On this day in history : 26th July 1803 – The Surrey Iron Railway opens in South London – it could be argued that it is the world’s first public railway….

Watercolour showing the Surrey Iron Railway – Unknown artist – Public domain

The railway ran from the Thames at Wandsworth to Croydon via Mitcham – it then joined the Croydon, Mertsham and Godstone Railway….then all towns in Surrey but now part of the suburbs of London….

The original plan, proposed in 1799, had been to construct a canal system to transport particularly chalk, dug from the Surrey Hills around Epsom, to the Thames – but also coal, building supplies, lime, manure and animal feed between Wandsworth and the industries of the Wandle Valley…. However, a canal system relied on drawing water from the River Wandle – not surprisingly mill and factory owners also using water from the river voiced concerns as to there being enough water to go around…. So an idea was formed to use a plate way – a type of tramway or wagon way, which used rails laid on stone sleepers to transport horse drawn wagons….

The railway was designed by Benjamin Outram – which incidentally is where the name ‘tram’ comes from…. The architect was Edward Banks, who had previously worked on the railways…. The nine mile track became a public toll railway, independent goods hauliers used their own wagons and horses, paying a toll for the use of the rails…. The railway was in use until 1844, when it was sold to a steam railway company…. The old tracks were lifted in 1848….

Public domain

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