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The Golden Valley railway

(Historic Environment Record number 19263)

The purpose of this line was to create a route from Pontrilas to Hay-on-Wye within the county boundaries. It was to be a single line track, 18 3/4 miles long.

The line was promoted by a local company of landowners, tenant farmers and tradesmen in an isolated area in the hope that it would lower the cost of goods. The principal landowners involved were the Revd. Sir George Henry Cornewall, Bart. of Moccas Court and E. L. Gavin Robinson JP of Poston Lodge, who was also the first chairman of the company.

The first meeting of the company was held at the schoolroom in Peterchurch on 30th September 1875. There were a few objections to the proposed line as many people felt there was not enough passenger traffic to sustain it.

The first turf for the railway was cut by Lady Cornewall on Thursday 31st August 1876. To mark the day a special programme of events was held at Peterchurch:

12pm: Service at the church.
1pm: Cutting of the first sod in a field next to the vicarage.
2pm: Public luncheon.
4pm: Sports and other pastimes (polo, pony and donkey races and athletics, all with prizes for amateur competitors).
4.30pm: Tea and cake for locals issued with a free ticket.
5.30pm: Athletics prizes presented by Mrs. E. G. L. Robinson.

The luncheon menu included: roast, boiled and pressed beef; roast veal and ham; roast lamb; roast chicken and ox tongues; roast ducks; pigeon pies; and lobster salads. The Toast list included the Chairman of the Railway, the Royal Family, the Clergy, Armed Forces, success to the Golden Valley Railway and to the Ladies of the Parish. (Hereford Record Office - B43/23)

It took 13 years from the cutting of the first sod in August 1876 until the line's completion at Hay in 1889. The first stretch, from Pontrilas to Dorstone, was opened on 1st September 1881. It involved six level crossings and the River Dore had to be crossed and re-crossed several times. There were stations at Abbey Dore, Vowchurch, Peterchurch and Dorstone. Each one was built of wood and had a single platform and a looped siding.

Unfortunately money began to run out and there was no capital to continue the line to Hay. The Great Western Railway Company was consulted, with a view to them taking over the line, but the feedback was not positive and there was no real interest. A second plan was put forward to extend the line south-east from Pontrilas to Monmouth to link up the lines there, but this was never achieved.

At its height there were three trains a day on this route and an extra train on Wednesdays for Hereford Market. The GWR was again asked to run the line for a percentage of the receipts but they refused and the Golden Valley line was forced to struggle for a further 17 years.

On 27th June 1885 a shareholders' meeting was called and Robinson Green-Price stepped down as Chairman, to be succeeded by Sir Richard Dansey Green-Price. After this the building of the Hay-on-Wye extension took place.

The engineer for this new stretch of line was G. Wells Owen, and Charles Chambers was the contractor. Charles Chambers offered to build the line for £154,000. The line involved heavy earthworks with nine over-bridges and one under-bridge built of stone, and six under-bridges with stone abutments and wrought iron girders. Just west of Clifford there was a small viaduct. After 13 years the line finally reached Hay on May 5th 1889, where the trains used the Midland Station.

The Golden Valley Railway soon began to owe more money than it could make, and on August 23rd 1897 the Dorstone to Hay Junction section of line was closed. On 20th April 1898, the line from Pontrilas to Dorstone also closed. Eventually, after much persuasion, the GWR bought the line for £9,000. They then spent over £15,000 re-laying and re-conditioning parts of the track and it was reopened on May 1st 1901.

The line ran as a stable investment for some time, but as road transport in the area began to improve regular services were suspended in 1941. Goods trains continued to use the line occasionally but in 1957 it was closed for good, apart from a small section that serviced the War Department depot at Elm Park.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]