Historic Landscape Characterisation

Vale of Ffestiniog - Area 3 Ffestiniog Railway


© Crown copyright. All rights reserved, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, 100017916, 2005

Historic background

A 2’ gauge horse- and gravity-worked railway opened in 1836 to transport slate from Blaenau Ffestiniog to the sea at Porthmadog, which between 1863 and 1872 led the way in adopting locomotive traction, passenger services, and articulated locomotives and rolling stock. Its fortunes declined with those of the slate industry, and closure came in 1946. It was revived when an enthusiast group gained control of the company in 1954, and was thereafter rebuilt in stages until Blaenau was reached in 1982. This involved construction of a new length of railway between Dduallt and Tan y Grisiau, as the old course was flooded by the construction of the pumped storage scheme.

The Festiniog railway, in the period 1863 to 1872, not only demonstrated how the civil engineering of the unimproved horse tramway could be taken forward into the age of steam – and thereby provided a cheap and effective method of transport for the British empire, the USA and beyond – but also proved the practicality of articulated locomotives and rolling stock such as are now standard world-wide. Much of its Victorian infrastructure survived not only the period of closure from 1946 to 1955, but also the over-enthusiastic modernisation of the railway in the 1960s and 1970s by its present management. The railway now supports a Heritage Group which dedicates itself to the preservation or reconstruction of traditional civil engineering features of the railway, such as semaphore signalling, as well as rolling stock.

Key historic landscape characteristics

19th-century narrow gauge railway and infrastructure

The civil engineering of the railway reflects its birth as a ‘hybrid’ railway, between the primitive purely industrial railway and the modern public railway. The sinuous course is typical of an early 19th-century Welsh tramroad, and the use of large stone-built embankments is paralleled in other contemporary railways. The construction of the spiral route at Dduallt derives from the practice of railways such as the Darjeeling-Himalayan railway in India, now a World Heritage Site, itself directly inspired by Ffestiniog practice. The section of line between SH 6789 4220 and SH 6824 4496 is entirely new build of the late twentieth century.

Late 19th-century station buildings and other infrastructure survive at Porthmadog (SH 5712 3840 - the station is shown on the photograph), Minffordd (SH 6004 3856), Penrhyndeudraeth (SH 6129 3951) and Tan y Bwlch (SH 6499 4156). Elsewhere, original structures have been replaced by modern ones. The extensive nineteenth century locomotive works at Boston Lodge, at the eastern end of the Cob, remain in use and are listed almost in their entirety.

The railway’s impact on the development of the historic landscape of the Glaslyn-Ffestiniog axis has been profound. The Tan y Grisiau to Rhiwbryfdir section (SH 6824 4496 – 6902 4550) is a rare surviving example of an early industrial community built around a railway.


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