Wrexham, Mold & Connah's Quay Railway (and related lines)

Wrexham, Mold & Connah's Quay Railway (and related lines)

WM&CQ Crest

Originating as a locally-inspired venture to link Wrexham with the port of Connah's Quay on the Dee, the WM&CQ in time came under the influence of Sir Edward Watkin and thus had the distinction of being the only part of the Great Central Railway, and subsequently of the London and North Eastern Railway, in Wales. The WM&CQ main line survives to this day as the southern part of the Borderlands Line linking Bidston on the Merseyrail network with Wrexham, with an hourly service operated by Arriva Trains Wales and regular freight traffic to Corus at Shotton operated by EWS.

Initially promoted as the WWM&CQ in the autumn of 1861, the first "W" represented Whitchurch and was subsequently dropped before the WM&CQ Act was passed in August the following year. The first sod was cut in October 1862 by Mrs W E Gladstone and her husband, at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer and subsequently twice Prime Minister, made a speech. Construction began under Thomas Savin until his bankruptcy led to Benjamin Piercy taking over responsibility. In January 1865 Colonel Yolland of the Board of Trade inspected the line but, on finding inadequacies in aspects of both the construction and the proposed operational practices, he refused to allow it to open. Those outstanding matters were resolved sufficiently to permit opening of the line between Wrexham and Buckley to goods and mineral traffic on 1st January 1866, although contemporary press coverage suggests that this had been preceded by a period of informal operation. Colonel Yolland made a return visit in April 1866 and gave approval for passenger services to commence, which they did on 1st May following a celebratory outing over the line the previous day.

At Buckley the WM&CQ made a connection with the Buckley Railway, itself having opened in June 1862 to link the collieries, brickworks and potteries of Buckley with the port of Connah's Quay, replacing a number of earlier tramroads. The WM&CQ entered into working arrangements with the Buckley Railway and subsequently took a 999 year lease on the line in 1873.

While the WM&CQ was being built, Parliamentary sanction was sought for various branches and extensions but the only branch built initially was to Ffrith, an industrial district to the north west of Wrexham. There was also a connection with the LNWR's Mold line at Penyffordd and, in due course, with the Shrewsbury & Chester section of the GWR at Wrexham, although the fact that a local GWR Director, Sir Watkin Wynne, had made his opposition to the WM&CQ well known meant that initially there was a degree of animosity between the two companies.

A Bill for further expansion was tabled in November 1881 and after a rough parliamentary ride was enacted in August 1882. This sanctioned the extension of the line to a new town centre terminus, Wrexham Certral, and the construction of a branch to the industrial centre of Brymbo, in the hills to the west of Wrexham. The extension to Wrexham Central was constructed during 1887 and opened on I November of the same year. Wrexham Central subsequently became a through station eight years later with the opening of the Wrexham and Ellesmere Railway in 1895, thus providing, via the junction with the Cambrian main line at Ellesmere, the connection with Whitchurch aspired to back in 1861. The Brymbo branch was built and opened to freight traffic in stages during the 1880s, with a passenger service from Wrexham Central to Brymbo commencing on 1st August 1889.

A further Act of June 1883 Act granted powers for what turned out to be the WM&CQ's most significant extension, the construction of the Hawarden Loop, a route from just south of Buckley (subsequently Buckley Junction) to Shotton and Connah's Quay independent of the Buckley Railway. This development marked the beginning of the end of the WM&CQ as an independent company as, in addition to providing a more efficient route for through traffic from the Wrexham area to the docks and the LNWR at Connah's Quay, it was to make an end-on connection at Shotton with a new line from Chester promoted by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire (MS&L) Railway. As one of the three partners in the Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC), the MS&L had unrivalled access to the salt works in the Northwich area which provided a potential market for the otherwise almost worthless slack from the North Wales coalfield served by the WM&CQ. Both the WM&CQ's and MS&L's lines opened on 31st March 1890, with the MS&L's Hawarden Bridge swing bridge completed in the previous summer providing a rail crossing of the River Dee that also satisfied the requirement that navigation on the Dee should not be obstructed.

The completion of the Dee crossing gave the WM&CQ the incentive to take up the powers granted jointly by an Act of July 1885 to connect Hawarden Bridge with the Wirral Railway at Bidston, just outside Birkenhead. Three years prior to construction beginning in October 1892 the Wirral Railway had sold their interest to the WM&CQ and the MS&L for a little over £100,000, but the WM&CQ's relatively poor financial health meant that it found it necessary to borrow much of its share of the purchase price and subsequent construction costs from the MS&L. When the North Wales and Liverpool (NW&L) line opened in the spring of 1896 it was nominally operated by the WM&CQ due to the MS&L not initially having running powers over the Wirral Railway from Bidston to Seacombe, the transfer point for ferries across the Mersey to Liverpool, but in practice the WM&CQ was heavily reliant on motive power on loan from the MS&L in order to operate the service.

In September 1897 the Great Central Railway (GCR), as the MS&L had just become, obtained judgement against the WM&CQ for failing to repay the debts incurred in connection with the construction of the NW&L. The GCR's accountant was appointed as Receiver and Administrator and the lengthy demise of the WM&CQ followed, culminating in an Act of July 1904 which vested the WM&CQ, the Buckley Railway and the NW&L in the GCR with effect from 1st January 1905.

The Brymbo branch closed to passengers in 1917, initially as a temporary wartime economy measure but one that was never reversed. The various WM&CQ freight branches and the Buckley Railway gradually closed over a period of 45 years between the mid 1920s and the early 1970s but the core combined WM&CQ and NW&L route, linked by the MS&L's Hawarden Bridge, remains open to this day for both passenger and freight traffic.



Selected Reading