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Latitude: 51.3185 / 51°19'6"N
Longitude: -0.1415 / 0°8'29"W
OS Eastings: 529609.403318
OS Northings: 159344.989511
OS Grid: TQ296593
Mapcode National: GBR FB.R0X
Mapcode Global: VHGRY.H4K3
Entry Name: Surrey Iron Railway embankment, approximately 130m south west of Lion Green Road, Coulsdon
Scheduled Date: 27 July 2009
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1021441
English Heritage Legacy ID: 36205
Electoral Ward/Division: Coulsdon West
Built-Up Area: Croydon
Traditional County: Surrey
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London
Church of England Parish: Coulsdon St Andrew
Church of England Diocese: Southwark
The monument includes a section of the embankment of the Surrey Iron Railway,
the first fully independent public railway in the world, dating to c1805. Two
other earthworks of this railway, cuttings located to the south in Merstham
in the parish of Reigate and Banstead, Surrey, are also scheduled (county
number SU 123).
The monument comprises a railway embankment which is located approximately
130m south-west of Lion Green Road, Coulsdon. The topography in the area
falls from south to north towards the Chipstead Valley Road (to the north of
the monument) before rising again. The embankment was therefore necessary to
ensure the railway continued at a level, and had sufficient height to cross
the Chipstead Valley Road via a now demolished bridge.
The embankment is a substantial earthwork standing to an approximate maximum
height of 8m, at the northern extent of the monument, and approximately 5.5m
at its southern terminus. This section runs for approximately 102m north-west
to south-east and is of variable width to a maximum of approximately 35m at
its base, narrowing to between 2.6m to 5.3m at the apex. It is a solidly
constructed and compacted earthwork. There is no visible evidence for the
survival of the iron trackways or any associated sleepers but they may
survive as buried archaeological features.
The Surrey Iron Railway was a highly important pioneering early railway. Its
construction was sanctioned by Parliament in 1801, and it was completed in
1803 although it was later extended. In its initial phase the Surrey Iron
Railway ran from Wandsworth on the River Thames to Croydon, a distance of
eight and a quarter miles, closely following the River Wandle. The Wandle
Valley was a thriving manufacturing area in the early C19 and was in urgent
need of an improved method of transporting raw materials and products. There
were numerous mills and factories here, producing textiles, oil, snuff and
flour among other products. There was an additional branch line of 1¼ miles
The engineer for the project was William Jessop (1746-1814) who was also a
canal builder of considerable repute. The son of a Devonport Quartermaster,
he was apprenticed and then became the assistant to the renowned engineer,
John Smeaton (1724-92) through which association he was also involved in
river navigation, harbour and land drainage projects. On Smeaton's retirement
Jessop became the country's foremost engineer in this field. He was noted for
his choice of railways in situations where canal transportation was not
feasible or economic, as was the case here: his decision to build a railway
for this project represents an important stage in the appreciation of the
potential of railways for goods transportation.
The line was double-tracked and the rails were cast-iron tram plates of
L-section in 3ft (91cm) lengths with a vertical flange on the inside
(requiring rimless wagon wheels), secured to stone blocks at 4ft 2in (1m
27cm) gauge. The railway was open to public use, with its users supplying
their own horses and wagons. Tolls were charged per ton per mile, and varied
according to the type of goods being carried. No passenger-carrying service
was envisaged, however.
Earthworks on the original line were relatively light, with the track
following public roads on flat terrain wherever possible. However, an
ambitious extension to the original line was soon added, with another
Parliamentary Act authorising the building of the Croydon, Merstham and
Godstone Iron Railway. This was begun in 1803 and its eight and three quarter
mile length was completed in 1805. This extension to the Surrey Iron Railway
involved some civil engineering challenges as the line ascended into the
North Downs. The embankment south-west of Lion Green Road is one such
example of an engineering solution to the undulating topography in the
Coulsdon area. At the southernmost end at Merstham the line connected with a
number of lime and stone quarries. This was as far as the line reached.
However, the extension represented what had been a very bold, but incipient,
idea to extend the line all the way to Portsmouth. This in itself is a
significant indicator of how ideas about the use of railways were developing,
with contemporaries now envisaging heavy goods traffic being carried on rails
between cities inland, much as canals were doing elsewhere.
The Croydon, Merstham and Godstone section closed in 1839 and the Surrey Iron
Railway by 1846, as horse drawn railways were superseded by steam railways.
Some sections of the Surrey Iron Railway were, however, remodelled for steam
trains and are lines which remain in use; a testament to Jessop's route
The fence which part surrounds the monument is excluded from the scheduling
but the ground beneath is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
Source: Historic England
Railways evolved rapidly from the late-C18 to the 1830s. This era saw a
transition from horse-drawn haulage along wooden or cast iron tracks, for the
purpose of moving heavy wagons over relatively limited distances in mining or
other industrial contexts, to the world's first modern, fully
locomotive-hauled, main line trunk railways linking major cities. The era
from circa 1790 to circa 1830 represents the age of the development and
growth of the early iron railway. These early railways were also known as
waggonways (especially in the North East) or tramways, tramroads or
plateways. In this period the use of iron for rails superseded the earlier
prevalence of wooden or wood-iron hybrid rails. William Jessop's patent of
1789 for his fish-bellied, 3ft cast iron rail set the standard.
Such reliably solid iron rails allowed railways to increase their carrying
capacity and range of potential uses. The mileage of these railways also
increased substantially in this period. While still a transport form most
characteristic of the greater coalfields, they came to be used in a variety
of industrial contexts, including in the general carriage of goods in areas
without a dominant single industry.
Likewise, whereas at the onset of the period, railways are predominantly
owned and operated exclusively by major mining or other industrial
proprietors on their own land, public railways for the general carriage of
goods on routes over land granted by Parliamentary statute began to emerge.
The first public railways were owned by canal companies and were associated
with canals, acting as feeders for some of the main canals: like the
Loughborough and Nanpantan of 1794, the Little Easton Gangroad in Derbyshire
of 1795, and a large number of canal feeder lines in the South Wales valleys.
But the Surrey Iron Railway of 1803 (with a south extension completed in
about 1805) is believed to be the first fully independent public railway, on
land acquired under Act of Parliament, and which was not subsidiary to a
canal but was a stand-alone transport system.
Gradually other public railways appeared, including the Gloucester and
Cheltenham (1811), and a group of lines between Abergavenney and Hereford
(1814-1829) which carried goods. The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway (begun
in 1826 and which opened in 1830) was the first passenger steam-powered
railway but also carried freight. These all represent the embryonic forms of
the main line railway, that emerged fully formed in George Stephenson's
Liverpool and Manchester Railway at the very end of this period in 1830.
SITE SPECIFIC ASSESSMENT
The Surrey Iron Railway marks a crucial early stage in the rise of railway
transport, as the first public railway, and using the developing iron rail
technologies for new uses in an area not dependent on mining. It is believed
to be the first fully independent public railway in the world. Unlike other
early railways, built privately and with use restricted to the sponsoring
company, the Surrey Iron Railway significantly allowed a general use of its
tracks. The railway company provided the track, and wagons could be hired for
a toll. It therefore represents an important diversification in the
application of railway use, as well as consolidating the technological
development of other early iron railways.
The embankment south-west of Lion Green Road represents this key early
transport network. The scale of the construction is significant - it is a
feature of some considerable height - and is one of the most spectacular
sections of surviving earthworks from this railway line. Two further sections
of the line just north of Merstham in Surrey, a pair of similarly substantial
earthworks (but cuttings), are also representative of the engineering
challenges of the line and are already scheduled (county number SU 123). A
short section of conserved ex-situ railway track in the grounds of Wallington
civic library is listed at Grade II. In the creation of the Croydon, Merstham
and Godstone Railway, the southern extension of the Surrey Iron Railway,
Jessop and his backers were hoping, ultimately, to reach Portsmouth. This
represents the incipience of a radical new idea about railways: that they
could be used as major highways between cities, not merely as short feeders
to the nearest dockside facility. In this idea lies the origin of the
national railway network. However, the idea was years ahead of its time, and
the truncated line to the quarries at Merstham is all that came of it. But
the Coulsdon embankment is both a tangible relic of this bold concept, and
demonstrates one of its key implications, as faced by all later railway
engineers: that it would be necessary to construct large scale civil
engineering works to surmount natural obstacles. The scheduling of this
section is consistent with the existing designations, as well as an
appropriate acknowledgement of its interest in a national context.
Source: Historic England
Other nearby scheduled monuments