Wrexham & Minera Joint Railway
The Great Western railway line to Minera from 'Brymbo West' was where the branch changed character, from double track to single, from steep to slightly easier gradients, from deep valley to, briefly, a hill flank, and then heavily wooded, high hedged countryside, unexpectedly rural because of lying so close to works and mines and itself having several working quarries. It was in these last three miles of the Wrexham & Minera branch that operating proved costly when crossings were manned, or tedious once crossing keepers were made redundant. There were, for the record, eight crossings, generally only chains apart or yards in some instances...
Steam train 'Henrietta' arrives at Minera, its wagons laden with coal. c.1890.
From leaving Brymbo, first came 'Caello Crossing' and, beside it, a 16 wagon siding belonging to Brymbo Steel Company. The Crossing had a 'keyless disc and signals with lamp and slot repeaters.' Twenty four chains' beyond was 'Smelt Crossing' and a 22 wagon siding, also belonging to Brymbo Steel Co., which was used for pit-prop traffic for Smelt pit, which provided fireclay for the steelworks.
Another fifty five chains brought trains to 'Pentresaeson Halt and Crossing', with gates worked by hand, but locked by signals. Forty four chains beyond lay 'Gegin Crossing', with the same gate arrangements. This was only twenty and a half chains short of CoedPoeth Station, serving a village which a GWR Chester Divisional Report of 1924/5 admitted to be 'a considerable distance away from the station'. The station was something of a focal point for many years, serving also the villages of Bwlchgwyn, Talwrn, Penygelli and Llandegla. Together these villages had a total population of 9,000 people.
Ruthin road crossing view of Coedpoeth Station.
Carriage Department staff from Wrexham would travel upto CoedPoeth Station to clean a set of coaches, which were stabled in a carriage shed. There were also two loops able to take 50 wagons, four sidings, two long loading banks, one solely for silica stone. The CoedPoeth stationmaster supervised five crossings, which were, Smelt, Pentresaeson, Gegin, Ruthin Road at the station, and 'Vicarage Crossing' nineteen and a half chains beyond. Further up the line again were 'Cae Glas Crossing' (twenty five and a half chains), and 'Berwig Halt & Crossing', a further six chains distant again.
Berwig Halt was always the terminus of railmotors for it served the village of Minera. The Electric Train Staff section ended here and trains working to Minera Lime Works (forty eight chains distant) were controlled by wooden staff and the 'one engine in steam' was allowed to use the lime company's water column. Four sidings held 44 wagons and another three could be handled at that belonging to Lester's Lime Works.
Station at Lester's Lime Works.
The station at Lester's Lime Works was the junction for the 'New Brighton Branch', which climbed for about a mile or so along a flank of Esclusham Mountain, which dominates the Minera area. The New Brighton branch led to the 'Delafield white lead mines' which closed prior to World War 1 when the line was dismantled. However, the line was later re-layed and the branch reopened for several years after the development of silica clay beds and quarries. The branch's memorial is an easily traceable trackbed on a low embankment amid green pastures.
Passenger services had been introduced progressively over a rather long period of 39 years, starting in 1866 and finally covering the whole branch by 1905. It was on 15th November 1897 that the passenger service was extended to CoedPoeth. 'Rail Motor Cars One Class Only' began running as fas as Coedpoeth on 20th March 1905 with the additional opening of the halts at Brymbo West and Pentresaeson. The final extension of passenger service via Vicarage Crossing to Berwig Halt took place on the 1st of May 1905. The summer timetable of the GWR in 1905 showed a service of six daily railmotors from Wrexham to Berwig, augmented by three to CoedPoeth on weekdays. The service was intensified to 15 workings on Saturdays. The general index of GWR timetables showed CoedPoeth, unusually, as a station where 'Horses are dealt with by special arrangement only.'
By the early 1920's, GWR officials were reporting serious road competition from motor buses and 'certain individuals who run small cars to and from Wrexham.' Measures were taken in 1926 that saw the passenger service axed from Berwig Halt in January 1926, and reduced back to CoedPoeth station where services between there and Wrexham were also 'materially reduced.' Timings were neither impressive at this time, with eleven minutes allowed between Wrexham & Brymbo, and a further 19 minutes for the shorter section to Berwig.
Trains were locomotive hauled after 3.20pm on Saturday afternoons because the railmotors could not cope with traffic which continued until the man in charge at Wrexham Station sent the code 'Europe' to advise staff that the last train had left for the branch. 'Asia' was the code for the departure of the last 'up' train. 'Africa', 'America' & 'Australia' were the codes reserved for the last mineral traffic on Saturday nights before the branch closed at 5.30am on Sundays until midnight. The GWR tried to beat bus competition by joining it, introducing 'Road motor cars' between Wrexham & Brymbo in August 1925.
A steam train leaves Minera limeworks. (pic courtesy of R.D.Jones)
The Minera passenger traffic was small compared with that of the Brymbo area and the withdrawl of passenger services from the entire branch from January 1st 1931 must have been a welcome relief for the traffic operators. After 1931 the railway was solely used for mineral traffic to and from Minera Limeworks. Little more was heard of economies until 1954, when as from 25th July of that year, Caello, Smelt, Pentresaeson & Gegin Crossings became unmanned. Regulations stated 'The normal position of the gates is across the railway and they are secured in that position by standard padlock' , 'Padlock keys were kept at Croesnewydd West Box, Firemen were to open the gates, guards to close & padlock them and return keys to the box.'
These instructions remained in force until the section between Brymbo West Box and Minera was closed completely to rail traffic from January 1st 1972. The rail track was lifted and Wrexham Rural District Council agreed to buy the line for £200. Sections were lated sold on again to private individuals. The trackbed has mainly returned to nature, where it has not been developed upon, but traces remain of its crossings..... A decade later on October 1st 1982, the Croes Newydd to Brymbo section of the branch was taken out of use after steelworks traffic was switched entirely to road.
Ref; Words taken from an article by Rex Christiansen , Railway World magazine, February 1987.
Taken from 'Great Western Railway Journal Volume 3, Number 23 Summer 1997
A Northern Observer. Part 2. Thomas Shuttleworth. 407-10.
Experience of Minera branch at Berwig in 1920s whilst on holiday near village of Gwynfryn. Some of the notices were only in Welsh: Perygl y Tren and dome wer bi-lingual: RHYBUDD. The passenger service was withdrawn in 1930, but freight lasted into the 1960s. A limestone quarry line was powered by Olwen an outside-cylinder 0-6-0ST. One day they walked over the mountain to Llangollen and returned to Wrexham behind Bulldog 3342 Bonaventura, from where a bus had to taken to Gwynfryn. See letter by Jack Burrell on page 480: return from Llangollen to Berwig by train was not possible as last train from Wrexham was at 15.10: Berwig was only staffed for one shift. In the 1930s there were both freight and passenger workings into Manchester via Warrington. Writer saw 28xx at Ditton Junction on a prop train and there is a story of Bulldog 3442 Bullfinch taking a 10-coach Holyhead Mail from Manchester Exchange as far as Chester. (KPJ: bookstall manager at Manchester Exchange in late 1940s remembered these Great Western workings). "Foreign" locomotives were exhibited at the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Centenary celebrations at Wavertree Playground (known as Mystery, locally): these were 6029 King Stephen, E850 Lord Nelson, No. 10000 and 6161 The King's Own (see Railway Magazine 1930, November). Writer wondered how they got there. Immediately prior to the introduction of the Earl class writer observed Bulldogs on Cambrian Coast line: 3450 Peacock (from Afon Wen to Criccieth and 3495 Tasmania from Afon Wen to Pwllheli). Noted lever reverse 2262 which lasted "well into BR days", Duke 3289, and the through service from Birkenhead to Dover and Bournemouth which brought Southern Railway stock to the northern limits of the GWR. Illus.: Berwig station in 1920s; Minera branch with Gwynfryn quarries; Brymbo Junction; Llanuwchllyn station..