Situated in a prominent position beside the A5 road, Berwyn station is instantly recognisable because of its distinctive appearance. The half-timbered Tudor design of the station was designed to match the adjacent Chain Bridge Hotel at the request of the local landowner.
There has been a station at Berwyn since the Llangollen & Corwen Railway opened in 1865. At first glance, there is little to indicate why a station was built here in the first place, but Berwyn was once a vibrant community. However, it was the influence of the local gentry that was the main reason for the station’s existence. The Chairman of the Llangollen & Corwen Railway, Lt. Colonel Charles Tottenham resided nearby at Plas Berwyn and in an agreement dated 26 August 1861, it was announced that “A station to be called The Berwyn Station shall be built in ornamental style and contain a first class waiting room in addition to the general waiting room. All passenger trains shall stop at Berwyn if and when required by the owner or occupier of or visitors to Plas Berwyn mansion”.
The steep-sided Dee Valley around Berwyn proved to be a demanding site on which to build a station. The route of the pre-existing Holyhead road, designed by Thomas Telford (now the A5), and the course of the River Dee left little room for construction. Despite all this, the substantial station building was built on a ledge on the south side of the river. The architect, Samuel Pountney Smith, headed his original drawings for the station in 1864 as a “design for 2nd class station”, but as can be seen, this was anything but!
The station at Berwyn and its surroundings is described in detail in a Great Western Railway report on the line in 1924. By means of an introduction to the local area, the report records that:
“Berwyn station is 7 miles 6 chains from Llangollen Line Junction [on the Wrexham to Shrewsbury line] and serves the villages of Berwyn, Vivod, Llantysilio, Llandinan and Rhewl with a population of about 1,000. The scenery around Berwyn is most beautiful".
“The Shropshire Union Canal starts from the Horse Shoe Falls, an artificial construction made for the purpose of supplying the [Llangollen] canal with water.
“Bryntysilio Hall, formerly the residence of the late Sir Theodore and Lady Martin, is in close proximity. Sir Theodore was a noted literary man of the Victorian era and wrote the life of the Prince Consort at the command of Queen Victoria, much of the work being done at Bryntysilio. Lady Martin is best remembered as Helen Fawcett, one of the greatest Shakesperian actresses. The village church at Llantysilio, close by, contains a monument to Lady Martin; also a brass plate recording that Robert Browning, the Poet, worshipped there during his stay in the district in 1886.”
The only member of staff employed at Berwyn in 1924 was the Station Master, who lived in the adjoining station house. This building was three-storeys high and cost the Station Master 7 shillings and sixpence a week to rent it from the GWR. It is now possible to stay in the Station Master’s House, as it is been tastefully restored by the Llangollen Railway as a holiday let.
One unusual feature was the cantilevered platform at the western end of the station. Originally the platform ended at the western end of the Station Master’s House, but an increase in summer traffic on the railway meant that this arrangement was inadequate. The platform was therefore extended across the viaduct with timber decking supported on wrought iron frames with spearhead railings. Photographs taken in 1905 clearly show the platform extension in use and it was dismantled in the late 1950s due to deterioration and a lack of passengers.
By the late 1950s, the station had been relegated to an unstaffed halt, with the only comfort for passengers being a wooden waiting shelter on the platform. The station building remained locked. This general run-down echoed the changes that were going on elsewhere on the Ruabon to Barmouth route. The final passenger services between Llangollen and Bala Junction ran on 12th December 1964, as did services running throughout between Ruabon and Barmouth.
Passenger services from Ruabon to Llangollen and Bala to Morfa Mawddach lingered on until 16th January 1965, with goods traffic continuing to use the Ruabon to Llangollen Goods Junction section until 1968.
Passenger trains returned to Berwyn station on October 19th 1985, when a DMU arrived from Llangollen although passengers were unable to alight due to ongoing platform repairs. A run-round loop was installed west of the station and steam hauled services began operating to Berwyn in December that year. The station received a full passenger service in March 1986, with a formal opening ceremony being performed by His Grace the Duke of Westminster on June 13th 1986.
This was not to be the end of the story, because as the preserved Llangollen Railway continued to prosper, so too did the length of the trains. It was decided to extend the platform back across the viaduct at the west end, in order to restore the station to its original appearance. The contract to restore the viaduct and rebuild the platform was awarded to contractors George Law Ltd and was completed in March 2004, at a cost of £353,000. The work received an Award from the Institution of Civil Engineers, Historic Bridges, with the judges leaving comments that “we could not help thinking how diabolically awkward the site was” and “the quality of workmanship is just terrific”.
The extension of the platform back to its original length means that Berwyn station can now comfortably accommodate 5-coach trains. The platform’s curvature means that there is a sighting issue for Guards, who are unable to see the locomotive crew from the brake compartment. Consequently a “Right Away” indicator has been installed at the western end of the station and is operated by the Guard, using switches on the platform.
The Station Today
Trains call daily at Berwyn from March to October (see current timetable for details). The station is staffed by volunteers during weekends and public holidays. There is a small tearoom which is open most weekends during the operating season. Toilet facilities are available when the station is staffed. Due to the constrained nature of the site, Berwyn station is not wheelchair friendly at the present time.
Berwyn station remains a excellent starting point from which to explore the picturesque Dee Valley. The Horseshoe Falls, built by Thomas Telford to act as a feeder for the Llangollen Canal, is just a 15 minute walk from the station. Alternatively, walkers may decide to head in the opposite direction along the canal and return to Llangollen (30-40 minutes). Llangollen Motor Museum, Valle Crucis Abbey and Llantysilio Church are all within walking distance (see map).
Crossing the Dee
At the time of the railway’s opening in 1865, the only way of crossing the River Dee at Berwyn was by using a chain bridge. There have been three such bridges over the years, with the first being built by a mine owner called Exuperius Pickering, who needed to get his coal across the river so that he could deliver to Corwen and Bala. Permission for the bridge was granted in 1814 and it opened in 1817 or very soon afterwards. In the 1870s, a replacement bridge was built by Henry Robertson (the railway’s engineer) and this lasted until 16th February 1928, when an exceptionally heavy flood washed it away. The surviving Chain Bridge was built in the summer of 1929, with six metal chains supporting the bridge above and two chains below.
The Chain Bridge was still in use when the railway reopened to Berwyn in 1985, but closed for repairs shortly afterwards. However, a £350,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant application made jointly by Llangollen Town Council and neighbouring Llantysilio Community Council was approved in July 2013 and this meant that the bridge could be restored back to its former glory. This followed an earlier HLF grant for £28,900 to pay for the preparation of a detailed report on how the bridge could be restored, as well as a £50,000 grant from WREN, a not-for-profit business which awards cash to community, environmental and heritage projects.
The road bridge that passes under the railway’s viaduct at Berwyn before crossing the River Dee was built as recently as 1901. The high, narrow, four arch bridge was built to commemorate the Coronation of King Edward VII and is known as the King’s Bridge.
The Writing on the Wall (Paul Lawton)
To the east of the station is the small subway, which leads to a footpath down to the Chain Bridge. The tunnel under the track is constructed using white-glazed bricks. These seem to have taken pencil marks readily and, as the subway was a popular meeting spot, people took to writing messages there. Some of these are still (just) legible and a number date from c. 1914. These messages are the ones that have proved most durable since they were written using the indelible pencils issued to soldiers in the First World War The photographer David Gepp spent years researching these and they were the subject of a moving exhibition at Y Capel in Castle Street, Llangollen in 2007. One message is signed by R.Roberts in July 1913. Next to it and dated 25 December 1914, is written Lance Corporal R.Roberts - suggesting he had enlisted, been promoted and returned for Christmas leave.
One message says "Berlin last stop", another is signed "Balls from Belgium"; one is signed A. J. Candy – an Alfred James Candy is honoured on Llangollen’s War Memorial (unveiled by Capt. Best of Vivod on July 8th 1923) as having fallen in action. Four out of eleven soldiers' names researched by Mr Gepp appear on the war memorial. Graffiti is rightly seen as a scourge of modern life, but after the passage of a century the writing on the wall can become a moving and important historical artefact. What is surprising is that the names even survived the years of disuse and neglect when the railway through Berwyn was closed as part of the Beeching cuts.
Map of Berwyn Station
Two in B/W from 1989