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Surrey Iron Railway
Croydon Merstham and Godstone Railway
By 1800 the Wandle valley was already heavily industrialised, with about forty factories or mills making textiles, metals, oil, snuff, flour, etc. There was a need for a more efficient way of transporting these goods than the carts on unmade roads which were available at the time.
Thus, the Surrey Iron Railway (SIR) was built from Wandsworth to Croydon by William Jessop - it was probably Britain's first public railway. It was opened on 26th July 1803, had a double track, some 8.5 miles long (with a 1.5 mile branch from Mitcham to Hackbridge) and cost about £7000 to build. It entered Croydon from Mitcham Common, across Waddon Marsh Lane (now Purley Way), along the site of Factory Lane, to Pitlake and Old Town, where a depot was situated near the present Reeves Corner.
The Railway was owned by shareholders - mainly the factory, mill and quarry owners who used the service. Good only were carried, not passengers, on usually three or four wagons pulled by horses, mules and donkeys up to four miles per hour. Goods transported included limestone, chalk, clay, flints, fuller's earth, manure, cinders, bricks, coal, timber, metals, corn, flour, malt and potatoes. Tolls were charged per ton per mile, depending on what was being carried, and ranged from 1d (less than 0.5p) for dung to 3d (1.25p) for metals and food.
A second line, the Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway (CMGR) was added by 1805, extending the service from the Croydon Canal basin (now West Croydon Railway Station) through Old Town, parallel to the Brighton Road down through Purley, Coulsdon, and on to the Merstham chalk and limestone quarries.
With the advent of steam trains, the old horse-drawn lines were unable to compete and went into decline. The CMGR had closed by 1838 and the SIR by 1846. William Jessop's skill as an engineer was acknowledged when new tracks for the steam trains were laid along much of the SIR route and are still used today.
See: Derek Bayliss, Retracing the First Public Railway
Photo: The Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway crossing the bridge over Chipstead Valley Road, Coulsdon, 1823
MAP: Route of the Surrey Iron Railway and Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway
Wednesday, 12 March, 2014