The L&NWR Comes to Blaenau
Deganwy is on the East bank of the River Conwy downstream of the castle and bridges. The standard gauge branch line to Llandudno reached here in 1858 but Deganwy station did not open until 1866. The branch south from Llandudno Junction reached Betws-y-Coed in 1868 built by the L&NWR. The directors of the LNWR had their eyes on the slate traffic from Blaenau Ffestiniog which mostly travelled down the FR to be shipped from Porthmadog or consigned on the Cambrian Railways. Initially they planned to extend south from Betws-y-Coed by narrow gauge and link it through Beddgelert and Capel Curig and down to the slate ports. This big narrow gauge project was scrapped when the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways company abandoned its plans to reach Betws-y-Coed and the L&NWR had to find an alternative. They decided to convert the partly-constructed narrow gauge route south of Betws-y-Coed to standard gauge. The route eventually opened in 1879 with the longest single-track tunnel in the UK.
For a few years slate travelling via the L&NWR had to be transfered to standard gauge wagons at the LNWR's sidings at Blaenau. Six years after the opening to Blaenau they opened a dock at Deganwy which had taken three years to build. At the time transport by sea was still cheaper than by rail for many inland destinations, and was of course essential for exports. Many coastal cargoes went to Liverpool and other large ports such as London where ocean going vessels were loaded with slate heading to all destinations in the world. The L&NWR may have been misled by a report that ships at Porthmadog were sometimes delayed by up to two weeks by the tides. This can happen in any tidal place (it is known as being neaped) but is not allowed to happen if he skipper is worth his salt.
The L&NWR Builds a Dock
The L&NWR planned to concentrate all its shipped slate traffic on a single dock at Deganwy. It built transporter wagons that could take three narrow gauge wagons each, transversely, and loading and unloading docks at Blaenau and Deganwy. Around the docksides at Deganwy there were narrow gauge tracks. To build the dock a large pier was built out into the river using quarry waste. Earth fill came from a 135 yard opening out of the Belmont tunnel entrance at Bangor to create room for better shunting operations. The quay facing the river was 220 yards long. The river was dredged to the same depth all around the pier so that that ships could berth alongside the outside wall of the quay. The slates were loaded in the cutting mills at the quarries into the narrow gauge wagons. These then went down inclines to the L&NWR transfer sidings where the small wagons went onto the standard gauge transporter wagons which carried them "piggyback". Fifty of these transporter wagons were built by the L&NWR in 1885 and 150 of the small narrow gauge wagons at their Earlestown works near Warrington. Then in 1887 the L&NWR built another 100 narrow gauge slate wagons which had a handbrake. After going down the branch line to Deganwy the narrow gauge wagons were transferred in the unloading dock onto the narrow gauge and were manoeuvred right up to the ships' sides on the edge of the quays.
Use of Deganwy
Slate was shipped to many places including Manchester, The Isle of Man, Ireland, Cardiff, Portsmouth and Yarmouth. Hamburg and Copenhagen were common continiental destinations up to the First World War. Import of timber from Scandanavia and of coal was part of the fraffic. Fifty special wooden high-sided narrow gauge wagons were built to take coal to the Blaenau Quarries. It was often Welsh coal from South Wales coal ports. In the years 1886 to 1914 only 1,507 ships called at Deganwy and most of these visited in the port's first decade. There were only 27 arrivals in 1910 and nine in 1913. Deganwy gets little mention in Fenton's book except to say a wooden steamer the Temple was built and owned at Trefriw about ten miles upstream of Deganwy (and that Prince Madock may have set off from the Conwy to discover N. America before Columbus). Ships were getting bigger and could not easily navigate the shallow Conwy estuary. Slate production in North Wales had peaked in 1878, just before the L&NWR line reached Blaenau Ffestiniog. The greed of the L&NWR directors was not rewarded. Traffic from the dock finished completely in the 1930s. In the 1960s the sidings at Deganwy were used by British Railways to stable old carriages and during the summer to stable for the day the stock of excursion trains that went to Llandudno. Like so many other slate ports the dock has been converted for use by yachts.
- Smith Eric (2013) The Deganwy Dock Story, History of Deganwy Group, pp 3 - 7.
- Fenton R S (1989) Cambrian Coasters, World Ship Society p 18.