Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Mumbles Train

I blogged the Mumbles train a couple of years back :

Any fule kno that the world's first passenger railway, the Mumbles train, would have been 200 years old this year. It was scrapped in 1960 by the local council, all of whose members are now being toasted here. Ever since I can remember, Swansea councils have been corrupt, incompetent or both - and according to this blog the tradition lives on.

Had it survived it would have been a World Heritage site and the biggest tourist attraction in Wales.

I'm just old enough to have ridden the beastie. The terminus was at the back end of the long-gone Victoria Station, in what used to be a fascinating hinterland between station and docks. Railway lines ran in the roads between the warehouses and docksides - the Swansea of Kingsley Amis' novel 'That Uncertain Feeling'. Alas all gone, replaced by dual carriageway, retail sheds and a sanitised marina.

The journey - along the sea front past the prison, the Vetch, the Slip (with its station, floral gardens, bridge and beach funfair), Patti Pavilion and St Helens, to Blackpill (where the accompanying main railway line turned off towards Gowerton), Oystermouth and the Pier - is still pleasant now, as a walk or bike ride on the path where the line ran. But it doesn't compare with a pasteboard ticket, a box of Paynes Poppets from the machine at the terminus, and a gloriously rackety journey. In winter the ride could be scary. The train always rocked a bit, but in a gale it would move disconcertingly. Upstairs, where the motion was accentuated, you'd wonder if it was about to fall over into the sea. Downstairs, with a stormy high tide the spray of breaking waves would slap against the windows - if you left them open you could get wet. We loved it.

I'm pleased to see that someone has put this excellent video tribute, showing then-and-now video of the line, onto Youtube. The first part's soundtrack is Spencer Davis' (of this lot fame) lament 'The Mumbles Train', from his latest 'So Far' release. A Swansea boy (didn't his mum work in the Lewis Lewis department store ?), Spencer is still playing .

At 4:58 you can see children retrieving their flattened pennies from the line after the train has passed.

I said that in a storm at high tide you could get wet unless you shut the downstairs windows. This recent video, taken on a stormy day near the end of what was the line, shows that you'd sometimes need to shut the upstairs ones too. The line ran right alongside the water. You can see why a ride on a stormy night was an adventure.

I trust Sarah and Liz will enjoy the video, if they've not seen it before. More stills of the Blitz and (near the end) the train here.


Anonymous said...

I have to play the pedantic trainspotter and point out that its a tram rather than a train.

Local governments are always anxious to destroy in the name of progress.

They would have to have killed of the railway on the Isle of Man. Thwarted, they have finally noticed it may actually bring in the odd tourist.

Coventry eagerly did what the Luftwaffe could not do and razed the remainder of the city to the ground. If youve ever been there you'll see what a betrayal that was.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Laban. What a lovely little movie. I'll send a link to my mother. She rode that train every day to and from school from Blackpill into Swansea.

Laban said...

Tram or no, it was always known as the Mumbles Train. Before the tram-like stock with which it finished its career, it was pulled by small tank locos - and it started with horses back in 1806. There are photos of the locos on one of the other Mumbles Train youtube videos.

Anonymous said...

Laban, sorry I wasnt questioning its popular name, just that strictly speaking the vid showed a tram.

There is a long history of tramlines becoming railways and vice-versa.

Anonymous said...

Trams - a most civilised form of transport. And to think we had double deck trams too, a rarity, very useful, cheap high capacity. Still the-powers-that-be knew better.

Anonymous said...

Building the marina has not made me want to re-visit Swansea any. Nor the (admittedly fine) Leisure Centre. However I do recommend the Gower Peninsula which is fantastic, with amazing beaches and still unspoilt.