A journey along The St. David's Railway (A parochial view)
Royal Assent was given in June 1828 to an Act of Parliament for making and maintaining a railway or tramway by the Carmarthenshire Railway Company (the Llanelly Railway and Dock Company) from Machynis Pool to Gelli Gille Farm, north east of the hamlet of Dafen. It was authorized that:
(a) Where the railway passed any turnpike road or public highway, the ledge or flanch (flange) of the railway should not exceed 3/4" in height above the level of such road. The distance between inside edges of the rails was not to be less than 4 feet 8 inches, and the distance between outside edges not more than 5 feet 1 inch.(b) The railway was not to be made or brought within 30 yards of a messuage commonly called Llandaven House (Farm), or within 60 yards of on the western side of Daven pit, between the turnpike road and the pit, or within 30 yards of the southern side of the pit.
R. S. Pemberton had mining interests in the Llanelli area and Llandaven House/Farm was part of his Pemberton Estate. He at one time began renovating the farm house, intending to make it his residence but left it unfinished when the estate was sold to R. J. Nevill of the Llanelly Copperworks Company in 1855. Daven or Llandaven Pit was owned by General Warde, but closed as considered unviable in 1809. This pit should not be confused with Llandafen Colliery situated a ¼ mile east of Halfway.
(c) The rates of toll for carrying sand, limestone, lime to be used as manure, and all materials for repair of public roads, was not to exceed the sum of 1 penny per ton per mile. All copper, tin, lead, iron and other metals, , timber, coals, coke, culm, cinders, stone bricks, earth, clay, chalk, marl, lime and sand not used as manure not to exceed 1 penny halfpenny per ton per mile. Culm – coal waste. Marl – fine sediment used as fertilizer.(d) For every horse, mule or ass not employed in drawing, carrying or removing or any wagon for the purpose of moving goods, wares, merchandise or other commodity, would be permitted to go through or by any tollhouse for the sum of 2 pence (except as going from farm to farm).(e) The hours for using the railway were from 5am to 8pm during the months of November, December, January and February and between 4am and 9 pm during the months of March, April, September and October, and between4am to 10pm during May, June, July and August.(f) The railway would be open to anybody who was prepared to pay for hauling traffic with his own teams or by contract.(g) The collectors appointed by the Company to receive tolls and rates, in respect of horses, mules and asses, were to give on payment a ticket to the payer, specifying the day and the toll. Such tolls were not payable more than once in any one day, to be computed from 12 o'clock at night until 12 o'clock on the succeeding night for the same horse, mule or ass not laden or employed in drawing any wagon or carriage, for which the same charge was to be paid.(h) Every toll collector was required to place his full name, , painted on a board in front of the toll house or toll gate immediately on coming on duty. The name to be at least 2 inches in length and in proportional breadth, and painted either in white letters on a black background or vice versa, and be in position the whole time the collector was on duty. If the collector's name was not shown, and he demanded or took a greater or lesser rate of toll, or demanded or took a toll from persons exempted from payment, or refused or hindered persons from reading the inscriptions on the boards, or refused to tell his name to anyone demanding same, on having paid the tolls, or in answer gave a false name, or upon the legal rate paid, prevented any persons from passing through the toll gate, or used scurrilous or abusive language to any treasurer, clerk, surveyor or any other officer, then in every such case, the toll collector should forfeit and pay any sum not exceeding £10.(i) In calculating toll charges, it was enacted that where there was a fraction of a ton, a proportion of the same rates should be demanded, according to the number of quarters of a ton contained in such a fraction, and where there was a fraction of a quarter of a ton, such a fraction should be deemed and considered a whole of a ton, likewise where there was a fraction of a mile in the distance which any wagon passed on the railway, the tonnage demanded should be after the rate of the number of quarters of miles which the wagon passed.(j) In order to ascertain and calculate with greater precision and facility of the distance for which tonnage would be demanded, the company measured and laid stones or conspicuous marks one quarter of a mile from each other, with proper inscriptions, and whenever any wagon passed one or more such stones would be deemed to have passed one or more quarters of a mile. Tonnage for such distance would be due and payable, although the distance actually travelled be more or less than thus computed. Where any wagon travelling between any two such stones or marks, tonnage would not be due for the distance which was travelled up to the first stone, unless the point of entry by the wagon would be more than 110 yards from such stones or marks.(k) No wagon or carriage would be allowed to carry, at any one time, along or over part of the railway, exclusive of the weight of such wagon, more than 2 3/4 tons weight, without special licence. Any wagon exceeding this weight would be liable to pay a rate of tonnage as the Company deemed reasonable and proper.(l) The Company would be empowered to regulate and fix the price for carrying small parcels, not exceeding 500 pounds weight, and from time to time, repeal, alter, or vary the rates as deemed fitting and reasonable.(m) The wagon owners were to give their names, addresses and the number of wagons to the company clerk for entry. They were also to paint their names in large white capital letters and figures on a black background, two inches high at least, on some conspicuous part of the outside of every wagon. Every wagon would be gauged, weighed and measured, at the expense of the Company, whenever it was required. Owners not complying with these regulations, or found guilty of altering, erasing or defacing such names and figures, would forfeit and pay any sum not exceeding £5 for every offence.
The two and a half mile long Dafen railway was opened in 1833. It was constructed using edged rails chaired to stone sleepers each weighing over 100 Kgs, tram roads requiring at that time 4,000 stone sleeper blocks per mile. Early rails were made of cast iron – in short sections because longer ones would be too weak, later wrought iron rails were used, the track lengths became longer, which levelled out the track because there were fewer joints. Horse traction [Wagonways] was originally used on the line, and in 1834 it was calculated that "one horse could draw 100 tons of coal per day upon the railway, travelling 20 miles with comparative ease." Later, both horse and locomotive power was used concurrently for a period. In 1864 the Llangennech Coal Company's St David's office advertised for contract tenders for horse haulage work from their colliery to the New Dock. Horse drawn wagon were still in use on the line up to at least 1875, by which means coke from New Dock Coke Works was delivered to Dafen Tinplate Works. In 1875, Cambrian Davies, a fireman working on the loco Recruit was killed outside Bryngwyn Colliery whilst changing railway catch points, the first fatal accident to happen on the line.
Raw materials were conveyed by rail from New Dock into Dafen for use in the manufacturing industries of the village. The finished products of these firms were then loaded onto the train's return journey to the marshalling yards at New Dock for national and international distribution. Railway sidings were laid out at various points along the route to link up with tributary tramways from nearby works. Sequentially, starting from New Dock the first of these sidings dealt with stone from Penyfan Quarry and coal at sidings from St. George, Cae, Llandafen and Maesarddafen collieries. Coal from the latter two pits were carried on tram roads to the sidings at Halfway and loaded into rail wagons by means of a chute and then dispatched to the marshalling yard at New Dock. Maesarddafen colliery closed in 1888 and consequently the sidings were removed. The land left derelict by their removal became known locally as Pen y Chute, or colloquially, Penshwt, and was used as a playground by generations of children. Nothing remains of Penshwt today, which lies underneath the busy Halfway road junction and the Premier Inn.
Coinciding with the opening of the railway in 1833, entrepreneur, Robert Dunkin, leased a field from the Pemberton Estate and established a small kiln alongside the line between the Cae and Halfway sidings, producing lime for agricultural purposes. Dunkin also owned arsenic works in the New Dock area that operated briefly in the late 1840s. Subsequently he acted as agent and examiner to Lloyds of London, the ship insurers, of ships built at Llanelli as well as being vice consul for a number of European countries.
The Railway Company built a self- acting roped incline plane from Dafen which climbed for about ½ mile up the hill to St David's Colliery, with safety sidings and a warning bell on a pillar installed at the bottom end which was rung as a signal to release the loaded trams from the colliery. With the local penchant for descriptive site names, this location was naturally called Waun y Gloch (the bell meadow). Gravity was used so that descending loaded trams hauled empty trams back up the incline. There are reports of mishaps occurring when loaded trams on the downward journey ran out of control and crashed into the safety sidings. A fatality did occur in 1835 when James Powell, a collier, died after being run over by coal trams on the incline rail road. The incline was closed when the branch line was extended in 1903. The incline was a scene of an incident in 1872 when John and William Margrave, directors of the Llanelly Coal and Railway Company happened to be walking up the incline to St. David's Colliery, when they saw a William Brice disposing of a body in a field adjoining the incline. They apprehended him and, consequently, Brice was accused of murdering his wife but was found guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter at the Carmarthen Court and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
Earliest accounts of The Llanelly Railway and Dock Company are missing but it is known that coal traffic increased substantially within a few years of the railway opening. As rail traffic increased, there was also an increase of road traffic on the main Llanelli to Swansea highway, and safety became of prime importance especially on the level crossing at Halfway. Consequently, white swing gates were erected each side of the road, manned by a crossing keeper who lived nearby in a house provided by the Company. Alfred Haines was the crossing keeper in 1868, who was praised for his intervention in preventing an accident on the line. The incident brought a court action by Evan Bowen, a Railway Inspector, on behalf of the railway company, against David Arnold of Dafen, for trespassing on the line at Halfway. It was stated that through Haines' vigilance no accident had occurred since he had been in charge of the crossing gates. It was ironic that six years later Haines' eleven years old son was killed on the line on the way home from Dafen School, when he attempted to mount a moving coal wagon attached to an engine.
The G.W. R. maintenance cabin was situated a few yards away from the gates, and was a popular meeting place for some of the older men of the district to exchange gossip and put the world to rights. Mrs Margretta John with her large family occupied the house next to the safety gates and on wash-days, when the train on the return journey was stationary waiting for the signal for the gates to open to proceed, she would take advantage of the goodwill of the loco crew to fill a bucket or two of hot water from the engine for her wash.
An administrative office was established at Dafen – the "Station Fach" – to oversee the busy profitable line. Trains were regularly seen during the last quarter of the 19th century to the first quarter of the 20th century pulling in to the tinplate works yard with cargoes including timber weighing some 3,000 tons for box making. One of the first station masters was Edwin Dorricot who served for many years. The last was a Mr Evans who finished in 1928, when the station came under the administration of the main G.W.R. office at Llanelli.
Traffic on the Dafen branch line decreased significantly during the 1950s. Within a few years all the traditional industries associated with Dafen closed down, with the result that the line and 'station fach' became redundant. The safety gates were removed in August 1958, and the line officially closed in 1963.
A walk through history
Sections of the route of the Dafen line can still be walked. The first short section can be picked up near Trostre Road on a footpath behind Llwynwhilwg housing estate leading from the main railway line. The next section can be reached at Cefn y Maes via a footpath (last remaining section of Cae Colliery tramroad) going eastward from Coedcae Road (Kingfisher Court) for a few hundred yards. Walk for a further 200 yards along the track of the old line towards Halfway road junction, and directly cross the road (M4 link road) that connects Halfway to Dafen which is built over the railway trackbed. There is a public footpath running parallel to the road that ends at the edge of the village. The final section is found after taking the Dafen North subway just across the road which surfaces near to the bottom of the incline. It can also be accessed from Nant y Gro that leads to the Avon factory. There the incline extends as a pleasant tree lined path for ½ mile to the St.David's Colliery, Penprys site and beyond.