The Mumbles Light Railway
The meeting commenced with a presentation to Mrs Mair Norton by the Society’s President, Mr Phylip Jones. Mrs Norton and husband Bob were present at the public meeting which established the Society almost twenty five years ago and she has served on the Committee since then and has also officiated for many years as Treasurer.
It is a little known fact today that the first rail borne passenger service in the world was established in Swansea in 1807, it was therefore appropriate that this month’s speaker was Mr Gerald Gabb, Education Officer at Swansea Museum. His topic was the history of the Mumbles Light Railway.
Mr Gabb began his illustrated talk by explaining that the Mumbles Light Railway came into existence when a tramway was needed to link the Swansea Canal to the Docks in order to export coal in 1798 .This was later expanded towards Mumbles in order to carry coal and Limestone from the Clyne Valley. The tramway was originally horse driven and acted as a turnpike for any vehicle which needed to use it. Eventually the idea of carrying passengers bore fruit despite the opposition of the canal owners.
A painting of the horse drawn tram
End of the line for the Mumbles Light Railway, January 1960
In 1879, a railway track was laid between Swansea and the newly emerging prosperous suburbs of West Cross and Mumbles. The pier and the cinema in Mumbles were very popular especially on Sundays when a legal exemption for “travellers” allowed trippers to enjoy an alcoholic drink. The railway ran until 1929 when it was decided to switch to an electric train and the familiar (to some) red trams started to ply the route. The rolling stock came from the LMS and the cost of changing to electricity cost £125,000.
The Mumbles Railway carried over one million passengers in 1938 and it is reputed that this figure more than trebled during the war years. The trams were the biggest in Britain and carried two hundred passengers each. Despite celebrating its 150th Anniversary in 1954 the winds of change was beginning to blow over the railway and it was decided by the government of the day to close the Railway in 1958. Despite some protests, unfortunately the Railway closed in January 1960. Mr Gabb finished his talk by asking the rhetorical question as to whether if the Railway had survived a few decades whether preservation societies would have inevitably saved the day. As it was the carriages and railway were largely destroyed within hours of the Mumbles Light Railway closing.
Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Gabb for a most enjoyable and interesting evening