The longest Railway in the World
In 1792 The Abergavenny Canal obtained an Act of Parliament to extend the canal to Gilwern.The gentry of Brecon were quick to realise the great advantages to their town that extending the canal could give, thus an Act was obtained in March 1793 for a canal from Brecon to Pontmoile, to be known as the "Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal".
Extensions from Brecon were quickly suggested,at a meeting held on 11th June 1793 it was proposed that a canal should be made from Brecon to Whitney on Wye via Hay. The difficulties involved in building the canal quickly became apparent and put in doubt it's viability and plans were shelved. However the B & A Canal reached Brecon on 24th December 1800, the canal was later to be known as "The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal" and eventually connected with Newport on the coast.
It was not until March 1805 that a railroad was first proposed to connect the B & A Canal to the navigable River Wye near the village of Eardisley, Herefordshire. No progress was made until 1810 when it was decided to re-survey suitable routes. The prefered route was north from Brecon via Blaen Brynich, towards Llanfilo and Talgarth, but the gradients were prohibitive. The alternative was South via Llanvihangel (Llanfihangel) Talyllyn, and Trefeinon, but Cefn North Hill (more commonly known as Brynderwyn Bank, and latterly as Tunnel Pitch) near Llanvihangel Talyllyn, stood in in the way, which would require a lengthy diversion to circum navigate.
Remains of earthworks for the tramroad, near Llanifihangel Talyllyn Map by R.J. Dean
A new engineer, John Hodgkinson was tasked with costing the possible routes, and he suggested a tunnel through Cefn North Hill of approximately 700yds in length, which would shorten the route by two miles. This suggestion was reluctantly accepted and tenders were invited for the construction of the tram road to Hay. Eventually contracts were let in 1812. The contract for the length from The Watton Wharf Brecon, to a point where the tram road crossed the Llangorse road near Llavihangel Talyllyn, including building the 674yd long tunnel was let to a Robert Tipping a miner from Newnham, Gloucester, who was very experianced in such work, for the agreed sum of £7,550.
It was reported on 7th May 1816 that the work was completed and that the tram road was passable from Brecon to Hay, and it was officially opened one week later. The benifits of the new tram road was seen immediately in Hay, when the price of poor quality coal at 24 shillings (£1.20) per ton fell to 19 Shillings (95p) per ton for what was discribed as "strong Welsh" coal (at this time 90% of the local population could not afford to burn coal).
These benifits expedited the need to extend the tram road on to Eardisley, opening on the 1st December 1818, and arriving at Kington by May 1820, a total continuous length of 36 miles making it THE LONGEST RAILWAY IN THE WORLD, that was not exceeded until 1837.