Why Study the Swansea and Mumbles Railway?

The question of why you should study the history of the Swansea & Mumbles Railway?’ has many answers and our mission is to highlight the main reasons why you should.

The First Passenger Railway Service in the World!

Whilst the Swansea & Mumbles Railway was initially a cargo and freight railway line, it became the worlds first passenger railway service in 1807. It was in many ways, a business masterstroke. The passenger element was introduced by Benjamin French (according to the  minute books within the collection, he was an early shareholder), who paid £20 for the right to run a passenger wagon along the line. Moreover, it was an extremely successful venture. This is particularly relevant because George Stephenson’s world reknowned Stockton and Darlington Railway (the first public railway to use steam powered locomotives) did not run until 1825 and by then the Swansea & Mumbles Railway had been running for nearly 20 years. For this reason alone, it is a landmark moment in history.

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Technology and Development

Studying the 160 year history of the Swansea & Mumbles Railway can tell us a lot about the technological development of rail travel. The Swansea & Mumbles Railway illustrates these technological advances over time. Between 1807 and 1877 the railway was run by horse drawn vehicles. Following this period, steam power replaced horse-drawn vehicles  although, for a number of years, horses were still used as a dispute between the railway and the Swansea Improvements and Tramway Company (which owned the locomotives) rumbled on. The line was fully electrified in 1928 and operated a full tram service from 1929 until the closure of the railway in 1960. The line housed 11 double decker trams which at the time was the largest fleet in Britain.

Academic Potential

The history of the Swansea & Mumbles Railway is a hitherto relatively untapped historical area of study. There are many texts outlining popular histories of the railway. However, there is a distinct lack of academic texts investigating key issues and questions surrounding the existence of the railway. The collection at the Richard Burton Archive is a great opportunity to create a truly individual piece of research. For more information about the academic debates that could help further study, check out our page on further study.

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