Huntingdon Beaumont (c. 1560 – 1624) was an innovative entrepreneur in coal mining, who built what is currently credited as the world's first wagonway. Regrettably he was less successful as a businessman and died having been imprisoned for debt.
Beaumont was the youngest of four sons born to Sir Nicholas Beaumont and his wife Ann (Saunders). They were an aristocratic family in the English East Midlands. There were several branches to the Beaumont dynasty and this was the one based at Coleorton in Leicestershire. He was therefore of gentleman status in the formal Elizabethan sense.
The family owned coal bearing lands and worked them. Beaumont was involved in this coal working and eventually in the late 16th century during the reign of Elizabeth I he began working in his own right in the Nottingham area. During his partnership with Sir Percival Willoughby, Lord of the Wollaton Manor, in 1603-4 he constructed the Wollaton Wagonway. The Wagonway may not be the world's first wagonway with edged rails, but the earliest known specific documentary evidence relates to it, so that it was credited as the world's first. Recent work suggests that a wagonway in Shropshire may be earlier.
The Wagonway ran from Strelley where he held mining leases to Wollaton Lane. Beaumont can therefore be credited with the title of the "Great Grandfather of railways". He had also worked in the Wollaton and Lenton areas previously.
Beaumont was a successful finder of coal and an innovator in the development of mining techniques. A key innovation currently attributed to him is the introduction of boring rods to assist in finding coal without sinking a shaft. His working life covered involvement in coal mining activities in Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northumberland. His coal mining and waggonway activities in the early 17th century near Blyth in Northumberland were, like most of his ventures, unprofitable. However, the boring rod and wagonway technology he took with him was implemented by others to significant effect. The wagonway evolutionary chain he started in the English north east was to later encompass George Stephenson.
Beaumont lost his several family members considerable sums of money and died in Nottingham Gaol in 1624 having been imprisoned for debt.
- R. S. Smith (1960)
- Peter King, 'The First Shropshire Railways' in G. Boyes (ed.), Early Railways 4 (Six Martlets, Sudbury 2010), 70-84
- Smith, R. S. (1957), "Huntingdon Beaumont Adventurer in Coal Mines", Renaissance and Modern Studies: 115 to 153.
- Smith, R. S. (1960), "England's First Rails : A reconsideration", Renaissance and Modern Studies: 119 to 134.
- Lewis, M. J. T. (1970), Early Wooden Railways, London, England: Routledge Keegan Paul (out of print).
- Smith, R. S. (1989), Early Coal Mining Around Nottingham 1500 - 1650, University of Nottingham (out of print).
- New, J. R. (2004), "400 years of English railways - Huntingdon Beaumont and the early years", Backtrack 18 (11): 660 to 665.