Wales

Tagged with: transport

Posts (33)

  1. The Abergele Rail Disaster was an incident that destroyed much of the complacency surrounding rail travel and it took 33 lives.

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  2. Railway enthusiasts quickly realised what a goldmine there was in Barry and flocked to the area in their thousands. And it was not just railway buffs.

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  3. Until the final years of the 18th century there was no such thing as standard time in Britain. In each town across the country the time of day was decided, firstly, by the simple process of consulting a sun dial and then by the creation of local time.

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  4. Half a century ago the future of transport appeared on a beach in north Wales. The hovercraft service from Rhyl to Moreton beach, Merseyside - the first of its kind in the world - was unleashed to masses of enthralled onlookers. This was the way forward - or so it seemed. The Vickers-Armstrong VA3 hovercraft on Rhyl beach. The world's first passenger hovercraft service. Photo: Brian Whitehead. On 20 July 1962 a large crowd gathered on Rhyl beach and marveled as the newly developed Vickers VA3 hovercraft, or hovercoach, as it powered up its two roaring engines. The machine signalled a new chapter in the future of transport, making sci-fi dreams reality. The hovercraft was a huge technological leap forward. As it was being developed in the 1950s the Patent Office was unsure whether to class it as aircraft or boat. Prior to this, various attempts were made to build a craft capable of traversing land, water and anything in between, using a cushion of air and a skirt that lifted the craft above the terrain. In 1959 a hovercraft crossed the English Channel and, like the recent advances in jet-engine technology, enthusiasm was huge. Half a century ago, traversing the Dee Estuary took over two hours by road. The new hovercoach could, it was claimed, carry 24 passengers at up to 70mph, taking 30 minutes with a scheduled 12 trips per day. The journey cost £2 for a return ticket, with a 20 minute turnaround. It was on an overcast August morning the first two dozen passengers made history, encountering a bumpy crossing to the then bustling seaside town of Rhyl. Weighing in at 12 tons and spanning 54 feet in length and 27 feet in breadth, the Vickers-Armstrong VA3, run by British United Airways, was one of the first commercially viable hovercrafts rolled out for use. From the summer of 1962 it was constantly at the mercy of the weather, operating for just 19 days out of a scheduled 54 and only managing the proposed dozen trips on two of those days. Ultimately it was the elements that proved the end of this innovative service. On the afternoon of 14 September the VA3 left the Wirral shore to head for Rhyl, and halfway across the 17 mile journey one of the lift engines failed, soon followed by the second. Eventually the craft made its way to Rhyl. For the next three days, the three captains, along with other helpers frantically attempted to moor the craft, but despite limited success the craft broke free and drifted nearly half a mile out to sea. Brian Whitehead remembers the fateful few days that brought the curtain down on the world's first passenger hovercraft. "I well remember that night in September 1962, a friend and I were returning home from Prestatyn when we saw the maroons go up at Rhyl lifeboat station. "We decided to drive the car on to the prom by the lifeboat station and were waved by some of the crew to follow them and drive along the prom shining our headlights to where the hovercraft was slamming into the sea wall. When they had finished lashing it to the prom railings, we were thanked and we left. The next day we read about the incident, stating that there was hundreds of gallons of kerosene on board!" In the hands of the gales and tides of the Irish Sea, the VA3 was smashed into Rhyl's promenade wall, followed by a further pounding from the waves and a heroic intervention from the Rhyl lifeboat crew. The ordeal signalled a premature end to the world's first passenger hovercraft service. The accident happened a few days before the service's trial period was up, and signalled an end to the prospect of gliding over the waves for the people of Rhyl.

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  5. Christmas has always been a time for families, for gathering together around the fire and enjoying the warmth of human contact. In the halls and round houses of the Celts, in the castles and grand houses of the invading Normans, in the burgeoning villages and towns with their wattle and daub buildings, the Christmas season was always well kept in Wales. Yet the season has also been a time for great events, momentous happenings, and it needs only a cursory glance to realise that the Welsh did not just retire to their hearths for the Twelve Days of Christmas, warming their hands and toes before their roaring log fires. They also found time to get out and achieve! The first eisteddfod The very first eisteddfod, for example, was held over the Christmas period of 1176. Poets, story tellers and musicians came together for several days over the season to compete for two chairs, one for poetry, the other for music. The eisteddfod was held at Cardigan Castle and was organised by Rhys ap Gruffydd, the Lord Rhys as he was known. Even though the term "eisteddfod" was not used when describing this first event, bardic tournaments had been established and continue until this very day - even though they are now held during the summer months rather than over Christmas. The Christmas truce The famous unofficial truce that took place on Christmas Day 1914, with World War One raging across Europe, involved many Welsh soldiers. One of the regiments in the front line on this auspicious and amazing day was the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The story of the truce has been told many times but none is better or more graphic than the account produced by a private in the regiment, Frank Richards. With the help of poet Robert Graves he wrote a book, Old Soldiers Never Die, and one chapter concerns the Christmas truce. Richards was there, at the front, when the unofficial cease fire began: "On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with 'A Merry Christmas' on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one... Two of our men threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done [sic] the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench." Soldiers from both sides spent the day in each others company, out in No Man's Land. Nobody fired or shot at the other side and Frank Richards even recalled that the Germans sent their Welsh enemies two barrels of beer. It was, he recalled, weak and watery, unlike good Welsh ale. The unofficial truce, which lasted until midnight, was observed along almost the whole of the front line and while senior officers were horrified, Welsh soldiers like Frank Richards were happy to put aside their weapons for the day and to mix with other young men, just like themselves, who were fighting for their country. Christmas Evans Several notable Welsh births took place, either on Christmas Day or during the Christmas season. The famous Non-conformist preacher Christmas Evans was born on Christmas Day in 1766 in a village close to Llandysul in Ceredigion. He was the son of a poor shoemaker and grew up illiterate and more than a little savage: he lost an eye in a vicious brawl while still a young man. Salvation came in the shape of Presbyterian minister David Davies who taught him to read and write in both English and Welsh. The young Christmas became a Baptist minister, his reputation quickly spreading across the whole of Wales. He had amazing insight and imagination and so powerful were the sermons he gave during his preaching tours that he was labelled "the Welsh John Bunyan". The Gentle Giant The footballer John Charles was born on the day after Boxing Day 1931. Nicknamed the Gentle Giant, he was never sent off during a professional career that saw him play for clubs such as Leeds, Cardiff and Juventus. Former Cardiff City captain Don Murray played with Charles and has always regarded him as the greatest player he has ever seen: "He played for Wales on 38 occasions, and took them to the quarter finals of the World Cup. He could play at centre forward or at centre back - at international level. That's a rare and very real ability. I went out to Italy with him, long after he'd left Juventus, and people still remembered him with love and affection. He was simply a great player." Other notable Welsh births during the Christmas season include actor Anthony Hopkins on New Years Eve 1937 and singer Aled Jones on 29 December 1970. Nos Galan Races The Nos Galan Races are now held every New Year's Eve in and around Mountain Ash. The very first races were held on 31 December 1958, the aim being to celebrate the life and career of legendary Welsh runner Guto Nyth Bran. Legend declares that Guto was so fast that he could catch a bird in flight and that he once ran from his home to Pontypridd, a distance of over seven miles, before the kettle boiled! These days there are races over various distances, the Nos Galan Beacon being lit to signal the start of the various events. The record for the four mile race was set by Tony Simmons in 1971 and, at 17 minutes 41 seconds, it is a time that still stands. The record for the 100 yards sprint is also a long-standing one, being set by Nigel Walker in 1988. Part of the appeal of the Nos Galan Races is that every year a mystery runner - his or her name kept secret until the night of the races - takes part. Mystery runners in the past have included athletes Lillian Board, Kirsty Wade and David Hemery and rugby stars Jamie Roberts and James Hook. Tragedy, of course, has also been ever present in the story of Welsh Christmases. On Christmas Day 1806 the Conwy Ferry sank, drowning 13 people, while on Boxing Day 1863 an explosion rocked the Gin Pit in Maesteg, causing the deaths of 14 miners. On New Years Day 1824, a shipwreck on the Great Orme saw the deaths of 14 passengers and crew while on 1 January 1916, at the height of World War One, the Mumbles lifeboat capsized, drowning three of the crew. Inevitably, there have been many other disasters around Wales over the festive period. The Christmas season, however, is not the time to think of human misery and pain. Rather, it is a time to celebrate and be happy. And Welsh men and women have done so for many years. They will undoubtedly continue to do so for many more to come. Phil will be chatting with Roy Noble on Tuesday 27 December from 2pm on BBC Radio Wales about this article.

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  6. Born on 17 June 1773, William Madocks was a Georgian entrepreneur of startling ability and foresight. He was the man who built the Cob across the Glaslyn Estuary, thus considerably easing travel - by foot, horse and eventually by rail - between mid and north Wales. He was also instrumental in creating two new communities at Porthmadog and at nearby Tremadog. The whole enterprise was a phenomenal undertaking, one that exhausted and nearly bankrupted this man of great vision and energy. Linda crossing the Cob, Porthmadog (Photo: Steve's Wildlife) Madocks came from an old landed gentry family that had its origins in Denbighshire, although William himself was actually brought up in London. He became MP for Boston in Lincolnshire and later Chippenham in Wiltshire but his interest in his native Wales remained strong and vibrant. He had a vision of opening up the country, improving its road and communication links and bringing prosperity to the people. As a land reformer and agricultural improver it was therefore inevitable that when he inherited land around the Traeth Mawr Estuary in Gwynedd he would attempt to make changes to the region. His original intention was to reclaim the Traeth Mawr area for agriculture but this quickly changed as his ideas and schemes began to develop. Soon he was proposing an embankment across the estuary - on which, he declared, traffic from mid Wales could travel in order to reach Porthdinllaen on the Llyn Peninsula. The Irish trade was beginning to gather momentum and Madocks had plans to create a new port at Porthdinllaen in order to carry this traffic. As it happened, Madocks' plan came to nothing. With the bridging of the Menai Straits, Holyhead on Ynys Mon quickly gained supremacy in the race for the Irish trade - it did not stop William Madocks and his embankment. Work continued on the crossing. The embankment, known as the Cob, was finished in 1811. Its construction had been long and difficult and had cost Madocks literally all the money he had. By 1811 he was being hotly pursued by a great number of creditors. The opening of the Cob brought him some relief as now, at least, he could charge people to cross the estuary and, by way of celebration, he organised a four-day feast and eisteddfod. Disaster threatened a year later when, in February 1812, a great storm hammered the construction and breached the wall. By now, however, the value of the Cob as a crossing place had been proved and Madocks was able to raise money from all over the county to pay for repairs - and to strengthen the enormous edifice. By 1814 it was open once more for traffic but the repairs and sudden cessation of money coming in had, once again, hit Madocks were it hurt most - in his pocket book and wallet. What really saved William Madocks and the Cob was the slate industry of the area. At his instigation, an Act of Parliament in 1821 gave permission for the creation of a new port at Ynys y Tywyn, the diversion of the river and estuary caused by the building of the Cob having created something of a natural harbour. To men like Madocks it was quite clear that this harbour would be capable of handling ocean going sailing ships. Ynys y Tywyn was quickly renamed Port Madoc and a new town began to grow up in the shadow of the port. Blaenau Ffestiniog and its famous slate quarries lay only a dozen miles south west of the new port and town and, as the demand for Welsh slate began to grow, Port Madoc was the logical place to export the raw material, not just to England but to the whole world. The Ffestiniog tramway (and, later, railway) ran from the quarries, across the Cob to the port where the public wharves, built in 1825, were used to load slate onto the schooners. Porth Madoc - the name was only changed to Porthmadog in 1974 - grew rapidly in the first half of the 19th century. From a population base of nothing at the beginning of the century, the town had, by 1861, managed to achieve an occupancy of just under 3,000. Many of these men and women worked, in one way or another, in the harbour, slate and shipping industries. For years William Madocks had lived close to the margins, his financial affairs always being tenuous, if not downright perilous. The development of his new town and port, the sudden boom of the slate trade, finally brought him a fair degree of prosperity. He could at last relax and contemplate other propositions. In 1826 Madocks took himself and his family on a holiday to Italy. On his return he was planning to develop and move into a new house at Morfa Lodge, close to the new town. However, it was not to be. On the return journey the party stopped in France for a brief respite and Madocks was taken ill and died. He was buried on 17 September 1826 in Paris. Porth Madoc, or Porthmadog, continued to function after the death of its founder but it was a hard and difficult road to travel. As the century moved to its conclusion, the development of Aberystwyth and its better rail links certainly made a dent in the town's profits. The final nail in the coffin came when World War One broke out in 1914 and the lucrative German slate market totally disappeared. The port consequently fell into disuse. These days Porthmadog survives on its tourist trade. In particular, the Blaenau Ffestiniog railway brings trippers by the score. Perhaps, as they trundle across the Cob into the town, they might stare out at the gigantic wall or embankment and remember William Madocks, without whom there would have been no Cob to travel on!

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  7. Wilbur and Orville Wright are commonly accepted as the first men to design and fly a power-driven aeroplane. But there was one man, in west Wales, who might just have beaten the brothers to the punch. His name was Bill Frost and in the eyes of many he is the person who deserves the epithet of 'the first man to fly'. Bill Frost's flying machine flew about 500 yards before being clipped by a tree (image: Gale's Photo) Bill Frost was born in Saundersfoot on the Pembrokeshire coast on 28 May 1848. The son of John and Rebecca Frost, he became a carpenter on the Heyn Castle Estate in Saundersfoot. Although a relatively poor man, he became obsessed with the concept of flying. According to legend, in the winter of 1876 he was carrying a long plank of wood while a gale was blowing and the wind - always strong and powerful on that stretch of coast - simply picked him up and carried him several yards through the air. Frost's obsession was born. Frost was a religious man, and became deacon of his local chapel. He was also an accomplished musician and founded the Saundersfoot Male Voice Choir. But his real interest lay in flight. Locals, it was said, had seen him running about the fields holding a piece of zinc above his head, perhaps hoping that the wind would once more lift him into the air. The people of the town put this bizarre behaviour down to the grief he was experiencing since his wife and daughter had recently died. It was more likely to be Bill Frost testing out the concept of aerodynamics. In 1894 Frost applied for a patent for a flying machine; the design was registered on 25 October that year. The machine was something of a cross between a glider and an airship, and was equipped with two reversible fans designed to lift the machine into the air. When aloft the wings would be spread by means of a lever and the machine would move forward and down. When the lever was pushed the other way the machine would rise once more. Bill Frost built his aircraft in the workshop of his house on St Bride's Hill in Saundersfoot. It was over 30 feet in length and was apparently made of bamboo, canvas and wire. The gas bags or pouches that helped keep the craft aloft were filled with hydrogen. Unfortunately there are no photographs or written testimonials but Frost - and many people from Saundersfoot - claimed that he flew in his glider/airship on or around 24 September 1896. He travelled, it was claimed, for about 500 yards, a distance that, if true, was considerably longer than the Wright Brothers managed seven years later in 1903. The flight was not without incident, however. The undercarriage of the machine caught in a tree and he crashed in a field. Although Frost managed to repair the flying machine, disaster was waiting to happen. Despite being tethered to a tree the machine was totally destroyed in a storm, with pieces spread over a wide distance. Frost had neither the money nor the time to start again and his patent lapsed after four years. The story of Bill Frost and his flying machine is a fascinating one. Unlike the Wright Brothers he did not have any independent witnesses to the event or, most important of all, any photographic evidence that he had taken to the air. Bill Frost died in March 1935. By then he was nearly 90 years old and was both blind and poor. He was not bitter but bemoaned the fact that the government, following his first flight and the disaster that befell his machine, had turned down his request for funding. The government stated that they had no intention of using aircraft either for navigation or for warfare. In the light of the later development of aircraft during World War One, it seemed to Frost and everyone else to be a strange and rather short-sighted statement. Everyone who knew him was clear that Bill Frost was the most truthful of men. If he said that he had flown then he most certainly had done so. At this distance, however, and without written or photographic proof, it is hard to come down, one way or another. The story remains one more fascinating episode in the history of flight - and of Wales.

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  8. Fifty-three Welsh Italians perished on the SS Arandora Star in 1940. The liner was transporting German and Italian internees along with prisoners of war to internment camps in Canada. Arandora Star The Arandora Star, which previously operated as a cruise ship, had been commandeered by the Admiralty in the early part of World War Two. On 1 July 1940 it left Liverpool with nearly 1,200 Italian and German internees on board. Replica scaled model of the Arandora Star in her pre-war, luxury cruising days, when her beautiful appearance earned her the nickname, The Wedding Cake. The following day she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U Boat resulting in the loss of more than 800 lives. The internees who did survive were brought back to the UK and immediately shipped to internment camps in the Australian outback. The fascinating stories of those touched by the tragedy now forms an exhibition at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. Terracotta sculpture of Mary Cradling the Arandora Star, by artist Susanna Ciccotti Speaking about the exhibition, curator, Paulette Pelosi, a member of the Arandora Star Memorial Fund in Wales said: "For 70 years, the people of Wales, both Welsh and Italian, for whatever reason, remained mostly silent about the tragedy. As highly emotive stories began to be told to members of the fund, it seemed a logical and worthy tribute for me to create the exhibition." Wales Breaks its Silence...From Memories to Memorial runs until Sunday 30 October at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea. Phil Carradice wrote a blog about the loss of the SS Arandora Star. You can read it here.

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  9. In the years after World War Two there was a surge in demand for air travel. Numerous private companies, many operating aircraft that had been sold off as surplus to requirements after the war, were established when people began to realise that travel by aeroplane really was something that was available to everyone, not just the rich. In 1950 the Welsh rugby team was on the brink of its first Triple Crown for nearly 20 years. Victories over England and Scotland set up a deciding match with Ireland and thousands of Welsh supporters decided to make the trip across the Irish Sea to watch the game. Most travelled in the usual way, by boat from Holyhead or Fishguard. However, a Cardiff entrepreneur called Harry Dunscombe planned to charter an aeroplane and, at £10 a ticket, fly from Llandow airfield in the Vale of Glamorgan to Dublin, especially for the game. The aircraft Dunscombe hired was an Avro Tudor V, owned and operated by Fairflight Ltd in Buckinghamshire, a small company operating just a couple of planes. And Llandow field was certainly not a commercial airport. In fact it was an old RAF war time base, one that was still operating in a military capacity, and did not have facilities for passenger comfort or for essential requirements like weighing baggage. The flight to Dublin on Saturday 11 March 1950 was piloted by Captain Parsons. The trip was uneventful and the passengers were soon making their way to Lansdowne Road to watch the match. Wales duly won an exciting and pulsating game of rugby and the 78 passengers, after a night in the bars of Dublin, arrived at Collinstown Aerodrome the next day just after lunch for the flight back to Llandow. The return flight took just under an hour and, with dozens of friends and families waiting to welcome people home, the plane was soon spotted in the west, about two miles from Llandow airfield. With its undercarriage down the aircraft seemed to be flying very low and then, when it was just half a mile away, the engines seemed to be suddenly boosted. There was a roar like thunder and the aircraft rose steeply about two or three hundred feet. Then, before the horrified gaze of the spectators, the engines cut out. The plane dropped like a stone and fell into an adjacent field. After the crash there was a deathly silence before panic and utter pandemonium set in. RAF rescue crews were hurriedly despatched from the nearby St Athan air base, as well as ambulances and fire tenders - although there was no fire - which came from Cardiff. Three survivors, cut and bleeding, had already staggered from the wreck and 10 more were quickly pulled, alive, from the fuselage of the Avro Tudor. Unfortunately they later died in hospital and when the casualty figures were finally put together it was only the three men first out of the plane who had survived. They had been sitting together in adjacent seats at the rear of the aircraft and must be regarded as three of the luckiest men on the planet. One of the three survivors was Handel Rogers. Traumatised by the crash, he vowed that in the future he make every second of his life count for something special - and he did. He became president of the Welsh Rugby Union. Many of the dead came from the Monmouthshire area of Wales, and several villages lost three or four of their inhabitants. It was a tragedy on a national scale and the Western Mail organised a disaster fund that soon raised over £40,000 for the families and the bereaved communities. In total 75 passengers and five crew members died in the Llandow Air Disaster. It was, at the time, the worst accident in British aviation history. A court of enquiry was held in Cardiff a few months later, lasting for eight days. All sorts of rumours had been rife, including one that passengers had been singing and dancing in the aisles as the aircraft came in to land. This report was duly squashed at the enquiry but no firm or clear causes of the accident were ever established. One possible cause, it was decided, might have been uneven loading of luggage - certainly extra baggage had been taken on at Dublin and with no weighing facilities at Llandow it was never clear how much extra weight the plane was carrying. In the years after the Llandow air disaster many more commercial airports were established in Britain, Rhoose Airport - later renamed Cardiff International Airport - being just one of them. And whether or not extra baggage contributed to the crash, the weighing of luggage has been a crucial factor in air travel ever since.

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