Surrey iron railway update

The first public railway

Recently I read in a copy of "The new Book of Firsts" that the first public railway was the Loughborough to Nunpanton Railway in Leicestershire, which was opened in June 1989. It was a horsedrawn line using rails and flanged wheels to carry coal from a mine or mines in Nunpanton to the canal at Loughborough.

The design of the rails was patented in the same year by William Jessop, who we know of because of his involvement with the Surrey Iron Railway, which in the same book is quoted as the first public railway in London, opening July 26, 1803. This led me to think - what is meant by ‘public railway'? One definition I know of is ‘where the railway is a common access carrier" as was SIR. Chambers dictionary gives one definition as ‘open to all', as does the Oxford Dictionary.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway has been quoted as being ‘the first public railway to use steam', albeit in a minor capacity initially - it used horse power for quite a period at the same time as steam haulage. However it did allow others to use its track on payment of a toll, so, as I understand it, it was a ‘public railway'. It opened September 27, 1825, some 20 years after SIR. Most other early railways were operated for their owners use alone.

To return to the Loughborough and Nunpanton line, this was part of the Foresk line of the Leicester navigation, which was opened in 1794, being both a railway in places and a canal in others. No trace of the railway to Loughborough now exists, but its route alignment is known. Opened in 1789, but, by 1819, the rails were taken up, and sold between 1825 and 1836. Not much information exists about this railway, but, as it formed part of the Leicester Navigation, and most canals were common carriers, it seems reasonable to assume the railway was as well. If that is true, then SIR is downgraded to the first public railway in London, or the first public railway ‘not associated with a canal', and we have been guilty of terminological inexactitude.

Eric Shaw

Editors Note:

See next article. I think we are still OK in our claim, but the argument has become more complicated.

Related articles

[go back]
[go to index]
[go forward]