In June, 1804 a bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament authorising the laying of a railway from Swansea to Oystermouth.
At its first meeting shareholders of the Oystermouth Railway or Tramroad Company, held on the 4th July, 1804 at the Bush Inn, Swansea, heard for the first time the act incorporating the railroad. In the far reaching "Railway Age" that was to follow it is interesting to note that the term "haling or drawing" of wagons or other carriages was to be done by "men, horses or otherwise", powers enabling the use use of steam locomotives many years later. It is thought to be amongst the first acts to be framed in this way.
The first tracks were laid in autumn of 1804. They consisted of three feet lengths of angle iron, spiked into blocks of granite, the wagon wheels having no flanges. By the spring of 1806 the first horse drawn train travelled from Swansea to Mumbles.
It must be remembered that the purpose for building the line was for the transportation of limestone, coal and iron ore from an extensive network of quarries and mines at Blackpill, Clyne and Mumbles. There was no road between Swansea and Mumbles and the only line of communication was along the beach.
Benjamin French is the enterprising man who first had the idea of conveying people on the railway by paying the company the sum of £20 (20 UKP) a year for this purpose.
On the 25th March 1807, the first regular horsedrawn service carrying passengers between Swansea and Mumbles began thus giving the railway the unquestionable and unqualified claim of being the first passenger railway in the world.
This distinction is often falsely credited by other railways who have to qualify their claim. The Stockton and Darlington Railway is one of these. It hauled passengers by steam trains almost twenty years after the first passenger travelled by train between Swansea and Mumbles.
The line prospered until 1826 when a road was built between these two locations. Passengers turned their allegiance to horsedrawn "buses" and the railway faced with this new found opposition went out of service.
For the next thirty years only a small amount of goods traffic used the line. In 1855 the line was relaid with heavier track and by 1860 the line had begun a new lease of life.
The "steam age" took its time in reaching the Mumbles Railway and it wasn't until the 16th August 1877 that a locomotive called `The Pioneer´ hauled two carriages containing over eighty passengers running at a maximum speed of 8 mph ran the length of the line.
Until 1893 the "end of the line" was situated near to the area we know as Oystermouth Square in the heart of Mumbles. It was in that year that the line was extended to Southend and five years later, in 1898, the line was extended to the Pier. The Pier was completed that same year.
During the next few years traffic increased dramatically, due no doubt to the popularity of the newly built Pier, making Mumbles a very popular holiday resort.
This period can safely be regarded as the "hey day" of the railway with up to 1800 passengers being carried on any one train. The Pier became the focal point for choral and instrumental competitions with bands giving concerts twice daily and religious services on Sundays in a specially constructed band-stand at the end of the Pier.
Steam power continued to reign supreme except for a short hiccup from July 1902 to the end of 1903, when an experiment involving the use of specially built battery accumulator cars was tried. It proved unsuccessful.
The idea of electricity as a means of power was not shelved however, and on the 2nd March 1929 the first electrical cars were used. The cars were specially designed for the line and built by the Brush Electrical Engineering Company Limited, at Loughborough. Thirteen were built and each was capable of seating 106 passengers, and were the largest electrically driven tramcars built for service in this country. Power was supplied via overhead cable.
The railway continued to prosper and came into its own in the dark days of the Second World War, 1939-1945. Fuel rationing effecting the use of road transport put a heavy reliance on the railway. It is this era which remains in the memory of those people lucky enough to remember the swaying trip around one of the country's most beautiful bays. However, all this was sadly to come to an end.
In its later years the railway was owned by the Swansea and Mumbles Railways Ltd and the Mumbles Railway and Pier Company. These companies leased the railway to the South Wales Transport, who ran a large and expanding fleet of motor buses in the area.
The annual rental in the mid 1950's paid by the South Wales Transport Company was less than £14,000 (14K UKP). In October 1958, that company began a sinister series of events which in less than 2 years was to see the closure of the railway.
The South Wales Transport Co offered to purchase the shares in the railway at a higher price than had generally been offered previously. When pressed for their motives in such a purchase the SWT Co denied their intention to close the railway and having been offered a generous price, the share-holders handed over full charge of the railway to the SWT Co.
Only a month after the purchase an application was made to the House of Lords in what can only be described as a "cloak and dagger" operation aimed at the closure of the line.
Despite the tactics employed by the SWT Co their actions were detected. The outrageous conduct of the company was met by protests from many quarters in Swansea and a campaign was set up to fight the closure.
With their plot now out in the open the SWT Co ruthlessly bulldozed its intentions through Parliament with every means at its disposal.
The fight to keep open the line took place in Parliament and by the rules and technicalities involved in such a battle. Despite 14,000 signatures gathered to oppose the closure, only two bodies confronted the SWT Co in the final and costly stages. One was the Amusement Equipment Co who had control of the Pier complex, the other was Swansea Corporation.
The night before the planned hearing the counsel employed to fight the case for the Amusement Company mysteriously withdrew his services, giving precious little time to brief another counsel.
The following day, the 4th May 1959, the hearing took place with a hurriedly briefed counsel. Even so a number of inconsistencies were shown in the reasons for the closure put forward by the SWT Co.
In June 1959, Swansea Corporation withdrew its objection. It would be a reasonable assumption today to assume that the Corporation was "bought off" as the SWT Co had given, free of charge, the valuable land skirting the bay that was used by the railway to the Corporation.
It is now history that the SWT Co won the day, the railway was closed and their buses held the monopoly of public transport on this part of Swansea.
On 5th January 1960, the oldest passenger railway in the world ran for the very last time.
It is impossible today to assess the damage caused by these short-sighted men who looked no further than the passenger receipts of a few bus routes. The cost to the City of Swansea of being robbed of one of its most important assets in attracting holiday makers and enthusiasts from all over the word is beyond calculation.
It might be worthwhile to ponder these facts when next time we are held up in heavy traffic on Mumbles Road. How much more pleasant it would be on that swaying train bordering the bay once again without fear of obstruction, also to ponder the fact that it did close once before (1826-1860) but it was not allowed to die. It would be so much better to think that history is about to repeat itself - the railway is only resting.
Apart from an electricity sub station and two small commemorative plaques, the only reminders of the line are in Swansea's two museums, and in the memories of local people.