“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a tram? Is it a train? No it is the Mumbles”. Forgive the weak humour but there was always something whimsical about this undertaking which could claim to be the oldest public rail passenger undertaking in Britain if not the world. It started out as the “Oystermouth Railway and Tramroad Co.” with an Act of Parliament in 1804, working freight traffic from 1806 and thanks to a special clause in the Act, began a horse drawn passenger service in 1807. Do oysters have mouths? Could this be where Rowland Emmett got the idea for his cartoon “Far Twittering and Oysterperch Railway? Coming under local authority influence in the 1870s, steam traction was introduced with horse drawn passenger vehicles still in use. The line, by now the Swansea and Mumbles, took on many of the characteristics of a rural light railway slowly changing to a steam hauled suburban tramway before ending up as something very like an American “Inter-Urban”. In its final years it was operated by enormous double deck electric tramcars the biggest ever built in Britain each seating 106 passengers often two cars running as pair.
My brief semi-detached experience of the Mumbles was with one of these cars. Even as a schoolboy I collected railway ephemera and I answered an advert in the local evening paper which invited the loan of exhibits for a railway exhibition at Leeds University. I offered alinen backed Bradshaw’s map of 1839 and was advised that someone would come and collect it. A few days later I was working on my model railway when my mother came up and said “There is a tramp at the door asking for you. Says he is Professor of Physics at Leeds University”. It was indeed the imposing figure of the redoubtable Fred Youell, looking as usual as if he had just come off a track relaying gang which he probably had, this being the early days of the Middleton Railway. (A colliery line near Leeds distinguished by being the first railway in Britain sanctioned by Act of Parliament, 1758 to carry freight. Now you see the connection with the Mumbles. I may ramble a bit but I do get there in the end). As I was seeing him off (in quite the most decrepit Austin 7 I have ever seen and given his size he did not so much get into it as put it on like garment) he mentioned the gigantic electric tramcar which they had acquired with some vague hope of running it on the Middleton linking the first public freight railway with the first passenger line. A few weeks later my father took me to see the Middleton set in a bleak industrial wasteland surrounded by scrapyards and colliery tips. Despite its imposing size the Mumbles car was a disappointment. In the space of a few months every single window was broken and fires had been lit inside. Plainly this was not preservation, it was delayed scrapping.
PREVIEW BELOW – MAY TAKE A WHILE TO LOAD.