Railway plans: insights into one of the first railways in Wales

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 25-11-2019

A new collection of railway plans has recently arrived at the Library; it provides insights into one of the first railways in Wales.

One of our major sources of new items for the collection is donations from those who have spent many years building up their own collections. One such person is Alastair Warrington who worked for many years as an Engineer on the Western region of British Rail and later with Network Rail.

During his time working on the railways he became aware that large numbers of plans, correspondence and other items were being disposed of by the railways as different lines were closed down. This valuable archive of the history of railways in Wales was in danger of being lost forever and so he decided to take it upon himself to save as much as he could. Over the years he managed to amass a collection which included 1000s of plans, correspondence files and other documents which he has used for his own research and also to aid other researchers. Most of the collection covers South Wales, but it also contains items from elsewhere in Wales and the Marches.

Housing, organising and listing such a large collection has been a major undertaking and he wanted to ensure that the collection found a safe home for the future. Back in the year 2000 Mr Warrington agreed to bequeath his collection to the National Library as a fitting home to house and protect such a valuable historical resource. However, earlier this year he contacted the Library again to suggest that it would be better to transfer the collection to us now, so that he could help us to interpret and organise it. The collection is being transferred in batches from his home in South Wales to the Library.

So far over 500 railway plans and several hundred correspondence files have been transferred, but there are 1000s more drawings and other items yet to come. This picture shows part of the collection in its new home. Eventually we will flatten and encapsulate the smaller items and catalogue all of the plans and the correspondence files will be transferred to the Archives collection.

One of the features of this collection which has aided us greatly as curators is the fact that everything has been carefully organised and listed so that we are able to know exactly what we have and to provide access to it via the listings even before it is catalogued fully.

Of the material that has already arrived, one of the most fascinating items is this plan showing the proposed line of the Carmarthenshire Tramroad or Railway which was the first Railway in Wales to be authorised by an Act of Parliament, in June 1802. This plan was created as part of the legislative process and was countersigned by Charles Abbott, Speaker of the House of Commons (1802-1817). When the first part of the line opened in 1803 it became the first stretch of public railway to be used in Britain. The line did not use steam locomotives or carry paying passengers, the first successful use of a steam locomotive was on the Merthyr Tydfil Tramroad in 1804. The first fare paying passenger railway was the Mumbles Railway starting in 1807.

It is remarkable that so many firsts in the history of rail travel happened in Wales, and this new collection will help to ensure that this rich railway history is preserved.

Huw Thomas
Map Curator

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

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