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Oystermouth Railway, site of
Swansea to the Mumbles, Wales, UK
Oystermouth Railway, site of
associated engineer
Edward Martin
date  June 1804 - 1806, open to passengers 25th March 1807
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  SS620909
ICE reference number  HEW 706
photo  horsetrain 1870, public domain
The Oystermouth Railway, later known as the Swansea & Mumbles Railway, is thought to have been the world’s first railway to carry fare-paying passengers. Its carriages were originally horse drawn, with steam traction and electric tramcars introduced in the 19th and 20th centuries respectively. Now dismantled, the route of the railway survives as a cycleway around west Swansea Bay.
The Oystermouth Railway & Tramroad Company was authorised by Parliament in June 1804, with Sir John Morris (1775-1855) as its chairman and his son John Armine Morris (1813-93) on the board. The enabling Act stipulates haulage by "men, horses or otherwise" — possibly an oblique reference to the Penydarren steam locomotive pioneered by Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) on the Merthyr Tramroad in February 1804.
The Oystermouth Railway was constructed as a tramway to transport coal from the Clyne Valley and limestone from the Mumbles to the Swansea Canal, commencing in 1806. The rails, laid to a gauge of 1.219m (4ft), were L-shaped tramplates mounted on stone blocks. Edward Martin (c.1763-1818), engineer and owner of Gwaunclawdd Colliery in Powys, carried out surveys and estimates for the work, and oversaw its construction. The route lies seaward of the modern A4067 road, which links the Gower Peninsula with Swansea.
Benjamin French, one of the tramway’s shareholders, proposed carrying passengers and paid the company £20 per year for so doing. One or more of the horse-drawn goods wagons was modified and, on 25th March 1807, the first group of paying passengers travelled the line aboard a carriage. It is believed to be the world’s first regular rail passenger service. It continued until about 1826, when a parallel turnpike (toll) road opened between Swansea and Mumbles, offering a cheaper coach service.
In 1840, John Armine Morris transferred the Oystermouth Railway’s undertaking to his brother George Byng Morris (1816-99). In 1855, the tramroad was relaid as a standard gauge (1.435m or 4ft 8.5in) edge railway, and in 1860 passenger rail services were reinstated. In 1874, the Swansea Improvements & Tramways Company, a separate entity, began operating competing horse-powered services on the line.
On 17th August 1877, the railway’s owners introduced steam traction and from 1878 steam locomotives pulled trains of carriages. In 1879, the Oystermouth Railway & Tramroad Company became the Swansea & Mumbles Railway Company Limited. Horses worked the tracks alongside the steam locomotives until 1896, when the Swansea Improvements & Tramways Company’s services stopped.
In 1898, the route was extended southwards to the new Mumbles Pier. In 1899, the railway and pier undertakings of the Swansea & Mumbles Railway Company Limited and the Mumbles Railway & Pier Company (incorporated 1889) were leased to the Swansea Improvements & Tramways Company.
In 1927, Blackpill Station (SS619905) was built to the design of architect Ernest Morgan (1881-1954). It also housed an electricity sub-station for the forthcoming electrification of the line. Its generating equipment originally consisted of two 500kw Metropolitan Vickers rotary converters, which transformed a 6.6kV alternating current supply into a 650V direct current for operating trams via overhead wires.
The railway was electrified in 1928-9, in preparation for being operated by vehicles using a pantograph system. On 2nd March 1929, 11 red-painted Brush Electrical double bogie two-deck tramcars were brought into service, with two more added to the fleet in 1930. Each car accommodated 106 passengers, making them easily the largest built for service in Britain.
During the 1950s, the Swansea & Mumbles Railway was carrying more than three million passengers a year along an 11km route with 10 stations. However, in 1958, most of the railway’s shares were bought by the South Wales Transport Company, which ran buses and coaches. The 1959 South Wales Transport Act authorised the abandonment of the railway. The double-deck tramcars continued in operation until the last journey, on 5th January 1960.
No track now remains in place but the railway’s route can be followed along the foreshore, mostly as a pedestrian and cycle path west of Blackpill. Replicas of the original horse-drawn carriage and the cab of the last tram are on display at the Swansea Museum Tramway Centre.
In the 1970s, the Mumbles Railway Preservation Society was established. In March 1981, a stained glass window was unveiled in All Saints Church, Oystermouth, to mark the 175th anniversary of the opening of the railway. Its panels depict the three types of train — horse-drawn, steam-powered and electric — with St Christopher in the centre.
The former Blackpill Station is the most substantial surviving relic of the railway. It is still in use, now as a café. However, the original tiled floor and I-section beams were removed in 1997, and the machinery and plant long before that, though the brown brick exterior remains unchanged. In November 1998, the building was Grade II listed.
Architect (Blackpill Station): Ernest Morgan
Tramcars (1929-30): Brush Electrical Engineering Company of Loughborough
RCAHMW_NPRN 34832, 301138
Research: ECPK
"The Mumbles Passenger Railway, March 1807—January 1960" by Carol Powell MA, Oystermouth Historical Association, available at https://sites.google.com/site/ahistoryofmumbles
reference sources   CEH WalesBDCE1

Oystermouth Railway, site of