On Friday 10th September 2021, the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway/Blaenavon’s Heritage Railway’s new carriage shed was officially opened by the Welsh Senedd Member for Torfaen, Lynne Neagle. In addition to its opening, the ceremony also saw the structure dedicated to the memory of Eric Edwards, a long-time volunteer whose generous legacy made the much-needed facility possible.
For many years the Railway had been in desperate need of undercover storage to protect its heritage rolling stock. Situated approximately 400 metres above sea level on a mountainside near the head of the Eastern Valley, such a facility would enable its carriages and wagons, some of which date back to the early 1900s, to be kept securely out of the elements, allowing visitors to continue enjoying and appreciating them for generations to come.
In the mid-2010s this was made possible following a very generous bequest by long-time volunteer, Eric Edwards. A familiar face to the Railway’s visitors, Eric faithfully manned its giftshop week-in week-out for many years. Although Mr Edwards sadly passed away in 2014, his name lives on at the railway, for the shop inside Furnace Sidings station building now bears the name ‘Eric’s Emporium’ in loving memory of his dedication to the role.
Following his very generous bequest, preparation began from late 2014 onwards. The structure of the shed itself, which cost in excess of £100,000, was mostly erected by our contractors over the winter of 2017/2018. However, it would take another two years for it to be internally completed by our volunteers, with its planned opening in 2020 being postponed due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, the facility was finally opened and dedicated to the memory of Eric Edwards on the afternoon of Friday 10th September 2021.
Invited guests, which included both local dignitaries and volunteers involved with the shed’s construction, were brought down from Furnace Sidings station in the Railway’s recently restored 1910 Great Western Railway director’s saloon. Before the official ribbon cutting by Lynne Neagle MS, volunteer Phil Tiley shared his memories of Mr Edwards, with the railway’s Development Lead Steve Vincent following to pay tribute to those volunteers who have worked tirelessly on completing the structure.
Opening the structure, Ms. Neagle commented:
‘It’s always a pleasure to be asked to do anything for the Railway and today is no exception. It’s a real honour to be here to be asked to mark the opening of this magnificent carriage shed, I’m really quite shocked at how big it is and I’m sure it's what you need. I’d just like to thank everybody that’s clearly worked so hard and in challenging circumstances through the pandemic and I know hard the volunteers work and how committed they are… It’s lovely that it is being done to remember Eric Edwards to recognise the work of one of your fantastic volunteers.’
In addition to being shown the interior of the shed, guests viewed the new signage that has been constructed and erected by member Alex Drummond to enable Eric’s dedication to be proudly shown to volunteers, visitors, and passers-by alike. Even the rain failed to dampen spirits; indeed, it demonstrated the value of having such an amazing facility!
With the new carriage shed, the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway/Blaenavon’s Heritage Railway has a new facility of which the organisation’s members can be proud, allowing its rolling stock to be enjoyed by generations to come. By dedicating it to the memory of Eric Edwards, his contribution to the railway and the friendship that he enjoyed with many of our volunteers will continue to live on.
Official videographer Bob Masterman's coverage of the event.