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Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company


Records of the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company: letter concerning present state and future prospects of the canal 1847, plans and sections of the canal 1865-1880, company byelaws 1869.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

The Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company was the renaming of the old Monmouthshire Canal Navigation that ran from Newport to Pontnewynydd above Pontypool with a branch from near Newport to Crumlin. The company also owned or had an interest in more miles of tramroad than waterway. The name-change came about after the company began constructing a railway from Newport to Pontypool and converting existing tramlines into track able to be used by locomotives. Relaying the old tramlines was a problematic and costly job. The weight of the new locomotives frequently damaged the track and old rolling stock had great difficulty using the new lines. From 1849 the company decided to combine tramplates with rails, necessitating the relaying of much of the damaged track. To add to the company's woe was the lack of progress made on the Newport to Pontypool railway. So serious was the financial situation that in 1850 the alarmed shareholders voted to appoint a committee to investigate expenditure and management of the company. The consequence was that the committee (the old committee, not that initiated by the shareholders) was elected anew and it was stipulated that future management should consist of men disinterested in any other business or trade that had a bearing on the company. Few old committeemen were re-appointed. The company's finances, however, did not improve. As the railway had not been finished in the time stipulated by Parliament, the company was penalised financially. Meanwhile, the engineers reported that difficulties were arising where the former tramroad curves were too sharp for trains and wagons to negotiate easily or safely. The new railway was opened to passengers in July 1852. It did not quite reach the dock at Newport as the company had lost powers of compulsory purchase because of the delay. A month before a dissatisfied faction accused the committee of incompetence and had received the backing of many shareholders. It was this group who announced the intention to abandon part of the canal at Newport, revealed plans to build connecting railways and paid a dividend that the company could not really afford, but which won the support of the shareholders. The energy of this group renewed belief - and thus investment - in the company. In 1853 the company received authorisation to convert all the tramroads into rails and, as promised, a half-mile length of canal below Canal Terrace in Newport was filled in in 1854. In that year the railway to Pontypool began carrying goods. The majority of the tramlines had been converted to a mixture of plate and rail and the final tram-engine was disposed of in 1861. That May, there was an unsuccessful attempt to lease the company to the West Midland Railway. The canal had always been one of the more expensive, toll-wise, but was successful until faced with severe competition from railways. Traffic in the 1860s was minimal, with the cost of maintenance outstripping toll revenue by 1864. The company purchased the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal in September 1865. Some of the traffic previously carried on that canal was transferred to rail. Tonnages and tolls on the canals continued to drop as the company encouraged trade onto their railways. In 1871 a Bill was promoted to close more of the canal in Newport. A North Dock was mid-way through construction and the Monmouthshire company wanted to remain competitive by building a railway on the site of the canal. That Bill was withdrawn but a similar one passed in 1879, by which time the section of canal in question had been disused for about five years. In August 1880 the company amalgamated with the Great Western Railway. Traffic continued to decline, ceasing on the Crumlin line in 1930 and there was no traffic to Pontymoile after 1938. The canal was gradually closed in sections between 1949 and 1962, but was kept open as a source of water. For further information on the Monmouthshire Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of South Wales and the Border'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has therefore been arranged in chronological order.

Associated material

[See also: BW113 for records of the Monmouthshire Canal during other periods of ownership]