Will Jones

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Will Jones
Will Jones, platelayer & raconteur, photographed in 1960. Photo:- FR Archives
Born 23rd February 1903
Died 1981
Employer FR Co.
Occupation Platelayer
FR People | WHR People

Will Jones was a Festiniog Railway platelayer and husband of Tan y Bwlch volunteer station mistress Bessie Jones.

Early life[edit]

Will was born 23rd February 1903 and came from Waunfawr. It is said he was on the construction gang that built the Welsh Highland Railway in 1922-23; hence the story of the Giant's Footstep and the arrival on the FR of Will's favourite crowbar, marked MACALPINE.

He later moved to Meirionydd and was employed by the FR Co. as a porter, initially at Minffordd. He was appointed "Porter in Charge" (no doubt paid less than Station Master) of Tan y Bwlch station in 1924. There was supposed to have been an overlap period in which Will was to learn his duties, but as he stepped onto the station, he found the outgoing stationmaster with his bag packed and the keys ready to hand over, so that he could depart by the same train. He wanted to take on the tenancy of the Station House but apparently he was too young (under 21) so it was taken on in his father's name, Owen J. Jones.[1]

Soon after he arrived, there was the Great Crash when he managed to derail four runaway slate waggons. The noise was heard from Creuau where Bessie lived and who was much concerned at what might have happened to the handsome young man at the station; they were married in 1929 and had one son, Islwyn. Bessie was a niece of the Creuau farm residents. Will and Bessie continued to live at Tan y Bwlch station house until Will retired. Bessie made excellent pies and kept a tea-room in the house; she had postcards printed of herself in her Welsh costume which she sold to passengers. Will was engaged for PW work in the winter and this rapidly became his main occupation, leaving Bessie in charge of the station. Will's patch was from Cei Mawr to the Old Moelwyn Tunnel (where he once became trapped by a train alongside the PW Inspector). He later became the leading expert on the niceties of narrow gauge permanent way and taught many of the post-war revivalists how to lay and fettle track.[1]

Around 1932 the Tan y Bwlch coal merchant ceased business and Will took over, making deliveries in his 1914 Argyll Car.[1]

During the Second World War Will was a member of the Home Guard. He kept his gun in the grandfather clock.[2]

Will had to leave the FR Co's employ when the railway closed, although not until November 1946. He and Bessie remained living in the station house. Will worked on the track at Maenofferen Quarry for a time before then working as a roadman for Merioneth Council but did some part-time farming, keeping chickens and at least one cow on the field at the top end of Llyn Mair. Hence the tale of the Swimming Cow.

The FR revival[edit]

In June 1955, Will Jones was seconded to the Festiniog Railway by his employer, Merioneth County Council, for urgent permanent way work. This was a part-time arrangement, all that the railway could afford. In January 1956 Will again became a full-time employee, as head of the PW department, at a weekly wage of £7 (= £364 p.a.). At that time, the Manager, Allan Garraway, was paid £450 per year. Will was also required to take a turn as guard on the passenger trains and sometimes fired the engine. Will still found time to keep a smallholding and deliver coal from the Tan y Bwlch wharf to Rhyd and Llanfrothen.

On his return, Will proved to be an invaluable and ever patient teacher of a succession of volunteer track gangs. During the lunch hour he was in his element as a storyteller and a few of his tales found their way into the magazine. One hilarious tale concerned the delivery of a pig in a livestock box (transferred from the GWR to the FR Co. at Blaenau Ffestiniog) to farmer Parry at Dduallt sometime after 1923. Naturally the pig escaped, but the really interesting thing was that the farmer had sent his lad to meet the train with a horse-drawn sled, there being no roads at Dduallt.[3] On another occasion Will said, in a most serious tone, "You people are a very bad influence on me (pause) Last night I went home and spoke English to Bessie!".[4]

A testament to the quality of Will's work was that the amount of fettling required on the track to reopen to Tan y Bwlch reduced considerably when the work passed into his old section at Cei Mawr.[1]

In 2022 Peter Jarvis related this tale:

"The "Flying Flea" ran as a 2.45 relief train if the 2.30 was full. If it ran, the guard of the 2.30 would hold up a notice as he passed the PW gang, saying SPECIAL TO FOLLOW.
When we were mending track, we would only pull out the nails of two successive sleepers under traffic - if we knew we could replace more before the train came back, we did.
One time the 2.30 went past, waving the SPECIAL TO FOLLOW sign, and Will Jones smartly pulled out, with his fingers, the nails from five consecutive sleepers.
We said 'Will, what about the Up 2.45?' to which he replied 'What about her? There's only third-class passengers on her."


Will and Bessie both retired in 1968 to Will's home village of Waunfawr. At his retirement, Will joined forces with Tom Davies of Bron Madoc to collaborate with the FR Magazine editors in the production of three articles for the magazine on the operation of gravity slate trains. These articles are of great value as few people (perhaps none) now remember the mechanics of this particular daily mode of operation. They were reprinted in booklet form in 1986.[5][6][7]

In May 1969 Will and Bessie celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary with a special train hosted by Alan Pegler. All the permanent staff, wives and friends attended, including the Festiniog Male Voice Choir(!).[8]

Will died in 1981 and the magazine said (plus much else): "William Jones, Head Ganger FR Co., who possessed an intelligent, ingenious and cultured Welsh mind"

The last word about Will and Bessie belongs just to Will:

Memories will linger on and on,
Till we ourselves will all be gone.
I see a straight just round this bend,
Optically, both lines meet,– at the very end.

Bessie and Will Jones are buried at St Garmon's Church, Bettws Garmon, close to the WHR. They are in the new part of the graveyard, behind the church - fifth row back, eighth from the church end. There is a carving of Bessie and a Fairlie on the stone; the grave is covered in marble chips because that is what the railways are ballasted with in Heaven. If you're passing, would you please clean the ballast of moss? Thank you.

Will & Bessie Jones, Tan y Bwlch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 20, page(s): 8
  2. ^ "Sentry-Go", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 43, page(s): 14
  3. ^ "The Pig in the Box", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 45, page(s): 25
  4. ^ Walley, Noel. "The Ffestiniog Railway and its People - Will & Bessie Jones". Some Industrial Influence on The evolution of Landscape in Snowdonia, North Wales. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  5. ^ Tom Davies, Will Jones, Michael Seymour, Michael Lewis, Dan Wilson & Norman Gurley (1969) "Gravity Slate Working−1", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 44, page(s): 16
  6. ^ Tom Davies, Will Jones, Michael Seymour, Michael Lewis, Dan Wilson & Norman Gurley (1969) "Gravity Slate Working−2", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 45, page(s): 26
  7. ^ Tom Davies, Will Jones, Michael Seymour, Michael Lewis, Dan Wilson & Norman Gurley (1969) "Gravity Slate Working−3", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 46, page(s): 12
  8. ^ "News from the line", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 45, page(s): 03