The Walnut Tree Viaduct

Just to warn you ahead of time – if you thought my ‘font’ blog a while back was a snoozefest, this’ll bore you until you’re actually, physically dead. Sorry in advance like.

What was this?!

Everytime I’d catch the train to go to Cardiff when I was kid, I’d always look out of the window just after Taffs Well station, because to the right of the track was a bloody great big brick building that towered over everything. It had the words Silver Jubilee 1977 written on it in brick, and I could never see any doors or windows on it. My child brain decided it was a chimney, and I left it at that.

It still held a fascination for me, and one day, as I drove over the river bridge heading into Radyr, I was surprised to see an identical large brick structure several hundred yards further away from the tracks. Two the same? My mind clicked, and it occured to me that I was looking at the remains of a bridge or something similar. Whatever was there had obviously been long gone, but I was utterly intrigued. It was time to look into it.

I’ve always been fascinated by architectural history, heritage and decay, and this covered a bit of all three. It was no brick chimney that had captured my imagination – it was one of the two remaining piers of the Walnut Tree viaduct.

I finally tracked down a picture of what this bad boy looked like in it’s heyday. Have a goosey…

The Walnut Tree Viaduct, circa 1960

The narrow curved road on the right of the picture is now the modern day A470. The new road layout obliterated the far right pier, and the pier directly next to the railway track is the one that is still standing and has been added to with the royal celebratory brickage. The next three piers have all been demolished, but the pier just visible through the treeline is still there today. Impressive looking wasn’t it? Here’s a bit of background on this imposing structure…

Designed by Sir James Szlumper, the Walnut Tree viaduct was built by the Barry Railway in 1901 to tap the coal resources of the Rhymney Valley of South Wales to the then new Dock at Barry. The viaduct was named after the railway junction it spanned (the Walnut Tree Junction, owned by the Taff Vale Railway, a competitor of the Barry Railway that ran under the viaduct). The viaduct was 120 feet tall, and 1548 feet in length, and was wide enough for two railway tracks. It comprised of seven spans of lattice girders, and six brick piers. The viaduct can be seen in this postcard image from 1905…

The freshly built viaduct, circa 26th September 1905.

The small child is standing right where the A470 runs now. There was a lot less traffic then. A mere 53 years later, someone hung out a carriage and snapped a shot of the viaduct with the train heading in the direction of Caerphilly (Cardiff is off to the right, Pontypridd to the left).

Train crossing the viaduct in 1958

Freight and passenger services ran across it initially, but passeneger services eventually ceased on 22nd July, 1963. Frieght services continued to and from the adjacent Dolomite Quarry until the last train crossed the structure on 14th December, 1967.

31st July 1965 – Swansea Railway Circle Railtour – The Walnut Tree tunnel that lead to the viaduct was now shut, so this train had reversed down from Penrhos Junction, and crossed the viaduct twice, after visiting the Dolomite site.

Unfortunately, the demolition of Walnut Tree viaduct started in 1969. It was carried out by the Welsh Office and Mabeys of Chepstow, and shadowed construction work on the new A470 at Taffs Well.

The end… most of the viaduct lattice is removed by September 1969

Demolition work occurred between April and October of 1969, with the steelwork being craned down in stages. Pier 6 was demolished in October 1969 to make way for the new road.

One of the lattice girder spans is lowered onto the railway tracks, 29th Sept 1969

Boom baby! September 1969

The other piers remained standing for a further 4 years, until piers 2, 3 and 4 were demolished in 1973.

Pier demolition, 27th Feb 1973

And by way of comparison, a similar shot taken almost a mere 35 years later.

17th Feb 2008. All that remains…

So that, as they say is that. The viaduct is long gone, and very little of it remains. The railway it served is gone, the quarry it served is gone, and all that remains are these two lonely brick columns, and part of the Garth Tunnel abuttment. It’s all a bit sad really. But I’m glad that there at least some grainy visual records of it, so you can see what it must have been like.

And the 7 year old me thinks that this explanation of what that brown monolith was is so much better than just being a chimney.

The River Taff and pier 5 of the viaduct… old pals.

Many thanks to Flickr users DEAD SHEEP, Midland Explorer Boy, Capt’Gorgeous, Fray Bentos, Norman Pries, Stuart Herbert, Peter Brabham


Update – 23/6/2017 – I’m planning a local history book that features this area – please back it now on Kickstarter!
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51 thoughts on “The Walnut Tree Viaduct

  1. I am very interested in this history as the rail line followed on through Ely i.e. the Drope, my childhood playground from the ages of nine to fifteen. The sad thing is I did’nt take a photo of the two viaducts that stood there (nine and seven arch’s) before they were demolished in 1982-3 ish.
    I still cherish these memories today !

    Gareth Bessant
    35, Kilgetty Close, Caerau, CF5-5PQ.

  2. Thanks for that. Lived in Ponyypridd all my life (born 1970) and knew roughly what was there but have never seen photos before. Strange to think it was all still there just a few years before I was born.

    Great to see the Graig tunnel on your blog as well, all that lost and forgotten history is fascinating.

  3. Interesting piece on the Walnut Tree Viaduct and a nice bit of research. I passed under it hundreds of times in the 1950s as a passenger on trains going to Cardiff. Even better, my dad travelled over it during the early 1960s when he was an engine driver working out of Caeharris, Dowlais, and they had the occasional Sunday excursion passenger train to Barry Island. This was with a 56XX class locomotive and, I believe, five coaches. I can remember him telling me the connection with the old Rhymney line was made at Aber Junction. He would take the train down in the morning and bring it back in the evening. He fired all over south and mid-Wales with the Rhymney Railway out of Merthyr and then with the GWR. He started driving on the main line in the Newport, Gloucester, Bristol and Swindon area before going to Dowlais and branch line service. He had a year or so on the class 37 diesels before he retired. I am sure there are people in Dowlais who can still remember going over that viaduct.

  4. Presently carrying out some research on my Great grandfather, understand he came down from Lincolnshire to build the The Wallnut Viaduct. According to the 1901 census he lived at The Engine House possible in TaffsWell. Has anybody any idea where this may have been located.
    He returned up north in about 1910 when the works were completed. My grandmother unfortunately died in 1909 and is buried in Pentyrch St.Catwgs. If any body has any info I would appreciate it.

    • I RESEARCED THE VIADUCT SOME YEARS AGO, AND I BELIEVE THERE WHERE A ROW OF HOUSES AND WORKSHOPS DIRECTLEY UNDERNEATH THE VIADUCT. I EXPLORED THIS AREA RECENTLEY AND CAN TELL YOU THERE ARE INDEED SEVERAL DERELICT BUILDING AMONGST THE UNDERGROWTH, MAYBE THESE WERE WHERE THE BUILDERS WORKED AND LIVED, HOPE THIS HELPS SHAUN.

      • Right opposite Taffs Well station is building still in use ( possibly an engineering firm ) Which was originally built as an engine shed by the Rhymney Railway.Are these the buildings over on the gwaelod y Garth side ?

      • I think the old engine shed that has been repurposed is on the opposite side of Gwaelod y Garth, and can be seen as you drive along the A470. It can be seen in the top left of the second -to-last photo in this blog, it has a distinctive roof.

    • Hi, I have a newspaper cutting of a photo of one of the viaduct abuttments being built – not sure how I can get you a copy! If you can tell me your g grandfather’s name I will locate him on the census and might well be able to work out where he lived from the adjacent census entries. I also have a map identifying every property which dates from around 1910 and I also have a number of photos and postcards I can refer to

      • His name was John Robert Ranson, b.1859. Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire, England.
        1901 census he was living in Taffswell ]Pentyrch] Glamorgan with his wife Sarah Ann and children. His job title was a Contracts Foreman..

      • Hi Hilary

        I’d be very keen to receive copies of the photo’s, postcards and map you mention via email if possible as my great great grandfather was Station Master at Walnut Tree, Taffs Well Station c1881-1891. My great grandfather and his siblings were all born at the house they lived in during this time and have been trying to find out if it’s still standing. I have a photo of the house and on the back is written Sherwood, Walnut Tree Taffs Well.

        Look forward to hearing from you.

        Kind Regards

        Tracy

      • Hi Tracey,
        if you’re happy to post your email address I will get round to sending you what I have. The station house (or what I always understood to be station house) is still standing – I also have somewhere an old view of the staff of the station – not sure if your ancestor is amongst them !

    • Some weeks ago I offered to try and find out where Engine House would have been. I am still waiting for a response from a local history group – I am pretty sure it was in Pentyrch rather than Taffs Well as on the census it is clearly listed between two identifiable Pentyrch streets. Some one else mentioned that Engine House could refer to the rows of houses which were close to the base of the viaduct – definately not ! One side of the river the houses were known as the Level houses and on the other side, the two rows alongside the Glamorgan Canal were Forest Row (sometimes known as Canal Row) which is where I was born. I remember walking across the viaduct just after it closed and I clearly remember it being dismantled and have quite a few slides of the event taken by my father. The crowds who gathered to watch the big crane lowering the girders were not very far from the site – something which H & S certainly would not allow these days! Not sure if it was true but I was told that the crane which was brought in was the tallest mobile crane in Europe at that time.

    • Tony,
      My grandmother was Beatrice Emma Ranson, whose father was John Robert Ranson. He was originally from Pinchbeck, Lincs, and was, I assume, great grandfather to us both.
      My grandmother married a chap from Lincoln and moved there.
      John Ranson apparently had a couple of wives (sisters!) and sired 11 children along the way. He died in Coventry.
      I think he was a jobbing labourer and simply moved to wherever the work was.
      I spoke to a John Ranson from Pontyprydd about 8 years ago but have lost his contact details.
      My daughter is an archivist and is currently doing some research on our family.
      Regards,
      Jeff Bellamy

      • Thanks Jeff sounds like we are related. I have done some research on the Ranson family tree on Ancestry.com. You are welcome to have a look,there is quiet a bit of info on John Robert Ranson who was my Great Grandfather. If you can email me I’ll send you a link.
        Tony

  5. I remember being able to walk along the barry railway line from Nantgarw to Taffs Well,The walk terminated right where the viaduct used to cross the Taff valley.
    The line used to run above the ” Big hill ” Walnut tree jct to Aber,Which at the time was still in use.
    I am planning to see if I can still walk it in the near future.
    Railway history and archaeology is a passion of mine.
    I am a history undergraduate at the University of Glamorgan and was quite interested/jealous at your trip inside the Graig tunnel ?

    • Glad you enjoyed the blog man, yeah, I’m fascinated by this sort of stuff too. I’ve not been in the Graig Tunnel myself, just managed to snap some pics through the gates in the hospital car park, and another chap at the Uni managed to get a look inside the other end by Stilts. Great to see peoples interest in this!

  6. As an add on historically,I was told quite a few times when I was a child by my dad.
    That a lot of paintings were put in the quarry the otherside of the valley in ww11 from the National Gallery in London.

      • No don’t think it was Chinese whispers. My father told me that there were items stored,not in the quarry but in the cave system on Lesser Garth which is where the quarry is now. These caves are extensive and were worked many centuries ago by miners but many of them are now flooded and access is prohibited.

  7. Loved your blog about the walnut tree viaduct. I remember walking through the walnut tree tunnel in the mid sixties, which although blocked with a six foot high wall, was no barrier to determined school kids. The tunnel was about 500 yards long with a bend in the middle so light was only visible from one , spooky!, but you could walk through and reach the point where the old viaduct started. Unfortunately nowadays the tunnel is blocked both ends with full high metal gates which are well secured, and the tunnel itself is breached in the middle by a new access road serving the adjacent quarry.

  8. I grew up in Tongwynlais, and we used to wander through the woods on the radyr side. We used to come across some other brickwork remains, and also a railway tunnel that comes out high on in the wood above the field facing Morgantown. We used to walk through the tunnel as short cut to pentych. Not sure if still accessible. Great article. Love the pictures. Thank you.

  9. this area fascinated me as a kid , the railway tunnel only a few years ago was accessable but a hole was blown through the wall into the quarry, and the caves you could see down into from up near the observation platform above the quarry , many times I tried to get down the cliff to get into the caves but failed…one day I will but getting a bt old now haha, paul from ely .

  10. my grandfather was the signalman in both the Walnuttree (west) box between the tunnel and the viaduct , and also the Pentyrch box about 1 mile to south of tunnel, I used to walk through with him regularly, it was a dark tunnel because it had a continuous bent through its length. Seems odd but believe that it was only about 20 minutes from the tunnel to Barry docks.

      • Rail track from Pantawel lane bridge (where Pentyrch signal box was) for a distance of some 450m about 750m to south of Garth tunnel. Its mostly quite a deep cutting but decided that the 3 arch bridge would be great for BBQs.
        Had a great time as a kid in the boxes and quick rides on the footplate.

    • I have a picture set on Flickr ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/daffy-dub/sets/72157631698230023/) which documents the Barry Railway, Wenvoe to Llanbradach line. The section I haven’t photographed is the Morganstown to the M4 section, which goes under your 3 arch bridge. Is it accessible, with permission? Or can I photograph the cutting from Pant Tawel Lane? There is a picture in my set which I took back in 1981 of, what looked like the ruins of Walnut Tree West signal box, but I’ve never been able to confirm this. Very interesting about your grandfather.

  11. I was born in Morganstown in 1953 and knew the viaduct well. The Barry railway line emerged from a tunnel in the Garth wood behind Morganstown and I remember seeing trains exiting the tunnel and running along the Barry ‘Batter’ (that’s what it was called locally, but I have no idea how it was spelt). When the line closed I remember as kids we used to go into the tunnel with torches and walk all the way through to the viaduct, we would walk to the middle and drop stones into the river Taff below. Such fun we had in those days!

  12. Good book now out of publication was “Railway to prosperity” all about the Barry railway. Also have quite a few photos of trains passing the Pentyrch box and one of a rail gang taken by the viaduct showing the crossing entrance into the cement kilns.

  13. Thanks a lot for taking the time to write this page. Like you from a young age I often wondered why the piers were there, a friend of mine actually believed they were built just for the silver jubilee, which made me laugh, but this is a great insight into what sadly has gone. Cheers, Mark

  14. Re: My entry on August 6, 2014. Does anyone know why the railway, running from the Walnut Tree Viaduct and exiting through the Garth tunnel behind Morganstowm, was known as the ‘Barry Batter’ ? (unsure of the actual spelling?)

    Dave Stapleton

  15. Kris, just returned from a visit to University South Wales open day, Saw the pillar and decided to look it up when I get home, (Southampton) What you have done here is excellent. Factual with a personal story. Many thanks, Neil.

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