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Cardiff and the railways

Updated Monday, 9th November 1998

John Davies explains how Cardiff's fortunes were changed by the coming of the railways.

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Cardiff panorama Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team John Davies Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

A brief history of the Taff Vale Railway

Until the 1750s, Merthyr Tydfil was a small, rural Welsh village relying on agriculture to support its community. However, in 1759 Merthyr’s first ironworks were opened and by 1801 this quiet village had become the largest town in Wales, with a population of nearly 8,000. By 1874 there were four large ironworks within a two-mile radius of the original village and by 1851 the population of the town had rocketed to 46,000. Merthyr was now one of the most important towns in the world.


Merthyr Station

Methyr Tydfil railway sign Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team The largest of Merthyr’s ironworks, and also the largest ironworks in the world, was Dowlais, owned by the Guest dynasty. The family were known for their innovation and use of new technology and Josiah ‘John’ Guest, head of the family for much of the 19th century, was no different. He realised that the speed and efficiency of a rail link to the coast would enable him to enlarge his export market, and thus the Taff Vale Railway Company was born.


Cardiff Bay Station

Cardiff Bay railway sign Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team The rail link to Cardiff was completed in 1841 and made it possible to transport goods to the new Bute docks in less than an hour. The business brought by the increased flow of iron and coal not only benefited the iron producers, but also enabled Cardiff to grow, its population increasing 7 fold in less than 50 years. In 1905 it was declared a city and was officially selected as Wales’ capital in 1955. But it might never have been the city it is today without a forward thinking industrialist from Merthyr Tydfil.

Busy Cardiff street Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Further reading

Cardiff and the Marquesses of Bute
John Davies

A History of Wales
John Davies

Coal Metropolis
M J Daunton

Cardiff: a history
W Rees

Working Iron in Merthyr Tydfil
Richard Hayman

Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Trust
Ynysfach Iron Heritage Centre, Ynysfach Road, Merthyr Tydfil
Tel: 01685 382 356

Merthyr Tydfil online
Wikipedia: Merthyr Tydfil

Cyfarthfa Castle Museum - has a whole section about the iron industry in Merthyr

The Taff Trail Project

Bute Town History and Arts Centre

Cardiff on the web





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