“155 Years of History”

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Mumbles Railway is its longevity and influence upon Swansea, Wales and the World in its 155 Year History.

On the day of its closure in January 1960 the Swansea & Mumbles Railway was a holder of multiple records. It was not only the First Passenger Railway but also the oldest railway still in existence! In its long history it had also utilised the most means of locomotion available to man on any Railway in the World; steam-power, horse-drawn, sail-power, electric and fuel were all used in its fabulous history.

In its 155 year history the railway had survived Two World Wars, a worldwide economic depression, numerous changes of company, 9 different monarchs and 46 British Prime Ministers.

The railway was even holding its own against the rise of the motorcar in the 1950s. This was despite the ambitions of railway owners; The South Wales Transport Company, which eventually succeeded in getting the line, closed down- favouring buses instead. The general public did not react particularly well to this move and signed a 14,000 person petition in order to save the railway but sadly their voices were never acknowledged and efforts to revive the Swansea & Mumbles Railway have subsequently been blocked.

The effect of the railway during this 155 Year history is best reflected in the numerous brochures and historical documents published throughout the railway’s history.

Here is an extract from the brochure celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Mumbles Train and gives an impression of the ambition showed by the original proprietors:

LAC/85/A20 ©FirstGroup plc Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

LAC/85/A20
©FirstGroup plc
Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

“Travel was the luxury of the very few, and except where water transit was available, commerce was sadly restricted by the deficiencies of early locomotion”

Now an extract from the souvenir guide-book celebrating the Railway’s electrification gives us a glimpse of the changes over time:

LAC/85/A21 ©FirstGroup plc Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

LAC/85/A21
©FirstGroup plc
Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

“At first it was used chiefly for industrial purposes, in the carriage of minerals; to-day its predominant traffic is passenger transportation for business and recreation. One of the most striking and interesting changes which have taken place is that connected with the motive power used to work the Railway from time to time. For the first seventy years of the Railway’s existence, horses served as the motive force, but in 1877 the then owners… decided to use steam.”

Documents like these are the most accessible for new researchers of the Swansea & Mumbles Railway at the Richard Burton Archive and give a great account of the Railway’s historical significance.

If you would like to find out how the Swansea & Mumbles Railway contributed to Swansea’s growth please click here.

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