The Rise and Fall of the Penclawdd Canal and Railway or Tramroad Company 1811–1865

The Rise and Fall of the Penclawdd Canal and Railway or Tramroad Company 1811–1865

John Peter Thomas


GBP 17,50

Format: 13,5 X 21,5
Number of Pages: 282
ISBN: 978-3-99064-082-1
Release Date: 26.01.2018
Anyone wanting to learn more about this fascinating local history must read this book. Brimming with important historical communications and insightful information, it should be a feature in homes of those who either live or have ties with the area.
INTRODUCTION
Writers of the history of the Penclawdd Canal and Railway or Tramroad Company are faced with a paucity of primary research material. There are no records of the proceedings and minutes of company meetings, financial reports, apart from lodgements listed in the London Gazette linking the enterprise with the Llanelly
Railway and Dock Company. There are no photographs of the canal in situate, apart from the disused Gowerton Lock, which has now been infilled and landscaped, and those published, claiming to be local canal scenes in Gowerton, are inaccurate, since their surroundings do not match the local geography. However, little remains to be seen of this enterprise, apart from a surviving arched stone road bridge at Pontycob, a section of the canal and towpath situated near the lower perimeter of the Elba Sports field, a derelict Penclawdd Sea Dock and Scouring Basin and canal and tramroad embankments at Ystrad Isaaf. Most of the canal land to the west of Gowerton was utilised for constructing the Penclawdd Branch railway, following its demise.
One of the earliest writers to mention the ‘Penclawdd Canal & Railway or Tramway Co., was Joseph Priestley, who in 1831commented: “This is not a very extensive work, but is one of considerable utility. “ This was followed in 1833 by Samuel Lewis who briefly wrote: “… and the Penclawdd canal, which opens a communication between the coal districts of Swansea, Llangyvelach, and Loughor, joins the Burry river at Aberkeddy, in the parish of Llanrhidian, near the village of Penclawdd.” In a reprint version in 1849, Lewis went on to say: “The small cut called the Penclawdd canal, in the northern part of Gower, constructed about the year 1812, was formerly
the means of conveying excellent bituminous coal to vessels lying in the Burry River, but is now disused.” It was not until 1951, that a more detailed historical account
of the ‘Penclawdd Canal’, was written for the Gower Journal by the late Frank V. Emery, who attributed its swift closure contained to the closure of the copperworks and the exhaustion of the workable coal at Llewitha in 1825. “The Canal seems to have been in active use for four years. “An Annual Assembly of the Company of Proprietors” was held at the Guildhall on Monday July 3rd 1815; similar assemblies met
on the first Monday of July in 1816, in 1817 and in 1818. After this last meeting no further meetings appeared concerning the Penclawdd and Railway or Tramroad appear in the usual Canal and Navigation columns of the Cambrian. The utility of the waterway limited in its origins to the output of a single colliery, vanished when coal supplies became exhausted or impossible to work. “ Moreover in 1970, M. J. Thomas writing on the early coal industry in Loughor stated: “Close to these works [Adair Colliery] was a canal which was fed by the River Llan and which ran from near Pont Lliwitha, through Cae’rbont, past Ystrad Isaf, Traff le Mill and Berthlwyd. It then turned towards Gwaelod y Maes, and afterwards towards the main stream [Burry River] which it joined some distance above Penclawdd. There was a quay at the point of junction. Between Traf le mill and Ystrad Isaf were two locks. Some of the coal raised in the Adair (average of 3.000 tons per week) was conveyed along this canal to be shipped near Penclawdd, while some was taken and shipped at Sluice Pill.”
Another account of the Penclawdd Canal was written by D.D. and J.M. Gladwin in 1974: The Penclawdd Canal was a respectable waterway (Act 21st May 1811) built with an estimate – including tramroads – of 9,934 pounds. Three and five eighths miles in length, it commenced at the ‘New Quay’ alongside the River Loughor. From there it ran east to near Tan-y-lan and then north for . mile. Swinging east again it took a rather irregular course to Pont-y-cob and then more or less straight to the Elba steel works, Gowerton. Once more bearing east it ran along the south side of the River Llan
to a . mile west to Ystrad Isaf Farm where it met its tramroad to the Waunarlwydd Colliery. With only two locks it was opened around 1812 but closed in 1845: “At the village of Penclawdd there were formally extensive copperworks belonging to the
Cheadle Copper Company but they are now neglected, that company possessing numerous others in more convenient positions, are going to ruin” as had the Colliery in 1814. The canal closed shortly afterward. In the same year, Charles Hatfield wrote his account of the Penclawdd Canal: “From the dock a small canal ran east and then north to Kingsbridge with at least two locks. One tramroad branch was built from a colliery near Mynydd-y-Glo past Waunarlwydd to the canal.” “No meeting of the company seems to have taken place after 1818. By then the copperworks had closed down and presumably the colliery also ceased to be worked. By 1825 the canal must
have been in a reasonable condition for there was talk by L. W. Llewellyn of building a new tramroad to it. The company seems to have been in existence in 1840, but by 1861, when the Llanelly Railway and Dock Company (New Lines) Act was obtained, the
company had disappeared, and so had the memory that the canal had ever been used, for the preamble giving powers to enter upon lands taken under the Penclawdd Canal Act authorised the making of certain works which were never to be completed.
The railway branch to Penclawdd was completed in 1867.” In 1988 a brief account of the Penclawdd Canal was published by S. Hughes and P. Reynolds: “A four mile long canal built 1811–14 to carry coal for shipping at Penclawdd. How long it remained in use is uncertain. Much of its course was built over by the Llanelly Railway in the 1860’s.”
The ‘Gowerton Lock’ was described as “One of four locks on the canal … The dimensions of the lock suggest that Penclawdd Canal boats were about the size of conventional narrow boats” The ‘Canal Dock and Scouring Basin, Penclawdd’ was described as following: “An arm of the canal ran out alongside the dockside quay and
a culvert can still be seen that fed water from the canal into the scouring basin. Tidal river docks with enclosed basins or reservoirs on their landward side to scour the dock periodically by the opening of a connecting sluice were a common feature of early 19th century docks in south Wales.” An interesting account of the Canal, written by J. Hywel Rees, appeared in 1992: “Another Industrialist of this period of development of the Swansea area, was WILLIAM LEYSON, who, already owning the Ystrad Isaaf Estate in the Waunarlwdd district, saw the possibility of distributing the coal being mined at his Ystrad Isaf Colliery near Llewitha Bridge still further afield and constructed a canal for this purpose. A comparatively new method of transport
at that time …” “… When this later f irm (Messrs Lockwood, Morris Co.) joined with William Leyson to develop his new colliery at Ystrad Isaf they planned the immediate construction of a canal to transport the coal westward to the Maesygwaelog docks at Penclawdd.” Edward Morton [Martin], Engineer, Morriston and David
Davies, Llandinam [Morriston] (described at that time as “the ubiquitous” surveyor from Crickhowell) were engaged to survey the canal route in 1811. David Davies achieved later fame when with George Overton, a qualified colliery engineer who engineered the Penydarren tramroad for Richard Trevethick’s steam locomotive, were selected to carry out the survey of the first railroad to be built the survey of the first railroad to be built in this country from Stockton to Darlington in 1824.” “A Private Act of Parliament, obtained on 21st May 1811, authorised the construction of the canal with a capital of ?20,000 and by 13th July 1814 it had been completed with lock gates near to the Traff le Mill and on the site of the later Elba Steelworks,
enabling coal to be conveyed from Ystrad Isaf to Maesygwaelog. Total cost was ?7,000 which included a “spur “length northward to the present day Kingsbridge. Although no record remains of the sizes of barges used on the canal, it is known that a new dock above the copperworks in Penclawdd and measuring 600 by 130 feet was built to receive them. At Ystrad Isaf, a tramroad connected the colliery at Mynydd Bach Y Glo with the head of the canal. The canal was also intended to distribute the limestone, brought in ballast to the Penclawdd Docks by the small boats which plied from there to Swansea from Oxwich and the other South Gower ports, to the lime kilns located along its path at Berthlwyd, Llwynmawr, Pontycob, and Ystrad Isaf. The same
coal from Llewitha was used at the kilns and the lime shipped produced shipped back to the Gower farmers. The late Frank V. Emery in his interesting article on the Penclawdd Canal attributes its swift closure to the closure of the copperworks and the
exhaustion of the workable coal at Llewitha in 1825. The canal was finally abandoned.”
This account was followed by Nigel Wassell, who in 1998 wrote his brief historical synopsis of the Penclawdd Canal which included the following assertions: “According to newspaper advertisements, the canal and dock were ready for use by May 1814. The only known trader was the partnership of Lockwood, Morris & Leyson, who owned the coal pits around Waunarlwydd which the canal was intended to serve. The sole purpose of the canal seems to have been to permit the export of coal from this source, but the venture failed at an early date.” “The canal company met until 1818, but thereafter active management of the waterway seems to have ceased and it is safe
to assume that it would have gradually fallen into dereliction. The line is shown complete and apparently in good order on Colby’s Ordnance Survey map of 1830 (surveyed in the 1820s) and Denham’s chart of the Burry estuary, published in 1830. By 1860 the canal was largely derelict, except for the dock at Penclawdd which saw intermittent use until the 1870s, and much of the land was appropriated for railway building.” In the same year, R.N. Cooper, described the Penclawdd Canal as‘Waunarlwydd’s Lost route to the Sea’, commenting: “When mining began around Waunarlwydd at the beginning of the 19th century it seemed to the mine owners (Messrs Lockwood, Morris and Leyson) that the most effective way of getting their
coals to market was via a canal leading down to Penclawdd where access would be gained to a seaway. Construction of this 4 mile long canal was began in 1811 and within 2 years coals were ready for exporting to the ‘new dock’ at Abercedi for this purpose. After a few years of desultory use the canal became disused and was subsequently built over for much of its length by the railway.” Due to the absence of primary research material at the time of their writings, it can be appreciated why these authors’ accounts of the Penclawdd Canal and Railway or Tramway Company differ
in many respects, but are generally similar in content and in the conclusions they reached. They leave a number of intriguing questions as to whether the Company’s Canal to Penclawdd, and its and its planned railways or tramroads, amounted to a small
industrial project or a scheme for the convenient cheap disposal of coal and was the use of the canal limited in its origins to the output of a single colliery, which disappeared when coal supplies became exhausted or impossible to work? We know that the first Annual Assembly of the Company of Proprietors met at the Guildhall, Swansea on Monday of 3rd July 1815, followed by similar assemblies in 1816, 1817 and 1818. The general view to be had from these authors’ accounts is that no meetings of the Company seems to have taken place after 1818, and thereafter active management of the canal seems to have ceased and it is safe to assume it would have gradually fallen into dereliction. Other accounts attribute its swift closure to the demise of the copperworks and the exhaustion of the workable coal at Llewitha in 1825. Little consideration was given to the legislature of the Act of 1811 itself and the limitations it imposed on the Company’s development. Moreover who were the proprietors and investors and why did they invest?test

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