View Full Version : Saundersfoot Coal Mine Railway, Pembrokeshire

08-12-2008, 09:15 PM
The Saundersfoot Railway

Although not usually associated with the colliery area of Wales, Pembrokeshire can lay claim to one of the early railways constructed specially to serve the coalmining industry. On June 1st 1829, the Saundersfoot Railway was authorised from the anthracite collieries at Thomas Chapel to the harbour at Saundersfoot, a distance of 4 and three quarter miles. In addition to the main line there was to be a branch one mile in length along the coast from the harbour to Wisemans Bridge, and a somewhat shorter branch to a point near Saundersfoot known as the Ridgeway. The estimated cost of the works, including the purchase of the land and considerable improvements at the harbour was £17,214.00.

Beyond the tunnel, the line past through a cutting to a masonry bridge over the main road from Carmarthen to Pembroke and an embankment across Kings Moor. Other roads were crossed on the level and for some distance the line ran beside the public highway. The railway which was single with passing loops was laid to a gauge of four feet zero and three eighths of an inch, with cast iron fish bellied rails, three feet six inches long supported at each end by chairs resting on stone sleepers twelve inch square by ten inch deep. Two tracks with a common inner rail were laid on the harbour incline. A loop was provided midway to enable ascending and descending trains to pass. Although the act authorised the use of locomotives provided they consumed their own smoke, the railway was worked by horses. Traffic consisted of coal and iron; passengers other than miners were never carried.

In 1842 the company was again authorised to construct the branch along the coast to Wisemans Bridge, and to extend the line thence inland for one and a half miles to the colliers and ironworks at Kilgetty and Stepaside. The use of locomotives on the extension was expressly forbidden, but powers that remained unexercised, were obtained for the conveyance of passengers. From the harbour, the line ran northward for about 500 yards along the main street of the village subsequently known as railway street and through two short tunnels whence it crossed the sand dunes to a third tunnel and reached Wisemans Bridge by means of a causeway at the foot of the cliffs, only a few feet above high water mark. Between Wisemans Bridge and Stepaside the line followed a valley and for the last half a mile or so was laid beside a public road which passes under the main Carmarthen to Pembroke road by means of a masonry bridge. Separate arches were provided for the railway and the road. A branch around a half a mile long ran from the bridge to Grove Colliery. The shaft of this colliery was situated high up on the hillside, above the valley. Coal was carried down to the railway by short steeply graded, single track tramway laid with flanged rails to a gauge of about three feet. The colliery pumps were worked by a Cornish beam engine with a cylinder 80 inches in diameter.

By 1845 the South Wales Railway had been projected from the Great Western Railway near Gloucester, to Fishguard, with a branch from Whitland direct to Pembroke, which passed within two miles of Thomas Chapel. A separate undertaking known as the Tenby, Saundersfoot and South Wales Railway and Pier Company was promoted by local interests to take over the Saundersfoot Railway and to extend it from Thomas Chapel to join the branch of the South Wales Railway at Reynalton, and from Saundersfoot to Tenby.
The Saundersfoot Railway was therefore left to pursue itís uneventful way, and in course of time the company achieved some measure of prosperity. The anthracite from the local collieries was of the highest quality, and was used extensively in breweries in the South and East of England, and in the tin mining industry in Cornwall. Overseas markets were established in France, Germany and Scandinavia. In 1874 the line from Stepaside to the foot of the Incline at Saundersfoot was relaid with heavier flat bottomed rails, spiked direct to transverse wooden sleepers, and powers were obtained to use locomotives on this section. A small 0-4-0 saddle tank engine with 8 inch by 14 inch outside cylinders and wheels 2 feet 6 inches in diameter was purchased by Manning Wardle & Co of Leeds. Owing to the small size of the tunnels between the harbour and Wisemanís Bridge, the overall dimensions had to be reduced to a minimum. The weight of the engine in working order was about nine and a half tons. For many years it was named Rosalind, but eventually the name plates were removed. An engine shed and repair shops were erected at Stepaside. In 1877 the railway suffered a setback when the ironworks at Stepaside were closed as the result of foreign competition. The neighbouring Grove Colliery followed the ironworks into idleness several years later.

In 1914 the railway was extended for about one and a half miles beyond Thomas Chapel to serve a new colliery at Reynalton. To avoid heavy expenditure on earthworks and bridges, the line followed a somewhat circuitous course through open country. The existing railway from Thomas Chapel to Saundersfoot was relaid; horse traction was finally abandoned, and all traffic between Reynalton and the head of the incline was woked by a 0-4-0 saddle tank engine, built for the colliery company by Kerr Stuart & Co, of Stoke-On-Trent. The new engine was named Bull-Dog and was slightly larger than the one already in use between Stepaside and the harbour. It had 9 inch by 15 inch outside cylinders, 2 feet 6 inch wheels, and weighed 12 and a half tons in working order. To enable it to pass through the tunnel under the Great Western Railway to Saundersfoot, the maximum height and width had to be restricted to six feet nine inches respectively.

The prosperity of the Reynalton colliery was short lived, serious labour troubles led to the closing of the pit in 1921. The engine was then sold to the Saundersfoot railway and continued to work between the head of the incline and the nearby Bonvilles Court Colliery. This colliery, the largest served by the railway is interesting in that the winding gear was a product of the ironworks at Stepaside. One by one the remaining collieries in the district were closed. The last to remain open was that at Bonvilles Court, where work was stopped in April 1930. All traffic on the railway ceased at this time and for more than two years the line lay derelict.

By 1933 there were signs of a revival in the local mining industry. In January of that year Broom Colliery in Thomas Chapel, was re-opened although a further two years elapsed before the production of coal was resumed. The railway was re-opened from the harbour to the colliery, and subsequently from the harbour to Stepaside; but the extension to Reynalton remained closed. The yard at Bonvilles Court Colliery was used for screening and storing coal. Both locomotives were reconditioned and placed in service, the older on the stepaside line, and the newer between Broom Colliery and the head of the Incline. Neither engine was named at this time. A new shed was provided for the Manning Wardle tank engine near the harbour.

Unfortunately, the plans for re-establishing the collieries ended in failure, and by the summer of 1939, all work had again ceased, and the railway was closed. Soon after the outbreak of the war the railway was dismantled and the material sold for scrap.

Since the removal of the track, the tunnels, embankment, and sea wall between Saundersfoot and Wisemans Bridge have become a public footpath.


A map showing the layout of the 2 railway lines.

Firstly the 3 tunnels by Coppet Hall Beach, This Line Ran From The Harbour all way to 3 different mines.

Queen Victoria Would Only Ever Use Pembrokeshire Anthracite As Fuel On The Royal Yacht.


The Harbour Circa 1900




The Train then ran from the harbour on to Railway Street (now the Strand) Then on to the first of 3 tunnels along the coast.


The Miners On The Harbour.


The First Tunnel


Looking Towards The First Tunnel From Tunnel Two



Tunnel Two Entrance


Towards Tunnel Two From The Third Tunnel


Tunnel Three.


Tunnel Three Portal


Wisemans Bridge.


08-12-2008, 09:15 PM
The Thomas Chapel Line, From Saundersfoot To Renalton.


The Long Tunnel Runs Under This Area.


The Saundersfoot Station Portal, This Tunnel Closed Around 1930.


Looking Back..


This Tunnel Is Seriously Water Logged in a Foot Of Oxide Mud, Bats Are Everywhere.











The Renalton Side Portal.


Towards Renalton, This is where I came unstuck, Mud At Least 3 foot deep. I Sank to Above My Knees And Nearly Needed rescuing. After A Struggle I managed To Get free.


The Bulldog On The Same Line.


Bonvilles Court Colliery.

08-12-2008, 09:23 PM
Wicked report Sir...I love your harbour shot. How do you get the lights to look like stars? Cool bat pic too :thumb

Crank your F stop up to anything above F16 and you get stars, you may have to play off on your iso but you can always reduce noise later.

08-12-2008, 10:04 PM
Wow great stuff there mate, fantastic shots and a quality thread.

08-12-2008, 10:50 PM
Lovely report mate, really good. I went there this summer, and took possibly the worst pictures ever. I love the history of this place and I walked the three tunnels, but didn't know about the long station one.
The HDR works well. It's clear that HDR only works on an excellent photograph which these are. Nice to see this place done properly. Did you go to nearby Kilgetty Iron Works?

08-12-2008, 11:17 PM
Lovely report mate, really good. I went there this summer, and took possibly the worst pictures ever. I love the history of this place and I walked the three tunnels, but didn't know about the long station one.
The HDR works well. It's clear that HDR only works on an excellent photograph which these are. Nice to see this place done properly. Did you go to nearby Kilgetty Iron Works?

Cheers mate, the long tunnel is about a mile and a half away from the coastal ones, its a nightmare to get to and hell inside but excellent all the same.

Now Kilgetty ironworks is an interesting one because if you walk up the lane a little further on there are a few lime kilns. Even better though as you get to the top it opens to the remains of Grove pit. old outbuildings survive and the pit head still retains its house (in a derelict state) On top of the shaft is a concrete pad with a small hole in the centre, my kids drop stones down and wait about 20 seconds before hearing the splash 525 feet below.

There are stables down there the full hit and 5 miners who died in a collapse but could not be rescued.

There is loads around here undiscovered, its just sniffing it out.

08-12-2008, 11:28 PM
Certainly a place that warrants further work. No wonder I didn't find the long tunnel. Your pictures make it look excellent, but in real life I bet it was rank!
I guess I'm going to have to wait until my next year anual camping visit to Wiseman's Bridge before I can get down there again!

08-12-2008, 11:31 PM
I guess I'm going to have to wait until my next year anual camping visit to Wiseman's Bridge before I can get down there again!

I will take you to see St Catherines Island as well mate..

08-12-2008, 11:34 PM
Nice little report good to see the three tunnels have been reused, i'll have to pop down for a look at Grove some time, Ive got another photo of Bonvilles Court if your interested.

Thin Ice
09-12-2008, 12:29 PM
Excellent work as usual. <3 Bats

09-12-2008, 12:50 PM
Nice pictures, i like the lime deposits in the abandoned tunnel. Its very rare you see bats too (except old ones at the post office)!

09-12-2008, 03:52 PM
Took A Trip To Grove Pit Today.



Kilgetty Iron Works


Lime Kilns








Top Of The Shaft



If you go into the woods today...:lol:

09-12-2008, 05:18 PM
Brilliant! that was quick. Looks a really cool place too. How scary would that pumpkin head be if you were looking around there in the dark with a torch? nice photographs too. Did you drop a stone down?

09-12-2008, 06:09 PM
Did you drop a stone down?

of course...:lol:

09-12-2008, 07:47 PM
That pump house is in excellent condition for such an early colliery glad it seems to be looked after

10-12-2008, 04:00 PM
Brilliant mate.... such an interesting area and write up.

18-12-2008, 11:37 AM
Coal mining has become a highly regulated and technical operation in an attempt to mitigate environmental impacts and curb the health risks associated with mining.

You are indeed a top banana mate :thumb