Dear Members

This month has been one of reflection as another milestone is reached. Mark Twain said that age is an issue of mind over matter, if you don't mind it doesn't matter. According to Arthur Schopenhauer the first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it. And so ends another week without me becoming unexpectedly rich and I've reached an age where my train of thought often leaves the station without me.
On a brighter note I have been given a DVD containing all 30 heroic high sea adventures from the classic 70s TV series of Captain Pugwash. The rest of you will have to be content with this weeks newsletter still packed with items of interest.



Keep safe
Phil and Nigel

P.S. This weeks cartoon is somewhat appropriate as tomorrow our Treasurer reached the grand old age of 70.




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The Aberllefenni Slate Tramway


Interest in Welsh narrow gauge railways usually centres on the lines of the railway companies concerned whilst the lines laid by the slate quarry businesses are often ignored. The former were often passenger carrying lines and are in consequence well documented by enthusiasts. Access to the lines of the quarrying companies are usually restricted for safety reasons and the only passengers they might carry are their employees.
The Corris railway is well known and well documented but the Aberllefenni tramway and its associated Ratgoed tramway are less so. However, the Abellellefenni slate company has passed on some of its records to the preservation Society who have a museum in the old stables at Corris station and have re-instated the line between Corris and Maespoeth and have restored the engine shed at the latter place.
The following article is based on a visit I made to Aberllefenni in the summer of 1974 when there were rumours that the tramway was closing. Because the tramway was originally laid along the streets of this small village access was not a problem. I took a number of colour photographs and some of these are produced below with black and white photographs of an earlier period (before the original Corris railway closed) courtesy of the Corris Railway Society.


Early History

There was an abundance of outcrops of Ordovician slate in the valley of the river Dulas (Afon Dulas) in Mid Wales. By the 1850’s the quarrying companies there were being frustrated by having to rely on horse carts and horse pulled sleds to transport their dressed slate down the valley for loading on to ships at Quay Ward wharf on the north bank of the River Dovey (also known as the Afon Dyfi) beyond Derwenlas, west of Machynlleth.
After several failed attempts a company was finally incorporated in 1858 as the Corris, Machynlleth and & River Dovey Tramroad. By April 1859 it had built an eight-mile horse tramway on the eastern side of the road between Corris and Machynlleth. In 1863 the standard gauge reached Machynlleth, interchange sidings were built and the tramway beyond to the wharf was abandoned.
The line was built to the same gauge as that already in use in the slate mines of Aberllefenni, namely 2ft 3ins. Loaded wagons gravitated down the line towards Machynlleth but once the line crossed the River Dulas by bridge the last section of the line to the interchange sidings relied on horses, as did the return journey. In the 1870's the company began replacing the tram rails with heavier rails suitable for steam locomotives. The Company was acquired by Imperial Tramways in 1878 and within a year they had purchased three Hunslet locomotives (one of which survives on the Talyllyn railway) although it took until 1883 to obtain permission to run passenger services.
The company was sold to the GWR in 1930 and became part of British Railways upon nationalisation. However, a few months after nationalisation in 1948 severe flooding washed away part of the railway embankment near the Dulas bridge threatening the south pier. British Railways declared the bridge unsafe, closed the railway and road services were used instead.


The Tramway Route described

The route is best explained by reference to the following poorly drawn sketch I have made of the tramway, partly from memory.


Aberllefenni Slate Tramway


The Corris railway terminated at Aberllefenni with the gate just to the north signifying the limit of locomotive working. The site was so narrow that the run round loop had to be positioned south of the station platform. Just beyond the gate a single bladed point was the junction for the Abellefenni and Ratgoed tramways. The Ratgoed swung to the west and started climbing behind the row of houses, crossed an embankment by the reservoir and then crossed over the Aberllefenni tramway by bridge. Thereafter it swung north for the quarries at the tiny hamlet of Ratgoed. The Ratgoed quarry was not latterly successful (actually two quarries operated as one business) and closed for good in 1948.
The Aberllefenni tramway took the eastern side of the forked junction and split again, a steep line dropping down to the dressing sheds whilst the left fork carried on to the quarries. Further north another fork facing south enabled a gentler drop to the sheds. Single wagon turntables enabled individual wagons to be pushed manually into the sheds where the rough slabs of slate were split into thin sheets and then dressed to form regular tiles of the correct size. The waste was loaded back into wagons and hauled back up to the quarries to be dumped. By the time I visited the finished slate was moved to Machynlleth by lorry.
The tramway continued north passing under the Ratgoed railway bridge, skirting the reservoir, and then swinging north west to enter the quarry area. The three mines were entranced well above the tramway level and consequently had inclined planes powered by water balances. When loads needed raising against the slope, the filled water tank pulled the wagon up and then was returned by letting the water out.
Long before the tramway was built slate quarrying at Aberllefenni had mainly progressed underground and as already stated, there were actually three underground quarries (each named in the sketch). They were worked as a single business, usually referred to as the Abellefenni quarry and it is claimed to be the oldest continually worked slate quarry in the world, finally closing in 2003.
After closure of the Corris railway and Ratgoed tramway the horses continued to pull their loads up and down the remaining part of the Aberllefenni tramway, the rail lengths south of the dressing sheds being taken up. In the early 1960’s a tractor replaced the horses. At the time of my visit I was assured that the tractor was simply a farm road tractor although it was rumoured that a rail mounted petrol powered locomotive was used for a time. Unsurprisingly, in the late 1970’s the tramway was completely abandoned. The rails looked damaged when I visited, probably because the farm tractor and lorries were continually damaging the track. Sadly, I never saw the farm tractor towing a few rail mounted slate wagons.  
Battery powered locomotives operated in the mines themselves until final closure, so the 2ft 3 in gauge survived in commercial (rather than preservation) use until 2003.


The Photographs


The view just beyond the gate. The single bladed point would simply be kicked into position. However, the Ratgoed tramway has been lifted and no longer passes behind the row of cottages. The dressing sheds are behind the wall on the right, but at a much lower level.


The nearest car would have had its rear bumper virtually touching the gate were it still there. This part of the tramway has been removed to leave just a roadway. The railway station which would have been behind the camera has been replaced by cottages.


The sheds in 1974. Note the steep slope downwards and the zig-zag appearance of the track work.


Wagons waiting to be turned on the wagon turntable before entering the sheds. The long thin slabs of slate stacked at left look as though they are intended to be used as fence posts. Sunk upright into the ground they would then be wired together.


Close up of a wagon turntable. Note how shallow the bridge rail is especially on the turntable itself.


The two nearest trucks display how the finished slates were stacked to avoid damage. The horse could hardly be called a pit pony.


A British Railways wagon body on top of a bogie wagon seems to suggest either that this slate waste is destined for a mainline train whilst avoiding manhandling or for the back of a lorry.


Slate ready for splitting. Rather than a turntable the rail at bottom right suggests a straight crossover.


This single bladed catch point is to derail breakaways but appears to be out of use. The downward slope is towards the sheds.


A bad rail joint but typical of industrial tramways. The rail joint is supported by a sleeper whilst one of the bolt fastenings appears to be slack.


I think this is Hen Glodfa but am not certain. Note the steep slope to the tunnel entrance.


This may be Foel Grochan. Note more zig-zag track. The pipework may be to carry water to the counterbalance tanks.


A derelict railway tractor. If the drum in the centre of the locomotive is for petrol this may be the tractor which replaced the horses originally.


Note the wagon on the right is three sided whilst that on the left has four sides. The former is proably for waste slate. The area in which the wagons are parked is probably where the slate was once quarried in the open whilst the terrace in the distance suggests an attempt to stabilise large quantities of waste.


In this final picture the shed looks absolutely derelict yet the quarry was to remain active for nearly another 30 years.







Part 6


Thursday 1st June

Time to leave Wernigerode. After an early breakfast we left the hotel at 7 am to catch the 7.20 train to Hanover. A change here into the 9.40 to Gutersloh saw us arrive at 10.50. From here we transferred to a coach to visit the 600mm Dampf-Kleinbahn Muhlenstroth for a private steam photo charter.




Those of you who have read the Northern Germany trip in 2016 will recall our previous visit so I am not going to add a lot this time. Just to say that we had another enjoyable visit with plenty of photo opportunities. On this occasion lunch was included which was very welcome after an early breakfast.





Leaving Muhlenstroth we returned to the station to catch the 14.50 to Wuppertal. Arriving here at 16.15 we returned to the same hotel that we had used on the way out. Having checked in here we had time for another visit to the Dingle Dangle Bahn before dinner which was provided and attended by all as a last get together before heading home.





Thursday 1st June

The last day. No rush this morning as our train to Cologne wasn’t until 9.45. At Cologne we had an hour and three quarters to wait for a connection onto Brussels. Time to look at the cathedral and of course explore the station further and watch the comings and goings. The 14.55 Eurostar from Brussels saw us at St. Pancras in time to catch the 16.50 to Hatfield and so ended this years adventure.








The picture below I found recently online in a history of the Goxhill to Immingham branch line (in the Barton Cleethorpes Community Rail Partnership). Though very poor quality and undated it shows a GWR Railcar at Immingham Dock, which must be nearly 150 miles from the nearest GWR line!
Three possibilities occur to me for this, firstly the GW ran Ramblers Excursions so could it be this? Alternatively the Branch Line Society hired them to visit small Branches. Finally I believe anyone could hire one rather like you hire a coach today, but going to Immingham Dock seems a slightly odd outing! 

Anyone got an idea of why it might be there?
Whatever the reason you might use this to justify a GW railcar turning up on your non GWR layout miles from the GWR! It'd also be a good fun idea for an exhibition.


Great Western Railcar at Immingham Docks (A rare sighting indeed)



Probably like many of us I've a number of locos whose traction tyres have perished and replacements are unavailable or virtually impossible to fit. So I was looking at the product Bullfrog Snot, but it's rather expensive at about £25.
So has anyone in the club used it, and if so did it work? 





The Railway Magazine, April 1930 (pages 320-321)

Locomotive Driving by Contract

It may not be generally known that it was at one time the custom, on a number of railways in this country, for engine drivers to enter into formal agreements with the companies to work trains at a certain sum per mile. The custom seems to have arisen in the earliest days of railways, as, in 1830, the drivers of the Stockton & Darlington Railway were paid a quarter pence per ton-mile, out of which they had to find coal and oil, and pay themselves, and probably their firemen as well. The company, however, maintained the engines in general repair. On some parts of the Eastern Counties Railway, trains were worked by contract, and it is on record that a driver stationed at Peterborough had his price for working goods trains advanced, in December, 1854, from  five and a quarter pence per mile to five and a half pence. A few years later, a driver working the passenger traffic between London, Enfield and Hertford was paid three and seven eighths pence per train-mile. The driver had to sign an agreement in the presence of a witness. He had to pay his fireman and cleaner, provide firewood for lighting up, coal or coke for running, oil, tallow and suchlike necessities. He had also, out of the same money, to repair and pay for the cost of certain repairs, giving all necessary assistance himself on shed days. He had not, however, to provide articles of iron, brass, copper or steel, or pay for labour when the engine went into shops for general repairs or repairs due to accidents beyond his control. For an assisting engine he had to pay three pence per mile. If required to pilot or assist another engine, he received two pence for every mile out and home. The drivers bought their fuel and stores from the company.




Part 5


It is an awfully long time since I wrote an update on the progress on Harvey’s Wharf. This is partly because progress has been rather slow and partly because what progress there has been would have been difficult to show in photographs.

However, as you can see from the photos a fair bit of progress on at least the first board has been made. There is still a long way to go but at least it is beginning to look presentable. I would like to take credit for the superb buildings but unfortunately, I can’t since my good friend Peter Frost has built them for me. During lockdown he wanted something to do and so he duly offered to build some of the buildings for me. This progressed from the pub, café and builders yard at the front to the warehouses at the back. I am sure that I couldn’t have made them to this standard, and it would have taken me much longer as well!

Peter has now offered to continue with the second board. Watch this space!


Left: The canal wharf and warehouses with Alice’s cafe.              
Right: The warehouses and railway overbridge backscene on the left  


Left: Isaac’s builders yard                                                  
Right: The joiners Arms PH


Left: Alice’s Café                                                               
Right: Isaac’s builders yard, the Joiners Arms and Alice’s café


I now need to complete the barge with transfers, the canal with more colours, weeds etc. and then add ‘real water’. The front left corner will probably be a rough grass area to add a little colour and maybe a few trees as there is nowhere else on the layout for them. I need to add suitable people to bring the scene to life and then generally ‘scenic’ it.

The second board which is currently bare will have another warehouse/factory with a railway served loading dock, a coal siding to provide coal for the factory boilers and whatever else will fit in appropriately.

I never intended this to be a quick project during lock down but I would like to see it sort of finished in the not to distant future at least to an acceptable state for maybe an exhibition of some sort. We shall see.



 Bicknell's Blogg 


Dictionary Corner by Susie Dent

Expression of the week Clatterfart

"Clatterfart" is one of many words in the dictionary for a chatterbox. It is recorded from the 16th century for one who loves to blab or gossip. Terms for gossiping still exist in dialect form today, such as jaffocking (in Lincolnshire), hamchammering (Somerset), chamragging (Wiltshire) and cloncing in Wales. Chin-wagging is traditionally associated with women, a fact demonstrated by the word "gossip" itself. In Old English, a "godsibb" was a godparent, in which "sibb" meant "relative", and eventually narrowed to our modern "sibling". A gossip was a woman invited to present at the birth of a child. It was clearly assumed that she and the new mother had little better to do than have a good natter, and so the godsib was considered to be a prolific prattler.







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Answers in the next issue.


1. Which of the following empires had no written language: Incan, Aztec, Egyptian, Roman?
2. Which artist painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome?
3. When was the first issue of Vogue published: 1892, 1960, 2000?
4. How many keys does a classic piano have?
5. What was the clothing company Nike originally called?
6. What is the name of the coffee shop in the sitcom Friends?
7. Until 1923, what was the Turkish city of Istanbul called?
8. Which famous American pop band was originally called ‘Kara’s Flowers’?
9. Name Disney’s first film?
10. What is the most-streamed album on Spotify in 2019?





  1. How many days does it take for the Earth to orbit the Sun? Answer: 365
  2. Where is the lowest natural place on planet Earth? Answer: The Mariana Trench, 11,034m
  3. Norwegian artist Edvard Munch is famous for painting which iconic piece? Answer: The Scream
  4. Who invented the iconic Little Black Dress? Answer Coco Chanel, 1920's
  5. Which drivers have won the most Formula 1 championships? Answer: Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton
  6. Name Pixar’s first feature-length movie? Answer: Toy Story 1995
  7. What happened on July 20th, 1969? Answer: Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
  8. Who is 3rd on the all-time list of female tennis Grand Slam champions? Answer: Serena Williams.
  9. What is the all-time most-streamed song on Spotify to date? Answer: Ed Sheeran, The Shape of You.
  10. Name the longest river in the world? Answer: The Nile 6650km