The Bristol Railway Archive

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 Post subject: A History of the Dramway
PostPosted: Sat Aug 06, 2005 9:44 am 
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Joined: Fri Dec 12, 2003 10:20 am
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Location: Lockleaze
The Dramway was born out of the need to move coal from areas north of Bristol to the heart of the city. After two false starts in 1803 and 1826, a new proposal was put forward for a horse-drawn railway from Ram Hill Pit in Coalpit Heath to wharfs on the Avon at Keynsham and Cuckolds Pill in Bristol.
On the 19th June 1828 the Bristol and Gloucestershire Railway, which proposed a route between Coalpit Heath and Cuckolds Pill, and the Avon and Gloucestershire Railway, which proposed a route between Shortwood and Avon Wharf in Keynsham were incorporated into an Act of Parliament.

At the time the Act was obtained the subscribers of the A&GR were ten in number, with the main shareholder being the Kennet and Avon Canal Navigation Company. Of the 210 £100 shares that were made available for purchase, the K&ACNC spent £10,000 on a hundred of them.

The subscribers of the B&GR totalled eighty-five in number and included Sir John Smyth and Sir Henry Nicoll. The B&GR Co Act gave them the power to raise among themselves the sum of £45,000 in shares of £50 each, and the further power to raise among themselves, or to borrow, an additional sum of £12,000.

Construction work began in 1829 and on 30th July 1831 another Act of Parliament was passed allowing the A&GR to build branches from their main route to other collieries along the line. These branches were: Bone Mills to Cowhorn Hill Pit at a length of 60 chains, Redfield Lane to Haul Lane Pit at a length of 6 chains, Crown Inn Warmley to Grimsbury Pit at a length of 30 chains and Siston Common to Soundwell Pit at a length of 43 chains. Of these branches, only the ones to Haul Lane (Hole Lane) and Soundwell Pit were actually constructed.

In November 1830 the Dramway transported its first passengers. A train carrying several company managers, who were inspecting the progress of the route, travelled between Avon Wharf and Hole Lane Pit. By the end of December 1830 Hole Lane Pit had sent its first load of coal to Avon Wharf, followed two weeks later by coal from Siston Hill Pit. In 1831 a connection was made to sidings at Shortwood Colliery and coal was flowing from that pit by August.

In 1832 the Bristol & Gloucestershire route between Bitterwell and Shortwood was finished, and the opening of the line from Shortwood through to Keynsham meant the Avon and Gloucestershire Railway was complete. The official opening took place in July that year. At the end of November 1832 it was reported that nearly 3,000 tons of coal had traversed the Dramway that month and that all the railway's wagons were fully employed.

Londonderry Wharf was opened in October 1833 thus completing the Dramway route as described by this website.

The Dramway was a horse and gravity railway. From the termini of the Avon & Gloucester Railway at Shortwood to the River Avon at Keynsham, the route descends 176ft in height over a length of five miles two furlongs and four chains. The track consisted of cast-iron fish-bellied rail that sat in chairs attached to stone sleeper blocks.
The horses walked between the rails on a coal ash path and a man walked alongside the wagons ready to apply the brakes. On the descent the horses would have had little to do, but on the ascent they would have worked hard, especially on the 1 in 76 section of line north of Willsbridge Road.

Each of the wagons on the Dramway held four tons of coal. They were painted with 2 inch high characters that gave the name of the owner, the identity number of the wagon and its weight.

On reaching the wharfs the wagons were weighed before the coal was unloaded onto barges. The cargo was then shipped to destinations along the river or the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Decline & Closure
After the opening of the line between Shortwood and Bristol on the 6th August 1835, the Bristol & Gloucestershire Railway had its mind on expansion and planned a link northwards towards Gloucester. In 1839, and with the assistance of the GWR, an Act was passed for this new railway and the Bristol & Gloucester Railway Company was formed. In April 1843 it was decided that the new railway would be built to broad gauge. The northern section of the Dramway between Shortwood and the junction with Ram Hill Pit was converted during 1844, and in the process became the first mixed gauge track in the country.
With the metamorphosis of the Bristol & Gloucester Railway from a horse drawn Dramway to a full-blown steam-driven broad gauge railway, a problem was encountered with the safety of running the horse drawn A&GR traffic along the same section of track as the steam railway. A completely separate narrow gauge track had been laid inside the broad gauge railway, but in 1844 an inspection by Captain Codrington of the Board of Trade found the junctions to be unsafe and the quality of the work unsatisfactory. The relationship between the A&GR and B&GR was said to be hostile. It was recommended that the B&GR should relay the narrow gauge track with heavier rail or provide for a completely separate railway for the A&GR. The B&GR decided that the cost of such modifications would be more than the traffic was worth and the coal that flowed from the pits at Coalpit Heath, before the suspension of traffic on 5th June 1844 for the building of the broad gauge line, proved to be the last from those pits to traverse the Dramway.

The A&GR had seen a marked decline in traffic with the opening of the B&GR in 1835 and the further loss of the productive pits at Coalpit Heath, and the accompanying closure of many of the pits along the route, meant traffic along the Dramway deteriorated further. By 1843 it is recorded that only about 204 tons of coal per week were being carried.

Under the terms of Great Western Railway Act No. 1 dated 30th June 1852, and by transfer deed dated 29th July 1852, the Kennet & Avon Canal Navigation Company was taken into the ownership of the Great Western Railway. As the K&ACNC owned the Avon & Gloucestershire Railway, that passed into GWR ownership at the same time.

Meanwhile, in 1845, the B&GR had been bought by the Midland Railway and in 1864 an Act was passed allowing a branch to be built by the MR from Mangotsfield to Bath. The course of this new railway followed closely that of the Dramway as far as Siston Common where it then severed the A&GR route in two places. A deviation of the Dramway was built alongside the MR mainline despite the fact that this section of the A&GR had been unused since the conversion of the B&GR to broad gauge some twenty years previous.

By the 5th July 1865 the GWR decided the Dramway was no longer needed and obtained the necessary powers under the GWR (Additional Powers) Act to abandon the route. The final wagon load of coal was sent from Hole Lane Pit in January 1867.

In 1876 Abraham Fussell purchased the Cowhorn Hill Colliery and founded the Oldland Colliery Company. He deepened the old Blowbottom Shaft to 640 yards and renamed it California in the belief that, like the gold prospectors across the Atlantic, he was about to make his fortune.
He needed a way to get his coal to the markets of Bristol and decided to connect his colliery with the by now derelict Dramway which lay across Willsbridge Valley on the other side of Siston Brook.

Undeterred by the terrain, Fussell built a new branch of the Dramway and routed it from his colliery down a 1 in 10 incline, across Siston Brook on a bridge, and connected it via a new trailing junction with the main A&GR route. The junction was built such that any runaways on the incline would be diverted uphill where they would come to a natural halt, rather than careering downhill out of control in the direction of Willsbridge.

The Dramway itself had been repaired at the expense of the colliery in exchange for three years free use of the line, and a new land wharf was built at Willsbridge to supply local markets with California Colliery coal.

The necessary works required to reopen the Dramway were completed in 1881.

The End
In March 1904 a tremendous flood burst through the workings of California Colliery and miners barely escaped with their lives. This catastrophe bankrupted the Oldland Colliery Company and the pit closed.
On 9th July 1906 the GWR Traffic Committee was informed that all traffic along the route had ceased and the Dramway officially closed, never to reopen.

In 1935 the GWR sold the section of the A&GR between California Colliery and Willsbridge to the Bristol Water Works. They used it to lay a water main from the pit to Willsbridge.
During World War II Willsbridge Tunnel was used as an air raid shelter.

©Peter Lawson

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