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The history, linguistic status and potential of the term dramway

Richard Coates

Abstracts

This is a comprehensive investigation of the term dramway, local to south-west Britain and best recorded in Gloucestershire. It does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary or in well-known national and regional dialect dictionaries. It is of historical, theoretical and sociological interest. The aim here is to answer two linguistic questions, one historical and the other both theoretical and socio-onomastic. Firstly, how can its origin be explained? and secondly, is it an ordinary word (a common noun), a proper name or something else (and to what purpose)? The paper draws on local industrial and railway history sources, archival, printed and online, and on writings in linguistics and onomastics to illuminate, through extensive discussion of the example-word, some complex strands of the process of its becoming-a-name and becoming-a-meme in a bilingual setting and in a context of post-industrial decline and consequent heritage and tourism management.

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Introduction: the background to the history of the term according to dictionaries

1This investigation attempts to answer two linguistic questions, one historical and one theoretical, and then to discuss a sociocultural issue emerging from that discussion. Firstly, how can the origin of the English word dramway be explained? and secondly, what is its classificatory status: an ordinary word (a common noun) or a proper name? For the time being the term term is used to cover both these possibilities. Most of the article is devoted to an attempt to answer the first question comprehensively. Consideration of the second is foreshadowed during that attempt, and full discussion follows it, concluding with an appraisal of the term’s developing application in the contexts in which it typically appears.

  • 1 Note that characters in [square brackets] are representations of actual perceived sounds, using the (...)

2The answer to the first question looks, and in a sense is, simple. The term denotes a system of paired parallel rails along which wheeled wagons were pulled by horses. It could hardly be clearer that it is a variant of the more widely evidenced word tramway in its historic industrial sense. The interpretational problems arise from its geographical distribution and its phonology. It has been recorded, so far as I have discovered, only in the Bristol area and southern Gloucestershire, the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, and South Wales; so where and when did it originate, and why and how did it emerge in or spread to these places? And what motivates the substitution of the initial phoneme /t/ by /d/?1

  • 2 For abbreviated titles of specialized works, see the bibliography. General surveys: Wright [1905: 2 (...)

3The implied pronunciation change is not phonetically difficult – [t] and [d] differ only in the timing of the onset of vibration of the vocal folds in relation to the following sound – but such a change has no parallels in other lexical words in the record of the English dialects of these and adjacent areas.2 Voicing of initial fricative consonants, as with [f] to [v], is plentifully recorded in southern and western England (EDG, SED, LAE), but not of plosives such as [t]. The existence of dramway could suggest the plosivization of an initial fricative [ð], regionally a voiced realization of /θ/ as in thing, for which there is a great deal of evidence in SED and other sources. However, there is no record whatever of a required source-word that might be spelt *thramway, except in comic writing parodying Hiberno-English where, for example, trying can also appear as thrying. Dramway does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary [OED] (as of September 2022), not even as a historical variant of tramway.

  • 3 The facts are well established, and there is an extensive literature on this topic; see convenientl (...)

4Like the better-evidenced tram(-)road, tramway is a relative newcomer in English, despite railway technology having introduced such tracks at least as early as the 17th century, albeit at first with wooden rails rather than iron ones.3 First recorded in 1825 in the Northumberland coalfield, tramway is a compound with the first element tram, whose OED etymology (see tram, n[oun].2) is reproduced almost in full here, with some minor (and on trivial matters silent) editing:

  • 4 I am indebted to a Lexis reviewer for the observation that the earliest example of wagon in OED dat (...)

[…] apparently the same word as Low German traam ‘balk, beam, e.g., of a wheelbarrow or dung-sledge, tram, handle of a barrow or sledge, also a rung or step of a ladder, bar of a chair’ […], East Frisian trame, trâm ‘beam of wood, rung or step of a ladder, bar of a chair, tram of a wheelbarrow’; in Middle Low German trame, treme, Middle Dutch trame balk or beam, rung of a ladder, etc.; West Flemish traam, trame.
The specific sense first found in Scots is ‘the tram of a barrow’. The further sense-development presents many difficulties, chiefly from the scarcity of early examples, and the fact that the various senses are from separate localities, so that they cannot be taken as showing any general development. But […]
tram [as] a miners’ term for the vehicle for carrying coal or ore (in its development from a hand-barrow, or at least a sledge, to a small 4-wheeled iron wagon) may, on the principle of pars pro toto have arisen out of that of ‘barrow-tram’. [Tram in the sense ‘track, rail’] is more difficult, and is the crux of the word. But if it was short for something like ‘tram-track’, it might have arisen out of [the sense ‘frame, barrow’]; and if it was applied primarily to the wooden beams or ‘rails’ laid as wheel tracks, it might conceivably go back to the Low German sense of ‘balk’ or ‘beam’: evidence is wanting. From [either of these senses, ‘wagon’ or ‘rail’] used attributively came tram-road (in use in 1800), and the later tram-way (in use in 1825) […]4

5The oldest record in OED of the word tram in the required sense shows it with a short vowel, indicated by the following geminate -mm-:

1517 in J. T. Fowler Extracts [from the] Acc[oun]t Rolls [of the] Abbey of Durham (1899) II. 293 Item ad puteum [pit] de Hett,..1 restis et 1 cruke de ferro... 2 pykes, 2 trammys, et 2 shulys.

  • 5 Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, Dictionaries of the Scots Language, http://www.dsl.ac.uk.

6A slightly earlier record for barrow-tram (about 1500-1512) can be found in Scots, in the poetic works of William Dunbar.5

  • 6 See e.g., Murison [1971]; Macafee [2005].
  • 7 EDG and LAE are silent on the potentially relevant local pronunciation of three words adopted from (...)

7Several forms representing other senses of the word tram(me) evidenced in Middle English Dictionary [MED] (‘mechanical device: an astronomical instrument’, ‘siege tower or machine’, ‘nautical gear or tackle’, ‘contrivance, stratagem’) indicate that it had a short vowel also in these. There is no evidence that tram in the relevant sense has existed continuously in English since Anglo-Saxon times. The entry in OED could be taken as implying that it originates in one of the continental Germanic languages of the European seaboard, and the influence of Flemish on Scots vocabulary between the 14th and 16th centuries is well documented.6 If that is what happened, the shortening of the [a:] of the continental original is unsurprising. The word seems to have been adopted first into north-eastern English and Scots dialects. In these, Middle English /a:/ as in make had been raised to [ɛ:], probably as early as the sixteenth century (Lass [1999: 91‒92]), and then ultimately diphthongized to [iǝ], [eǝ] and the like; reflexes of Old English and Northern Middle English /a:/ as in loaf had fronted to [ø:] (LAE maps Ph119a‒124a, notably in the Northumberland and Durham coalfield) or diphthongized (LAE maps Ph119b‒124b); and non-rhotic variants of arm do not have [a:] or similar (EDG [31‒32]; Kolb [1966: 84‒85]; LAE map Ph11). In these dialects, therefore, there was no [a:], and the sequence /a:m/ would have been non-vernacular, whilst /am/ was common in native words such as ham and ram.7

1. Methodology

8The term dramway was familiar to the author, who knew something of the industrial context in which it was used locally in the Bristol area but was unaware of any linguistic account of it. That was the stimulus for the present investigation, begun in early 2022. Evidence for the term’s usage was collected from archived documents, from works of industrial and transport history and from the linguistic landscape, in the form of tourist-oriented waymarks and public information boards. As noted already, dramway is conspicuous by its absence from dictionaries both national and local; indeed it is not found in any linguistically-oriented publications at all. The term is rare in printed and database material in general, and does not occur in any of the following widely used corpora (all accessed 2-20 May 2022): Google Books n-grams (British), British National Corpus, Hansard Corpus and News on the Web, except for two appearances in the last, both dating from 2019, in relation to one of the entities discussed in Section 2.2. below. One of these is in a local Bristol newspaper and one on the BBC website. There are 11 hits in iWeb (plus one in a secondary/derived proper name), all from just two other websites, again both relating to entities treated below, and one in GloWbE, also referring to such an entity. Corpus searches were supplemented by searches in a range of newspaper sources, especially Welsh (in both Welsh and English languages), available online, and other sources that were located using familiar search engines. Usage was found to be intensely local, though to some degree scattered, as will be shown below.

2. The geography of the term

2.1. South Wales valleys

  • 8 In 2019 the district council in Waipu, Whangārei, New Zealand, received a request for a new right o (...)
  • 9 Probably really John Key of Ely, Llandaff, gent. (will proved 1814), who is a known lessee of vario (...)
  • 10 Havill cites the document as Glamorgan Record Office, Dowlais Iron Company, Letters 1799 Pentrebane (...)
  • 11 NLW Maybery 1890 (1800-3), as cited by Van Laun [2001: 232, note 20]. File - Volume containing copi (...)
  • 12 In connection with the Aberdare canal; cited online at http://www.culturalecology.info/baywatch/bay (...)

9Although it is most familiar in its Bristol area context8, as we shall see, the first definite sighting of the term comes in a letter written on 8 July 1799 by an unidentified John Keys9: “the Dramway was begun in several places, but it now goes through a great deal of Lord Plymouth’s estate […]” (cited by Havill [1983: 109]).10 The next is in a subsequent document in the National Library of Wales [NLW]: “to the [Merthyr] dram road company formed by the proprietors [of three ironworks] to make a dramway from Lord Plymouth’s lime rock at Morlais Castle to the Glamorgan Canal navigation house [at Abercynon]”.11 At about the same time (1801) a Parliamentary Notice was issued for a “Canal, Rail or Dram Way” from the Glamorganshire Canal to Aber-nant (Glynneath).12 This is terminologically somewhat in tune with the order made in 1799 requiring the deposit with the House of Commons of a duplicate plan and book of reference to accompany bills relating to railways or “dramroads” (Williams [1949, volume I: 266]). In turn, the House in 1799 was harking back to 7 May 1794, proposing that “the Standing Orders of the House [of that date], relating to Bills for making Navigable Canals, Aqueducts and the Navigation of Rivers, or for altering any Act of Parliament for any or either of those purposes, be extended to Bills for making any Ways or Roads, commonly called Railways or Dram Roads, except so much of the said Standing Orders as requires,” etc. This must indicate that the form dram was known in at least Welsh English by 1790 or so. Nonetheless it is tramway that appears in the place-name Tramway, near Aberdare, recorded from 1877 (Morgan [2018: 219]), and no place names incorporating the other terms have been found in the South Wales coalfield at this time or earlier.

  • 13 NLW: The National Library of Wales, including the Mayberry Collection (“Merthyr Dram Road” document (...)
  • 14 Glamorgan Archives DNCB/14/2/10/34-44.

10We can find nine instances of dramway between 1872 and 1898 in Welsh-language newspapers accessible through the NLW website,13 almost always with the definite article, y(r hen) dramway ‘the (old) t/dramway’, but also after ei ‘his’ and rhyw ‘a kind of’. The significance of these, to which we return in detail below, is that they are evidence that dramway in Welsh-speaking areas originated as a grammatically triggered form of tramway, and not as an independent lexical word. The term was still in use in English-language National Coal Board documents of the late 1950s relating to Llanharan colliery.14 No instances have been found in English-language newspapers in Wales between 1800 and 1919.

  • 15 For example: “Proprietors of the Brecon & Abergavenny Canal Navigation. 2. Edward ffrere of Llanell (...)

11Nevertheless, the base-word in the form dram was clearly in widespread use in south Wales, as indicated by its use in the local English. There are numerous references to dram roads and dram plates in the documents of the Merthyr Dram Road Company held in the NLW (1797‒1823).15 A fuller discussion of the linguistic status of dram will be found below in Section 3.

2.2. The Bristol area

  • 16 Reported as 5ft 1in in older literature (e.g., Buchanan [1967: 6]).
  • 17 Often known in its early days as the Coalpit Heath railway (Maggs [1992: 7]). Note that the formal (...)
  • 18 Trew [1910], Baxter [1932], Gentry [1952], Barber [1985], [1986], Thomas [1988], Maggs [1992], Bish (...)

12Dramway is most frequently met in descriptions of and references to two early horse-operated standard- (4ft 8½in) or originally near-standard-gauge (4ft 8in)16 colliery railways on the eastern and north-eastern fringe of the Bristol conurbation, both incorporated in 1828. These were respectively the Avon and Gloucestershire Railway (A&GR; operated 1829‒1867 and 1881‒1904), and the Bristol and Gloucestershire Railway (B&GR17; opened 1832/5 and partly absorbed and replaced by a later conventional steam railway, branded the Bristol and Gloucester Railway; some collieries continued to be rail-served well into the twentieth century). Over many years the history and archaeology of these two operations have been diligently investigated and documented,18 and we do not need to reproduce the findings here. Physical relics of the operation accompany a display in Kingswood Heritage Museum in Warmley; sizeable parts of the route of the A&GR and of the B&GR and its successor are now dedicated to public use as a walking and cycle path. The A&GR sector and the northern part of the B&GR are together, officially and generally, referred to as The Dramway Path or Footpath (e.g., South Gloucestershire council website and waymarks – see Figure 1), or simply as The Dramway (e.g., Avon Industrial Buildings Trust materials; public information boards and waymarks, as in the small logo in Figure 2). In the latter case, however, there is occasionally some looseness about whether the nine-mile recreational path or the predecessor railway is meant. Parts of this path occupy the original trackbed (mapped in Figure 3) whilst others shadow it at a moderate distance; the present route can be seen in South Gloucestershire Council’s leaflet [undated]. The term is well enough embedded locally to give rise to the name of the Dramway Roundabout (NGR ST 675765) where the A&GR’s former route intersects with the junction of the A4174 (Ring Road) and the B4465.

Figure 1. Waymark near the Dramway Roundabout, A4174/B4465 (R. Coates)

Figure 1. Waymark near the Dramway Roundabout, A4174/B4465 (R. Coates)

Figure 2. Logo on same sign (R. Coates)

Figure 2. Logo on same sign (R. Coates)

Figure 3. The route of the A&GR, approximating to what is now known as The Dramway, is shown in red. Part of the B&GR is shown in lime green; a short section north of what is shown here also forms part of The Dramway footpath. (Afterbrunel: CC BY-SA 3)

Figure 3. The route of the A&GR, approximating to what is now known as The Dramway, is shown in red. Part of the B&GR is shown in lime green; a short section north of what is shown here also forms part of The Dramway footpath. (Afterbrunel: CC BY-SA 3)

13The line was not always referred to using this term. Contemporary legal and administrative documents collected by Charles Clinker show that in its early days the A&GR was always known as the tramway, and Clinker never uses the form with d- in his discussion of these documents (Clinker [1982]), presumably avoiding what he might have seen as an idiosyncratic non-standard term. For as long as it existed, the place at which the branch from California Colliery met the A&GR main line was called Tramway Junction (Lawson [2006: 100]; Bitton Parish History Group [2014: section “California Colliery”]; location visible in Figure 3). Other early A&GR documents speak of the railway, and later tramway (e.g., Maggs [1992: 124‒129]). Buchanan [1967] uses tramway throughout for both these and other operations, whilst Southway [1971, 1972], following Buchanan [1967: 6], usually uses tramroad even in the business title of the A&GR, as does Cossons [1967: 25]. Buchanan & Cossons [1969: 191‒193, 201‒209] use tramway in Somerset and both terms in Gloucestershire; none of these works uses or mentions dramway at all. Gould [1999: 56‒58] does not mention the term in his glossary of Somerset coalfield terms, or anywhere in his entire book. Rowson [2019: 147] asserts that, for the railways in question, Grudgings [2019] uses a range of terms including plateway, tramway and dramway in a capricious way that “ignore[s] the attempt at standardised definitions in Helen Gomersall’s Research agenda for the early British railway from [the Early Railways Conference no.] 4.” [i.e. Gomersall and Guy [2008], RC]. However, consistently with the absence of the word from OED, dramway does not actually appear as a term for definition in that agenda paper.

14The Bitton Parish History Group [2014] offer the following descriptions, under their headings “Dramway” and “Coal Mining” respectively, and in the former also a suggestion for the origin of what they use as a generic term (though they call it a name, presumably in its guise as the usual non-technical alternative to term):

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.
A dramway was used to carry the coal to the river Avon where it went by barge to Bristol or Bath. There were Wharfs at Londonderry Wharf in Willsbridge and Avon Wharf to the south of Bitton.

15The latter paragraph clearly shows the term used generically, as do some mentions in the brief archaeological reports by Etheridge [2010] and Roper [2011]. The South Gloucestershire Landscape Character Assessment (anonymous [2005]) refers frequently to the B&GR and A&GR trackbed as the Dramway, but once uses “a dramway” in reference to a former celestite mine at Wickwar (anonymous [2005: 147]). Peter Lawson refers throughout his book (Lawson [2006]) to both the B&GR and the A&GR as “the Dramway”. He also uses the word generically, though still capitalized, as in “With the metamorphosis of the B&GR from a horse-drawn Dramway to a full-blown steam-driven broad-gauge railway [...]” (Lawson [2006: 8]). The equivalence of – and equivocation about – the two related terms can be seen in this remark by Wicks [2013]:

There are tracks which could be tramways or ‘dramways’, as in Yate, on the site of the various shafts […]

16We return below, in Section 3, to the question of the classificatory status of the alternative term in inverted commas.

2.3. The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire west of the river Severn

17In 2006, Rudi Ligthert contributed to the Forest of Dean FHT Forum an item including the following sentences:

Between the Courtfield and our home the Old Incline existed until approximately 1861. The Dramway before being extended to Bishopswood ended at the end of forge hill.

  • 19 Occasionally usage of dram in the sense of dramway is recorded in the Forest of Dean, characterized (...)

18This appears to suggest an early usage of the term to refer to the Lydney and Lidbrook Railway, which despite its formal title was a tramway precursor of the Severn and Wye Railway at Lydbrook (Pope & Karau [1988]). It is not clear whether this is from a sourced but undisclosed 19th-century reference, or from Mr Ligthert’s memory of a much later period. However it succeeds in showing that the term had a certain currency in 2006, whether as a generic term or as a name for the railway as implied by the capitalization, clearly as a remembered word since there were no operational t/dramways in the Forest by 2006. Its currency as a remembered term, at least in relatively recent times in the Forest, was also noted during the course of fieldwork by linguist Michelle Straw, as she observed in a talk to English Bicknor Local History Group (Straw [2018]). Reporter Mark Elson (Elson [2019]) quotes a local historian of the Forest, Andrew Hoaen, as saying “The enclosure [at Parkend, RC] has the route of a dramway associated with coal-mining running through it.”19

2.4. Pembrokeshire

  • 20 Sustrans’ literature in Welsh uses y dramffordd.
  • 21 For example: “The old dramway path to Dyffryn, Bryncoch, near Neath, South Wales” – caption to a ph (...)

19The term is in current use in Pembrokeshire, apparently as a proper name since always capitalized as Dramway (trail), to designate the route of a former tramway (closed 1939) from near Wiseman’s Bridge to Saundersfoot. This is now occupied by local and national cycleways [Sustrans undated].20 The 2½-mile line originally started from collieries and ironworks at Stepaside, and it is marked as “Tramway” on the OS 6” map (1888‒1913 edition). The Pembrokeshire County Council webpage featuring the amenity (2019) says that the railway was used “primarily to transport drams of coal to merchant sailing vessels moored alongside the harbour walls [at Saundersfoot, RC]”. The term has occasionally been recorded in use generically of other South Wales tramways.21

Figure 4. The d/Dramway in Pembrokeshire: the north-south line on this map and its westward link; illustrative excerpt from a map issued by Pembrokeshire County Council including Crown copyright material as indicated

Figure 4. The d/Dramway in Pembrokeshire: the north-south line on this map and its westward link; illustrative excerpt from a map issued by Pembrokeshire County Council including Crown copyright material as indicated

3. Dramways and drams

  • 22 The authors use tub for tram/dram. Miners at the earliest pits used wheelless corves and hudges.
  • 23 Bevin Boys were young men conscripted for work in British mines between 1943 and 1948.

20We have already seen something of the usage of the term dram in the South Wales coalfield, and this is confirmed by Wright [1974: 174, items 37, 38 and 40] (the last of these in Wrexham, Denbighshire, the others in South Wales and the adjacent Forest of Dean in England)). There has been local speculation in the Bristol and Somerset coalfields about the origin of dramway as a distinct term. Unsurprisingly it has been taken as a compound of dram; the Bitton Parish History Group website includes the claim that “[i]t was a horse-drawn railway and got its name from the ‘drams’ or carts that carried the coal.” That possibility is corroborated by the use of this word at Bromley colliery, Stanton Wick, Somerset: “These trucks were occasionally referred to as Drams” (Parsons [1970: 26]) – an undoubtedly authentic claim since Mr. Parsons was a former miner at the pit. I take his use of the capital letter to be a device for introducing a new term rather than as an expression of the term’s properhood (its status as a proper name). Remnants of the trackbed are still visible, as are some abandoned sleepers and other railway artefacts, but the heritage sector locally refers to these as relics of a tramway (Bayley [1985: 20]) or tram road (Bath and North-East Somerset Council [2014]) or even railway. I had not until very recently seen the term dramway used of a pit railway in Somerset despite this acknowledgement of the use of dram; indeed the standard work on coal-mining in Somerset (Down & Warrington [1971]) employs only tramroad and tramway for lines of whatever gauge.22 However, confirming that dram was in use in the Somerset coalfield during the Second World War, John Mills [undated] recounts his wartime experiences as a Bevin Boy,23 and describes the self-acting incline system in a Somerset pit as follows:

The incline or the coal-face was away in the distance but they were going towards the surface all the time. From the pit bottom in the other direction they were going downhill and they had an engine there that pulled the coal up; but where I worked the seam was going towards the surface. Now that allowed a system, where the full drams were used to pull the empty drams up.

  • 24 For instance Site of Smallcombe and Clandown Colliery (Disused) (Radstock) on Wikimapia, available (...)

21But whilst Down &Warrington never use dram(way), some modern coalfield writings drawing on their research often replace their tramway with dramway.24

22The usage of dramway in the Bristol coalfield and elsewhere is very well documented, and the north Bristol coalfield has emerged in recent years as the type-site for its usage ‒ in effect, as judged by the proportion of Google© hits for the search term that relate to this area (well over half, on a very rough estimate). Despite this, the earliest English record of the word dram I have found is in a document in the Somerset Heritage Centre relating to mining in Devon, a county in which I have found no other example. This is a letter to Fred Smyth from a Mr. Horswill at Tavistock regarding a grant for iron mines in North Devon and the need to make a dram road (28 August 1867; SHC A/EJM/1/3/16).

23The industrial context of the Devon reference, coupled with the currency of dramway in the Forest of Dean, gives a strong lead about the origin of dram. We have established beyond reasonable doubt that dram (and tram in the relevant sense) originated in the environment of the extractive industries. The Forest of Dean was a mining area, yielding coal and iron ore. The privileges of digging for them were jealously guarded by the local Free Miners (Hart [1953]), whose customary rights date back far beyond 1610, but it is clear from the most cursory look at early-modern documents from the region (e.g., Faraday [2009]; Elrington [2022]) that many local people were of Welsh stock, or at any rate had Welsh family names and sometimes Welsh given names.

24Of course it is well known that in south Wales the Welsh language has been in retreat before English, and increasingly so since the sixteenth century, driven at first by social status considerations and administrative requirements. From the late eighteenth, industries in the coalfields of the Glamorgan and Monmouthshire valleys attracted newcomers from many parts of Wales and from traditional mining areas of England, including Gloucestershire and Somerset, and from wider afield. In the emerging bilingualism, many English words were borrowed into Welsh, as investigated in the classic study by Parry-Williams [1923], and as shown by a casual perusal of the historical dictionary Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru [GPC]. A very much smaller lexical flow in the opposite direction can be discerned, e.g., corgi ‘type of dog’, coracle ‘wicker boat’, bara brith ‘tea bread’, cawl ‘stew’, cromlech ‘type of megalithic monument’, eisteddfod ‘cultural festival’, tallet ‘hayloft’, especially vocabulary with a specifically Welsh or antiquarian British Celtic sense or association. In addition to this small set, some words are known to be shared between western England and southern Wales, whatever their origin, e.g., gambo ‘(rudimentary) farm cart’, pine-(end) ‘gable’, dap ‘to bounce’. Some words of presumably English origin are known in specifically Welsh mining usages, such as boke ‘miner’s bucket’ and race ‘to build up coal in the tram [sic, RC] so that it contains the regulation amount of coal’ (Parry [1978: 14, 17]).

25It is clear therefore that English words were used in the Welsh of bilingual Wales. Some nouns, e.g., trac ‘track’, tren ‘train’, were adopted with either gender, and all were potentially subject to Welsh grammatical processes, including initial consonant mutation, meaning that forms such as y drac, y dren could be met (see further below). Some may well have been used in the English of bilinguals in their mutated form, and passed on to monolinguals in specific contexts. That allows the hypothesis that dram as used in English-speaking contexts was adopted from Welsh, or rather from the English of Welsh-speakers or men of Welsh heritage. If that was the case, its travels have been circuitous. But even though I know of no exact parallel for a (re-)adoption into English in a mutated form, it is inescapable that dram did indeed originate in Welsh, as will now be demonstrated.

26GPC, as part of its definition of tram, gives “[…] cerbyd bychan ar gledrau a ddefnyddir i gario llwythi mewn pwll glo”, i.e., ‘small vehicle on rails used to carry loads in a coal mine’. This word was clearly borrowed from the English word tram considered above in the Introduction. In Welsh it could be of either masculine or feminine gender; words for ‘cart’ and the like evidenced in Welsh earlier than tram/dram include ben and (g)wagen (the latter borrowed from English wagon, of course), both feminine, and cerbyd, which could be of either gender, so these facts may have influenced the preference for tram/dram to be feminine. As a feminine noun it was subject to gender-based initial consonant mutation, entailing that after the definite article y (and after ei and rhyw as noted above) it took the form dram. Dram also appears as a separate entry in GPC, but feminine only: “Trwc a red ar hyd rheiliau ac a ddefnyddir mewn pyllau glo, gweithfeydd mwyn, &c., i gludo’r glo, mwyn, &c., i’r wyneb […]”, i.e., ‘Truck that runs along rails and is used in coal mines, ironworks etc., to transport the coal, ore etc., to the surface […]’. However, GPC offers no dated examples of its use. An example of tram from 1909 is given, but this separate entry relates to the street passenger railway in the northern town Llandudno, i.e., a tram in (what used to be) the everyday English sense, ‘tramcar’. The same considerations apply to the relationship between tramway and dramway set out above. It is a moot point whether dramway begins as a Welsh grammatically definite form of the adopted word tramway which then returns to England in its new, mutated, form, or whether it is a new compound of dram + way formed in English, on the model of tramway, with dram adopted from the English of Welsh-speakers. Evidence offered above (Section 2.1.), showing the independent use of dramway in English texts produced in culturally Welsh contexts as early as the later eighteenth century, suggests the possibility of the former.

  • 25 Note also: “When coal was being removed he would load it into the ‘dram’, the small tram used to ta (...)

27The first report of the Children’s Employment Commission, dealing with work in mines [1842], contains seven uses of dram, all from the mining areas of Wales. It is glossed ‘cart’ on p. 31, and on p. 21 we find that “A tram or dram is the privilege of a cart of coal as additional work” – which confirms, if it were still necessary to do so, the lexical equivalence of the two forms.25 Dram was thus indisputably in use in English in the South Wales coalfield in the mid-nineteenth century. Dating its first usage there remains a problem, but a reasonable guess would be that tram was first adopted when modern technologies of mining, smelting and transport were introduced from England, say in the decades after 1760, and that Welsh-speakers treated it as feminine, entailing the mutated form dram after the definite article y. Apart from these early records in south Wales, I have found no occurrence of dram demonstrably earlier than the record of 1867 relating to Devon mentioned above.

28Dram appears in the glossary on the anonymous Welsh Coal Mines website (undated),26 with the sense ‘Tram or Truck’. A forum contributor (“Meirion”) on the same website offers the opinion that “I think we in South Wales called them drams (I never heard them called trams).” Another (“Gareth”) responds that “I settled that it was drams not drams [sic; the second clearly an error for trams, RC] in south Wales. However, at present I am doing the story of the Cymmer Colliery disaster at Porth in 1855, and what do you know? The the [sic] colliers report bodies being found in or under trams. Perhaps it changed from trams to drams in later years?”

29This might suggest a tendency towards functional specialization by medium: that dram was spoken and tram written, but that is not the case. TripAdvisor features a photo captioned the “Last dram of coal from the Rhondda”, raised at Mardy Colliery on 30 June 1986.27 The vehicle is at the Rhondda Heritage Park, The Welsh Mining Experience, Trehafod, Glamorgan. It is particularly interesting in that the legend painted on the side of it, despite the photo caption, is “Last tram of coal raised in the Rhondda on 30 June 1986.”28 Clearly any variation in the form of the word was not rigidly governed by medium. The two terms seem to be used interchangeably by historian geologist Ted Nield in relation to the South Wales coalfield (Nield [2014: chapter 2]).

30Dram appears to have been adopted in Standard English writing in recent years (perhaps since the 1980s), at least in certain regions, as a term to refer to historic artefacts with no clear regard to whether using it is appropriate to the date of the archival material labelled with this term. Prints-Online, for example, currently (May 2022) offers a photo from the Mary Evans Picture Library of “Three men with a loaded dram (truck) of coal at Hook Colliery, near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, South Wales.”29 The date of the caption is not known, but the colliery closed in 1948. The same photo archive has “Men with dram, Elliot Colliery, New Tredegar, South Wales.” This pit closed in 1967. Note also “A rare photo of a horse-drawn dram taken somewhere in the Forest [of Dean, RC]”.30

4. Drawing the threads together

  • 31 Welsh [d] is traditionally (at least variably) voiceless and lenis in word-initial position (e.g., (...)
  • 32 The Bristol Miners’ Association, the Somerset Miners’ Association and the Forest of Dean Miners’ As (...)

31It can be inferred that Welsh dram, originally just a grammatically conditioned form of tram as a feminine noun, was used in bilingual contexts, probably first of all in the South Wales coalfield, and borrowed into the local English there alongside the tram that was already in regular English use.31 It migrated thence westwards into the small coalfield in English-speaking south Pembrokeshire and eastwards into that of the Forest of Dean as an alternative to tram, though it was probably never the dominant alternant. From the Forest it appears to have spread into English usage in the nearest other coalfield, the Bristol and Somerset. The mechanism of spread has not been determined, but inter-coalfield contacts were regularly made through trade union activities and gala days.32 It would be unwise to totally discount migration as a possible factor. The South Wales coalfield, in its heyday from about 1850 to 1920, attracted workers from elsewhere, often beyond Wales (Day [2010: 29‒31]), some of whom may have returned to their native areas when the industry declined or when savings permitted, taking non-native terminology back with them. A well-known paper from the early period of decline (Thomas [1931: 222]) speaks of “the enormous supply of surplus labour in the [Welsh, RC] coal-field”. However it does not follow from that that the labour force was mobile, and large-scale movement of Welsh miners in search of work, triggered by the exhaustion of a seam or pit, to dig the also depleting resources of the Bristol and Somerset area is unlikely.

32As for dramway: long after its period of currency as a living term of industrial vocabulary, probably adapted from English into Welsh and returned in its mutated form, it seems on the way to being established as an alternative to tramway, at least in some localities, and mainly in heritage and touristic contexts. Note for example what a TripAdvisor reviewer has to say about Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean: “A fascinating mix of natural cave and old iron mine, with many dramway (tramway) exhibits, an interesting shop, and a cafe.”33 Perhaps it can be inferred that the forms with initial d-, both of dram and of dramway (and dramroad where this is alternatively in use),34 are acquiring a connotation of ‘historic artefact or feature of local cultural significance’; that is, in some sense, they are becoming memes – see further in Section 5. Time will tell.

5. The status and grammar of the term dramway

  • 35 There are occasional hybrids that are capitalized in inverted commas, which I do not treat as disti (...)

33The term dramway appears in three different orthographic guises: with an initial capital, uncapitalized in inverted commas, and uncapitalized plain, loosely symbolizing three “takes” on its status, respectively: proper name, term of negotiable special status possibly unfamiliar to the reader (often introducing or quoting such a term), and common noun. All three can be found between pp. 23‒28 of a single section of Ten Years On (South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group [2012]).35

34The consistently capitalized usage is found on information boards provided at the sites near Bristol and at Saundersfoot, appearing to indicate that the creators intended it to be understood as the proper name of the railway or of the path that follows it. The intermediate usage is exemplified by a contribution to a modelling website by “@ndy”.36 The author’s single inverted commas appear to signal that s/he is using a term possibly unfamiliar to the reader, and using it generically, but s/he does not go on to explain it, presumably thinking that the context, along with the evident similarity to the more familiar tramway, is sufficient to avoid confusion:

there is an old coal ‘dramway’ that used this style of construction.

35Particularly interesting are cases where an author varies as regards their usage. This striking one is from Murphy [1973: 242]:

Haulage from pit-head to water [canal, RC] was itself the subject of improvement by the laying of ‘dramways’, two lines of parallel wooden planks […] sometimes on an artificial causeway. In some pits by the end of the period [i.e., 1740, RC] dramways were also in use underground, between the coalface and the bottom of the shaft.

36This is a prime instance of the type whereby a term is introduced (it seems anachronistically) and in this case defined, and then used referentially. Hetzel [2004] introduces “The horse drawn tramway, known as the Dramway”, and maintains capitalization throughout except in “the proposed dramway route maps” [2004: 36], with the term used as a premodifying noun implying generic reference, but referring to the Dramway. A notable feature is in image caption 41 [2004: 33], “Carrying coal from the mine shaft to a Dramway […]”, where the usage is generic and indefinite but still capitalized.

  • 37 HE use tramway in their listing statement for the former A&GR/B&GR tollhouse at Mangotsfield old st (...)

37I have discovered few texts where the term is used entirely plain, as if readily understood without prior definition; the outliers are Barber [1985], the Historic England webpage for Ram Hill colliery [2005]37 and a tourist information board at Mangotsfield illustrated in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Information board near Mangotsfield station site (R. Coates)

Figure 5. Information board near Mangotsfield station site (R. Coates)

38These facts lead us to consider the status of the term in modern English usage. Is dramway a lexical word (common noun) or a proper noun, or an example of some other species? There should be no scope for the facile conclusion that it is always the same; usage is sufficiently inconsistent to warrant a general reconsideration.

  • 38 Additionally, of course, name is used more widely still in non-technical usage to include the sense (...)

39In the areas where it is most prominently featured, and significant for the tourist and heritage industry, the term has come to be specialized to one, the most conspicuous, local example of something which in principle was of a type, namely the paths or trails sanctioned officially and indicated by information boards near Bristol and in south Pembrokeshire. In that respect it is notable that Mike Chapman’s several contributions (and those of other authors) to Weigh-House: the newsletter/magazine of the Somersetshire Coal Canal Society [2007‒9] use the term tramway except his report relating to the former A&GR, of which he uses Dramway, albeit in inverted commas [2006]. The use of such definite expressions which in everyday usage are typically used to refer to a unique individual “thing”, but which have some lexical content or sense (like the S/sun, the E/earth, the West Country, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the House of Commons), is similar in some respects to that of proper names, and in everyday parlance the term name is often applied to them.38 However, a principled distinction has been made between them recently (see Coates [2017] for discussion and some context; wording adapted here), suggesting the term onymoid for the former, to be defined thus:

a technical term for a namelike expression which is lexically and structurally a fully normal expression of its associated language, but which is, with a high degree of probability, used to refer to a single unique individual (thing, place, person, etc.) over a range of contexts.

Note that this definition is based on usage in context, not on aprioristic classification into mutually exclusive categories. Where not used as a generic (a common noun), as anaphorically in the quotation from Murphy [1973] above, an onymoid is what d/Dramway has become. It has the potential to develop usage as an ordinary lexical expression in Standard English, though the sense of such an expression is pre-empted by the prior existence of tramway, and therefore that development seems unlikely to happen. However, as we have seen, that does not preclude its being free to develop as a specialized variant term in contexts such as the heritage and tourist industries.

40As a further development, even if only regionally, the term may become memetic, through its phonologically differentiated form, perhaps most nearly in the sense of meme as an idea or form transmitted “motivationally” (Lynch [1996: 208]) by an institution (here the heritage industry) “because it perceives some self-interest in adopting it”. Much the same phonological phenomenon as that seen in the current use of dramway has been adopted as an element in a marketing strategy, for example in the created brand-name Zwift, playing on swift, for an indoor cycling training app, and in that of the brushstroke font Vabulous created and marketed by AnyTypeCo.39 Whilst the parallel is not precise, we might also compare the special uses in Standard English of the following originally regionally accented terms: bust (for burst) in a range of often metaphorical, originally London colloquial, usages (e.g. bust-up, go bust; cf. Jacobsson [1962: 280]), bovver (for bother) for a particular cultural form of antisocial behaviour first ascribed to some young people in London, singing hinny (for honey) for a type of sweet griddle cake associated with north-east England, or Addicks (for haddocks) as a proper name form specialized to mean ‘(supporters of) Charlton Athletic Football Club’ (full story: Tyas [2013: 27]). In each of these cases, the new semantic specializations are underpinned and signalled by a small phonemic differentiation which is the prelude to, and essential in, the process of the lexicalization of the new senses or, in the last case, the process of onymization (‘becoming a proper name’).

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Notes

1 Note that characters in [square brackets] are representations of actual perceived sounds, using the International Phonetic Alphabet, and characters in /slashes/ enclose phonemes (distinct abstract sound units of a language corresponding to letters of the alphabet in writing).

2 For abbreviated titles of specialized works, see the bibliography. General surveys: Wright [1905: 228], SED raw data, LAE maps, Wakelin [1986: 29]; Gloucestershire: Smith [1964: 72-74]; Bristol: Weissmann [1970: 211-215], Kester [1979: 19]; Somerset: Kruisinga [1905: 89]; Monmouthshire and other anglicized counties of South Wales: Charles [1938: xxxvi-xxxix]; dictionaries such as Jennings [1869], Williams and Jones [1873], Robertson/Moreton [1890], EDD, SED (D&G).

3 The facts are well established, and there is an extensive literature on this topic; see conveniently Guy & Rees [2011: 6‒25].

4 I am indebted to a Lexis reviewer for the observation that the earliest example of wagon in OED dates from 1649, suggesting a higher degree of entrenchment in mining terminology for the earlier-recorded tram, making it a good candidate for use in compounding.

5 Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, Dictionaries of the Scots Language, http://www.dsl.ac.uk.

6 See e.g., Murison [1971]; Macafee [2005].

7 EDG and LAE are silent on the potentially relevant local pronunciation of three words adopted from French: calm, palm, psalm, with long /ɑ:/ in Received Pronunciation. SED (VI.7.5) records short or half-long vowels in palm at three locations out of nine in Northumberland.

8 In 2019 the district council in Waipu, Whangārei, New Zealand, received a request for a new right of way on private land to be called Dram Way. No reason was offered. It appears to have no connection with anything in the following discussion.

9 Probably really John Key of Ely, Llandaff, gent. (will proved 1814), who is a known lessee of various lands from the Earl of Plymouth.

10 Havill cites the document as Glamorgan Record Office, Dowlais Iron Company, Letters 1799 Pentrebane; current reference in Glamorgan Archives not ascertained.

11 NLW Maybery 1890 (1800-3), as cited by Van Laun [2001: 232, note 20]. File - Volume containing copies of conveyances of land in Merthyr and Llanfabon to the Dram road company formed by the proprietors [...] [Expansions in the text in square brackets] are by the present writer. The “dramway” in question is the Penydarren tramway famous in history for the first successful demonstration of a steam locomotive hauling a load (1804).

12 In connection with the Aberdare canal; cited online at http://www.culturalecology.info/baywatch/baywatch1/lac1/baywtch4/projects/workwater/canals/glamcan.htm, accessed 1 April 2022.

13 NLW: The National Library of Wales, including the Mayberry Collection (“Merthyr Dram Road” documents) and the Welsh Newspapers Online website, available at https://newspapers.library.wales.

14 Glamorgan Archives DNCB/14/2/10/34-44.

15 For example: “Proprietors of the Brecon & Abergavenny Canal Navigation. 2. Edward ffrere of Llanelly, co. Brecknock, and Thomas Cooke of same, ironmasters and co-partners. Articles Of Agreement (Draft), permitting Messrs Frere and Cooke to alter at their own expense the railroad leading from the Llammach coal and mine works to the furnace at Clydach into a double dram road without paying any additional rent or tonnage in respect of the same, but subject for the remainder of a term of 79 years 6 months commencing 29 Sept. 1797 in the Clydach furnace to a payment of 8% on £2100 by two equal payments each year […]” In document tree form at https://archives.library.wales/downloads/exports/ead/ee243833f104c99baf8c240eec4dee9e.ead.xml, accessed 21 March 2022.

16 Reported as 5ft 1in in older literature (e.g., Buchanan [1967: 6]).

17 Often known in its early days as the Coalpit Heath railway (Maggs [1992: 7]). Note that the formal title of both operations included the word railway rather than t/dramway, though they are often referred to as tramroads in contemporary documents.

18 Trew [1910], Baxter [1932], Gentry [1952], Barber [1985], [1986], Thomas [1988], Maggs [1992], Bishop [1999], Lawson [2006], Petrovski [2017], Grudgings [2019]; for archaeology specifically, see Thomas [1989], Pimpernell [2006].

19 Occasionally usage of dram in the sense of dramway is recorded in the Forest of Dean, characterized explicitly as dialectal, as in: “Just to the south of the railway is a track, known locally as ‘The Dram’.” This was near Soudley; Roger Farnworth, the author of the blog in question, otherwise uses tram(way) (available at https://rogerfarnworth.com/2018/03/13/bullo-pill-and-the-forest-of-dean-tramway/, accessed 14 March 2022).

20 Sustrans’ literature in Welsh uses y dramffordd.

21 For example: “The old dramway path to Dyffryn, Bryncoch, near Neath, South Wales” – caption to a photo on Flickr, available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/Bryncoch/, accessed 29 March 2022. The Welsh online archaeological resource Coflein (https://coflein.gov.uk) also occasionally uses the term dram(-)way, curiously only in English-language texts.

22 The authors use tub for tram/dram. Miners at the earliest pits used wheelless corves and hudges.

23 Bevin Boys were young men conscripted for work in British mines between 1943 and 1948.

24 For instance Site of Smallcombe and Clandown Colliery (Disused) (Radstock) on Wikimapia, available at http://wikimapia.org/4564340/Site-of-Smallcombe-and-Clandown-Colliery-Disused, accessed 4 May 2022.

25 Note also: “When coal was being removed he would load it into the ‘dram’, the small tram used to take the coal along the roadways to pit-bottom.” – report of an incident at Union Pit in the Forest of Dean on 4 September 1902, drawing on an unstated source (available at https://lightmoor.co.uk/forestcoal/CoalUnion.html, accessed 24 March 2022).

26 anonymous [undated] Welsh Coal Mines: glossary, online at http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/Glossary.htm; blog posts available at http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/forum/read.php?14,34019; both accessed 21 March 2022.

27 available at https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g186460-d187985-i116770283-Rhondda_Heritage_Park_The_Welsh_Mining_Experience-Cardiff_South_Wales_Wal.html, accessed 21 March 2022.

28 An original photo taken on the final day, by John Cornwell, can be seen at https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/29049, accessed 31 March 2022. The caption to this uses the word tram, as on the vehicle itself.

29 available at https://www.prints-online.com/coal-mining/men-dram-hook-colliery-pembrokeshire-4474221.html, accessed 21 March 2022.

30 available at https://www.sungreen.co.uk/_Bream/Dram.htm, accessed 21 March 2022.

31 Welsh [d] is traditionally (at least variably) voiceless and lenis in word-initial position (e.g., Ball [1984: 18]; Watkins [1993: 301]; Asmus, Jaworski and Baran [2020]), and therefore similar to the articulation of English unaspirated [t] in steam, intermediate between English initial voiceless aspirated [th] as in team and voiced [d] as in deem. Such a sound might have been interpreted by English-speakers as either /t/ or /d/.

32 The Bristol Miners’ Association, the Somerset Miners’ Association and the Forest of Dean Miners’ Association were founder members of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain in 1889, and participated in the loose South Western Counties Miners’ Federation from 1894 to 1904. The South Wales Miners’ Federation joined the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain in 1899. A South Wales miner had addressed the Gloucestershire miners at their annual Gala Day at Mangotsfield in 1874 (Western Daily Press, 11 May 1874, as cited by King [1988]). It may or may not be significant that an example of the “Welsh notch” method of securing subterranean timber jointing was excavated in a probably 18th-century pit in the Warmley area (Cornwell 1988: 18]).

33 available at https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g190799-d2484808-Reviews-or685-Clearwell_Caves-Coleford_Forest_of_Dean_Gloucestershire_England.html, accessed 22 March 2022.

34 And the no longer current derived agent noun drammer, as an alternant of trammer ‘(underground) cart puller’ in the Forest of Dean (Tuffley [2017: 20]). Children were employed as drammers in the Welsh coalfield in the 1840s at a shilling a day, equivalent to 5 pence in 2022 [National Museum Wales 2011].

35 There are occasional hybrids that are capitalized in inverted commas, which I do not treat as distinct from uncapitalized in inverted commas, having understood no systematic difference in usage.

36 available at https://groups.io/g/twomm/topic/omwb/28130830?p=Created,,,20,2,20,0::recentpostdate%2Fsticky,,,20,2,80,28130830, accessed 28 March 2022.

37 HE use tramway in their listing statement for the former A&GR/B&GR tollhouse at Mangotsfield old station site (1992), available at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1320002, accessed 29 April 2022.

38 Additionally, of course, name is used more widely still in non-technical usage to include the sense ‘classificatory term’, as in bird-name, plant-name, and so on, as well as ‘proper name’.

39 available at https://uk.zwift.com/; available at https://www.creativefabrica.com/product/vabulous/.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1. Waymark near the Dramway Roundabout, A4174/B4465 (R. Coates)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lexis/docannexe/image/6732/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 291k
Title Figure 2. Logo on same sign (R. Coates)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lexis/docannexe/image/6732/img-2.png
File image/png, 34k
Title Figure 3. The route of the A&GR, approximating to what is now known as The Dramway, is shown in red. Part of the B&GR is shown in lime green; a short section north of what is shown here also forms part of The Dramway footpath. (Afterbrunel: CC BY-SA 3)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lexis/docannexe/image/6732/img-3.png
File image/png, 93k
Title Figure 4. The d/Dramway in Pembrokeshire: the north-south line on this map and its westward link; illustrative excerpt from a map issued by Pembrokeshire County Council including Crown copyright material as indicated
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lexis/docannexe/image/6732/img-4.png
File image/png, 595k
Title Figure 5. Information board near Mangotsfield station site (R. Coates)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lexis/docannexe/image/6732/img-5.png
File image/png, 774k
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References

Electronic reference

Richard Coates, The history, linguistic status and potential of the term dramwayLexis [Online], 20 | 2022, Online since 28 December 2022, connection on 02 February 2023. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/lexis/6732; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/lexis.6732

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About the author

Richard Coates

University of the West of England, Bristol
richard.coates@uwe.ac.uk

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Copyright

CC-BY-SA-4.0

Creative Commons - Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International - CC BY-SA 4.0

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

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