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Time line for early railway developments
& Wollaton Waggonway associated dates

The original base list was supplied by Keith Hunt a contributor to the Waggonway Research Circle. Table significantly revised in 2007  with the addition of footnotes giving source details and updated for recently published source material. 

page last revised - 15 October 2007 by John New Website coordinator for WRC and SLS .

Coding key

P - Full provenance for. (Explanatory notes only added where necessary)

S- Strong supporting evidence for

C - Conflicting published evidence

U - Uncertain or false published claims

Dates
Code
End note
 Item
2200 BC
U
1
Greece - Some books credit Greek use of rutways to dates earlier than than that of the Diolkos.
circa 600BC
C
2
Malta - There are several early rutways on Malta with surviving archaeological provenance.  However opinions differ as to whether these ruts arose as deliberately designed guidance systems or arose through wear and  tear in soft bed rock.
circa 600BC
P
2
Greece - Guided rutways in proven use at Corinth with the construction of the Diolkos.  Other archeologically proven uses of guided rutway technology include use for moving fixed theatre sets.
Roman period
P
2
The Romans used trucks on wooden tracks in their mines
Roman period
S
3
Very limited use of coal for fuel in the East Anglia
Roman period
P
2
The Romans used trucks on wooden tracks in their mines
Continued use of the Roman technology
U
2
It is suggested by some authors, but not proven, that this technology continued to be used in parts of Europe into and through the “dark ages”

 13th Cent (1200 - 99)

P
3
Many recorded references to coal use during the 13 century from 1228 onwards.  The first document referencing a sea coal mine relates to Cossall in Nottinghamshire in 1283.

  14th Cent (1300 - 99)
S
2
The first pictorial record of an embryo railway is a primitive mine truck pictured in a German stained glass window dating back to the 14th century.  Freiburg im Breisgau Cathedral.  Circa 1350. 
1427
P
2
First documented record of a "hundstösser" (hund-pusher)
1480 [circa]
P
2
Two surviving illustrations of early mine tub systems
 1490 [circa]
P
3
Wollaton pits profitable.

 1525 to 50
P
4
Various examples of iconography survive from this period giving provenance for mine tub systems/embryonic railways. Provenance therefore for wooden rails on the continent by this date.
 1551 to 1579
U
3 & 4
Several references to rayles at Wollaton are included in documentation surviving from the Wollaton mining accounts in this period.  However all are almost certainly references to fence rails and can be dismissed.
 1555 
U
5
First known use of the word 'tram' in Britain within a surviving will. No confirmation that this was use of the word with relation to wheeled vehicles as it had other usage in the North and Scotland at the time related to Scandinavian links. 
1568+
U
3, 4 & 6
Several writers, including Dr Smith, have in the past stated that the German miners working in the Mines Royal near Keswick had knowledge of tub railways and may have used them there.  Until recently this was unproven but archaeological work at the Mines Royal site at Caldbeck in the English Lake District has now confirmed use of "hunds" as track fragments have been found. 
 1580 - 88
P
-
Wollaton Hall constructed by Sir Francis Willoughby.
 late 1500's
P
3
Sir Francis Willoughby translates from Latin into English part of "De re Mettallica"
 1590  
U
7
Other web-sites covering history of the Nottingham area state there were wooden rails underground in Wollaton at/by this date.  However these web sites provide no supporting evidence and as independent research has failed to locate such proof this claim is rejected here.
1594
U
   4 & 9 References to rayles in Prescot, Lancs.  Possibly along the street known as THE WOOD.
1598
U
3
1598 is sometimes wrongly quoted as a date for rails at Wollaton due to a misprint of the date of a document actually from 1608 in the official publication itemising the collection of documents forming the Middleton Manuscripts Collection. (The MMC is now held in the Nottingham University Library.)
 1603 - 1604 [Oct - Sep]
P
3 & 4
Wollaton waggonway laid by Huntingdon Beaumont during the 1603 - 1604 annual lease period. The wayleave lease document for this, granted by Sir Percival Willoughby, survives in the Middleton Manuscript Collection at Nottingham University. The WW is currently the earliest "rayled" cross-country waggonway with provenance* known to have been laid anywhere in the world.
 1605
P
  3 & 4 Wooden waggonways proven at Broseley in the Severn Gorge (Near Coalbrookdale).
1605 - 14
P
3 & 4
In 1605 Huntingdon Beaumont took over the first of several coal leases he was to hold near Blythe in Northumberland. In the Blythe area he laid three, commercially unsuccessful, waggonways, at Bedlington, Bebside and Cowpen. Actual date of construction for each is uncertain.
1608
P
3
Beaumont's lease renewal for the land at Bedlington confirms grant of authority for use of rayles there.
1609
S

3, 4 & 8

Documents survive which intimate the Wollaton Waggonway was extended in 1609. Some books state that the WW reached the Derby Rd - and maybe even the Trent. This is known to be false.
1609
S
5
Coal tonnage exported from Blythe increases significantly suggesting waggonway use had begun during 1609,
1610
P
3
Due to financial problems Huntingdon Beaumont's interest in the Wollaton Waggonway is transferred to one of his brothers (Sir Thomas Beaumont).
 1614 
P
3 & 4
Due to financial problems Huntingdon Beaumont's coal interests in Northumberland cease.
1616
P
3 & 4
The new operators of the waggonways originally built by Beaumont in Northumberland ran out of money and the Blythe area waggonways were abandoned. However the site was stripped of the rails and other equipment, possibly for use elsewhere.  Surviving documents covering this abandonment confirm the two waggonways at Cowpen and Bebside had been in use prior to 1616.
 By 1618
P
 3 & 4 Wollaton Wagonway use by the Beaumont family had to cease. (Expiry of leases in 1618).  The exact closure and abandonment date for the WW is unknown.
  circa 1621
C
10
The Whickham Grand Lease Way opened. The first non-Beaumont large Waggonway to be laid. It was again in the NE running down to Dunston on the Tyne's Durham bank.
 1624
P
3
Beaumont died, an undischarged bankrupt, in Nottingham Gaol.
 1628
P
4
In 1628 a petition was requested of Charles 1 to regulate the coal trade including a reference to "reformed cariages". Although this was a proposal to bring use of waggons on waggonways under Crown control infuriatingly it neither confirms nor eliminates the possibility of any actually being in use during 1628. However it does confirm that the potential of waggonways was appreciated by highly influential levels of society within only 24 years.

1642 to 1645 - The English Civil War

1649
P
4
That Beaumont' had introduced waggonways into the NE confirmed in a book. (Gray's History of Newcastle - published in 1649).  The same book gives information on the high volume of waggonway trade in place on Tyneside by this date.
 1676
P
5
 Detailed, surviving, written description of a waggonway near Newcastle
 1719
U
-
First passenger railway?  Some books include reference to use of a man-powered novelty "push" railway at the Court of King Louis XV at Marly-Le-Roi using edge rails with flanged wheels and a turntable!
 1734
P
4
Ralph Allens' wagon-way from stone quarries to River Avon [and ferry] near Bath
 circa 1738
C
11
First use of metal strips on the rails. (date & location TBC - for reason see note 11)

1758
P
-
The first Act of Parliament obtained to authorise railway construction - The Middleton Railway in Leeds.
1765
P
-
Gabrielle Jar’s Voyages Métallurgiques published in Paris. Records 18th century wagon way practice in Durham. Of note are flanged wheels on wooden rails.
 1767 
C
11
First cast iron rails cast at Coalbrookdale for local use.
1768
U
TBA
Richard Edgeworth suggests smaller wagons in a train - unsuitable for angular wagon-ways
1769
P
-
Self propelling steam vehicle runs in France, builder Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot,  Cugnot's experiments were on behalf of the French  military and are undisputed.   Cugnot's second vehicle is preserved in the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers. Cugnot may have built the first such steam vehicle although it is suggested the Belgian Ferdinand Verbiest built an earlier model steam car in 1762
 1775 or 6
S
11
Plateways developed by John Curr/James Outram at Ripley - cast iron "L" section rails on wood sleepers, that were vandalised.
 1776
P
11
John Curr laid a plateway line in Sheffield.
  ?
U
  Outram develops iron rails on stone block
 1789
C
12
William Jessop is often credited with the invention of the fish -belly edge rail but this has been disputed (see also fish belly rail below).  However although probably not the inventor in 1789 he certainly did use a non-fish belly type of rail near Loughborough.
1791 or 2
C
12
First use of the fish bellied cast iron plate rail in South Wales.  This is the type of rail often misleadingly credited as used by Jessop at Loughborough in 1789. 
 1803
P
 
-
World's first public railway, the Surrey Iron Railway (Horses and L shaped rail - freight only)
1804
P
-
Trevithick's steam locomotive is recorded as the first self propelling railway engine to haul a significant load. (on iron plate L rails at Penydarren, South Wales)
 1807
P
-
World's first public railway passenger service. Oystermouth Railway in S Wales (Horse haulage)
1809 - 1815 (Approx)
P
13
The crucial period of experimentation into steam "travelling engines", most notably in the Tyneside area.  By 1815 steam power was in use on a reliable basis at several sites including the George Stephenson designs based at Killingworth Colliery.

 1812
P
-
The first commercially successful use of steam locomotives on a railway - The Middleton Railway in Leeds.

Battle of Waterloo - 1815

 1815
P
13
The world’s first major railway disaster just one month after the the battle of Waterloo! William Brunton’s – “Iron horse” was the most bizarre of the pioneer engines. A test example did work at Crich. (Derby's) A full size example built in 1815 for the Newbottle Colliery regrettably blew up killing 12 or more spectators from a large crowd gathered to view its inauguration. (Not Brunton's fault - the driver had weighted down the safety valve)
1819
P
-
Hetton Colliery waggonway converted from horse to steam power - engineer for the works George Stephenson. 
 1825
P
-
Stockton & Darlington Railway (Mixed traction still used - horses, steam locomotives and rope worked inclines)
 1830
P
-
Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened. The world's first true, modern style, public railway operated by locomotives.

Supporting notes & links as updated 18 March 2007

  1. Some books credit Greek use of rutways to earlier dates than the Diolkos but this view is also challenged by others.
  2. The published work of Doctor MJT Lewis of Hull University on early railways is authoritive.  For an ecellent summary of the origins of railways see his article in the published proceedings of the 1998 Early Railways Conference in Durham.  Dr Lewis' 1998 paper is published on the internet.
  3. There is much historical evidence published for use of coal in the UK.  The work of the late Dr Richard S Smith (Formerly of Nottingham University) is definitive covering the area around Nottingham during the era of the Wollaton Waggonway and Huntingdon Beaumont. The bibliography page of the Waggonway Research Circle includes references to his published work. His works also include many references to the original source material on which he based his research.
  4. Details of many of the pictorial images and and a wealth of other material giving provenance for early railways is included in Dr MJT Lewis' excellent, but out of print, book "Early Wooden Railways" also with original source material references. 
  5. Charles E Lee published several works on early railway developments.  In these works he analyses the surviving will from 1555 of Ambrose Middleton.  See copy of one of his articles here transcribed from the June 1939 edition of "Colliery Engineering".
  6. In the write up of the Early Railway Conference 3 proceedings (York 2004) archaeological proof for the use of hunds at the Mines Royal Caldbeck site is confirmed by Dr MJT Lewis.  (See Early Railways 3, Martlets Publishing, page 16.)
  7. In earlier editions of this time-line this reference to rails at Wollaton in 1590 was included without qualification. Recent extensive research work by members of the Waggonway Research Circle into aspects of mining in Wollaton and into the Wollaton Waggonway has not located any supporting provenance for this claim. Neither Dr Smith or Dr Lewis found this reference in their earlier research and the claim(s) is/are probably false.
  8. This option is analysed in "400 years of English railways - Huntingdon Beaumont and the early years."  A comprehensive article in Backtrack Magazine (Vol 18 No 11 - November 2004) about the Wollaton Waggonway (or Wagonway) and the builder of it - Huntington Beaumont.
  9. This reference to rayles at this date is most probably another that relates to fencing works as Dr Lewis firmly states in his book.  However coincidences of naming and highway alignment do give some support to the suggestion proposed by a Waggonway Research Circle correspondent that "The Wood" may have previously been a waggonway route, although perhaps at a later date.
  10. The opening date of the Whickham Grand Leaseway and other details of construction are not recorded in surviving documents.  One published suggestion is that it was built by Thomas Surtees circa 1621.  However books by different authors do not concur over the opening date which may date to before Beaumont's death; it is not known if HB and the line's Engineer met (possibly whilst HB was in gaol) for technical discussions.  
  11. During the second half of the eighteenth century metal strips and later all metal rails undoubtedly came into use on waggonways.  Several author's make different claims with an earliest suggested date read by the editor of this table = 1716 (Charles Lee) Therefore it depends which book you read as to the location and date of the first such installation.  To establish some provenance for the dates quoted above relating to use of iron they are as given in "Stone Blocks & Iron Rails" by Bertram Baxter : Publisher David & Charles : 1966 (out of print).
  12. Again taking Baxter's work to be the definitive statement - the confusion over the edge rail arises from later historians misquoting from Nicholas Wood's "Treatise on railroads" published in 1825 in which he mentions the use of edge rail on the Loughborough line of 1789 by Jessop and assumptions that reference was to the slightly later style of fish-bellied rail.
  13. There are many articles and books covering the early steam locomotive.  A thorough review of this experimental period by Andy Guy is included in the published proceedings of the 1998 Early Railways Conference held in Durham. "Early Railways" Publisher Newcomen Society   Full provenance for the Newbottle incident is also included in the published papers of the 1998 Early Railway Conference.