71 years of Talyllyn Women celebrated by Tywyn’s Talyllyn Railway

A special train ran on the Talyllyn Railway to recognize the contribution of women volunteers since 1951.

The Talyllyn Railway differs from many heritage railways due to the high proportion of female volunteers in all its departments and has done so since the start of the railway preservation movement in 1951.

In the early days of the railway, Sonia Rolt helped run the dock office alongside Barbara Curwen who worked as a caretaker for the first two years. The wives of many other members also supported the railroad by doing jobs such as painting, cleaning, and serving drinks.

Today, approximately 25% of rank holders in the heritage railway locomotive department are women and regularly see trains manned at both ends by women alongside conductors, blockers and station assistants. It is highly likely that the engine and wagons were painted and maintained by female volunteers. .

Barbara, Rachel, Christine, Louisa and Sarah in front of No 4 Edward Thomas at Wharf // Credit: Phil Tugwell

The railroad, which is making a comeback after the pandemic, came up with the idea to celebrate women volunteers following two volunteers discussing the length of their work at the railroad. Barbara and Sarah realized that they had both served 50 years as volunteers on the Talyllyn Railway in a number of capacities and this led them to consider how many years other women had contributed, this which is definitely something to celebrate and of course the celebration could only take place by train!

On July 30, a train full of #TalyllynWomen traveled up the valley for cakes and celebrations in Abergynolwyn. The locomotive crew also consisted of Rachel and Christine who were the first to lead an all female locomotive crew for the railroad in 1995. Guarding the train was Louisa who started at the railroad in 1975 and became a fully qualified guard in 1985.

Tea and prosecco were served as the special guests arrived at Abergynolywn, accompanied by a huge photographic display of female railway volunteers in all departments over the years which brought back some fantastic memories.

Raise a glass at the Talyllyn Women event in Abergynolwyn.
Raise a glass at the Talyllyn Women event in Abergynolwyn // Credit: Phil Tugwell

Sarah and Barbara gave a welcome speech covering the interesting story of how they became Talyllyn volunteers. It took quite a while for women to be accepted as volunteers on the platform and also on the Guard van, as these were considered male domains. The women should have, in many ways, performed better than their male peers in order to prove they were competent, with some male volunteers actually claiming that they had come to Tywyn to get away from the women!

Ann Hatherill, who was the first lady firefighter in 1957, was unfortunately unable to attend as she had hoped, but sent her best wishes to everyone. Following Ann’s example, women are now represented in all departments of the railway as steam and diesel conductors, firefighters, locomotive cleaners, traffic inspectors, guards, blockers, controllers, clerks reservation, board and council members, locomotive list clerks, track maintenance, loco and transport work groups, painters, hedge setters as well as gardening, museum work, shop and catering, area groups, Tracksiders, Navvies, railroad postal service, IT, marketing, historical research as well as many hours doing behind the scenes roles.

After the speeches, a glass was raised to the incredible Talyllyn women of yesterday and today. ‘Happy Birthday’ was also sung to volunteer Diana who celebrated a very special birthday earlier in the year before enjoying delicious cakes and catching up with other volunteers.

Before the event, Sarah and Barbara asked the women volunteers how many years they had worked on the railroad in hopes of reaching 1,000 years of volunteering. The target was exceeded as the total saw over 1,300 volunteer years submitted and 1,100 volunteer years represented by guests on the celebration train. In addition to this, volunteers were invited to apply for the Long Service Awards with Eileen Jones, Mayor of Tywyn, presenting the awards at the event which saw Barbara and Sarah’s 50 years of volunteering celebrated.

All women attending the celebration received a ‘Tallyllyn Women’ enamel badge and before taking the train home, a photo op brought together around 60 women at the event. The idea of ​​celebrating the work of women volunteers in rail preservation has been a huge success and it can be said that Tallylyn Railway has truly paved the way and paved the way for women’s volunteering in the world of heritage railways.

Guests aboard the Talyllyn Women's Celebration Train.
Guests aboard the Talyllyn Women Celebration Train // Credit: Phil Tugwell.

David Mitchell, President of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society, said: “What a great idea to celebrate the contribution of women to the Talyllyn Railway.

“From 1951, the ladies volunteered. Originally mostly wives and girlfriends of male members, women later started joining on their own and this event shows how they have progressed both on the operational side of the TR and also in many jobs in backstage. They bring a wide range of experiences and are essential and valuable contributors. The TRPS owes a debt of gratitude to all the women who play such a vital role in the running of the railroad and society.

“Thank you to all the Talyllyn Women, past, present and future.”

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