In its heyday Builth Road was a thriving community in its own right. The junction of the Central Wales Railway and the Mid Wales Railway was built on two different levels, with a spur linking the two. The Central Wales
Railway’s High Level Station opened for traffic in 1866.
The Mid Wales line ran from Brecon to Moat Lane Junction at Caersws.
It was taken over by Cambrian Railways in 1904, then by the GWR in 1922. Its station at Builth Road opened in 1864 on the lower level running under, and almost at right angles, to the Central Wales line. Two rows of railway workers cottages were built by 1892, with the station master’s houses there were almost 50 dwellings in the area surrounding the stations.
Although the stations were operated by separate companies until nationalisation in 1948, they had to work together in many ways. In fact the 1881 census records show that the Mid Wales station master was a lodger at the LNWR station master house! It is recorded that he got his own dwelling in 1893.
There was a considerable exchange of passengers, goods and mail traffic between the stations, a water powered counterweight goods lift was built in 1887 to connect them and it can be seen in the 1960’s photos. The high level station also had an extensive goods yard, with facilities for handling all manner of traffic, including a two ton yard crane.
The railways were far more self sufficient in terms of their infrastructure and equipment needs than today. Many people are aware of the large
locomotive works such as Swindon and Crewe, but it is also illustrated by places such as Builth Road. Just north of the station, the River Dulais
provided water for locomotives and all non-drinking purposes. The
locomotive depot staff were responsible for the maintenance and operation of a steam pumping engine that extracted water from the river into a large storage tank at the goods depot.
In the triangle between the main and loop lines, the LNWR established a maintenance depot, nicknamed ‘Dartmoor’ (the reason for which is lost in the mists of time) which was well established by the 1890’s. It employed a multitude of tradesmen, with responsibility for all the infrastructure repair and maintenance on the line between Craven Arms and Swansea.
The staffing levels illustrate the size of the operation. Including a few
specialists such signal and telegraph engineers and a carriage and wagon examiner, over 70 men worked at the depot in the 1920’s, in addition to the 30 or so staff employed on the stations.
Most of these were housed in railway dwellings with their families, or
nearby on the Pencerrig estate. However about 20 cycled in from Builth Wells. The railway houses, which survive today in private hands, were well built, and although lacking in modern conveniences, the standard was
superior to most working class dwellings of the period. They were all
provided with gardens, allotments were available, and a communal
bakehouse was situated behind Railway Terrace.
At the time a job on the railway, although not the best paid, was a secure job for life, with perks such as good accommodation and concessionary travel. There was a strong sense of community, with plenty of activities centred around the church and chapel congregations, a football team, and a recreation room in the high level station, complete with billiard table.
However, as competition from road transport grew in the 1930’s life for the railways became harder. The LMS, having taken control of the LNWR in the 1923 grouping, embarked on a period of economies, although the retirement of many Builth employees during the period meant the cutbacks were not as drastic as at other locations.
After World War Two, when fuel rationing was lifted, the surge in road transport had an even more dramatic effect, and with the Beeching axe falling heavily on Wales, the Mid Wales line closed totally in 1962. The houses were all sold to a property company in the 1960’s which, in turn, sold them on to become owner occupied dwellings. At the same time the Dartmoor depot was finally closed and sold off, the land is now used as a timber yard. If you stop and take a stroll round Builth Road today there’s still plenty to see of this once thriving railway community.