The Surrey Iron RailWay
In the 18th century the Wandle Valley was a busy centre of water-powered industry. From
Croydon to the mouth of the river at Wandsworth, there were numerous mills, and among
the many products, flour, leather, copper, iron, snuff and oil. The only means of transport
for the raw materials to the mills and the products on their return journey to the Capital was
by horse and wagon. The roads were not in good repair and this journey was slow and
A group of Wandle businessmen considered a scheme for a "Grand Surrey Canal" and
called in William Jessop, a leading canal engineer, to advise them. Jessop reported that the
only source from which to draw the water would have to be the Wandle. "Strong objections
would arise to taking water from the streams that feed the River Wandle, unless the owners
of the mills can consent to the canal being supplied from some of the sources of the River
Wandle, I am sorry to say that I must consider the
scheme impracticable .. . . . Ahere is, however, another way of obtaining the object in
view, this is by the adoption of an Iron Railway"
The Surrey Iron Railway Company was formed by wealthy land and mill owners including
James Perry from Merton Flour Mill, George Shepley, who had mills at Wandsworth and
Hackbridge, and Henry Hoare a prominent banker who had estates in Mitcham. A Bill was
presented to Parliament for the construction of a two track plateway from Wandsworth to
An Act of Parliament in 1801 allowed the Surrey Iron Railway to raise E35,000 in shares
of £ 100, and a further £ 15,000 by shares or mortgage. The S.I.R. was the first public
railway, not for passengers, but the first goods railway which any person or company could
use for a set fee. It ran from Ram Field in Wandsworth to Pitlake Meadow in Croydon with
a branch from Mitcham to Hack Bridge in Carshalton.
The track was based on a cast iron plate rail, and the joins between the plates were
supported by stone blocks. The bed of the track was gravelled, and the gauge was Oft tin.
The wagons were approximately 8ft long, carrying a maximum load in the region of 2 1/2
tons. Jessop calculated that one horse could pull 5 tons at 3 miles per hour for 10 miles.
This railway was extended by the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway which
continued the route as far as Reigate, but the further extension intended to reach
Portsmouth was never built. The Directors of the Railway had over estimated the amount
of traffic which would use the service. It was limited to local demand, and the bulk of its
cargo was Fullers Earth and limestone from quarries in the Surrey hills which were
However, it was competition from the steam railways, which were rapidly developing, that
brought about the end of the S.I.R. The London & Croydon Railway was built in 1839 and
other railways soon followed. By 1846 business had diminished, and the S.I.R. was
described as "a small single line on which a miserable team of lean mules might be seen
crawling at the rate of 4 miles per hour through Croydon once perchance during the day."
The Company sold its land to the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1846. The
Wimbledon to Croydon line was opened in 1855, following the trackbed of the S.I.R.
between Mitcham and Waddon Marsh. This line is now closed pending the building of the
If anyone is interested in further information, ,the Museum Shop has copies of "Retracing
the First Public Railway" by Derek Bayliss, price £3.50.