The tracks and turn-pike roads that existed in the late eighteenth century could not support the requirements of the industries that blossomed near Govilon. To provide for the movement of coal, iron and limestone, early railways were constructed known as tramways. These had iron plates pinned 2ft apart to stone sleeper blocks and the trams were horsedrawn.
A network of tramroads were developed in the Govilon area. One of the earliest was the Blorenge Quarries Tramroad built as a plateway around 1795. Due to geological problems the Blorenge Limestone Quarry soon closed and the tramroad fell out of use by 1804.
Three other notable tramways were soon to be established in the Govilon area. In October 1820 Crawshay Bailey applied to the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Company for the construction of "...a railway from the canal at Llanwenarth to our iron furnaces at Nantyglo". It took just 7 months to build the twin track tramway. Much of the route into Govilon is still plainly visible with School Lane following the original route. Despite the mountainous route from Nantyglo the tramway managed to keep to a shallow gradient throughout its length. Siop Newydd, just outside the village, was a smithy serving the tramroad. At its peak up to 14 blacksmiths were employed for repairs and maintenance. This included shoeing horses used to pull the trams. The path of the tramway is clearly recognisable here, along with the many sidings to accommodate trams.
Hereford Journal 19 December 1821
On Thursday the 6th instant, the only fine day we have had for a long time proved most propitious to the opening of the new tramroad from Nantyglo to Abergavenny, forming a junction with the Llanvihangel Road and forming a communication with a considerable part of Herefordshire, altogether a line of 24 miles. An idea of the energy with which the Road has been carried on may be formed from the circumstances of it being completed in the short space of seven months, regardless alike of the adamantine rocks and stupendous precipices impressing the most imposing consideration on the capital employed in this arduous undertaking. In the morning a line of trams containing 26 tons of coal with an immense lump weighing thirty-one hundredweight and forty tons of bars of iron moved off, preceded by a party in trams fitted out for the occasion, with a band of music. Approving cheers welcomed the procession along the route and were most heartily returned.
At Abergavenny the bells rang all day and hundred of inhabitants repaired to greet the procession. The whole of the coal was distributed to the poor, and will doubtless prove a source of great comfort in the cold weather we must shortly expect.
A party joined a select number of respectable inhabitants of the Greyhound, where an excellent dinner was served, after which the toasts were the King, the Church, the Lord Lieutentant, the Members for the County, Joseph Bailey esquire, Crawshey Bailey Esquire, the able engineer of the road, Thomas Hill Esquire of Blaenavon, and many of the gentlemen present.
The Llanvihangel tramroad initially ran from Llanfoist to Llanvihangel Crucorney. In 1818 it was extended to Govilon wharf and to Grosmont. The terminus at Govilon stretched as far as the Chapel yard. Excavations here uncovered rails and sleepers although, as the Chapel pre-dated the tramroad, the use of the yard is unknown. These extensions meant that the tramway connected to other tramways running from Grosmont to Llangua, and Llangua to Hereford. This provided haulage of coal and other products to and from Hereford.
"Priestley's Navigable Rivers and Canals" by Joseph Priestley published in April 1831
51 George III. Cap. 123, Royal Assent 25th May, 1811.
THIS railway commences at a level of 447 feet above the sea, on the banks of the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal, with which it communicates, and proceeds from thence in a circuitous course nearly north-east to its junction with the Grosmont or Lianfihangel Crucorney Railroad at Lianfihangel Crucorney Court, in tile county of Monmouth.
The act for this work was passed in 1811, under the title of 'An Act for making a Railway from the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal, in the parish of Llanwenarth, to or near to Lianfihangel Crucorney in the county of Monmouth,' whereby the proprietors are incorporated as "The Llanfihangel Railway Company," and empowered to make a railway from the coal wharf of the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal, in the parish of Llanwenarth, to the village of Llainfihangel Crucorney, in the county of Monmouth, by or near the Cadvor, Penyr Worlod, Lanforst, and Maerdy, across the Usk, by or through the town of Abergavenny and other places, and to make inclined planes on the line. For the purposes of this act it is directed that £20,000 shall be raised in shares of £200 each, and if that sum should prove insufficient, they may obtain an addition of £15,000 by borrowing on mortgage of the work.
Tonnage and Other Rates
For all Dung, Compost, Lime-stone, Manure and Materials for Roads 0s 2d per Ton, per Mile. For all Lime, Chalk, Marl, Ashes, Peat, Clay, Bricks and Sand 0s 3d per Ton, per Mile. For all Coals, Cinders, Coke, Culm, Charcoal, Tin, Copper, Lead-ore, Lead in Pigs or Sheets, Iron-stone or Ore, Iron in Pigs and Bars, Tiles, Slates, Flag-stones and other Stones 0s 4d per Ton, per Mile. For all other Goods, Wares, Merchandize and Things whatsoever 0s 6d per Ton, per Mile. For Horses, Colts, Mules or Asses, not drawing any Goods liable to Toll, and for Cows, and Horned or Neat Cattle, except Swine or Sheep 0s 1d each. For all Swine and Sheep 0s 6d per Score. For Persons travelling in all privileged Waggons, carrying Passengers for Hire 0s 1d per Mile, each.
Parcels under Five Hundred Weight to be paid for according to a Rate fixed by the Proprietors
Tickets to be delivered by the Collector of Tolls, and no Toll to be paid for the same Horse or other Animal more than once in the Day.
Lords of manors or the company may erect wharfs and warehouses on the line, for using which they shall charge the following.
For Coal, Culm, Lime, Lime.stone, Clay, Iron, Iron-stone, Lead or other Ores, Timber, Stone, Bricks, Tiles, Slates, Gravel or other Things 1d per Ton. For Packages of not more than Fifty-six Pounds 1d each. For ditto above Fifty-six Pounds and not exceeding Five Hundred Weight 2d each. For ditto exceeding Five Hundred Weight 6d per Ton.
But if the same shall remain on any Wharf or in any Warehouse for a longer Time than Forty-eight Hours, then the Proprietors may charge, in addition, One Penny per Ton for Wharfage and Three-pence per Ton for Warehousing, for the next Ten Days, and the same Sums respectively for every Day the said Goods shall remain on the Wharfs or in the Warehouses.
There are other clauses, but of no general interest. Mr. William Crossley made the estimate of this railroad in 1810, and stated that a single railroad would cost £13,390, 12s. and a double one £17,862. The length of the road is eleven thousand six hundred and six yards, and the money originally subscribed £15,400.
Thomas Hill, manager of the Blaenavon ironworks, constructed a tramroad from Pwlldu to the ironworks around 1815. The route is notable because of its 1.5 mile tunnel connecting Blaenavon with Pwlldu. The tunnel started as an adit cut to extract ore but was extended in about 1815 for horse drawn trams. From a westerly exit at Pwlldu the tramway linked the Limestone Quarries of the Tyla to Blaenavon. The tunnel continued to form a route for quarried limestone until the 1920's. From an easterly exit the tramway cuts across the hillside above Pwlldu's own Limestone Quarry. Today the entrances to the tunnel are Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
With the establishment of Garnddyrys forge and rolling mill in 1817 the tramroad was extended to connect it to Blaenavon. At Garnddyrys the tramway passed under the works in a tunnel approximately 120 metres long.. The tramway was further extended to link-up with the canal and the Llanvihangel tramroad at a new wharf constructed at Llanfoist 1822. An impressive series of inclines drop in three sections from 375m at the level of Hill's Tramroad to 120m at the wharf. Two turn-outs and three brake wheels remain and the incline route are still very evident to this day. Coal, limestone and iron products were hauled along this route.
With increasing production of coal and pig iron at Blaenavon the Pwlldu tunnel could no longer cope. Thomas Dyne Steel was engaged in 1850 to design and construct a double incline railway crossing the mountain from near New Pit in Blaenavon to Pwlldu. Large trucks, each capable of holding 4 trams, were pulled up and down the one mile incline by a central engine and winding drum. The Blaenavon side of the incline is still mainly intact, whilst the Pwlldu side has been largely removed through open-cast mining in the 1940's.
In 1859 J & C Bailey conveyed Baileys tramroad to the newly formed Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railroad. This company was formed to build a line from Abergavenny to Merthyr and was backed by Crawshay Bailey of Nantyglo, James Hill of Blaenavon and Thomas Brown of Ebbw Vale. The Engineer for the project was John Gardner. Construction started on 18th June 1860 and soon reached from Abergavenny to Brynmawr using part of the route of the old Bailey tramway. The route through the Clydach gorge comprises a number of tunnels and viaducts to climb steadily from Abergavenny to Brynmawr. The company was short-lived as in November 1861 the line was bought by the London and North Western Railway. They extended it to Merthyr and used it as part of their push into south Wales. The railway was fully opened in 1862 but closed to freight in 1954 and passengers in 1958.
The track has been removed but the route is accessible for much of its length, with the stretch between Llanfoist and Govilon now a much used cycle track. Within Govilon many features of the railway remain. Names such as Station Road, and Station House act as a reminder and the railway crossing is easily recognisable. The siding to the forge is overgrown but the Forge car park shows where the branch started.
For further information see Brecon and Merthyr Railway (Library of Railway History) D.S.M. Barrie, R.W. Kidner.