Surrey Iron Railway
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|Surrey Iron Railway|
Watercolour showing the Surrey Iron Railway, the first public railway, passing Chipstead Valley Road, Coulsdon, Surrey.
|Dates of operation||1803–1846|
|Track gauge||4 ft 2 in (1,270 mm)|
|Length||9 miles (14 km)|
The Surrey Iron Railway (SIR) was a horse-drawn plateway of approximately standard gauge that linked the former Surrey towns of Wandsworth and Croydon via Mitcham (all now suburbs of south London). It was established by Act of Parliament in 1801, opening on 26 July 1803.
Short, publicly subscribed plateways, like that to the Caldon Low quarries and the Little Eaton Gangway, had already been built. However, they were all part of canal projects. The original plan, first mooted in 1799, had been for a canal, but to take the necessary water from the streams in the area would have deprived the many water-powered mills and factories. This was the world's first railway to be publicly subscribed by Act of Parliament as a railway throughout.
It was horse-drawn public railway, providing a track for independent goods hauliers to use their own horses and wagons. The company did not operate its own trains.
It was double track plateway throughout with a gauge of about 5 feet between the centres of the stone blocks, and 4 feet 8 inches over the outer faces of the rails. (The standard gauge adopted by modern railways is 4 feet 8.5 inches).
The rails were of the Outram pattern 3 feet 2 inches long, 4 inches on the tread except for 5 or 6 inches at the ends where they were half an inch thicker.
The nine-mile route followed the shallow valley of the River Wandle, then heavily industrialised with numerous factories and mills, from the River Thames at Wandsworth southwards to Croydon, at what is now Reeves Corner. A short branch ran from Mitcham to Hackbridge. The line was subsequently extended as the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway through Purley and Coulsdon to serve quarries near Merstham, opened in 1805 and closed in 1838.
William Jessop was chief engineer of the latter venture only and the flat alignment of his route proved more long-lasting than the railway. The advent of faster and more powerful steam locomotives spelled the end for horse-drawn railways. In 1823, William James, a powerful shareholder in the SIR, tried to persuade George Stephenson to supply a locomotive for the line. Stephenson realised that the cast-iron plateway could not support the weight of a steam locomotive and declined.
The railway was not a commercial success, and in 1844 the proprietors sold it to the London & South Western Railway, which sold it on to the London and Brighton Railway. The L&BR obtained an Act of Parliament authorising closure in 1846. Part of the route was used for part of the West Croydon to Wimbledon Line, part of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway from 1856, and some of the route remains in use by London Tramlink, the section of routes 3 & 4,between Waddon Park & Waddon Marsh tram stops,& route 3 at Mitcham tram stop..
- Introduction to Rail 150: The Stockton and Darlington Railway and what followed by Jack Simmons, publ. 1975 by Methuen
- A History of British Railways Down to the Year 1830, Dendy Marshall, C.F., Oxford University Press, 1971
- Rolt, L.T.C., “Great Engineers”, 1962, G. Bell and Sons Ltd, page 64
- Eric Shaw and Kevin Leyden, The Iron Railways of the Wandle Valley: a Bi-Centennial Anniversary Guide Wandle Industrial Museum, 2003, ISBN 978-0-9539560-2-9
- Peter Burgess, The Use of Plate Rails in the Godstone Firestone Quarries, in Proceedings of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society Ltd., Vol.18, Part 4, March,1994.
- E.N.Montague, Wheels of the Surrey Iron Railway found at Mitcham, in Surrey Archaeological Collections, Vol.68, 1971.
- Derek A. Bayliss, Retracing the First Public Railway, 1981
- Peter McGow, Surrey Iron Railway and Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway, Notes On The Surrey Iron Railway, November 2001, unpublished, but see external links below
- 200th anniversary commemoration
- Surrey Iron Railway
- Route of the Surrey Iron Railway and Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway
- The Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway crossing the bridge over Chipstead Valley Road, Coulsdon, 1823
- Surrey Iron Railway
- The Surrey Iron Railway
- Plaque 9 - Surrey Iron Railway Purley Library
- 'Surrey Iron Railway and Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway, Notes On The Surrey Iron Railway'by Peter McGow, November 2001