Over the next couple of months writer, broadcaster and map addict, Mike Parker chooses his favourite maps from the Library’s collection as part of the #LoveMaps campaign.
“My choice of four maps from the National Library’s dazzling collection are brutally prosaic, though the stories they tell are a fascinating game of what if…? All four have a unity of place (Montgomeryshire) and theme (planning for infrastructure that mostly never happened). They tell us so much about the ambitions and attitudes of their very different eras.
Manchester & Milford Railway, Plans and Sections of Railways between Llanidloes and Pencader, for the parliamentary session 1859-60
Perhaps the most celebrated non-project is the first, seen in the 1859 plans laid before parliament for the Manchester & Milford railway. The outline map shows a smooth, confident line coursing south-westwards across Wales, connecting the mills of Lancashire with a deep-water port at Milford Haven, but the detailed maps demonstrate all too readily that it was an insurmountable challenge. South of Llanidloes, the line snakes westward to Llangurig, before plunging through the dark heart of the Cambrian Mountains in a long tunnel, and emerging at Ysbyty Ystwyth in Ceredigion.
From there the line was to follow the Afon Teifi, and this section was built, but instead of reaching Pembrokeshire, it veered southwards at Pencader, and came to form part of the Aberywstwyth to Carmarthen line. The piecemeal genesis of this line explains its rambling route, and made it an easy target of the Beeching cuts a century later.
The northern half of the railway reached Llangurig, four miles beyond Llanidloes. A few miles west, a cutting was dug to take the line into the largest tunnel through the boggy mountains. It swiftly became obvious that the cost of full realisation was just too high, and investors bailed out. The relief section maps show the enormity of the challenge: not just the tunnel and the terrain, but the punitively tough gradients too. Only one train ever ran to Llangurig, and the track was lifted in 1882. Ghostly remnants of it can still be seen in the village, and alongside the A470 towards Llanidloes.”
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