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Rails to Talsarn (1962)

Courtesy of David E. Sutcliffe

Main image of Rails to Talsarn (1962)
16mm film, 4 mins, black & white
Photography:D.E. Sutcliffe
Narration:D.E. Sutcliffe
National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales collection

The last British Rail horse-drawn railway, a narrow gauge line running from Tal-y-sarn station to Pen-yr-Orsedd slate quarry in the Nantlle valley, Snowdonia.

Show full synopsis

The section of narrow gauge railway in this film was part of a longer (ultimately standard gauge) line that ran from the quay at Caernarfon to the slate quarries of the Nantlle valley. The footage was shot by David E. Sutcliffe - an Anglesey-based BBC stringer and local cinema operator - not long before the railway ceased operation altogether.

This footage of the last British Rail horse-drawn line would have been shown by its photographer at screenings across Wales throughout the summer months, mainly to audiences of holiday-makers in venues such as village halls.

In his narration, Sutcliffe names the two men seen working - Oswald Jones ('driver and guard') and his father William Richard Jones (aged 81, seen helping his son at the station). They were amongst the last men to work on the line.

Alan John Richards summarises the history of the line in A Gazeteer of the Welsh Slate Industry (published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1991), explaining that from 1828 nearly all slate was transported by the horse-drawn Nantlle Tramway to the quay at Caernarfon. This 3'6" gauge line is important, he states, since it was the first public line established to serve the quarry industry - the Penrhyn railway of 1806 and the Dinorwig line of 1824 were private routes serving only the Penrhyn and Dinorwig quarries.

In 1867, Richards continues, the L&NWR standard gauge Caernarfon - Afon Wen branch was laid substantially on the same route as far as Penygroes, with a sub-branch to Talysarn in 1872, which then became the terminus of the Nantlle line. However the section from Talysarn to Pen-yr-Orsedd quarry survived until 1963 as the only British Rail horse-drawn line.

Mary Moylett

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Video Clips
Complete film (4:08)