large arch behing Halfords auto centre adjacent to Dominion Way both in the same style of construction so must be part of the TVR Roath branch to the dock with the spur to the Colchester Rd power station which I remember passing on the way to school before it came down in 1972. Would do more research if I was in Cardiff more but living 400 miles away is proving a bit of a handicap. Should be able to get more map data from the NLS map library in Causewayside which holds 2.5million maps many from the UK. As a staffer should be able to try and get some special favours from the staff as it is proving very hard to get a route of the Roath Branch line. One thing I did notice recently walking down Wedal Rd was the remains of a railway bridge support just next to
    Parks Dept offices the other side has gone demolished to make way for Eastern Avenue. I assume this must be part of that line.

    1. Glad you’re still interested in this post. I’ve just done some searching online for maps of the Roath Branch at NLS and am uploading 1901 6″ maps to this blog for you as an addendum to the main post. Watch this space.

      You must have been at Howardian. I was there from 1965-67.

  3. I grew up in Grangetown, but we moved to the Heath when I was 8. I went to De LA Salle in Greenway rd (now demolished) until I moved up the hill to St Illtyds. After High School is was Warwick University (Coventry) then Nottingham Uni before moving to Edinburgh to work as a brewer. After leaving brewing after 20 years I now work for the National Library of Scotland, but my folks still live in Cardiff. Never lost my interest in industrial archaeology especially railways. I am thinking of the TVR as the source for a doctoral thesis. Sort of second time lucky. Its always good to be in contact with people of similar interests and far more knowledge.

    1. Neil, you’ve now got the sum total of my knowledge on the TVR. I only have a passing interest in railways, mainly through my love of maps and walking/cycling. You may however be interested in this Facebook Group I recently came across. I also recommend you follow-up on the links that I’ve provided in the original post. Good luck!

  4. One thing interests me is how the TVR, the Rhymney railway and the Cardiff railway all chased the same business (coal out of Cardiff) and seemed to expend considerable effort on competing each other as well as carrying coal. Not seen a lot about this rammy (a good Scottish word for something more than an argument but not quite yet a fight, maybe I have gone native!) in the literature and seems a topic worthy of far more investigation.

    1. I’m no expert in this area but my understanding is that you start from the dock and then move up the valley. None of the coal owners wanted to pay a competitor anything so they built their own docks – Cardiff, Penarth, Barry – and then the railway lines back to their mines. Insane yes but they were probably quite insane times with new wealth being created all the time, and fortunes being created and lost very quickly. The greatest insanity was the construction of the Cardiff Railway without a contractual agreement to run traffic over the TVR above it’s junction with it. Without that it was doomed to failure. Te-visiting the post, I can see that a map is now missing due to the demise of Everytrail – I’ll try and re-create my explorations in another way. Thanks for your continued interest – looking forward to seeing your doctoral thesis??

      1. This whole project is at a very very early stage and it is always great to speak to someone knowledgeable and passionate about this topic. I think I will join the Welsh Railways Research Council based in ahem Bristol but they do have an archive just outside Newport so that could be a useful resource. I did do a PhD straight after my first degree but it was not awarded for whatever reason and that has rankled ever since. So to have another go has always been on my bucket list. I am not a historian by training (actually a microbiologist with a long(ish) career as a brewer and yes I am a DipIBrew) but have always maintained a love of history and if I had my time again would do that as a degree. As I now find myself living in Edinburgh since 1990 and working in the national Library of Scotland part-time I am surrounded by readers who are professional historians all of whom have offered to help and advise me so I would be mad not to take full advantage of the situation. Besides looking into the TVR would help me maintain a connection with Cardiff the city of my birth. Railways must run in the family my maternal grandfather was a guard on the GWR based at Queen St (the former TVR HQ) and my recently deceased father-in-law was head of electrical engineering for the West of Scotland and was a proud railway man through and through based at Glasgow Queen St. Feels like it was meant.

        1. That’s interesting. My grandfather (Philip Griffiths) was a guard on the Taff Vale Railway. He is shown in this occupation on the 1911 census, living in Penarth.
          He was still shown as a Railway Passenger Guard on my Dad’s birth certificate in 1920.
          Unfortunately, I can’t find anything about him listed under staff or anything else.

  5. I meant to add that I’m doing a bit of investigation into the Rhymney Valley next year. It’s mad tgat I’ve lived in north Cardiff for the majority of my life and yet know little of the valley beyond Caerphilly.

  6. I grew up in Ty Draw Road and remember mineral trains on the track. I have pennies which my father placed on the rails before a train came past. The line closed in the late 1960’s and enabled Eastern Avenue to be routed further south than originally intended, crossing Fairoak on the railway embankment.
    I’m interested in old Tiger Bay and any maps/photos of the TVR Cardiff West Yard Locomotive Works on the west side of Bute Street, (which was accessed via level crossings, and turntables on the east side of Bute Street).

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