ELLESMERE LOOP - Wrexham & Ellesmere Railway

Page first uploaded: 31 January 2014

The link between the Wrexham & Ellesmere line and the Cambrian main line, west of Ellesmere station, provided through running between north and west and was referred to by the Cambrian as the Ellesmere Loop. The junctions at each end of the Loop were single: the western junction – leading towards Oswestry – was “W&E South Jn” and the northern junction – leading towards Wrexham – was “W&E North Jn”, but the curve (Loop) itself was double with Up and Down lines between the two boxes. The Down direction was from North to South. In the Wrexham & Ellesmere Railway Table of Distances its length is recorded as 31 chains 50 links (31½ chains – just under ½ mile).

The Loop has, alas, been the subject of poor treatment by historians of the Cambrian and the W&E, so, working from primary sources – principally at the National Archives (TNA), Kew, where Cambrian Minute Books and Officers’ Reports are under reference RAIL 92 and working and public timetables under RAIL 923 – the following chronology has been constructed, incorporating an epitome of regular through summer passenger services over the W&E route, whether using the Loop or not. All services applied Mondays to Saturdays unless otherwise specified. In the period under notice, working and public timetables generally changed on 1 July and 1 October annually (regardless of the day of the week).

Unfortunately, no Cambrian timetables (public or working) are available at Kew covering the period between W&E line’s opening in November 1895 and July 1898, although the through carriage working notice for summer 1896 is available [1]. The Cambrian’s Appendix (to working timetable) dated 1 May 1896 [2] carries no mention of the Loop in the List of Electric Tablet, Train Staff & Block Telegraph Sections so it clearly wasn’t open then. Indeed, it wasn’t until 5 August 1896 that the Cambrian reported the Loop as ready for inspection by the Board of Trade.

Charles Sherwood Denniss, the Cambrian General Manager, reported to his Board on 7 July 1896 [3] :
Summer Train Service … Consequent upon the opening of the North Wales and Liverpool route through coaches will be run between Manchester (Central) and Aberystwyth by trains leaving the former at 11.30 am and 3.30 pm and on the return journey from the latter at 12.5 pm and 2.15 pm. Also between Seacombe and Aberystwyth in connection with Steamers from Liverpool leaving the former at 11.45 am and the latter for return to Seacombe at 9.0 am.”
According to the carriage working notice alongside his report, the through vehicles were each a single composite bogie (although obviously two vehicles would be required to maintain each circuit):
• 11.30 am Manchester Central returning on 12.5 noon (sic) Aberystwyth: provided by Cheshire Lines
• 2.15 pm Aberystwyth returning on 3.30pm Manchester Central: provided by Cambrian
• 11.45 am Seacombe returning on 9.0 am Aberystwyth: provided by MS&L and Cambrian alternate days.
While the Seacombe bogie – for the Merseyside traffic – used the same westbound working as 11.30 am Manchester bogie from Wrexham, it did not return on the same workings as the Manchester bogie. The through passenger workings in summer 1896 were all advertised as working via (and hence reversing at) Ellesmere station, thus not using the Loop. Indeed, throughout the years that they operated, the through vehicles were usually attached either to pre-existing Cambrian main line trains or to other incoming vehicles when they reached Ellesmere, Oswestry or Welshpool, for the Cambrian could not afford to engage in profligate extra train mileage! In some years, the through vehicles were conveyed between Wrexham and Ellesmere on existing W&E local trains, so that then the only discrete train mileage was that of the CLC and GC between Manchester and Wrexham.

Although not opened for passengers in 1896, freight doubtless commenced using the Loop at about the time it was reported to the BoT as complete, i.e. August 1896.

In summer 1897, two pairs of weekday expresses again carried through vehicles between Manchester Central and Aberystwyth, all reversing at Ellesmere station with the exception of the first westbound train (10.10 am Manchester) which ran via the Loop – opened to passengers on 1 July 1897. Similarly, in summers 1898, 1899 and 1900 one weekday, westbound only, passenger train ran at mid-day from Wrexham to Oswestry via the Loop, carrying through Manchester Central – Aberystwyth vehicles. Return working of through vehicles was via Ellesmere station, thence by a W&E stopping train.

Over those same years, the freight service shown in the working timetables was: July 1898: 4.45 pm Oswestry – Wrexham (plus an additional at 10.15 am on Mondays only) and 9.00 am Wrexham – Oswestry; October 1898: one direction by one freight train; July 1899: as July 1898 plus 3.10 pm Wednesday Cattle Oswestry – Wrexham; October 1899 and July 1900 in use in both directions by freight; October 1900 in use in one direction only, by Oswestry to Wrexham freight.

The W&E was originally conceived in the early 1880s (it languished unconstructed for ten years after obtaining its powers in 1885) and in 1889 became part of Sir Edward Watkin’s “grand design” for the Welsh Railways Union. Watkin coveted access to South Wales - enjoyed by the English “majors” (GW, LNW and Midland) - albeit that the MS&L’s would have to be principally over single track and heavily graded secondary railways such as the Neath & Brecon (of which he assumed the Chair) and, of course, the Cambrian. However, by the time the W&E was complete, the railway scene had moved on: Watkin had recently relinquished the MS&L Chair and that company (about to become the Great Central [4]) was well on the way to establishing its major connection with the GW at Banbury [5], so that its interest in the Union waned. Thus it was that Denniss reported to his Board in 1900 [6] about the lack of GC effort in putting bridge traffic for South Wales lines over the W&E (this despite the GC’s financial interest in the W&E), and the GC’s refusal to pass traffic for the GW or LNW in south Wales by the W&E and Cambrian route. Although Denniss did not make clear to his Directors, this was because where companies had direct interfaces, it was standard practice that traffic was always interchanged between themselves, rather than through intermediary companies, even where the overall distance was greater – no company wanted to “short haul” itself! Clearly, for example, the GC could see its interests better served at Banbury in the case of the GW, and had no particular wish to pick a fight with the latter company when the benefit would accrue solely to the Cambrian at the expense of the GC and GW! (Denniss’s exchange of correspondence with the GC can be read at Kew [7] ). It is therefore hardly surprising that there was no flood of GC traffic via Wrexham. Nor should we be surprised that the Loop went out of use, for it required the staffing of two otherwise unnecessary signal boxes. Economics culminated in Denniss’s report of 1 May 1901 [8]:
Wrexham & Ellesmere Loop Signal Boxes These boxes were provided in the expectation of through traffic between stations north of Wrexham and your system and beyond in South Wales, but during nine months of the year they are only being used for goods trains between Wrexham and Oswestry, and in the three summer months, for one through passenger train each way between Seacombe and Manchester, and Aberystwyth. All these trains can be dealt with without loss of time, by running into Ellesmere station, and the through passenger trains can be attached and detached with the Main Line trains at Ellesmere, not only without loss of time, but with a saving of mileage and engine power as between Oswestry and Ellesmere. There seems therefore, to be no reason why they should not be closed, at any rate for the present, and as this will effect a saving in wages of £3.19.0 per week, and £205.8.0 per annum, I recommend that this be done at once.”
His Board immediately approved, and there is every reason to think that the closure was effected speedily so that the Loop fell into total disuse from May 1901 – certainly, the July 1901 working timetable showed no freight services via Loop – and the connection to it was severed by July 1902.

In summers 1901 to 1904 through passenger workings over the W&E were similar to those of 1900 (albeit retimed from 1903) and all – whether by local trains, local trains retimed and made non-stop, or by extra non-stop workings – ran via Ellesmere station. The carriage working for 1904 [9] shows merely a single composite vehicle (alternately GC and Cambrian) originating at 8.20 am from Leicester GC via Manchester Central (dep. 11.40 am) for Aberystwyth, plus, on Saturdays in August only, a CLC compo. working through from Manchester to Barmouth; these were worked forward from Ellesmere by the 1.50 pm Whitchurch - Aberystwyth. The Leicester vehicle returned at 12.15 pm from Aberystwyth (the CLC compo. returned from Barmouth at 11.40 am on Mondays to connect with the same train), detached at Ellesmere. The Leicester vehicle was conveyed on ordinary GC services east of Manchester.

Meantime, the W&E company had observed the Loop’s severance in July 1902 and desultory exchanges took places as to whether the Loop’s “infrastructure” (not a word then in use, of course!) should be lifted and redeployed, to the credit of the heavily-indebted W&E company. During this long-winded process (recorded in occasional reports by Denniss to his Board), the Cambrian changed its Engineer – and the new man (George Champion McDonald, from the Midland Railway) had a much poorer view than his predecessor, Alfred Jones Collin, of the total value of materials that could be salvaged. In the hiatus, in late 1904, the GC’s General Manager, Sam (later Sir Sam) Fay, persuaded Denniss to “give it another go” at running trains via the Loop. This, be it noted, despite the very limited traffic potential that the 1904 carriage working notice suggests the two railways had felt warranted for that summer! As a result, Denniss took this proposition to his Board on 5 April 1905 [10] :
“… I have been in communication with the Great Central Company, and they are prepared to improve their through train service if we will run the trains through this Loop. The Wrexham & Ellesmere Company have also asked us to replace the points and to put the Loop in working order. The signal fittings and points and crossings, and some of the rails near the junctions, have been used by the Engineer for maintenance purposes on other parts of your Line and no credit has been given to the Wrexham & Ellesmere Company for what has been so used. The Engineer estimates the cost of putting the permanent way and signalling arrangements in order so that the Loop can be reopened for passenger traffic at £670 … and I have instructed the Engineer to proceed with the work.”
The Cambrian were thus suckered into spending £670 of capital (not to mention once more incurring the staffing costs of the two boxes concerned) that can surely not have been recouped by the resulting traffic…. The Loop was reported, on 17 June 1905, by Cambrian to BoT as ready for inspection. Although the inspection report is dated 20 July, provisional sanction had been given on 24 June to enable the re-opening of the Loop for passengers from 1 July 1905 (the start of the summer timetable). The 1.00 pm Wrexham resumed running via the Loop (with through vehicles from Manchester to Aberystwyth) as did the return working (vehicles left Aberystwyth at 1.00 pm) – for one summer only, as it turned out. That same summer, several freights (in both directions) resumed via Loop. However, with the end of the summer service, from the 1 October 1905 working timetable, the Loop again went out of use for all traffic – never to resume.

From summer 1906 previous passenger arrangements via Ellesmere station resumed – but with a few more vehicles than the nadir of 1904. The rails of the Loop must have been lifted in about 1909 or 1910, for the working timetable heading “Double between W&E South and North Jns.” from October 1910 had added the words: “at present closed” added. Indeed, the lifting is confirmed by Samuel Williamson, Secretary & General Manager, in a report to the Cambrian Board in January 1913: “These rails, however, were taken out … three or four years ago”, he said [11] . During the course of 1913, the Cambrian purchased the lifted rails and the Loop’s remaining four sets of points and crossings from the W&E company for £597 3s 5d – and, somewhat belatedly, paid £100 for four tablet instruments that (to use Williamson’s words) “… were appropriated by the Cambrian Company some time ago, but have not yet been paid for” [12].

The Loop had certainly breathed its last well before the beginning of the First World War, thus giving the lie to tales of Jellicoe specials – coal trains destined for the Home Fleet in Scotland – passing over it.

As an example of the through carriage workings, those for summer 1912 were set out in Welsh Railways Archive Vol. II No. 10 [13]. For the following year, 1913, things were slightly different: on Mondays to Saturdays from 14 July to 20 September (note the shorter season), the through vehicles were [14]:
• 9.05 am Sheffield GC via Manchester Central returning on 1.00 pm Aberystwyth: composite and brake/3rd (GC/Cambrian, alternate days)
• 10.50 am Fridays and Saturdays Manchester Central returning on 1.00 pm Aberystwyth Mondays and Saturdays: 3rd (CLC)
• 11.35 am Seacombe returning on 1.00 pm Aberystwyth: composite (GC/Cambrian, alternate days) (Mondays Tuesdays Fridays and Saturdays only in each direction)

The “dated” train services were:
• outward: Manchester Central 10.50 am, Wrexham 12.50 pm, Ellesmere 1.20-1.25 pm, Oswestry, 1.39-1.43 pm, Welshpool 2.08 pm. The vehicles went forward at 2.15 pm with similarly “dated” vehicles received from the LNW&GW Joint line via Shrewsbury, due Aberystwyth 4.20 pm; this was, in effect, a “relief” to the regular 1.45 pm Whitchurch – Aberystwyth which carried the LNW vehicles received via Crewe
• return: Welshpool 3.38 pm, local stations to Oswestry 4.18-4.23 pm, Ellesmere 4.38-4.45 pm, Wrexham 5.10 pm thence Manchester Central. The CLC/GC vehicles had left Aberystwyth at 1.00 pm, on the regular train for Whitchurch, which detached them at Welshpool at 3.30 pm

The Sheffield and Seacombe vehicles were carried in regular GC trains between Manchester and Sheffield and Wrexham and Seacombe, respectively.

The final season for such through workings was from 13 July to 19 September 1914, for they neither reappeared in 1915, nor after the end of World War I.

Commentry on published secondary sources:
• Rex Christiansen & R W Miller The Cambrian Railways David & Charles, 1967/1969, vol. 2, p. 21: “To improve the flow of through traffic a triangular junction was laid at Ellesmere in 1911 (clearly an error, for how can this be so when they say – see next item – through trains used it earlier: they mean “re-laid … in 1905”) and the Wrexham-Oswestry curve was double-tracked as an extra crossing loop (it had been so from the outset in 1895/6). As the union concept stagnated (scheme of 1889 for through freight traffic to south Wales which never fructified) the curve fell out of use, and it was lifted in 1921 (should read 1913) when it became clear that the through traffic which had been diverted via Whitchurch and Crewe as a wartime measure would never return.” (there had been precious little traffic and it wasn’t diverted – the real problem had been the reluctance of the other railways to use Wrexham and the Cambrian as a “bridge” route – for example, see Cambrian GM’s reports of 1905 in RAIL 92/76 [2 Feb: folio 32; 4 May: folio 89; 7 June: folio 99]; the Loop had already been taken out before the war, in 1913); vol.2, p.74/5: “The through express service between Manchester (Central) and Aberystwyth which the CLR (Cheshire Lines Railway – otherwise referred to as Cheshire Lines Committee) began in 1896 to exploit the Wrexham branch used the spur at Ellesmere to avoid reversal (in 1896 the new service between Manchester Central and Aberystwyth was advertised to run via Ellesmere station – it did not use the Loop until 1897). Called Wrexham Junction South Loop (this was never used as a title for the Loop), it avoided the station.”
• Peter E Baughan A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain – Vol. XI North and Mid Wales David St.John Thomas Publisher, 2nd. edn. 1991 p.162: “September 1896 saw sanction of the ½-mile double-tracked Ellesmere loop, authorised in 1895 to give through running [from the W&E] to Oswestry. The loop became disused but was reopened in 1905.” (correct – but only as far as it goes)
• R W Kidner The Cambrian Railways Oakwood Press, 2nd. edn. 1992 p.76 refers to use of Ellesmere direct loop and says that a train (from Manchester via CLC and MS&L) “ran non-stop from Wrexham to Oswestry via the loop from 1897, but between 1900 and 1905 (should read 1901 to 1904 inclusive) there was no train using the loop; in the summer of [1905] a Manchester – Aberystwyth express used it… After 1 October 1905 no passenger train used the loop and it must have been taken out of service not long after, as by 1911 the Cambrian was considering other uses for the trackwork of the ‘disused’ loop. (it was not lifted until 1913)
• S C Jenkins & J M Strange Wrexham & Ellesmere Railway Oakwood Press, 2004: Their text refers to the through train via the loop as the 11.18 am from Chester Liverpool Road (actually en route from Manchester Central) and that the loop was “…more or less out of use by 1903 (actually from May 1901) … reopened around 1905… (actually for summer 1905, only) ” and thereafter closed; they record the Loop as still in situ in 1909.
• Peter Johnson The Cambrian Railways - A new history Oxford Publishing Co, 2013, p. 148: “The WER's Ellesmere loop, a north-to-west connection to the Cambrian's main line was opened during September [1896]. [Board of Trade Railway Inspector] Yorke inspected it on the 10th, reporting four days later that it was double track, 39 chains long (the distance quoted was doubtless given to the BoT in good faith but does not tally with the Cambrian engineer's distance chart for the W&E which gives 31½ chains) and the interlocking at the north and south signal boxes was satisfactory. Some of the land required for the loop, and for the WER itself, was obtained from the trusetees of Piercy's estate...” (the railway did not need BoT approval to commence goods services so there is no reason to think they waited once the Loop was completed in August; Johnson fails to say when passenger services started); p. 155: “The Ellesmere loop line was also considered on 1 May [1901] (at the Traffic & Works Committee which was actually held on 2 May). Through traffic between stations north of Wrexham and the Cambrian and South Wales not having developed as expected, the line was normally only used by goods trains execpt for three months in the summer, when there was a through passenger train each way between Seacome and Manchester and Aberystwyth. This required two signal boxes to be manned at an annual cost of £205. 8s. Denniss's recommendation that they be closed immediately was approved.” (Johnson fails to give anything like the full story, and leads one erroneously to think the Loop finally expired in 1901; a "new" history it may be, but alas not a better one)

Sources and notes:
[1] RAIL 92/66 folio 187
[2] RAIL 923/19
[3] RAIL 92/66 folio 179
[4] From 1 August 1897
[5] Opened on 1 June 1900
[6] RAIL 92/69
[7] RAIL 1057/644
[8] RAIL 92/70 folio 204
[9] RAIL 923/27 (the next available at Kew after 1896)
[10] RAIL 92/76 folio 75
[11] RAIL 92/88 folio 7
[12] RAIL 92/88 folio 242
[13] page 231 et seq. (Tables 6 and 16)
[14] RAIL 923/40

An appendix with a fuller statement of extracts of Cambrian minutes at the National Archives can be downloaded as a Word (.doc) file by following this link.

A map of the area of the triangle at Ellesmere can be downloaded as a PDF file by following this link. The Loop is the curve from north (top) to west (left).

The Google satellite view of the Ellesmere Loop can be downloaded as a Word (.doc) file by following this link. Ellesmere town is off the right hand side of screen, Elson is off top (north) edge of screen.

The first page of the summer 1897 Great Central timetable showing the morning through train from Manchester Central to Aberystwyth via the Wrexham & Ellesmere route and the Ellesmere Loop can be downloaded as a JPG file by following this link.

The summer 1898 Cambrian timetable display page showing through trains from the CLC via the Wrexham & Ellesmere route can be downloaded as a JPG file by following this link. The trains in bold type denote through carriages.

Richard Maund

The article (but not the commentary on published secondary sources nor the appendix with extracts from Cambrian minute books) appeared in Welsh Railways Archive, journal of the Welsh Railways Research Circle, Vol. V, no. 8, November 2013.

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