Stone Cottage Debate

This debate was initiated by the following note from Geoff Smith:

There seems to be a widely held belief that the Surrey Iron Railway was operated in a similar manner to a turnpike road. I see no evidence to support that view, nor do I see how the existence of a gate implies a tollhouse!

The tollhouse and weighbridge, at Wandsworth and at Croydon, were all that were needed , given that little, if any , of the traffic failed to pass through one or both of those Depots.

The Act (41 Geo III cap33) required all waggons to be built to a design acceptable to the company, and to have the waggon number and owner's name & address painted on. They had to be registered with the Clerk of the Company - So, there was no casual traffic.

For each journey written details of the origin and/or destination of each waggon, together with a bill of lading, had to be supplied by each waggon master. The implied method of working was for the toll to be paid (or charged to account) before departure from, or upon arrival at, Wandsworth or Croydon.

Drawing of the ttone cottage

Drawing of the ttone cottage [Full image 30.2kb]

Intermediate tollhouses would have been superfluous and indeed would have only served to complicate the working.

Bayliss (p15, both editions) refers to "general carriers", but these would still be subject to supplying proper documentation of their movements.

In any event Stone Cottage clearly lacked a weighbridge, was insubstantial, badly sited for a railway tollhouse and there does not seem to have been any traffic to or from the immediate vicinity.

Most likely it was a gatekeeper's cottage, the gate being to protect the line , and to help stop road traffic, much like the gated level crossings of later years.

Geoff Smith

With Geoff's permission, this was forwarded to Monty for his comments. He replied:

2nd May 2003
Dear Nicholas,

Thanks for the note.

You are quite free to use my comments if you wish.

There are several points I would make to Geoff Smith (although I am not particularly eager to become involved in a long correspondence with him):

Firstly, he doesn't disclose his authority for being so sure the Stone Cottage lacked a weighbridge (or weighbeam), and I would be interested to know his source.

Secondly, far from being "insubstantial" the Stone Cottage was, its name implies, solidly built of stone. It is shown in the well-known sketch by Hubert Williams, where the 'stone' is a mixture of dressed blocks and knapped flint -materials readily obtained from the Croydon/Merstham area and probably brought to Merton on the SIR. The cottage was still standing when William de Morgan established his pottery here in 1883 and named it after the "Stone Cottage". The little building was not demolished until the late 1940s.

Smith next says the cottage was badly sited for a railway tollhouse. Surely, the site was very carefully chosen, for it was close to the highway, at a point where waggons might easily leave or join the rails and where a toll could be demanded of the person in charge of them. Lysons in his Environs of London (1792) estimated "Upon a moderate computation, there are a thousand persons now employed within the walls" (of the Merton Abbey estate) "in the different manufactories." Barely a quarter of a mile down the road from the SIR, these works included a copper mill, and two large calico printing establ ishments. Thus, very close to the SIR and its tollhouse, there was quite a large industrial centre, which must have generated traffic.


What's his motive in debunking the "widely held belief that the Surrey Iron Railway was operated in a similar manner to a turnpike road"? The toll principle had been in use on turnpikes since the early 18th century, and was simple to operate. It seems the obvious method by which carriers and others would be required to pay for use of the facility and the most likely to have been adopted by the promoters of the railway.


He mentions a "weighbridge" at Wandsworth and Croydon. I have not read the Act in full, but section 7 refers to "Weighbeams" -perhaps meaning the same thing, but to my mind something different and probably much simpler. Perhaps weighbridges were introduced later. The 1804 toll sheet does mention tons, or fractions thereof, which clearly implies some weighing was required. It also states that the charge was per mile.


I am puzzled that Smith should assert that "little, if any, of the traffic failed to pass through one or both of those Depots." He is implying that virtually all the traffic was long distance, i.e. between Wandsworth and Croydon. What is his authority? The minutes of the meeting of the company held at Wandsworth on June 3, 1802 make it clear that it was intended "carriages" (which I think we can interpret as waggons) might be used "in the streets of a town, or on a common highway; so that every person, on both sides, in the neighbourhood, may draw his produce, goods and manures to and from the markets and his own premises without reloading or shifting." (Abraham Rees Cyclopedia (1805")

This sounds very much like the "casual traffic" which Smith seems so sure did not exist.


If the carriages or waggons were made and used on or off the track as intended, between Wandsworth and Croydon there were ample opportunities for using sections of the line without paying. How, then, without some form of check, presumably at gates, were people stopped from cheating?

To stop avoidance of tolls (which would have been a serious matter since the railway was intended to run at a profit) toll bars at, say, one mile intervals would have been essential. Such a gate where the SIR crossed the Epsom and Ewell turnpike road at Merton seems highly likely. Roughlya mile to the south another might be expected at Mitcham, where the railway crossed the Sutton turnpike and where there is a local tradition that some form of 'station' existed.


Smith ignores known branches on the SIR between Wandsworth and Croydon. For instance, there was the branch line to Carshalton. Is he saying there were no tollgates or provision for weighing loads on this section?

James Malcolm in his Compendium (1806) mentions "Mr. Sutherland's gate" a mile to the south of Mitcham, where Willow Lane (serving the Mitcham flour mills and calico printing works) crossed the Hackbridge branch. No-one has suggested to my knowledge that this was another tollgate, but it might well have been, and there is a record of Mrs. Cranmer selling to the SIR land occupied by her tenant Sutherland, which abutted the tramway.


I find Smith's suggestion that "written details of the origin and/or destination of each waggon, together with a bill of lading" were supplied by "each waggon master", and that tolls might have been "charged to account" a bit far fetched. Not only is the procedure he describes complicated, but he assumes an unlikely degree of literacy and numeracy amongst the ordinary workmen of the day. It would have been far easier for them to hand over the required number of pennies (or tokens) to the gate keepers en route.


Next, Smith asserts the Stone Cottage "clearly lacked a weighbridge, was insubstantial, badly sited for a railway tollhouse and there does not seem to have been any traffic to or from the immediate vicinity. " I can only assume he knows very little of the district or its history.


Smith concludes with the strange observation that "most likely it" (the stone cottage) was a "gatekeeper's cottage, the gate being to protect the line and help stop road traffic" like a modern railway crossing. I would submit he needs to think again.



Geoff Smith responded to these points as follows:


Regarding Eric Montague's letter to you dated 2nd May (i.e. June) a copy of which reached me on 25th July, I refer to his section numbers.


The only "motive" I have is historical accuracy.

A fine example of a wagon and plateway on show at the Forest of Dean Heritage Centre (thanks to Eric Shaw for the photo)

A fine example of a wagon and plateway on show at the Forest of Dean Heritage Centre (thanks to Eric Shaw for the photo) [Full image 64.1kb]


All traffic I have been able to identify passed through one OR both of the depots. Why does Montague distort what I wrote?

"Casual traffic" (i.e. other in waggons approved by and registered with the Company) were prohibited under sections 66 and 67 of the Act - for obvious reasons.


Section 62 provided for penalties of up to 20 shillings per ton for anyone trying to avoid the tolls.

"Roughly a mile" will not do! The statutory plan shows a distance of nearer 1.4 miles. Section 59 required each fraction of a mile , when calculating the toll, to be treated as a mile. So, every ton on every waggon passing through Montague's supposed section from Mitcham to Merton would be charged a toll for 2 miles.


There was only ONE branch, the rest were private sidings. Surely Montague understands the difference.

No, there was no need for a tollgate or provision for weighing on the Carshalton branch, under the method of working I described. Willow Lane did not cross the branch.


What Montague calls "far fetched" was required by Section 62 of the Act!

Weighing each waggon once, and paying the toll once, at the start or end of the journey, Montague calls "complicated" , but stopping every mile or so to do so apparently is not!

"Literacy and numeracy" were not required . The waggon master simply had to be in possesson of the documentation.

Tokens survive from most lines that used them; none are known from the SIRy.


If the sketch is anything to go by , a train would be likely to obstruct the road as each waggon was weighed, and, if it was single track, traffic in the opposite direction would be delayed - I call that "badly sited".

Taking waggons on, or off, the line at a road crossing would be awkward, potentially dangerous and damaging to the rails, even allowing for the reduced height of the flanges. On a plateway waggons normally joined or left at a "run on" at the end of a (short) siding.

What evidence does Montague have of sidings serving the Merton abbey site? Stone Cottage was so "substantial" that its roof collapsed in 1838.


I stand by my conclusion. Sections 59,60,62 and 64 thru 67 are essential reading.

He is the one who "needs to think again" There the debate rests, for the moment, but there appears to be a new level of interest in the SIR, and, in the manner of these things, new information comes to light from time to time which, we must all hope, will help fill in these gaps.

Ed August 2003

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