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.
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 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 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).
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.
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.
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.
The other piers remained standing for a further 4 years, until piers 2, 3 and 4 were demolished in 1973.
And by way of comparison, a similar shot taken almost a mere 35 years later.
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.
Many thanks to Flickr users DEAD SHEEP, Midland Explorer Boy, Capt’Gorgeous, Fray Bentos, Norman Pries, Stuart Herbert, Peter Brabham
Update – 12/4/2017 – I’m planning a local history book that briefly features this area – details here: https://kriscarter.wordpress.com/2017/04/10/retracing-the-cardiff-railway-the-book/