Robert Smallman

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
Robert Smallman
Official positions held:
FR Co. Exec Hon Postmaster General 2004 - Current
FR Soc. Director 1956 - 1970 (w/gap)
FR People | WHR People
Current staff details policy

Robert Smallman is either a current or recent Director, Staff member or Volunteer on the railways or associated support groups. This entry only appears as a matter of record.

Rob Smallman’s interest in Welsh narrow gauge railways dates back to 1943, when, at the age of 9 on a family holiday trip to Towyn, he had a trip on the Talyllyn Railway, riding in a slate wagon full of straw. In 1952, now age 18, he joined the recently formed Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society and during two weeks volunteering on the railway he met Tom Rolt and Allan Garraway.

In 1954 Rob saw an advert about the preservation of the Festiniog Railway. He spent a week walking and exploring the railway and then on Sunday 23rd October he met by chance, and then joined in, with Allan Garraway, Leonard Heath Humphrys and Michael Davies on the very first working party venturing up the derelict line.

Rob became an active member of the FR Society, calling the first meeting of the Midland Group at his father’s house called Yieldingtree at 27 Farquhar Road in Edgbaston, Birmingham in 1955. Eighteen people attended and Hamilton Bantock was its first chairman, whose family rented Coed y Bleiddiau for many years.

Rob was a Director of the Society for twelve years from March 1956 until April 1969 and during that time was Hon. Publicity Officer for the Midland Group under John “Blanco” White.

Although still very interested in the FR, Rob became involved in the formation of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal Society in 1959 to save the canal from closure. Around the same time, he found out that British Waterways had a very smart 72ft. narrow boat called The Lady Hatherton, dating from 1898, for use by Directors inspecting the canal, with cut glass windows and the S&W Canal crest on the doors. It was in a shocking state and was about to be scrapped. Rob talked to Max Sinclair, who has been responsible for saving numerous narrow gauge steam engines from scrapping, and with his help Rob bought the boat. He managed to get it to Tardebigge Basin dry dock, where a complete new hull was found to be needed. Rob was still incredibly young at the time, with little experience of such times, so was fortunate enough to sell the boat to the National Trust.

Rob was living not far from Bleadon & Uphill Station near Weston Super Mare and when it became an unstaffed halt he was able to rent it and set up the Yieldingtree Railway Museum. Pride of place in the big exhibits was the Kitson 1893 Cardiff Railway saddle tank No. 5, later GWR 1338. There were also many narrow-gauge exhibits, including from Ireland. The museum was advertised in the spring 1965 issue the Ffestiniog Railway Magazine. While living in Somerset Rob gave many lectures and slide shows on the FR to clubs and societies.

In the summer of 1969 Rob joined the full-time staff of the FR and had to retire from the FRS Board as a Director. He worked in the shop at Harbour Station and in the café at Tan y Bwlch. He lived in a terrace house at Glan-y-Pwll, where Harold Creamer’s building company carried out repairs. He became assistant to Harold who had started the FR’s Railway Letter Service on 26th May 1969, and also helped other railways to set up letter services. Rob was also involved with the Vale of Rheidol Railway, then still under the ownership of British Railways.

In 1972 Rob acquired former Great Western Railway coach number 6045 from a scrap yard at Long Marston, for £200, and it was delivered to the Severn Valley Railway at Kidderminster. Once more it was too big a project for one person and it was handed over to the GWR (SVR) Association, not only for safe keeping, but to fully repair.

Rob was living in Blaenau Ffestiniog with three English speaking children all under 10, so it was decided not to send them to a school where only Welsh was spoken, but to return to Worcestershire. Rob remained active with the FR, taking over as the FR Midland Area Lecturer from Dr Brian Rogers.

In 2004 Rob took over as Honorary Postmaster for the FR Company Railway Letter Service from John Dobson, who in turn had taken over from Harold Creamer. Then the RLS enlarged to cover the two additional railways, the Welsh Highland Railway and the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, so as a joke the title became General Honorary Postmaster.

For some years Rob was owner of the Custom House in Britannia Terrace in Porthmadog, opposite Harbour Station’s WHR platform. This building housed the Custom officials in the days of the slate trade. From the first floor they could see the sailing ships being pulled into the harbour by the steam tugs, a view now obscured by the holiday apartments on the slate quay. Rob used to advertise Custom House saying, “from the windows you will never miss a train”.

Rob’s FR activities continued. He recorded his early memories of reviving the line in the Middleton Press book The Pioneers’ Stories.[1] As one of the team of Archivists he compiles the press cutting books. He is a Life Member of the FRS, a Silver Medal Holder, has a 60-year service badge and is involved with the Legacy project of the Railway Trust. In 2018 Rob was honoured by receiving an FRS Vice-President Award for long service. On 10th October 2020 Rob helped his friend from the earliest days of FR preservation Michael Davies reveal the new nameplates for Welsh Pony in a ceremony at Dduallt station. Thus two of the FR family’s elder brethren passed the locomotive symbolically over to a youthful footplate crew. Then on 2nd April 2021 Rob and Michael Davies gave a video account of the first years of FR preservation.

As one of the Archivists, Rob keeps the Railway Press cutting books.

On 10th October 2020 Rob helped Michael Davies reveal Welsh Pony's new nameplates to a select gathering at Dduallt but broadcast to many remote participants. Two of the FR family's elder brethren passed the locomotive symbolically over to a youthful loco crew.



Fairlie No 3. (1964) The newsletter of the FRS Bristol Group, no author quoted.

  1. ^ Smallman R W F in Great Railway Eras, Festiniog: The Pioneers' Story (2007) Davies M and Mitchell V, pages 78 - 79, Middleton Press, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9AZ.

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