by Cliff Thomas

Railway history in Corwen revealed

Published: 16th March 2015

Chapel steeped in railway heritage opens as a museum at the end of the Llangollen Railway

Volunteers are progressively developing a new museum at Corwen, the doors of which were recently opened. The initial exhibition was viewed by large numbers on March 1 when the Llangollen Railway officially opened its extension to Dwyrain Corwen East station. The new museum was an option on the itinerary for Llangollen’s train-full of invited guests during the stop-over at the new station serving the town.

New display – new engine

The early displays covered the history of the Llangollen Railway, station-by-station along the Dee Valley and the project to construct a new-build ‘Patriot’ No. 45551 The Unknown Warrior at Llangollen. Exhibits included the driving wheel pattern for The Great Western Society’s new-build Churchward 4700 2-8-0 ‘Night Owl’ No. 4709 (also being built at Llangollen) and the chimney from The Llangollen Railway Trust’s Pannier No. 7754. There is also an audio visual presentation telling the story of how the railway was rebuilt.

Trailer for Local arts, culture and industry

The following week, preparatory for opening during The 6880 Betton Grange Society’s ‘Steel, Steam & Stars IV’ gala at the Llangollen Railway, further display panels were added. These covered the history of Corwen, local arts and culture and local industry.

The latter includes Ifor Williams Trailers Ltd – which operates on the site of the original long-closed Corwen railway station! Further displays will emphasise the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status of the Dee Valley – which, of course, can be enjoyed from a Llangollen Railway train between Corwen and Llangollen!

The building has a mezzanine floor level, as yet undeveloped as part of the exhibition space but already containing a model railway with the Llangollen Railway’s Berwyn station as its main focus. The donated layout is in need of refurbishment, but in time will provide an excellent addition to the space.

The project is volunteer-driven, arising from talks in Corwen about developing a ‘visitor attraction’ in the town. The pace picked up last year as the Llangollen Railway approached achievement of the long-held ambition of rebuilding the railway into the town.

A £10,000 grant from the HLF ‘Sharing Heritage’ scheme to finance display panels and a lease on the building through to November provided the impetus to get the scheme off the ground. Bob Gwynne, a Llangollen Railway volunteer since 1976 and professionally a curator at the National Railway Museum, has spent many months of his ‘spare’ time working on developing the project on a voluntary basis.

The hope is that the local community will embrace the museum and a debate will commence on how to continue after November when the lease on the building is due for renewal.

The museum is open between 11.00 and 16.00 at weekends, admission free. The intention is to also open during Llangollen Railway gala events, and hopefully during school holidays. It is located in a red brick chapel on Corwen’s London Road (the main road through the town) opposite Corwen Manor, a craft shop complex located in one-time workhouse buildings. A surfaced footpath links the museum with LR’s Dwyrain Corwen East station just a few minutes away.

The Chapel – created by the arrival of the railway

The old chapel which houses the museum has direct railway connections of its own. When the railway reached Corwen in 1865, with it came many workers whose religious faith was nonconformist.

They initially worshipped in temporary buildings until managing to raise £800 to build the chapel in 1879. It is constructed from Ruabon bricks, which were delivered via the railway. The foundation stone was laid by Thomas Barnes JP, Chairman of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, who had been MP for Bolton and was a cotton manufacturer who lived at Weston Rhyn, near Chirk.

After remaining in use as a Chapel for 85 years, following closure it was rescued and converted (with funding from the Welsh Office) for community use in 1993. It has subsequently seen a number of uses, from being a ‘tele-cottage’ for internet access to forming the Oriel Gallery. It is presently operating as a museum under the auspices of Edeyrnion Heritage and Cultural Society.

As things stand, it is leased from the local Council, which intends to sell it although that is thought unlikely in the immediate-term.

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