INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT WAGONWAYS OF BRITAIN
Two hundred years before the first steam locomotive carrying passengers chugged out of the Heighington railway station in the English town of Newton Aycliffe in 1825, British engineers were laying wooden tracks across the island connecting coal mines to canal wharfs. These wooden trackways, called wagonways, were the world’s first true railroads, and the predecessor to steam-powered railways.
The history of rail transport goes back further than you think. According to the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, in basic terms, a railway is simply a prepared track that guides vehicles so that they can’t leave the track. By that argument, we can say that railways date back to the rutways of ancient Greece and Rome where two parallel channels were cut into the surface rock to guide wheels along a specific route. One of the most important rutways are located in the Isthmus of Corinth.
They were built in 600BC and were in use until the first century AD. By the Middle Ages, wooden wagons carrying coal and running on guided trackways had become standard mining practice underground. These tubs, known as ‘hunds’, ran between two widely placed wooden rails. A guide pin attached to the axle of the front wheels kept the hunds on course.
The use of flanges to keep wheels on the rails was first observed in the Wollaton Wagonway, built in 1604 in the East Midlands of England, near Nottingham, by businessman Huntingdon Beaumont. It was the world’s first overground wagonway. Pulled by horses, the waggonway transported coal from the mines at Strelley to the distribution point at Wollaton over a distance of 3km.
From there the coal was taken onwards by road, to Trent Bridge and then further downstream by barge. The wagonway increased coal transport by several orders.