Dyffryn Tanat and Region Development Trust
Chairman Kenton Owen QGM
Consultant David Higman MBE
Charity Reg. No. 1139072
Company Reg. No. 6905623
Thomas Savin was born in 1826 at a farmhouse in Llwynymaen midway between Oswestry and Trefonen, alongside the River Morda, on the edge of the Oswestry coalfield. His father had a drapers shop at 27 Cross Street Oswestry and he became an apprentice draper in this shop at the age of 15 years. The 1841 census records the 15yrs old Thomas working in the shop as an apprentice draper. His father died when Thomas was 15 and so he became the sole breadwinner for the family.
By 1855 he was a hop merchant and owned the Colliery at Coed y Go near his birth place. A famous story at that time was that he was at a market in the Border town having taken many clothes to sell but discovered he would have to wait until all the sheep were sold before his business could begin so he simply bid for and bought 1,000 sheep for himself - this does seem to show his early reputation in the area as an impulsive and impatient man.
In 1855 his big moment came and he was introduced to David Davies of Llandinam. Davies was one of the great figures of the victorian age who built Barry Docks a man who became much richer than Savin he provided a fascinating contrast to Savin while having a similar rise from an even lower background. He was a devote methodist refusing all alcohol and never allowing any work on a Sunday. He was considerably more cautious than Savin but no less ambitious.
The meeting between Savin and Davies was in the rooms above the tobacconist in Church Street opposite the Old Post Office and it was the beginning of the Davies and Savin partnership. Davies was that year appointed contractor for the Llanidloes to Newtown railway (L@N) The first line of what would later become the Cambrian Railways.
The second part of the proposed Manchester to Milford route from Newtown to Oswestry had been started in 1857 but two sets of appointed contractors had gone bankrupt. Having finished the first job of their partnership (the Vale of Clwyd Railway from Denigh to Corwen) Savin and Davies offered to step in and finish the Oswestry and Newtown Railway (O@N) and they successfully completed it in 1860.
There was always opposition to whatever Savin and Davies did - they offered to complete the O@N lines for shares instead of money, that was obviously a risk for them but even that was opposed by some directors - having shares meant that they would have too much control because when completed they would operate the line.
Despite being apparently successful Savin and Davies's partnership did not last long. They were appointed contractors for the Newtown to Machynlleth Railway (N@M) and the Machynlleth and Aberystwyth Railway (M@A) but in October 1860 their work force were gathered at the site at Machynlleth Station for an announcement. Davies told them he was going to build the railway from Newtown to Machynlleth and Savin from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth. Famously, Davies asked the workers to decide there and then who would work for whom, inviting them to step to the left for him and to the right for Savin.
The move for the split came from Davies he had become disillusioned with Savins way of working and especially his great schemes. Savin believed there was huge potential for tourism along the West Wales Coast. He bought Castle House on the sea front at Aberysytwth which was converted and enlarged into a magnificent hotel the Castle Hotel at a cost of £80k. Similarly he built the Grand (the Cambrian Hotel in Borth) schemes likes these were to David Davies' sober eyes "hair brained". History seems to have proved him right and Savin wrong. Those years of the early 60's were stupendous for Savin. He became the Mayor of Oswestry in 1863 even though he told Councillors he would be too busy to attend council meetings. That didnt bother them - they were so desperate to have such a man as their leader. At this time Savin bought a house on Middleton Road in Oswestry which he converted into a magnificent house called Plas Fynnon (he later named one of his locomotives Plas Fynnon) As well as having London house in Paddington for the times he had to conduct railway business and press his various Acts of Parliament.
His zenith came in 1862. The Great Western Railway (GWR) wanted to extend into the area and offered various lines but Savin managed to get an Act of Parliament for the Oswestry Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway which blocked the GWR's plans.
The residents of Oswestry had much to thank Savin for - almost single handed he had made Oswestry a railway town using his power to insist that the locomotive workshops should be built there and not at Welshpool.
In 1864 all the railways he and David Davies had built were brought together as the Cambrian Railways and Savin was the most powerful man on the Board. In the middle of the 1860's Savin was certainly the greatest man to have been born in Oswestry. He had built and now ran an empire of railways in Wales. He had been a draper, a hop merchant , a grocer, a colliery and quarry owner and owned some of the finest hotels in Oswestry. He had been mayor of Oswestry and he was resident in one of the finest houses in Oswestry and was worth £3 million.
1863 Thomas Savin opened a railway line to the coal pits at Coed-Y-Go Morda.This line closed 1869 total length 2 miles
The former drapers shop that Savin served his apprenticship in, now an estate agents.
Source Ken Owen
List of engines some of which Savin obtained.note no 36 Plasfynnon which was used on the Coed y Go branch line.
Plas Ffynnon in Middleton Road, Oswestry was purchased and rebuilt by Thomas Savin . He lived here with his wife and children and even named one of his steam engines(see no 43 above), after the house.
Map of Savins railways in 1866.
Source Ken Owen
Photo of Savins engine "Plasfynnon"by the water tank at Kerry in Mid Wales.
Early photo of Thomas Savin believed in his grand house Plasffynon
1875 map showing Plasfynnon.
Thomas Savins house and grounds taken off the 1875 500 series map of Oswestry. There were numerous large Urns on plinths(Vases on the map) around the grounds. This would have been a very nice house and grounds at this time, unfortunately the grounds have now been built upon with a modern housing estate and named Biffen Road. (Surely it could have been called Savin Close)
Source Ken Owen
Nice photo of John Ward, Thomas Savins brother-in-law, who with Savin built many of the fine buildings on the Cambrian line, including Oswestry Station and the railway works.
Source Ken Owen
Brass plaque in The Guildhall, Oswestry, showing the Mayors of Oswerstry since 1835. This shows Thomas Savin as Mayor in 1863.