The Dramway is the local name for the Avon and Gloucestershire Railway that carried coal from the Coalpit Heath collieries near Yate, down to the River Avon in the south, passing though North Common, Oldland Common and Willsbridge. It was a horse-drawn railway and got its name from the ‘drams’ or carts that carried the coal. Much of the route of the Dramway can be walked today on footpaths.
Construction work started in1829, with sections opening between 1830 and 1834, and the line was in use until around 1866.The route of the Dramway was carefully constructed to make maximum use of the slope of the land down to the River Avon, and there are several cuttings and embankments along the route, to give an even, gentle gradient. Coal was loaded into carts and these rolled slowly down the slope, led by horses and controlled by a brakeman or ‘guide’. Horses pulled the empty carts back up the track to the coal mines.
The Dramway is a particularly interesting railway as it was one of the very last horse-drawn railways to be built in the country. It was built just a few years before the steam locomotive boom, and, although its makers did not know it, the Dramway was out of date almost as soon as it was built. ‘Railway mania’ swept across Britain in the 1830’s and 1840’s following the success of Stephenson’s Rocket.
By the 1840’s, transport in Britain had been completely transformed as dozens of companies built new railways for steam locomotives.
The advent of steam trains revolutionized transport in Britain in the nineteenth century, bringing about the decline of the canals and the
growth of new towns and cities. Further details are shown on the page for Avon Valley Railway
There have been mills in this part of the valley for centuries, using waterpower to drive their machinery. Willsbridge Mill was built from locally quarried sandstone and was used to mill flour from the early 1800’s. It was in use until 1968 when huge floods caused the dam on the mill pond to burst, seriously damaging the mill. The buildings have been carefully restored by the Avon Wildlife Trust (www.avonwildlifetrust.org.uk) and Willsbridge Mill re-opened in 1986 as an education centre.
Londonderry Wharf and Avon Wharf
Numerous branch lines were built to connect different pits with the main trackway and another line was built down to Londonderry Wharf on the River Avon. This gave the Dramway two southern termini, its original one at Avon Wharf upstream of Keynsham Lock, and another downstream of the lock at Londonderry Wharf. This second wharf saved time and money for cargoes bound for Bristol, as they did not have to pay tolls at the locks at Keynsham.
Londonderry Wharf and the River Avon Londonderry Wharf was built around 1833. The small weighbridge house is still visible, as is the Wharf itself and a
number of limestone blocks buried in the ground.
Fish-belly rails and limestone blocks
The Dramway used special tracks with ‘fish-belly’ rails that were curved underneath to give them extra strength.
They were made of cast iron and were fixed onto limestone blocks with iron
‘chairs’. The limestone blocks came from a quarry near the River Avon and were drilled with two holes that held the iron ‘chairs’. Several sections of the route still have lines of limestone blocks set into the ground in pairs. Most of the track was taken up during the First World War for scrap iron,
but there are still occasional pieces of track being used as handrails or to fill holes in fences and hedges along the route.