Fatal Railway Accident in Swansea Valley – 1893

Introduction

A few days ago, while skimming through one of my books on the history of the railways in South Wales (Miles & Watkins, 2004), I came across the following extract describing a junction line linking the Neath and Brecon Railway to the Swansea Vale Railway near Ystalyfera in the Swansea Valley.

About a mile north of Ynysygeinon Sidings was Ynysygeinon Junction where the N&B line to Coelbren Junction and Brecon climbed to the east whilst the Swansea Vale Railway turned towards the west across the flood plain of the Tawe towards Ystalyfera.

As I had lived in Ystalyfera for almost thirty years, my curiosity was aroused, so I studied some old maps to see the junction line in a geographical context.

Above: The main map (adapted from Mitchell & Smith, 2004) shows the route of the Neath & Brecon Railway and the junction line linking the N&BR (at Coelbren) to the Swansea Vale Railway – later Midland Railway – at Ynys-y-geinon Junction. Inset is part of a large-scale Ordnance Survey map (published 1918) showing the tracks through Ynys-y-geinon Junction running alongside the river Tawe.

The extract from Miles & Watkins continued as follows:

Over the years the area experienced several landslides, including a notable one in 1893 when a landslide hit a Brynaman to Swansea train, throwing the last two carriages off the rails. The guard, who was riding in the brake compartment, was killed by heavy luggage falling on top of him.

The description of the incident stirred my memory: I recalled that about twenty years ago I had corresponded with a genealogy friend in Florida, USA about a similar fatal railway accident involving someone named Meredith.

A search through old correspondence soon revealed further details. The friend living in Florida was originally from Radnorshire in Wales. His family had connections with the Swansea valley, and in 1998 he had sent me a newspaper cutting dating from December 1893 describing a railway accident that had taken place near Ystalyfera in which the railway guard was seriously injured. I resolved to find out more.

The Incident

South Wales Daily News Wednesday 15 December 1893 (page 5)

A report in the South Wales Daily News revealed that on the evening of Tuesday 13 December 1893, after heavy rains, a landslip at Ynisgerwn (Ynys-y-geinon) Junction had caused the last two coaches of the 5:25 pm train from Ystalyfera to Swansea to be ‘thrown off the rails’….

Later in the same article ‘our special reporter’ gave more details of the events leading up to the disaster:

Our ‘special reporter’ then described the accident itself, presumably basing his report on eye-witness accounts…

Apparently, the passengers in the front part of the train were unharmed. They climbed down to investigate and see if they could help those who had been in the two rear coaches.

The fourth carriage had merely been derailed and its passengers were easily helped out. The other carriage was lying on its side with its occupants thrown on top of each other. With the help of the able passengers they escaped to safety through the windows on the up-turned side.

The Injured

The report in the South Wales Daily News continued:

However, the South Wales Echo, published later the same day (Wednesday 15 December), provided a more up-to-date report ‘by special telegram’:

The report went on to give further details of the mechanism of the accident.

Later in his account, the reporter provided additional details on the death of the guard, William Meredith:

The Inquest

As predicted, a coroner’s inquest into the death of William Meredith was held on Thursday afternoon, 15 December 1893, at Ystalyfera Police Station. the proceedings were reported on page 6 of The Cambrian newspaper, published later the same day:

So poor 38-year-old William Meredith died of ‘upper spinal cord injuries’, in layman’s terms a broken neck, as a result of heavy luggage falling on him when the guard’s van rolled over.

William Meredith and his Family

I wanted to find out more about William and his family. I began by searching the National Probate Index and discovered that in the absence of a will, letters of administration had been probated at Carmarthen in 1894, the year after William’s death.

Entry for William Meredith in the National Probate Index.

The Probate index entry showed that William’s effects (£381 18s 3d) were bequeathed to Margaret, his wife.

I then studied the relevant censuses. The 1891 census, taken just over two years before the accident, confirms that William Meredith was a ‘railway guard’ and was living at Alltygrug House, Ystalyfera. It also shows that he was born circa 1858 at Llanwrthwl in north Breconshire. His wife was 33-year-old Margaret [née Williams], originally from Llansawel, Carmarthenshire. Living with them were five daughters and one son:

The Meredith household, as recorded in the 1891 Census.

Ten years earlier (1881), the Merediths had been living at 10 Alltygrug, Ystalyfera, with their daughter Lizzie, then named Eliza A Meredith. The General Register Office’s marriage index showed that William had married Margaret Williams in 1876.

Ten years later (1901) Margaret Meredith (described as a widow), was at Alltygrug Farm, Ystalyfera with two daughters and two young sons still at home:

The Meredith household in 1901, showing widow Margaret Meredith and four of her children.

Ynys-y-geinon Junction

The Neath & Brecon Railway’s junction line from Coelbren via Ystradgynlais had to drop from a higher level in order to join the Swansea Vale (later Midland) line from Brynaman at Ynys-y-geinon Junction.

This Ordnance Survey map published in 1961 shows the former Swansea Vale (Midland) line (red) being joined by the former Neath & Brecon junction line (pale blue) at Ynys-y-geinon Junction.

The photograph below, taken in the 1950s, shows a train from Ystradgynlais on the N&B line descending towards the junction:

The train approaches Ynys-y-geinon Junction from Coelbren. The track on the right is the Midland Railways line from Brynaman and Ystalyfera. The River Tawe is hidden by the trees on the right. The 1893 landslip occurred a few hundred yards further south (photo by H.C. Casserley in Jones, Dunstone and Watkins, 2005).

This view of Ynys-y-geinon Junction from the south shows the two N&B tracks going off to the right. As the OS map shows, they merged into a single line immediately north of the junction. The line to the left is the SVR (Midland Railways) main line from Ystalyfera and Brynaman. The signal box, is a 1910 replacement of the original box (photo from Miles and Watkins, 2004).

At various times some of the Brecon and Brynaman passenger trains were joined and divided at Ynys-y-geinon Junction. The 1882 working timetable shows that for Up trains just three minutes was typically allowed for this procedure. Five minutes was allowed for Down trains.

The trackbed of the former Midland Railway line at Ynys-y-geinon Junction is now a cycle path and public bridleway. The photo below, taken after heavy rains in January 2008, looks northwards along the recently surfaced path.

The weather conditions in 2008 were similar to what they had been on 13 December 1893, with surface water tumbling down the hillside and flowing over what was then the railway track. It is easy to imagine tons of earth from higher up the hillside crashing down onto the track and derailing the train.
(Photo by John Ball, 15 January 2008).

Epilogue

By the end of the 1960s the former Swansea Vale / Midland Railway line to Brynaman and Ystalyfera, and the Neath & Brecon Railway (latterly Great Western Railway) had closed, thus ending the railway services in the Upper Swansea Valley. However, the railways left a permanent mark on the landscape. It is still possible to find evidence of the track-beds, buildings, and line-side features that have survived from the railway era.

Sources

  • Jones, Gwyn Briwnant, Dunstone, Denis, and Watkins, Tudor (2005) The Neath and Brecon Railway: A History, Gomer Press, Llandysul.
  • Miles, John, and Watkins, Tudor (2004) Midland Railway: Swansea Vale & Branches, The Welsh Railways Research Circle, Bassaleg.
  • Mitchell, Vic and Smith, Keith (2004) Brecon to Neath: including Ystradgynlais, Middleton Press, Midhurst.
  • Ancestry.co.uk – Census and National Probate Index images.
  • Old-Maps.co.uk – Ordnance Survey maps

Fashion Sketches

I’ve recently been examining some of my father’s papers—part of my collection of family history material—and have enjoyed finding again his old art sketchbook dating from 1913, over one hundred years old now.

sketchbook

Dad’s sketchbook from 1913-14

Background
Dad was a talented artist.  He first showed his artistic ability while still at school, but like many youngsters at that time, he finished his full time education at just age fourteen (in 1910). Afterwards he attended day and evening classes at the School of Art, Handsworth Technical School, and was awarded a first class certificate in Brush Drawing.
Dad’s first job was at John Hardman & Co. in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter. He used to like pointing out to me the Hardman building when we travelled into town by tram (no. 32) in the late 1940s and by bus (no. 96) in the early 1950s. Hardman’s was well known as a company that specialised in designing and crafting stained glass windows.

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A number 32 tram grinding its way out of town up Newhall Hill circa 1930. The tram is about to pass the John Hardman studios on the left.
[Photo from the Birmingham History Forum]

While at Hardman’s, Dad had a chance to develop an interest in commercial art, and by 1913, when he was sixteen years old, he was working on his own from an address in Soho Road, Handsworth, designing and producing posters and tickets for local churches and other organisations. Dad’s sketchbook dates from this period in his career.

The Fashion Sketches
The contents show Dad practising his sketching and developing his flair for high fashion designs. The time-frame of these sketches (2 July 1914 to 30 August 1914) was in the weeks immediately before and after the outbreak of the Great War on 4th August. Whether the designs were strictly from his imagination or whether he modelled them after newspaper or magazine advertisements, we do not know. He was only seventeen and could not have known that his future as an artist would soon be rudely interrupted by service in the British Army. Regardless, the fashion sketches themselves are wonderful evidence of his talent.

His book includes fourteen pages of pen-and-ink fashion sketches like those below. Some  hold just a single sketch, while others show several designs or working details.

samples

Three of the pages from Dad’s sketchbook

All the sketches are dated and signed F. Ball, (later in his life he began signing F L Ball).

Helen and I were charmed by the sketches and so we scanned them, asked Freestyle, our local print shop, to enlarge two of them, and Sable & Hogg‘s picture framer here in Brecon to mount and frame them for use in our home. Below I’ve included an almost full-size image of one of the chosen sketches.

You can read more about the artistic aspects of Dad’s life on my website in the section entitled The Life of Frank Leonard Ball.

sketch1a

Sketch by F Ball, dated July 3rd 1914

A Penny for my Thoughts

As part of my research into the Tumbledown Cottage known as The Old Crow at Willersley, Herefordshire, I investigated the Penny family who occupied the cottage in the 20th century. While working on the history of this Penny family, at the back of my mind has been the realisation that my own BALL family had a link with a member of a PENN[E]Y family: surely there couldn’t be any connection between my family and those who inhabited the Old Crow!
penney-fl
In 1953 my father’s sister Alice Victoria BALL, then a fifty-three year old spinster, married one Frank Leslie PENNEY (shown right), widower, born in Birmingham in 1899, whom my brother and I knew as “Uncle Frank“. I’d never properly researched Uncle Frank’s ancestry, and the thought had never entered my head that there might be a connection with the PENN[E]Y family of Radnorshire, Herefordshire, and the Tumbledown Cottage.

But I was wrong! In 2015, I decided to investigate Uncle Frank’s ancestry and it soon became clear that Frank Leslie PENNEY was indeed a descendant of the same line as the Penny Boys of the Old Crow!

Frank Leslie PENNY (b. 1899, Birmingham) was the son of Joseph William PENNY (b. 1865, Handsworth, Staffs), the grandson of Emmanuel PENNY (b. 1837, Kington, Herefordshire), and the great grandson of Joseph PENNY (b. 1796, Stanner. Herefordshire). Furthermore, Emmanuel PENNY was a younger brother of the Joseph PENNY (b. 1825), long-serving subpostmaster at Winforton, from whom the Penny Boys were descended.

Uncle Frank’s great grandfather was the Penny Boys’ great great grandfather!

Of course I am not a blood relative of the Penn(e)y family – but this new-found connection between me and The Old Crow is truly an amazing coincidence.

Even more Churches and Chapels!

I’m on a roll!
Since my last posting I’ve added three more subjects to my online Welsh Churches and Chapels Collection:

  1. St Dwywe’s Church at Llanddwywe near Talybont, Merionethsire
  2. The Old and New Salem Chapels, Bonymaen, Swansea, Glamorgan
  3. Moriah Chapel, Pengenffordd near Talgarth, Breconshire
  4. Capel Cana, Felindre Farchog, Pembrokeshire

The photographs are from various sources, including J H Truman, Peter Wood, Nick Lloyd, Google StreetView, and my own collection.

The collection now comprises 528 places of worship, and of course I plan to add more over the coming weeks.
Go to Welsh Churches and Chapels Collection at www.jlb2011.co.uk/walespic/churches/ then click the browse button and scroll down to the entries for Talybont, Swansea, Pengenffordd and Felindre Farchog.

As a taster, the fine picture below, by J H Truman, shows the interior of the ‘New’ Salem Chapel in Bonymaen, Swansea.

swansea16c

Yet more Churches and Chapels!

In the past few days I’ve added four more places of worship to my online collection:

1.  St Cewydd’s Church, Aberedw, Breconshire.
2.  Upper Chapel Church, Upper Chapel, Breconshire
3.  Hebron Independent Chapel, Crickadarn, Breconshire
4.  St Mary’s Church, Crickadarn, Breconshire

Many of the photographs for these subjects were kindly provided by Robert Eckley, supplemented by photographs from the Geograph website and Google’s StreetView camera.

After recounting the number of places of worship featured on my ‘Welsh Churches and Chapels Collection’, I was astonished to find the total is now 525 (not the 480 or so that I’d previously estimated) – and I hope to add even more over the coming weeks.
Go to Welsh Churches and Chapels Collection at www.jlb2011.co.uk/walespic/churches/ then click the browse button and scroll down to the entries for Aberedw, Crickadarn and Upper Chapel.

aberedw1a

Welsh Churches and Chapels

After a break of two months, I’ve just added another three places of worship to my online collection:

1.  Maesyberllan English Baptist Chapel, Felinfach, Talachddu, Breconshire.
2.  St David’s Church, Llanddewi-fach, Radnorshire
3.  Tabernacle Independent Chapel, Pennorth, Breconshire

The photographs for the first two subjects were kindly provided by my friend Robert Eckley, while those for the third subject are my own.

The ‘Welsh Churches and Chapels Collection’ now features 480 places of worship. I hope to add more over the coming weeks.
Go to Welsh Churches and Chapels Collection at www.jlb2011.co.uk/walespic/churches/ then click the browse button and scroll down to the entries for Felinfach, Llanddewi-fach and Pennorth.

Welsh Churches and Chapels

I’ve just added another church to my online collection. This time it’s the Church of St John the Baptist at Alltwen, Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley. I’ve supplemented my own two photos, taken nearly nineteen years ago, with two much more recent images from the Google StreetView camera.

Go to Welsh Churches and Chapels Collection at www.jlb2011.co.uk/walespic/churches/ then click the browse button and scroll down to the entries for Alltwen.