Another of my holiday destinations where I had no idea that there had ever been a railway. I spent a lot of time at St. David’s Bay, between Red Wharf Bay and Benllech, in the late 1950s and 1960s, but, as with the Dornoch Branch, I was not as interested in railways as now, and just had no idea that one had ever existed in the area.
Red Wharf Bay Branch – Anglesey
From B to X
In the late 19th century, the London & North Western Railway was one of the main railways in Britain, and operated almost all services along the North Wales coast. The LNWR developed plans for two branch lines on Anglesey in 1897: one to Beaumaris (which was abandoned), and another to serve the growing tourist trade of Benllech. This line was to connect with the main line at Llanfairpwll but William Jones MP advocated a connection at Llangefni, on the Anglesey Central Railway (operated by then as a branch line of the LNWR). A compromise was reached with the line connecting at Holland Arms, near Pentre Berw, as authorised by Act of Parliament in 1899. The intended terminus was now to be in the nearby village of Red Wharf Bay, giving a slightly shorter route. This was changed by a further act of 1900 to a crossroads over half a mile (0.8 km) from Red wharf Bay and a mile (1.6 km) from Benllech, in an attempt to serve both villages. The terminus was called “Red Wharf Bay and Benllech”, often abbreviated to “Red Wharf Bay”.
The start of construction work was delayed significantly due to the LNWR having financial commitments elsewhere. In 1905 it was decided to build the branch as a Light Railway instead, to save further money. Work started with a connection at Holland Arms in June 1907, the main contractor being J Strachan. Webb 2-4-2T No.6643 at Holland Arms, the junction for the Red Wharf Bay Branch, with an Amlwch to Bangor train in May 1946 – W.A.Camwell
Some archaeological remains were discovered in a cutting near Pentraeth, including two skeletons, some urns and a ‘bronze spear or dagger head’. The portion from Holland Arms to Pentraeth was completed and inspected in June 1908. Services started as far as Pentraeth on 1 July 1908, with the remainder opening on 24 May 1909.
Pentraeth Station – Wickens
Passenger services on this branch were operated by the LNWR’s pioneer autotrain (which the LNWR referred to as a railmotor). This consisted of a rake of two carriages that would be attached to an engine, with a driving compartment and controls built into the rear carriage. When connected to a locomotive adapted for push-pull operation the train could then be operated in either direction without needing to run around. Two carriages were converted from restaurant cars in 1908 for the opening of the line to Pentraeth. Third class accommodation was provided for approximately 80 passengers, with electric lighting and a centre gangway. The autotrain was so successful that many more old carriages were converted for push-pull operation on other branch lines, a pair of which replaced the original railmotor set after opening to Red Wharf Bay. The daily freight service was operated by a regular locomotive.
Red Wharf Bay and Benllech railway station 1909
The first passenger service of the morning started from Bangor, and would return there in the evening. Seven return services to Red Wharf Bay were provided each day, from either Gaerwen (where the Anglesey Central Railway met the main line) or Holland Arms. When not running to Red Wharf Bay the railmotor train was also used on the Anglesey Central Railway: it would operate between Llangefni and Gaerwen while the main branch train was on the round trip from Llangefni to Amlwch and back.
LNWR 0-6-0 near Llangefni 1936
Anglesey Branch Lines: Amlwch and Red Wharf Bay,
W.G. Rear, 1993. Page 43
Shortages during the First World War resulted in service cuts. The railmotor set was reduced to one coach around 1914/1915. The seven return trips operated until the summer of 1916 became four in 1917. During the post-war grouping the line became the property of the London Midland & Scottish Railway, and services were gradually reinstated, returning to seven return services by the summer of 1929. In the winter of 1922/23, a great herring shoal was found on the coast between Moelfre and Benllech. Twelve special trains took five hundred tons of herring from Red Wharf Bay to London, Liverpool, Manchester and other cities, all in the space of two weeks.
Decline and closure
The growth of road motor transport was particularly damaging for the branch: the remote terminus of the railway meant their passengers had a long walk to get to either Benllech or Red Wharf Bay, but buses could operate all the way to the villages. Falling passenger numbers in the 1920s, and the onset of the Great Depression led to the removal of passenger services on 22 September 1930, leaving only the daily goods service. Crossville Motor Services operated the replacement bus service between Benllech and Bangor. This hourly service was more frequent than the train had been, and also removed the need to change trains at Gaerwen (and sometimes Holland Arms too). Some special passenger trains continued to run on Saturdays in the summer months until 1939, as the light buses used could not cope with the density of traffic from Benllech. Once the Menai Suspension Bridge was rebuilt, it could take heavier double-decker buses, and the need for train services disappeared again.
Freight services were reduced to three trains a week in 1944. Due to a lack of wartime maintenance, the post-nationalisation owner British Rail considered closing the line in 1947, but decided to maintain the freight services with an overall speed restriction of 15 mph. In a meeting held on 4 July 1950 it was stated that closure of the branch would result in a saving of £4,307 per annum, compared with the cost of £31,000 to relay the track in order to fully reopen the branch. It was decided to close the branch for a six month experimental period, transferring the remaining traffic to other stations and to road transport. The branch closed on April 3, 1950, and did not reopen.
With its importance as a junction on the Anglesey Central Railway gone, Holland Arms station was closed to all traffic on 4 August 1952. The track was sold to Messrs James N. Campbell Ltd. of Coatbridge for £19,000, and demolition started on 9 April 1953, with the junction at Holland Arms taken up on 16 October. The sleepers were sold to local people as firewood, but the timber buildings at Pentraeth and Red Wharf Bay remained for some years after.
Holland Arms 1908