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Transport overview

Roads

The road system of the county of Herefordshire - like many other places in England - was largely developed by the Romans during their expansions into Britain in the first half of the first century AD.

This road system survived well after the Romans left, and by the Middle Ages it had been expanded into quite an extensive communication system, although it was still best travelled by horse or on foot. Medieval man had not been the greatest of road builders, nor had the Elizabethans or the Stuarts, and the roads remained under-developed and poorly maintained.

In 1645, during the Civil War, the Earl of Leven (who was campaigning in Herefordshire) complained to Parliament about the state of the roads in the county. His greatest complaint was that their poor condition meant that his troops could only manage to march eight miles in one day.

Right up to the middle of the 18th century the majority of goods transported in and out of the county were carried by packhorse. However, the roads had such poor, muddy surfaces that between the autumn and the middle of April families wanting to visit friends in neighbouring villages were banned from using them. In the spring the roads were levelled by teams of men with ploughs, but this still left a surface unsuitable for stagecoaches.

In 1730 an Act of Parliament was passed allowing groups of local men to take over the maintenance and improvement of sections of road in the county. In return for the work they did on the road system these men were entitled to install tollgates and turnpikes, and to charge people for passage along their roads. These groups of men were called Turnpike Trusts.

The improvements to the roads as a direct result of these tolls made it possible for packhorses to be replaced by wagons and carriages. This in turn meant that larger and heavier packages could be transported as a carriage could carry five times as much as a packhorse. The improved roads also resulted in speedier and more comfortable personal travel.

Hereford had had a twice-weekly London stagecoach since 1774, known as "Pruen's Flying Machine". The journey took 36 hours and cost the grand sum of £1 5s. However, by 1815 the journey could be done in a day - albeit a very long one.

This improved ability to travel within and out of the county resulted in a number of new hotels and coaching houses being built, and the Hereford Guide of 1808 lists six hotels in the centre of Hereford alone.

Goods could now travel long distances and businessmen began to cash in on this fact. One such company was Morris's Wagons, which set out every Sunday evening at 10pm from the Warehouse in Broad Street, stopping at Ross-on-Wye, Gloucester, The Black Bear in Piccadilly and terminating at the Saracen's Head in Friday Street, on the following Friday. A rival service was offered by Messrs Moles and Dodd, and they also made many local trips that could be done in a day.

Communication was also enhanced. There was now a postal system that left the city every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning from the City Arms Hotel in Broad Street. From here the post travelled through Worcester and arrived at the Bull and Mouth in London the following morning. A rival service left the Green Dragon on the same mornings, travelling through Ross and Gloucester.

River

By 1800 roads had improved but transportation by wagon was still extremely expensive. It was acknowledged that the river was one way to improve transportation, as boats and barges could hold heavier and larger goods, just as the wagons had been able to carry more than the packhorses.

The River Wye, running into the county from the west and heading out of the county in the south, would have made an ideal form of transport, but due to its strong currents and winding course Herefordians were unable to make the most of this opportunity. At certain times of the year, however, the River Wye could be used to import coal, building materials and slate into the county and export Herefordshire hops, cider, oak, wool and wheat.

In 1662 an Act of Parliament was granted to Sir William Sandys to allow him to make the Rivers Wye and Lugg and the streams of the county more navigable. He attempted to construct locks and channels, weirs and turnpikes but unfortunately the volume and speed of the water in the Wye meant that this plan was not as successful as hoped.

Isaac Taylor put forward a plan in 1763 to install a system of locks along the River Wye. It was estimated that the project would have cost £20,000; unfortunately, it was never to happen.

In 1805 a Mr. Jessop submitted a proposal on improvements that could be made to the navigation of the River Wye. This resulted in the laying of a ten-foot wide toll path along the bank of the river to enable barges to be towed by men and horses. Unfortunately this system came too late for a town heading into the Victorian era of more efficient transport.

Tramroads

At the beginning of the 1800s the suggestion was made of installing a horse-powered tramway in the county. A route was considered which would have run from the River Wye at Lydbrook to a wharf near the Wye Bridge in Hereford, a total of 24 miles. The aim was to link Hereford to the Newport & Brecon Canal. However, the financial backing for such a venture could not be found and eventually the canal was built in three parts, each owned by a separate company; Hereford was the last section to be built. It was not until 1829 that a tram road appeared in Hereford. The route was installed by the Grosmont Railway Company, and the line linked the terminus of the Llanvihangel Railway with Hereford. In 1845 the route was sold to the Newport, Abergavenny & Hereford Railway, and the railway by-passed the tram terminus at Wye Bridge in favour of the new railway station at Barrs Court.

Another tramway in the county was the Brecon, Hay & Eardisley tramway, which was built after receiving an Act of Parliament in 1811. The idea was to construct a tramroad from the canal at Brecon to Hay and onto Eardisley with a view to continuing it to Leominster, though this latter section was not completed. Its purpose was to carry coal, iron, lime, corn and other commodities. In 1859 the tramroad was purchased by the Hereford, Hay & Brecon railway company. The tramroad was completed in 1818 from the canal at Brecon to Eardisley. It was then continued through to Kington, where it opened in 1820, and on out to Burlingjobb in Radnorshire, a distance of 34 miles. Parts of the tramway were later absorbed into the Kington & Eardisley Railway in 1861.

Canals

Canals had been in existence in England since the second half of the 1700s. The main product that was transported by canal was coal. The coal that supplied Hereford came mostly from the Forest of Dean to the south of the county, and was usually carried by packhorse or barge. In 1791 an Act of Parliament was passed allowing a canal to be cut between Hereford and the River Severn at Gloucester. This project was to cost around £80,000. By the beginning of the 19th century the canal had reached Ledbury but almost 50 years were to pass before the canal reached Hereford.

The canal was completed too late to be of great commercial benefit to the city, and soon industry in the area was looking to the railways for more cost effective and speedy transportation of goods. In 1862 the canal was leased to the Great Western and West Midland Railways, and in 1881 the canal ceased to operate. Part of the route was turned into a railway, with a lease still being paid by the railway companies.

There was also a proposal to build a canal that would link Leominster to Stourport in Worcestershire, which would allow goods and coal from the industrial Midlands to imported and agricultural produce from Herefordshire to be exported. The original plan was that the canal would run from Kington on the west border of the county through to Leominster and then north to Woofferton, before heading east to Stourport. The canal proposal was set in motion in 1790 but by 1845 only the section between Leominster and the Mamble Collieries had been completed. In 1845 the Canal Company decided to cut their losses and sell to one of the railway companies which were quickly advancing on the county. The canal was sold to the Woofferton & Tenbury Railway Company, who later reused some of the canal as track bed.

The canals in Hereford had been started too late to be of any great commercial value and the more efficient railway system soon arrived in the county, forcing them into redundancy.

Railways

In 1825, George Stephenson (builder of the famous "Rocket" steam engine) was chief engineer on the laying down of a railway line between Stockton and Darlington in north-east England. This was the beginning of the creation of a public railway system. Herefordshire was once again behind the times, with the first freight railway reaching the city in 1852, making Hereford the last cathedral city to acquire a railway system. The first passenger train arrived in Hereford from Shrewsbury in October 1853, but the occasion was distinctly under-celebrated; some said this was because it happened on a market day and traders were loath to come and celebrate for fear of losing business.

The first train run by the Newport, Abergavenny & Hereford Railway rolled into the city on 6th December 1853. The first train on the Shrewsbury to London line arrived the same day and a local holiday was declared - the day was known as "The Great Railway Fete". Business was suspended and the town decorated with banners and flags. Over 60,000 people flooded in to the city to join in the celebrations (the 1851 census put the population of Hereford at only 12,000). In the evening there was a celebration banquet at the Shire Hall.

In 1833, a plan had been laid to create a line that ran from the south-west to the north-west through Hereford. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (famous for designing the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, among other great engineering feats) was at this time chief engineer of the company building the Great Western Railway. Brunel was in favour of a broader railway line that would allow faster trains, but the company opted for Stephenson's narrower gauge. In 1850 Brunel received support for his broad gauge system but it was not until the beginning of the 1860s that a broad gauge route from Gloucester through Hereford and Ross came into existence.

The Worcester & Hereford Railway arrived in the city in 1861, and then at the end of the 1860s and in the early 1870s the Hereford, Hay & Brecon Railway operated from the city's third station at Moorfields. Later this route provided connections to the rest of South Wales.

In the space of just over 20 years Hereford had gone from being a backwater to having three railway stations with a rail network stretching out in five directions. As expected, much of the transport in and out of the county now switched from stage coaches and canals to railways. Many wagon services ceased to operate almost overnight, but some remained which served areas not yet connected by the railway.

Hereford now had the opportunity to participate in the growing national economy. Cattle and agricultural produce could be transported in and out of the county speedily by train. A more efficient postal system also resulted from this new form of communication.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]