Victorian Powys for primary  schools
Powys Digital History Project
Talgarth and district
The Hay Tramroad
  Carrying coals to Hay and beyond  
  The simple idea that made the Hay Tramroad (and similar lines elsewhere) work was that horses could pull much heavier loads without difficulty if they were harnessed to wagons that ran on smooth metal tracks, rather than on uneven or muddy roadways.
In such a hilly district it was not possible to build the line without gradients, but the route was made as level as the land allowed.
Tramroad wagons

Iron rails
used for the
Hay Tramroad

The stone
blocks were
6 inches thick
and drilled
for the plates
to be attached.

Track construction detail
L-shaped sections of cast iron about 3 feet long, and fixed to stone blocks were used for the track.
These plates or rails were about 3feet 6inches apart.
(This spacing is called the 'gauge' of a railway line).
  The flat wagon wheels (shown below) were kept in line by the vertical sides of the plates. Small stones between the rails provided grip for the horses pulling the loaded wagons.  
Cast iron
tram wheel
Tram wheel The wheels on the wagons or trams were made of cast iron, and different patterns were used. Some companies using the line had their initials or other designs cast onto their tram wheels.
On modern railways the wheels are kept on the tracks by vertical flanges on the train wheels themselves, rather than by the vertical sides of the rails, as used on the old tramroads.

The first section of the tramroad between Brecon and Hay was built between 1811 and 1816, and it was over 22 miles long. Although the line was built before Victoria became Queen in 1837, it was in use for much of the Victorian age until steam trains took over in the 1860s.
There is more about how this simple but practical early railway system was used on the next page...

Working on the tramroad...


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