In the early 1950s, my dad was quite keen to build a model railway for his boys, and obtained two books by Edward Beal on how to do it. I still have both books, though one is definitely ‘well-used’. Both of these books contain photographs of John Ahearn’s ‘Madder Valley Railway’, in one of which is a strange locomotive. Although it is a small saddletank with a tender and described as ‘Welsh Pony’, I was too young to appreciate its history, but this was my introduction to the FR and its locomotives. Dad was a keen landscape painter, so it was inevitable that Wales would soon become a holiday destination, and though I don’t remember much about our first holiday in 1955, I know it was the first time that we visited Porthmadog. The FR was then in its second year of running, but it wasn’t until 1958 that we finally got to travel on the Ffestiniog, as the line had just reopened to Tan-y-Bwlch. This visit was much more memorable, however, since dad took photographs and we were hauled by ‘Prince’ and double Fairlie ‘Taliesin’, as it then was...
Come the 1960s, and every year for our summer holidays, we rented a house in Beddgelert called ‘Erw Fair’, which was owned by the local postmaster Mr. Williams. As well as owning the house, he also held the fishing rights to one of the local tarns, and more importantly to us boys, he owned a bright red Aston Martin! By this time, I was well aware of the narrow gauge railways in this part of the world, and as well as the FR we visited the lines at Llanberis (both Snowdon and the quarries), Talyllyn, the Vale of Rheidol, and even the Penrhyn Quarry Railway. The Welsh Highland Trackbed was our playground, and we would even walk or cycle along parts of it. I had also become the proud possessor of Mr. Boyd’s two-volume history of the FR, which was later supplemented by his other books on the Welsh NG lines.
There was another connection with the FR, which lasts to this day. I was introduced to a young woman who worked with my Dad. This is the lady we all now know as Eileen Clayton. She will tell you that her favourite engine is ‘Merddin Emrys’, but I also remember a Land Rover which also bore the same name!
In the 1970s, I began to dabble in the art world, and I was asked to produce a calendar for the ‘Great Little Trains of Wales’ organisation for 1979. These were duly produced, and delivered to Harbour Station, by Ford Transit, with my three girls perched on boxes in the back. You couldn’t do that now! I also produced some black and white drawing s for railway courses at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch.
One he had retired, Dad also ran some courses at Plas, and usually stayed with Eileen. Sadly he died in her house at Maentwrog in April 1980.
Fast forward to May Bank Holiday 1999: My first event as a professional artist, and who should I meet as we walked over the grass at Minffordd – Eileen Clayton. Since I had put weight on, and lost my hair, which left me looking not unlike my dad, she looked like she had seen a ghost, and had to be reassured that it was in fact me and not him!
Since that time, I have had the good fortune to spend two or three weekends a year in Porthmadog, as the guest of the FR, and usually partake of the hospitality of my good friend Stuart McNair. As we have seen over the last fifteen years, both the Ffestinog and welsh Highland Railways have gone from strength to strength. During this time I am fortunate to have been asked to paint many pictures of FR and WHR locomotives and scenes, some more than once.
Jonathan Clay is a regular visitor to Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways, and has painted many of our locomotives in his role as a professional artist.