The Last Days Of Penrhyn

It is very difficult to know where to start with this but I suppose it should be with the death of Lord Penrhyn (Hugh Napier) in 1949. This really was the end of things as we like to remember them.

The whole estate or estates where left to Lord Penrhyn’s niece Lady Janet Pelham daughter of the sixth Earl of Yarborough who adopted the name Douglas Pennant. The Barony passed to the descendants of the second son of the first Baron.

In all fairness Lady Janet was faced at an early age with a mammoth task and burden, a quarry that was loosing money and an estate that was overmaned and inefficient. To add to this death duties present and past to resolve.

Decisions had to be made and sacrifices would follow, the first being Penrhyn Castle and grounds and then the Ysbyty Ifan estate, some 40,000 acres of agricultural land and mountain, both these being excepted by the Treasury in lieu of death duties and passed on to the National Trust.

Looking back on things one would imagine it would have been much simpler to dispose of the whole lot and cut losses, luckily this was not to be, Lady Janet took a keen interest in the estate and was adamant that it would survive. Modesty is the key word here, although she had the choice of thousands of properties littered around the estate, she chose to have an old laundry building converted as a residence!

I think it is well known and documented that most of the locomotives had been laid up on a siding at Felin Fawr by the 1950’s and most were in need of major works, boilers, fireboxes and so on, Penrhyn certainly had no intention of carrying out this work due to the investment needed. The end of the mainline was inevitable, not helped by an approach from the Festiniog Railway in 1962 who were in need of some extra motive power, Penrhyn responded by renting Linda to them on the 14th of July keeping Blanche back to cope with any light traffic. Charles was out of service at this time and housed at the Port shed. One by one quarry locomotives left service to join the dwindling line up at Felin Fawr, other groups and individuals took interest in these and all found homes up and down the country.

Short quotes from Mr J.B. Latham sums up the mood -

It was known to many enthusiasts in the 1950's that Penrhyn Quarries Ltd Bethesda North Wales, were gradually withdrawing their 1ft 10 1/2in gauge steam locomotives and just laying them on one side but not breaking them up. Their total stock was some 29 locos and about half of them had been laid up by 1959, a miniature Woodham's siding. I saw the line of unused locos on 15 July 1958, when I paid an unofficial visit. Early in 1960 I wrote to the company concerning the future of these locos and suggesting that whatever they did they should not scrap them, whether or not they took any notice of this letter or not I would not know but the fact remained they did not scrap any…

.....looking around for parts etc., proved interesting and on reflection I wish I had been a little more ruthless. I had the opportunity, at places like Penrhyn, to almost help myself to any spares I wanted, but I loath to be greedy--yet the alternative often was that parts either went for scrap or otherwise fell into the wrong hands.

Lilla was in a reasonable looking state although lacking a number of parts. The most important known missing parts were the coupling rods. At first I refused to believe they were missing, because there were a lot of loose parts laying around the loco. I eventually discovered they had been sold to the Festiniog Railway for use on Prince. The name plates and makers plates were missing and were in the possession of the Narrow Gauge Museum at Towyn.

The main line officially closed on the 24th of July 1962.

In the early 1960’s Alfred McAlpine was approached by Dinorwic Quarry to tender for the removal of over-burden from its quarries, the tender was considered too high by Sir Michael Duff and so they decided to remove it themselves, in the process they went bankrupt, as a result of all this Alfred McAlpines appetite for slate was born.

McAlpine later carried out much the same work at Penrhyn and then suggested a partnership, this was accepted and they took a controlling interest in 1964 and obviously saw the need for modernization and investment in roadways and road transport to ensure the survival of the quarry. McAlpine invested vast amounts of money in the quarry, at the time this was an inconceivable prospect for the Penrhyn Estate.

While all this was a good thing for the quarry it did very little for the railway the Penrhyn Estate retained 99% of the mainline but the Felin Fawr Works, a short length of mainline the remaining six working locomotives and No24 and 22 diesels went to McAlpine.

It seems sad that the railway stood dormant from 1962 until 1965 just waiting for someone to come along and save it, locomotives were still working at the quarry throughout this time, even as the Penrhyn Castle Railway Museum was being planned, the mainline was still intact.

The final nail in the coffin came in late 1965 when the Festiniog Railway showed interest in purchasing the bullhead rail and chairs of the mainline, the six miles or so of rail was lifted and sold. Penrhyn provided a treasure trove of articles for various groups.

At the quarry end McAlpine decided to close the engineering works at Felin Fawr and centralize things at the quarry, building new workshops, and in 1973 they purchased the remaining shares.

In just one month McAlpine constructed a new road from Bryn Derwen through the slate tips on to the Red Lion level and then up to the highest levels. Instructions were given in April 1965 to blow the dams at Mynydd Llandegai, water that had powered part of the works for many years. The turbines in the New Mill (below Felin Fawr) used to generate electricity for the quarry, were turned off for the last time and scrapped, power now supplied by the national grid. Instructions were then given to collect the remaining steam locomotives from the quarry and take them to Felin Fawr, were they would be stored in the loco shed to await there fate.
Sadly some of the last jobs to be carried out at the locomotive repair shed at Felin Fawr was the preparation of the remaining working locomotives for export.

In September 1965 the gates at Felin Fawr Works were closed and locked for the last time, signaling the end of a tremendous era. The men along with much of the machinery were moved to the workshops on the Red Lion level within the quarry.
It is widely believed that Winifred was the last locomotive in steam at Penrhyn in 1965, it was in fact Nesta at Felin Fawr. Perhaps the saddest part of the end for me has to be the departure of the last working engines– Glyder, Cegin, Ogwen, Marchlyn, Nesta and Winifred and also the fact that they were exported.

What should not be forgotten are the feelings that the drivers, firemen, engineers and indeed local people experienced throughout all this, needless to say if they had had the power to stop events at the time we would still have our railway!

Quotes from "Railways & Preservation" by J. B. Latham