6F Should we build a Railway?

This can be imagined as a discussion at a meeting of the shareholders of the Snailbeach Company. The arguments will vary from time to time, so it can be done at three different points in the history of the mine, under three different mine managers. Reference to their tales will provide information about the way the mine was being worked. The Wagoner’s Tale could be used as the basis for some arguments against building a railway.

Thomas Lovett  in 1785


1             Mine working has just begun on a large scale. The Snailbeach Company is newly formed.


2             Initial results at the mine are very promising, with the first payments made to the shareholders after only three months of working. Everyone is very confident of success.


3             Old Shaft has been started, and the adit to Wagbeach now drains the mine.


4             Land has been leased on the coalfield at Pontesford three miles away and the lead smelter is now working there.


5             In 1785 there are tramways, mainly in mining areas, with wagons pulled by horses, but practical steam railway engines are not available.


6             A horse drawn tramway would convey Galena (lead ore) from the mine to Pontesford.


7             It could also be used to take coal from Pontesford to the mine to power the new pumping engine on Old Shaft.


8             Spending money on using water power could be cost effective. The Wagbeach Adit can be drained by building a water wheel powered by the fast flowing stream. This is cheaper than buying a steam engine and having to buy coal.


9             Building a tramway will require an Act of Parliament.


10         There would be no other use for a tramway, and no income except that from the mine.


11         It might be possible to use the gradient so that full wagons of ore roll down to Pontesbury, and the horse only has to pull the empty ones and coal wagons up to the mine.


12         Lead will still needed to be taken to Shrewsbury by horse and cart.


James Ray Eddy in 1862


1             Railways are being built everywhere. There is now (since 1861) a railway from Shrewsbury to Pontesbury. It ends at Minsterley, only two miles away.


2             The railway at Minsterley can only be extended along the valley floor. It’s can’t climb the steep hill to Snailbeach.


3             High quality coal can now be brought to the smelter from other parts of Shropshire, so the colliery at Pontesford is closed.


4             The Pontesford smelter is closed. A new smelter has been built at Snailbeach, with a flue a mile long to the chimney on Lordshill. More coal is needed at Snailbeach than before.


5             Ore dressing machinery is water powered.


6             Remember James Ray Eddy is a Yorkshireman and uses Yorkshire methods. He uses that phrase “I can’t thoil.” What he means that he’s not going to spend good money on something he doesn’t think is worthwhile. He is careful of expenditure.


7             The time of great speculation on railways, known as “Railway Mania” was in 1844-6 and its lessons had been learned. Many schemes had proved unprofitable.


8             Again, a railway could only serve the mine. There was no other industry or community to make use of a railway.


9             James Ray Eddy’s experience is with metal mines, not railways. He is paid to make the mine profitable.


10         Horse and cart had worked adequately for the past 60 years and more, during the most profitable period of the mine, when the greatest tonnage of lead was being produced.


Henry Dennis  in 1875


1             Dennis manages several different mines. He is interested in the latest technology and has spent £10,000 on new mining and ore dressing machinery at Snailbeach.


2             The mine machinery needed to work at great depth uses a great deal of coal.


3             A new mining company had been formed in 1865 and the shareholders were anxious to give the mine a long term future.


4             A full size, normal gauge railway would not be affordable. The narrow gauge railway proposed would be cheaper, and would cope better with tight curves and steep gradients.


5             Dennis surveys the line for the railway himself, and knows how to tackle the problems. It is steep, but he knows that engines will cope with the gradient. At the top there will be a long reverse shunt to gain extra height, and then an incline up to the Engine Shaft on Lordshill (see map of the mine in 1900).


6             There is a possibility of extending the railway to other profitable mines nearby, notably Tankerville, Pennerley and Bog mines. This would provide extra income for a railway.


The Conclusion – what actually happened


1.           The Act of Parliament permitting the building of the railway required a full size track bed and a railway half of the full size gauge. A much smaller railway would have been cheaper and quite adequate, but this was not allowed.


2.           The railway opened in 1877, and by 1884 its full cost of £20,000 had been paid by shareholders.


3.           14,000 tons was carried each year. Shareholders received a 3% dividend per year until 1883.


4.           In 1884 the mines at Tankerville, Pennerley and Bog closed. This brought the annual tonnage down to 5,500.


5.           No more dividends were ever paid. Payments were only just enough to keep the railway running.


6.           In 1905 a branch line was opened to a nearby stone quarry, largely through the influence of Henry Dennis’s son. To work the extra traffic, a new engine called “Dennis” was bought. The original engines were worn out and were scrapped. The railway carried 20,000 tons a year for a while, and in 1900, 38,000 tons, before trade reduced. The railway returned to making a loss once more.


7.           Snailbeach Mine closed in 1911, so the original purpose and funding had gone.