Dyffryn Tanat and Region Development Trust
Chairman Kenton Owen QGM
Consultant David Higman MBE
Charity Reg. No. 1139072
Company Reg. No. 6905623
The small Morda Coalfield had been worked since the 16th Century fulfilling local coal requirements. The opening of the Ellesmere Canal Llanymynech branch in 1797 may have provided some stimulus to development even though the canal was almost 3 miles from the centre of the coalfield. Thirteen Acts were obtained to authorise different sections of the canal, that of 1793 included the Llanymynech branch and also a shorter branch from the Llanymynech line to Morda Bridge, this section was however, not built.
Henry Thomas records that "owners of three of the mines....applied for permission to build a tramway down to" the canal in 1799, but failed and Goodchild reports a similar failed attempt in 1803. On 30th August 1808 a lease was agreed between Francis Lloyd of Domgay, Montgomeryshire, three miles or so to the south, and Samuel Leach of Llanforda Issa, Richard Croxton, John Croxon and Edward Croxon, all of Oswestry of all mines,seams etc of coal cannel and slack in or under Coed-y-go Farm in the holding of Thomas Sides and a piece part of Gwern Fadog Common adjoining. There was a break clause in the lease, if investment was below £400 or profit could not be achieved by the 25th March 1812. The 4 gentlemen were all established local entrepeneurs with strong financial and industrial connections. With this venture access to the canal was required. Henry Thomas notes that an agreement of 1812 with Thomas Netherton Parker of Sweeney Hall (the land between Nant-Y-Caws stream and the canal formed part of his estate) refers to the company completing a "railroad" to the canal, but in 1814 T N Parker claimed damages against the company because "they carried the railway to a distant works and never brought it to, nor used it for, Mr Parkers coals". The two shafts of Parkers Pits lay on the south side of Nant-Y-Caws only 100 yards from the rail road route.
All however was not well at Coed-y-go as on the 16th August 1814 an advertisment appeared in the North Wales Gazette headed 'COLLIERY TO BE LET'., reading in part: All the coals under the lands of Colonel Disbrow, Rowland Hunt and T N Parker Esqrs lying on the west side of the turnpike...from Oswestry to Welshpool...in the..occupations of T N Parker, Thomas Roberts, John Davies of Upper Nant, Thomas Sides of Coedygo, Nathen Jervis of Lower Nant and others, comprising two or three hundred acres, in part of which, at the Gronwen, a pit is now working and will be given up in November next. Much can be speculated about this turn of events but the following appears clear:-
Francis Lloyd of Domgay had sold Coed-Y-Go farm(he may have died in 1812 and the estate broken up).
The tramway was in use by Leach & Croxons in 1814.
Leach & Croxons were working elsewhere in Sweeney Township.
A pit existed at the Gronwen with a steam engine of about 20hp per the advertisment which will be given up in November 1815. (The BGA map shows Gronwen at the southern end of the coalfield and marks 4 pits, one very close to the farm, Old Gronwen Colliery a little to the north east, Gronwen Pit (267ft 8in deep) a little further north east and lying on theeast side of the road at Nant Farm and on the north side of Nant-Y-Caws very close to the route of the Tramway and to the west Gronwen Colliery.
The Ordnance Surveyors Drawings for the area show the complete line, that east of the Oswestry to Welshpool turnpike dated 1827 and that west surveyed 1830 and 1831. The line begins at the wharf (GR 33043248) runs west and then north west to cross the turnpike, then north to the Nant- y-Caws valley, crossing that near Nant and after a reverse curve crossing Nant Lane at Tynytwmpath then continuing north to pass an area described as Gronwen Colliery (not at The Gronwen above) close to Coedygo. Here it ran next to a pit (later recorded as Partridge Pit No 8), crossed the Morda to Trefonen road to turn west to two shafts (Domgay Pits No 9 & 10) or Old Dog Pit per BGS) A further pair of shafts at this colliery but not rail connected is shown at the top of Nant Lane (Pompey Pit or Hen & Chickens Pit drowned out before 1834 per BGS) Who worked these pits is not clear, but perhaps whoever did, were the lessees following the 1814 advertisment. They had certainly made considerable investments at Coed-y-Go as 12 shafts are known. Pigot.s 1828-29 Directory lists "Leach & Croxon" as owning Sweeney Colliery (the known Sweeney Colliery was reputedly sunk later (@1840), Sweeney was the township covering this area) and as coal dealers at Newtown Wharf indicated coal was being sent via the tramway and canal.
The 1837 1st Edition OS shows the entire route with a few changes:- A Pit on the south side of Nant-Y-Caws (Parkers Pits, Gronwen Colliery and non of the pits noted in 1827-1831 are shown, The line curves at the site of Partridges Pit crosses Woodhill Road and runs along the south side of the Morda to Trefonen road to coal pits (British Pits No 11 & 12 or Dog Pits per BGS GR 32743277) opposite Coed-Y-Go.
R>D>Thomas refers to a lease of Tynytwmpath Colliery dated the 1st June 1844 between William Roberts, Solicitor of Oswestry, David Bennion and Sarah his wife, to Edward Croxon, John Croxon, Richard J.Croxon John Howell and Edward Jones. The royalty agreed was one-ninth share or 1s 6d per ton on all coal conveyed on the tramway to the Ellesmere Canal. Shafts were sunk on both sides of the road close to Pryn-mapsis Farm (Roberts Pit on the east side of the road and Clays Pit on the west side. The Tramway crossed the road to the south of these pits.
Drill Colliery, a little further east at Morda crossroads (GR 32863277) was sunk about 1836 according to R.D.Thomas or 1834or a little earlier per Wedd et al, withe second shaft in 1836, possibly by Thomas , Ireland & Co, and is shown on the 1837 OS. Shortly afterwards Croxon & Co were working it. The 2 shafts were known as Barnfield shafts after the fields where they were sunk.. The 1855 Mineral statistics show only the following relevant entries - British Colliery being worked by Rogers & Co (This would be the pit at the terminus of the Tramway in 1837 and may indicate Rogers & Co had been the lessees since 1814?. The Colliery was listed until 1863, but 1868 was listed as owned by T.Savin who built his own standard guage branch line to Porthywaen). - Penylan Colliery (north of Coed-Y-Go and the Morda Brook) worked by Croxon & Co. - There is no listing for Drill. The first listing in Mineral Statistics for Drill is 1860 with Messrs Croxon.
The current thinking is that the Tramway from Nant-Y-Caws to Coed-y-Go was closed about 1850 and at, or prior to that time, a new branch was constructed from Drill to join the line on the south bank of Nant-Y-Caws using a new crossing point to the east of the original but no hard evidence has yet emerged. All that is clear is that from ground evidence the Drill line was constructed, but it had been lifted by the date of the 1875 OS and was not on the 1837 OS. R.D.Thomas writing before 1939 notes the Drill to Gronwen Wharf line, but not the route to Coed-Y-Go
With the opening of the Oswestry & Newtown Railway on the 1st May 1860 (absorbed into the Cambrian Railways on the 25th July 1864), the Morda Collieries began to lose competitivness with the arrival of better quality coal but Drill remained at work until closure in 1879 per R.D.Thomas although the Mineral Statistics still list the colliery in 1884. When the O&NR was built a bridge was needed to cross the Tramway en route to Gronwen Wharf and stone blocks remained through the bridge in 1958. The arrival of the O&NR however probably heralded the rundown of the Tramway. The 1875 OS shows only a few sections of the routes perhaps indicating closure was several years before 1875. Those shown include a short section of the Coed-Y-Go line where it crossed Nant Lane south of Pryn-Mapsis Farm and ran in a curve to Nant-Y-Caws, most of the route of the line from Drill to Nant-Y-Caws, the section in a wood south west of Sweeney Hall and the section leading to the Cambrian overbridge.
Track and Wagons. - The track was laid in roughly squared stone blocks about 12" square with a single hole, either round or square. When Wilson visited the remains of the line from Drill to Gronwen Wharf in 1958 some stone blocks remained in situ and others displaced along the final mile to Gronwen Wharf, some carried the impreswsion of a square plate but all now appear to have been removed although examples have been recovered and can be seen in the Cambrian Railways museum in Oswestry and one private location. Wilson measured the spacing between the holes in the blocks lengthways at 4ft 6in (ie rail length) and the spacing across the track between the holes at 3ft 1in.
The type of rail is a more complex question. Two types of rail have been identified on related sites. 1. Plateway Rail. One short piece has been found at the site of Woodhead or Domgay Pit (No 5 or Nos 3 and 4) with a smallish approx 3" base with a hole close to one end which may define the piece as used underground. Henry Thomas found a piece used as a lintel in a cottage in Nant -y-Caws in 1980 along with a broken chair. 2. Inverted T rail. A piece has been dredged from the canal basin at Gronwen by Barry Tuffin, 3" across the base and 3" high with the end having small wings on each side of the base that would have fitted into a chair (identical rail has been located on the Crickheath Tramway a mile or so to the south along with a square chair to hold the rail).
Of the wagons, the only clue to design is a double flanged six spoked wheel of 18 inch diameter also dredged from the canal basin that exactly fits the inverted T rail profile. Was the line originally laid with plate rails and relaid with inverted T? Would the colliery, possibly when the line was rerouted, have gone to the exspense of new rails and wheels?. Sections of the Drill route can be seen today particularly where it drops down through fields into the Nant-y-Caws valley and where a possible stone embankment facing and abutment shows the crossing point of the stream.
Source P. Teather.
1836 map of the Oswestry area with additional information added in the 1850's. This shows the Gronwen Tramway leading down from the Coedygo coal mines to Gronwen Wharf via Nantycaws.
Tracing of a 1818 document showing Thomas Parkers pits at Nantycaws with the Gronwen tramway going past Roberts and Clays pits This also shows the Drill Colliery and Sweeney Colliery underground workings. These details must have been added later as these pits were not dug in 1818.
Source Gordon Hillier.
Diagram of the Gronwen tramway.
Part of a 1918 Geological survey map showing the coal pits around The Gronwen.
Source Ken Owen
1926 map showing the track bed of the Gronwen Tramway travelling south through the wooded plantation at the top left of the map. It then follows the road south-east to the fork in the road where it crosses the road in the woodland and travels south-south-east across the open field and then goes under the trackbed of the GWR railway. This bridge is still in situ at this time. No more remains of the trackbed are present today all the way to the canal at Gronwen Wharf.
Photo from 1956 showing the tramway blocks still in the field on the canalside of the underpass on the Great Western Railway.
Section of plateway rail found recently in the area of the Woodhead or Domgay pit at the side of Woodhill Lane. The Gronwen Tramway ran close to these pits. It is speculation whether this piece of rail would have been the tramway or part of the rails at the foot of the pits.
Source Ken Owen
Recent photo (Sept 2015) of Barry Tuffin with a section of T rail and one of the tramway truck wheels which have been dredged up from the Gronwen Wharf canal basin.
Source Ken Owen
Another photo showing the "wings" at the end of the T rail.