Surrey Iron Railway
|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.
Up to the end of the eighteenth century, a number of short plateways, such as those to the Caldon Low quarries and the Little Eaton Gangway, had already been built. Their purpose was to convey a mineral to a nearby canal for onward transport.
The original plan for a transport connection between Wandsworth, on the River Thames, and the industries of the Wandle Valley had been a canal scheme, put forward in 1799, but doubts about the availability of water led to the adoption of a plateway. (A plateway is a form of railway in which the rails are L-shaped in cross-section, the upstand being to guide the plain wheels of carts.) This was the world's first railway to be publicly subscribed by Act of Parliament as a railway throughout; the Act is considered to be the first public railway Act.
It received the Royal Assent on 21 May 1801, and work commenced immediately with William Jessop as engineer and joint contractor with Benjamin Outram. The line started at a wharf at Frying Pan Creek on the Thames in Wandsworth, and ascended gently through Tooting and Mitcham by the valley of the River Wandle, until Croydon was reached, where a terminus was established at Pitlake Mead. There was also a branch from near the site of the later Mitcham Junction station to Hackbridge, where some oil-cake mills were served.
The share capital was £35,000 with borrowing powers of £15,000 but the out-turn cost was about £60,000. The traffic was the conveyance of lime, chalk, fuller's earth and agriculture products to London, and the return of coals and manure thereto from the country through which it passed. Horses and mules were the only motive power employed, and passengers were never contemplated.
The line was not successful financially and it closed to traffic on 31 August 1846.
The line was a public toll 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 8½ 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 spelt 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 L&SWR, 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 LB&SCR 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, and 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
- Henry Grote Lewin, The British Railway System, G Bell and Sons, Ltd, London, 1914
- E F Carter, An Historical Geography of the Railways of the British Isles, Cassell, London, 1959
- L T C Rolt, Great Engineers, G Bell and Sons Ltd, London, 1962, 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