Michael Davies

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

Michael Davies is a long standing volunteer, from the earliest days of the Festiniog revival. He has been a contributor to a number of books, many listed in the FR or WHR Book lists, and including, as co-author, Festiniog 1946-1955 The Pioneers' Stories[1]

On 10th October 2020 Michael unveiled the new nameplates affixed to Welsh Pony in a small ceremony at Dduallt - in heavy rain and with the help of Robert Smallman. The size of the gathering (less than thirty people) and the location were planned to fall within the Welsh Assembly Government's Covid-19 requirements. The two elder brethren of the Ffestiniog family symbolically passed the rebuilt engine over to its youthful loco crew.

Michael has also contributed some of his recollections on both the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland, which are presented below.

FR Recollections[edit]

My interest in the Festiniog Railway goes back to around 1940, when collecting my father's 'Senior Service' cigarette cards. A captivating scene at Tan y Bwlch with Bessie Jones and a Double Fairlie. In 1945 I purchased a copy of Ian Allan's 'ABC of Minor British Railways' which covered the FR, and then at Christmas 1945 I asked my parents to buy me Charles E Lee's new book 'Narrow Gauge Railways of North Wales'[2]. I was well and truly hooked.

The Railway Magazine of Oct/Nov 1946 had a very sad paragraph recording the closure of the railway on August 2nd - my first intimation.

Michael with AGWG on the Simplex, 7th November 1954

On June 22nd 1947, I made my first visit to Portmadoc. In August 1948, in the first of two visits, my aunt had friends in Glan-y-Pwll Road and I was always asking if we could visit them. It was a memorable visit despite the FR having closed two years earlier, and lying in bed I could look straight up the old Nidd-y-Gigfran Incline. Mr Pritchard, who we were staying with, worked at Llechwedd Quarry and one evening we walked together from Glan-y-Pwll, through the old Moelwyn Tunnel to Tan y Bwlch. Passage through the tunnel was memorably wet, Rhosllyn at Dduallt was still occupied by a lone elderly lady, and Coed-y-Bleiddiau cottage was earily vacant with the door ajar and candles on a table.

Truly bitten by the FR bug, I made a second visit in October, being with a school friend on bicycles, from Cheshire, and this was the first occasion when I had complete freedom to examine the FR in detail, including Boston Lodge Works which was surprisingly easy to enter.

At Penrhyn station, before services recommenced there. Ian Smart on board, and Joe Rivett standing by. Local children wondering at the "peiriant rhyfeddol* (strange machine) 28th July 1956

During Whitsun week 1949 (June 4th - 11th) with a school friend we cycled around most of the narrow gauge railways in Wales, again visiting Boston Lodge, although Robert Evans had refused permission to inspect the premises. Having no desire for a brush with the Merioneth County Constabulary my friend stood guard whilst I bunked the place! For my birthday, that year, I asked my aunt for a copy of J.I.C.Boyd's very recently published book 'Narrow Gauge Rails to Portmadoc'[3] and I noticed immediately that he lived not far away from my home in north Cheshire. I boldly cycled round to see him and he was quite tolerant of the enthusiastic school boy. Later that year he revealed his plans for taking over and reopening the Company, with the finance provided by a rather shy and little known railway photographer from Corbridge, Edward Eustace Smith, a man of 'independent means', a wealthy backer who was prepared to take the risk. The scheme failed mainly due to the old FR directors increasing the asking price following better offers from the scrap men and J.I.C.B. eventually changed allegiance to the Tal-y-Llyn following the death of Sir Haydn Jones in July 1950. Though the attempt founderd, I like to think that I was perhaps the first person to be asked to help restore a railway voluntarily. I continued to visit and walk the line regularly during the next four years, although the section below Tan y Bwlch was really quite impenetrable after March 1950. Those four years saw the FR gradually fall into almost total dereliction and it was a very depressing time indeed.

Shortly before my release from Army National Service in September 1954 I saw a paragraph in the 'Liverpool Daily Post' to the effect that the FR had a new Board of Directors, the old company having found they couldn't get an Abandonment Order and sell to the scrap men, and hence the asking price was greatly reduced. Changes were rapid that autumn and I noted stock movement for the first time when I visited in late September. On October 23rd I made my way by very slow trains to Blaenau in pouring rain, and took the Crosville bus to Minffordd. Walking down the line towards Boston Lodge was now possible after years of choking growth, and en route I met Allan Garraway and Len Heath Humphrys working the Simplex around Boston Lodge and I was invited to join them and we ran over to Portmadoc to do some more shunting of wagons to clear the Harbour Station roads. Shortly afterwards we were joined by Bob Smallman, who has, and still does work in many capacities for the good of the FR. Rob and I have been good friends ever since.

Michael is the caped figure on the left of the balcony. This is the Robert Evans "special".

My next visit on November 6th was the occasion of the Special train to commemorate Robert Evans's 60 years service to the railway, followed by a presentation by Alan Pegler and his fellow directors, of a clock to mark the occasion, at the Queens Hotel. It was a memorable occasion with the first passenger train to Minffordd since 1939. I joined the embrionic FR Society on this date and still have my Membership Card No. A019. I have remained a member since that day, converting to Life Membership very many years ago.

From November 1954 until reopening in July 1955 I worked on the railway every month, or often twice a month, helped by Ian Smart who provided the much needed transport. The journey took nearly three hours, but by train and bus that time could be doubled! Living closer than the majority of volunteers who came all the way from London, AGWG asked me to assist on several occasions during the winter of 1954/55, one being for the running of a Special to Tanygrisiau to enable the Directors to meet C.E.G.B. Officials.

In January 1955[4], I took charge of the sale of redundant ticket stocks to collectors, and raised several hundred pounds over the next five years, a significant sum in those days, the company investing me with the title of Records & Archives Officer prior to Michael Seymour being appointed official archivist a year or so later.

In common with a few other early FR volunteers the directors presented me with a company tie and First Class Free Pass, and whilst the former is now too worn for further use, I enjoy presenting the Pass for inspection when travelling.

Allan Garraway then asked me to make a full inventory of the FR wagon stock, and this I did during 1955/6, even making forays into the quarries at Blaenau in search of any missing FR wagons.

An aside story, on a return trip home. August 6th 1956, I was returning from a weekend on the line, to Chester with my Aunt. We booked on the 11:00 departure to Minffordd, the terminus at that time, planning to complete the trip to Blaenau by bus. AGWG was driving Prince. At Minffordd, Norman Pearce was assembling a train in connection with pole replacement up the line, using the Baldwin tractor Moelwyn. It was about to make only its second ever journey to Blaenau in the new era (first was previous day). Norman Pearce, Eric Cooper and Tim Oulton were around, but I don't remember who was driving. We managed to "acquire" two seats in the Brake Third passenger carriage of Brake van No.2, whilst the others were on the footplate, or the Guards section, and off we set, on the long journey up through the old tunnel . We caught the 2.20pm train from Blaenau to Bala, and onward to Chester. We were the only "passengers" and I can almost certainly say that we were the only people to travel through from Portmadoc to Chester by FR/GWR after September 1939.

In Manchester we formed the Lancashire & Cheshire Group of the FRS in June 1956, with Ian Smart in the Chair, and myself being appointed Deputy Chairman. Ian had been involved with us since December 1954, and was an expert on diesel engines. I sat on the Committee for some years and continued to join regular working parties from tne Manchester area and spent many happy weekends on the track, often working under the late Will Jones during the period 1956 - 63. Family and other committments then resulted in fewer visits but I have still tried to visit the railway every couple of months throughout the past 45 years. The FR has brought me great happiness throughout my lifetime.

In 1970 I visited Tonbridge at the invitation of Arthur Iggulden, Col Stephens Audit Accountant, and we became good friends until his death in 1979. In 1977 I spent some time in the Harbour Station muniment room researching the Col Stephens connection with the FR, and this enabled me to make a contribution to the 'Col Stephens' week end course at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch in 1991.

In 2007,along with many other "old hands", I collaborated with Vic Mitchell on a Middleton Press title 'Festiniog 1946-55 The Pioneers' Stories' where I set out my own memories of over fifty years work on the FR.

A.Michael Davies, July 10th 2007 and revised

WHR Recollections[edit]

In 2007 I wrote of my early F.R. experiences, and as June 2009 is the 60th anniversary of my first walk along the WHR through the Aberglaslyn Pass it is perhaps appropriate to write of my WHR memories from those far off days.

My first sight of the WHR was at Pont Croesor on June 22nd, 1947, when passing along the road on a day trip by car from our holiday house at Morfa Nefyn to Barmouth. The rails were still in situ but the excitement of the young teenager were not shared by the other occupants and I had to wait until August 1948 to examine the track bed on my own, and a walk along the line, from Portmadoc New.

Michael Davies on Glanrafon Bridge, June 1954

In October of that year a school friend joined me on a short cycling holiday and we stayed at the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel for two nights. The railway was only six or seven years gone and the track bed was in very good order at the various locations inspected between Porthmadog and Waun Fawr.

The following summer we had a longer cycling holiday and stayed at Snowdon Ranger three nights. The weather was perfect and after a long day walking the trackbed from Beddgelert to Nantmor, climbing Cnicht, and returning via Croesor Junction, we walked to Rhyd Ddu in the evening, out on the railway, and back by an almost traffic free road.

I remember being greatly impressed by the Glanyrafon viaduct. Well and truly bitten by the WHR bug, I was back in February 1950 to inspect Beddgelert Station, then shorn of its buildings, and take two friends down through the Aberglaslyn Tunnels. We stayed again at Snowdon Ranger then presided over by the friendly warden, Joe Gianelli, and on our last day returned to Caernarfon and Bangor by the WHR trackbed, bus and train. A wartime Bedford of Whiteway Motors took us to WaunFawr where we followed the railway to Tryfan Junction, my first view of this fascinating spot. I am a little hazy about our next move but recollect travelling on an Express Motors bus to Rhostryfan where we heard not a word of English. Walking up to Bryngwyn was the next objective where we marvelled at the long incline to Drumhead. Later that afternoon we booked tickets to Bangor at Dinas (Caernarvon) as Dinas Junction had become, my only journey from there before closure in June 1951.

By July 1950 I had walked every yard of the WHR including a rather frightening crossing of the Afon Nanmor on the girders, the timbers having completely disappeared. The water below was very deep, and then to complete my difficulties, I was confronted by a very large bull on the track bed beyond.

My greatest wish in those days was to see the F.R. reopened and I avidly followed James Boyd's attempts in 1949/50 as I had easy access to him as a near neighbour. Any thought of a revival of the WHR was beyond comprehension, as after all the track had long gone, and railways that had been lifted were in those days considered gone forever. In October 1954 I became involved in the F.R. revival and our only incursion into WHR territory was early one morning in January 1955 when we took all of use, to the F.R., from the derelict Simplex Tractor which had been abandoned at Portmadoc New (1929) after the lifting of the track. Later Alan Garraway and others salvaged the remaining rails from below the bridge at Pitt's Head, but any talk of reviving the WHR was frowned upon, quite rightly, by AGWG who had more than enough to do reviving the F.R. I followed the early attempts by the WHR Society to revive the railway from 1961, but never joined them as the F.R. was my main interest, and little or nothing seemed to be achieved by them in those early days.

Whilst discussions went on regarding the rebuilding of the line, I was able to assist James Boyd with his 'Narrow Gauge railways in South Caernarvonshire' 1972[5], and 1989 reprint on the WHR. Shortly after this exercise, my notes and memories were called upon again for another book from the WHR(1964)Co entitled 'More About the Welsh Highland Railway (1972)'

Much of the material used was from the collection of the late J. Arthur Iggulden of Tonbridge. Arthur was Chief Indoor Assistant to Colonel Holman Fred Stephens and Audit Accountant to the F.R.& W.H.R. I first approached JAI in 1958 and became a close friend during the 1970s when my wife, daughter and self stayed and visited Arthur and Elsie several times.

I have spent much of my life following the saga of the WHR and its revival and reopening has been a source of much joy.

What now seems almost a life time later I have become a Life Member of the much more successful Welsh Highland Railway Society of 1993 and in 1997 we founded the Welsh Highland Railway Heritage Group of which I became Founder Member and Treasurer. My colleagues and I made several trackbed inspections on foot from Dinas to Porthmadog in 1997/8 to record all features worthy of conservation, and in 2003 I joined a track working party for the first time in nearly forty years.

I shall always remember my 65th birthday, June 30th 1999, for on that day, John Prescott, then Deputy Prime Minister, signed the WHR Order and the way was clear to reconstruct from Dinas to Porthmadog, something that I had dreamed of for more than fifty years.

In September 1999 I assisted with the demolition and storing of the stone work of WaunFawr station, the first work on the original WHR route, and in August 2003 I joined the track gang for a day at Castell Cidwm. Other work has included the start of restoration at Tryfan Junction.

Now years later I can enjoy a day out by train and bus from Chester to the heart of Snowdonia and join a WHR train through the glories of Aberglaslyn or the fearful climb out of Beddgelert. That magnificent stretch of the old NWNGR section from Rhyd Ddu to Snowdon Ranger is perhaps my favourite, bringing back memories of those walks sixty years and more ago, and my only regret is that so many of my friends of those years, many of whom strove to save the WHR are no longer able to join me. Let us hope they are looking down on us in Eryri where we have such a wonderful railway.

A.Michael Davies June 27th 2009 and revised.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Davies, Michael; Vic Mitchell (April 2007). Festiniog 1946-1955 The Pioneers' Stories. Midhurst, Sussex, England: Middleton Press. ISBN 978-1-906008-01-7. OCLC 154783776.
  2. ^ Lee, Charles E. (1945). Narrow Gauge Railways in North Wales. London: Railway Pub. Co. OCLC 24597369.
  3. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1950) [1949]. Narrow-gauge rails to Portmadoc; a historical survey of the Festiniog-Welsh Highland Railway and its ancillaries;. Tanglewood, South Godstone, Surrey: The Oakwood Press. OCLC 12129614.
  4. ^ Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue Newsletter 2
  5. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1972). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire. Lingfield, Surrey, England: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 9780853611158. OCLC 707587.