January 15 marked the 65th anniversary of the closure of the Tanat Valley Light Railway, one of the myriad lines constructed in the Welsh marches to the west of Shrewsbury.
The first proposals for railway through the Tanat Valley emerged in the 1860s but it was not until the final decade of the 19th century that more serious progress was made. Following the passing of the Light Railways Act of 1896 two competing schemes for the construction of a railway appeared: a standard gauge and a 2ft 6in-gauge line — the Tanat Valley Light Railway and the Llanfyllin & Llangynog Light Railway respectively. A Light Railway Order for the former was approved on 4 January 1899 and construction started on 12 September 1899 when Lady Powis cut the first sod.
Construction of the 16-mile route was, however, protracted as a result of both financial and climatic problems but was largely completed during 1902. However, it took two inspections — the second in 1903 when the inspector discovered that unauthorised freight traffic was already being carried — before the line could officially open on 4 January 1904 and to the public on the 5th. From Blodwell Junction through to Llangynog there were intermediate stations (all suffixed Halt other than those at Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant and Penybontfawr): Llanyblodwel, Glanyrafon, Llansilin Road, Llangedwyn, Pentrefelin, Llanrhaeadr Mochnant, Pedairffordd and Penybontfawr.
The line was operated from opening by the Cambrian Railways. Initially services were operated by three Sharp Stewart-built 2-4-0Ts, Cambrian Nos 57-59; these were later supplemented by three 0-6-0Ts, Cambrian Nos 24, 26 and 35, that were acquired from the Lambourn Valley Railway.
The Tanat Valley Light Railway was dogged by financial problems from the start and, in April 1904, an Official Receiver was appointed. The fundamental problem was that the cost of construction had vastly exceeded expectations and, whilst traffic was adequate, enormous debts resulted. The Tanat Valley Railway, with its debts, however remained notionally independent until 1921 when, following the Tanat Valley Light Railway (Transfer) Order of 12 March 1921, ownership passed formally to the Cambrian Railways.
The line’s new owners were, however, soon to be subsumed within a larger company; the Great Western Railway took over on 1 January 1922 following the passage of the Railways Act of 1921. Following the GWR take-over the Sharp Stewart 2-4-0s were renumbered 1192, 1196 and 1197 whilst the 0-6-0Ts became GWR Nos 819-21. Of these, No 1192 was scrapped in 1929 whilst Nos 1196/97, built originally in 1866 but rebuilt by the GWR in 2923/24, were to survive through to Nationalisation, being withdrawn in April 1948 and scrapped two months later. Of the three ex-Lambourn Valley Railway 0-6-0Ts, No 819 was to be withdrawn by the GWR in 1946 and scrapped the following year, No 820 was withdrawn in 1930 and, following some years in industrial use, scrapped in 1945, and No 821 was withdrawn in 1932 and, again after use in industry, was scrapped in 1942. In the Tanat Valley’s later years, the GWR and then BR employed the 0-4-2Ts on the branch’s passenger trains.
In 1910 there were three weekday services from Oswestry to Llangynog, departing at 8.30am, 11.20am and 5.15pm arriving at the branch terminus, 19½ miles from Oswestry, at 9.43am, 12.40pm and 5.25pm. There was a fourth, Wednesdays Only, service that departed from Oswestry at 7.45pm and arriving at Llangynog at 9.5pm. In the reverse direction, there were again three workings — departing from Llangynog at 9.55am, 1.40pm and 5.50pm — with a fourth on Wednesdays, departing at 6.50am. There was no Sunday service.
By the summer of 1939, the service pattern was slightly more complicated. Departures from Oswestry were timed at 7.25 am (Wednesday Only), 8.5am (weekdays except Wednesdays), 11.20am (Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays), 2.15pm (Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays), 4.25pm (Mondays to Fridays), 5.25pm (Saturdays Only) and 8.45pm (first Saturday in the month only plus 5 August). In the reverse direction, trains left Llangynog at 7.45am (Wednesdays Only), 9.35am, 12.55pm, 6pm (Mondays to Fridays) and 7.5pm (Saturdays Only). Again there was no Sunday service.
The final Great Western timetable, issued in 1947, had a much-reduced service over the line. From Oswestry there were now departures at 7.20am (Wednesdays Only), 7.40am (except Wednesdays), 4.55pm (except Saturdays) and 5.25pm (Saturdays Only); from Llangynog, trains departed at 8.50am (Wednesdays Only), 9.10am (except Wednesdays), 5.58pm (except Saturdays) and 6.55pm (Saturdays Only). There was again no service on the Sabbath.
On 1 January 1948, the Tanat Valley line, along with the rest of the erstwhile Great Western, passed to British Railways (Western Region). The new owner was not, however to retain the line for long. On 15 January 1951 passenger services from Llangynog to Llynclys Junction were withdrawn; initially the withdrawal was intended as a temporary measure due to a coal shortage but, on 5 February, the withdrawal of passenger services became permanent.
Freight facilities over the line were withdrawn progressively. On 1 July 1952 the section from Llanrhyaidr Mochnant to Llangynog closed completely. Having been flooded on 5 December 1960 at Afan Tanat, to the west of Llangedwyn, the section from Blodwell Junction to Llanrhyaidr Mochnant was formally closed completely on 6 January 1964. The section from Llynclys Junction to Blodwell Junction remained open, however, in order to provide a connection to the quarry at Blodwell; this was, however, disused with the closure of the quarries on 28 October 1988 (albeit left in situ through from Gobowen and Oswestry) and a preservation group, called the Tanat Valley Light Railway, is based at Nantmawr and currently operates over a quarter of a mile using a DMU.