Penybont and District History Group Notes 2nd October 2017 Meeting Main Topic: History of Penybont Station – Mary Davies & John Watmore

Geraint welcomed newcomers to the meeting. A group had come especially for the Main Topic – the Penybont Station Group. Much praise was given to this group for the work they have put into making the Station Garden so splendid.

 

Geraint also welcomed Denis Abberley with the noteworthy comment that the two brothers,  John and Denis, sat at opposite ends of the room.

 

Geraint mentioned that our next meeting would be about the Water Mills in the Area by Alan Stoyel on 6th November.

 

Geraint handed the baton to Mary who in turn introduced John Watmore who would be delivering the 2nd half of the talk. John had come from Chepstow but he had previously lived in Station Cottages.

 

Mary has now moved out of the village and is settled in Llandrindod Wells. She was however born in the ‘best room’ at the Thomas Shop. Living in London Mary has memories of visiting her grand-parents and going by train to visit her Nain and Taid.

 

She particularly remembered the excitement growing as they entered Penybont Tunnel – ‘nearly there’, and smoke in the carriage. Another of Mary’s memories was looking out of the Thomas Shop window and watching the cattle walking up the road from Penybont Station to the auction yard every week – more excitement. In thinking about the cattle she pondered the fact that the word ‘cattle-truck’ has disappeared from the language. Now they are only seen in ‘train-sets’.

 

A memory from London was the chickens sent to us for Christmas. Mary’s Uncle Jack ran a chicken farm from the Thomas Shop and the chickens were a very welcome treat each Christmas. Mary’s only specific memory however was that occasionally they might have a chicken that had ‘gone bad’. It is perhaps unfortunate that this is her main memory of this Christmas luxury.

 

Penybont would not have had a station if it had not been for the entrepreneurial flair of John Price, that man again! In 1755 he built Penybont Hall and through his influence  he impacted on the prosperity of the whole community. As a Trustee of the Radnorshire Turnpike he arranged improvements on the roads between New Radnor and Rhayader. No doubt he would have supported the comong of the railway but it was sometime yet before this would happen.

 

In 1804 Benjamin Heath Malkin, a writer and associate of the poet William Blake, when travelling in Wales, wrote that there was no post chaise (a travelling carriage that could be hired to go from one staging post to the next) in the County of Radnorshire, except at Rhayader.

 

By 1807 there was ‘regular communication’ open across the County due to the post horses at Penybont and a Mail coach system. By this time the Post Office was distributing mail across the country and Penybont would see a mail coach from London came through Penybont 3 days a week , and from London to Rhayader once a week.

 

In 1829 the coach from Welshpool to Llandrindod, called the Royal Dart, took just 7.5 hour!

 

Inevitably with the coming of the railways there was railways going to be competition with the road network. Nowhere showed this more clearly than the intersections that occur at Crossgates.The A44 crosses “the A483 very close to where there would be a railway crossing. Years later the Rev. Dr Jordan wrote in his book about Llanbadarn Fawr that the four main roads in the County joined one another inly a short distance from the Church”. He refers to the railway – by then the London Midland and Scottish Railway – as “being near the Church School and intersecting the village of Llanbadarn”. Mary felt that he was anticipation his congregation swelling due to people being able to travel to the area more easily.

 

In 1834 Johm Cheesement Severn, who had married John Price’s daughter, Mary Ann, in 1811, and had succeeded his father-in-law as a Trustee of the Radnorshire Turnpike Trust, built a new road from Crossgates to Penybont. The old road ran very close to the Hall and John Cheesement Severn had it moved to its current position. He had to pay for the re-routing of the road himself as the land near Bank House was very steep and know locally as ‘the Squires pItch’.

 

Traffic on these roads peaked in about 1837. In 1840 the Severn Arms was advertising Post Chaises, Flys (one horse hackney carriages), and gigs (2 wheeled, one horse carriages) could be supplied. At short notice, with “steady horses and careful drivers”!

 

Tolls were established by the County  Road Board as a way of improving the roads. But by 1845 the excitement had shifted to the possibility of rail travel. A suggested railway link from Hereford would take in Kington, New Radnor, Penybont, Rhayader, and on to Aberystwyth, would be called the Silurian Line.  This came to nothing in the end because of the expense of taking the line through the Radnor Forest.

 

When in 1854 building began in the Kington Railway Station a public holiday was declared in the area.

 

Markets for the Welsh Black sheep in Mid Wales and Cardiganshire opened up when the line between Leominster and Kngton opened in 1857. Farmers for the first time had access to the London markets.

 

Church Bells rang out in Knighton in 1858 when an extension to the railway was announced. Later in the year the Brass Band greeted the arrival of railway engineers!!

 

Construction of the railway took a significant step forward when the Commons were enclosed in 1862 releasing land for buildings and the railway.

 

With work started on the line past Penybont, and with the start of major building works in Llandrindod Wells, trade in the shops in Penybont was very good and shop-keepers became quite prosperous at this time.

 

John Percy Severn, son of John Cheesement Severn, happened to be a Director of Central Wale Railway, and he used this capacity to ensure that the railway did not come too close to the Hall. He gave land, part of Cwmtrallwm Farm, for the construction of the Station, in 1862, about half a mile from the Hall towards Crossgates which has meat that the Penybont station is situated even further from the village.

 

When on the 10th October 1864, the line between Shrewsbury and Penybont opened, the station was known as Crossgates Terminus. The journey from Llandrindod Wells to Euston Station in London  was 5¼ hours. The station was later renamed Pen-y-bont, the ‘correct’ spelling of the name, and the only way you will find the station in the internet timetables today.

 

Mary reminisced about Penybont tunnel which always filled her with excitement as a child. It meant she had almost reached her destination to spend her holidays in Penybont. The line through the tunnel was a single track. The construction was carried out by Messrs Hattersley and Morton. Mr George Morton, who was a railway engineer, was living at Grove Villa, which is situated by the bridge, nearest to the garage. The London and North West Railway Company were responsible for the development of the line which cost £12,000 per mile. It was the Company who owned Grove Villa, and Miah Lewis has said that the buildings were used for parcel storage. When the Villa was sild in 1919 the particulars of the sale mentions stables and a slaughter house.

 

In 1865 the section to Llandrindod was opened and the station was initially known as Llanerch Halt.

 

Also in 1865 an article in the Hereford Journal that suggested that the Directors were thinking of abandoning the Central Wales Line. The motivation of the Directors was to link the industrial sites with the minerals to be found in South Wales, they were not so impressed by the beautiful scenery to be found all along the line.

 

By 1868 the whole line between Shrewsbury and Swansea, 121.5 miles, had been completed. The early boom that accompanied the linking up of South Wales with the industry of  the Midlands, providing access to the fashionable Spas, started to decline as sea bathing became more and more popular.

 

The line was double track through Llandrindod but at Penybont  there was a wagon layby on the ‘upside’ of the track, and on the ‘downside’ there was a goods yard.  The tunnel at Penybont is 404 yards long.

 

There were a couple of other schemes to expand the line, but these never materialised.

 

It took more than 30 years to complete the line and Mr Morton said that having successfully engineered his way through Radnorshire, he could now contemplate working anywhere. They had estimated it would take 2 years to build the line between Llandrindod and Llandovery, but  it was not an easy route, and actually took 8 years to complete.

 

Amidst all this excitement stagecoaches were by this stage running regularly to and from Radnorshire. They were however very slow, achieving speeds of no more than 4 m.p.h. This contrasted with the same coaches on English roads that made the dizzying speeds of 6 m.p.h! Once the railways had become established, in the 1870s, road traffic started to decline.

 

Before 1889 five different companies were involved in the Central Wales Line, these were then amalgamated into the North Western and Great Western Railways. This survived until 1948 when British Rail took charge.

 

It is difficult to imagine today, but in the early part of the 20th century 20 trains passed through Penybont on most days. To manage this there was a staff of 12 people including a station master, 3 signalmen, porters, and clerks.

 

The station yard had animal pens, and the manure probably helped to keep the station gardens looking resplendent.

 

The line, by 1911, had 18 up and 19 down passenger lines and a stop would be made at Knighton for a ticket inspection. The station at Builth Road became very important as 70 men were employed to maintain the rolling stock. This was a significant source of employment in the area.

 

Mary had memories of a yellow cab, with a triangular shape, at the front of the train – “passenger luggage in advance” and wondered if anyone else could remember this.

 

The 1920’s saw hard times and Councils had very little money to the extent that the bridges over the railway were not maintained. A local bus service, Crosville Buses, the passengers at  Penybont and Llanyre had to get off the bus and walk across the bridge.

 

Secondary education was dependent on the trains at Penybont. Mary remembers her family members having to walk to the station to get the train to go to school.  This of course was easier than for many children who might have had to walk several miles to go to school.

 

The 1939 – 1945 War brought additional activity to the trains. The movement of troops, families and evacuees brought people to stations all along the line. There was an Officer Cadet training unit at Llandrindod Wells.

 

Mary’s father stayed in London during the war, but her mother was evacuated to Penybont. Somehow or other her mother had 3 children during the war, her sister, her brother, and herself, despite only meeting up with her father on three occasions during the period of evacuation!

 

After the War, in 1948, as mentioned previously, British Rail was launched, but it was in 1962 that Beeching changed the way the system would be run.

 

In 1964/5 Penybont became ‘singled’, and a year later freight traffic was stopped. The name changed to the ‘Heart of Wales Line’ in the hope of attracting tourists. The station was no longer staffed, and the station became a ‘request stop’ – a charm all of its own.

 

At about the same time the last steam train passed through Penybont on its way to York, from Swansea.

 

Some people from Penybont who were part of Penybont Station included:

 

Bill Middleton who was  cook in World War 2 for an infantry regiment, He became secretary of  Ithon Road Chapel and his connection with Penybont Station started as a signalman latterly becoming Station Master.

 

Mike Fussell from Upper Graig

Gordon Morgan

Tony Williams was a relief signalman at Llandrindod Station

Charlie Thomas, who was born at Rhos, Llandegley, was a gunner on HMS Centurion. It is said he missed the train as he was having a pint in Builth.

 

No talk on the Heart of Wales Line would be complete without a reference to Kelsham and his brother who are currently stationmasters/ticket suppliers to most of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They bought the station 18 years ago and have been able to provide the most amazing service to local people and people who phone in from all over the country.  Their knowledge of the network is quite extraordinary.

 

Mary then introduced John Watmore to the group.

 

John’s Grandfather was Rev. Charles Donald Venables, he lived at 5, Station Terrace. He was a first class Signalman and a Presbyterian Clergyman.

 

The family tree that led to John and his siblings is:

 

Charles Donald Venables   87yrs  1893 – 1980  and Winifred Ellen Venables   64yrs   1893 – 1957 had four children: Winifred Margaret (1918 – 2002) who married WALTER WHATMORE (1917 –  1984); Nell who married Jack Jackson; Edith who married Rev. Hugh Pryce-Jones; and Milton who married Dolly.

 

Winifred and Walter had five children:  Sheila Ann b 1/12/42; John Milton b 17/01/44; Jean Diane b 1/04/47; Joy Elizabeth b 03/03/50; Sylvia Jane b 16/02/63.

 

 

Sheila and Joy (who now lives in Crossgates) were in attendance for the talk and John felt sure that Sheila, his older sister, might put him right on some of the finer points. (This did happen more than once, but John felt he did get one back later in his talk). Sheila and John were born at 5 Station Terrace, but the family then moved to Llandegley, to Primrose Cottage, where Joy and Sylvia were born.

 

One of the main duties of the Signalman was to manage the exchange of the Staff with the fireman on the train. Trains could be travelling up to 50 m.p.h.  Only once did the exchange  not happen and the train had to stop before entering Penybont tunnel. The Staff was eventually found under the train and they were only then able to proceed.

 

More detailed information on the history of the line can be found in:

Craven Arms to Llandeilo: The Heart of the Wales Line (Country Railway Routes) (Hardcover); by John Organ (Author) 

 

It was the Stationmaster who was in charge, he lived in 1 Station Terrace. This was a detached house indicating the higher status. As children we would always look to see if the Stationmaster was in his house. While he was otherwise engaged, we children could get up to all kinds pf mischief. Some children would like to play in the cattle trucks and jump from the grain silo. On one occasion Gordon the Porter found us on the way to Swansea and we knew we would be in trouble when we were taken from the train in Llandrindod to face the music with the Stationmaster.

 

John’s father, Walter, and mother, Winifred got married during the war. His father was an electrical engineer and Sargent in the army. They moved to Primrose Cottage and then to Aston, Birmingham.

 

A survey of Penybont Station was carried out in 1903 and John showed a diagram of the station. It had the double track, goods yard, a crane, 40 waggons, pens for all manner of livestock, a signal box, and he red and white signals for the two lines. The signal on the ‘up-line’ from Shrewsbury was quite difficult to see. The bridge was a great place to get views of what was going on at the station and the steam trains as they sped through.

 

Every week day a shunting engine would travel from Craven Arms to Builth Wells and stop at every Station, to deliver or collect goods from the sidings. This involved  loading and unloading vari0us goods and repositioning the wagons on the sidings. Penybont had 4 lines of Track for this purpose including one  which went into the  main storage shed. The “Shunter “ called at Penybont at 12 midday going south and at 4pm returning to Craven Arms. Quite often The Engine Driver asked if I would like a ride on the engine whilst he shunted the wagons up and down.

 

  The Penybont Station of the fifties was a bustling hive of activity. Up to 60 trains a day would pass through..Coal Trains from the mines…Mail Trains delivering post to all parts of Wales, the Midlands and the North of England (and Penybont)….Fish Trains  from the south Wales Docks…….Troop Trains transporting Soldiers to and from Training Camps…..Steel Trains carrying  bulk metal to the North …….Milk trains delivering the countryside  harvest to the cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool ; to say nothing of the  Passenger trains which connected  Mid Wales to all parts of the UK.

It was a living  community where Local Farmers  brought their animals to be transported to Market, and called to collect their  serials and foodstuffs  for the farm, and the machinery to operate it. Penybont in those days was part of, and a contributor to, a countrywide service and communication system.

 

 It was also a place where local, and visiting young children could play, and have the time of their lives.

 

John shared with us his particular memory of the day when one of the engine drivers asked him if he would like a ride on the train. He went on to have several trips, which he described as ‘heaven’.

 

Geraint thanked both Mary and John for an excellent morning. He reminded the group that the nesxt meeting would be on 6th November, when Alan Stoyel will talk on the Water Mills of the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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