Railway Structures
Early Railways

The first railways were privately-owned plateways, mostly serving mines and quarries. Many of these were in North East England, the Midlands and South Wales, but one was constructed to link ball clay workings at Norden, in the Isle of Purbeck, with a quay on Poole Harbour at Middlebere. This was promoted by Benjamin Fayle, who had a lease of the clay pits. The wagons were hauled by horses. Much of the route of the plateway can still be traced, and part of a tunnel survives at Norden. It now serves as a culvert, but the northern portal has been lost under the main road to Swanage.
Middlebere tunnel portal Middlebere tunnel portal, Norden, photographed on 30th May 2009.

photograph by Gregory Beecroft

Middlebere tunnel keystone.

photograph by Gregory Beecroft

Middlebere tunnel keystone

The south portal of the Middlebere plateway tunnel comprises an approximately semi-circular stone arch. It has been partly blocked in concrete. The keystone bears the initials BF (for Benjamin Fayle) and the year 1807. A number of other tramways were built in Purbeck, but these came later and were contemporary with the main line railways.

The Surrey Iron Railway was the first public railway in the world. It was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1801 and opened between Wandsworth and Croydon in 1803. Wagons were horse-drawn and flanges were on the rails, not on the wagon wheels. A further act was obtained in 1803 for the Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway, to extend the line. This railway opened as far as Merstham in 1805, but proceeded no further. It closed in 1838.

The railway ran in a cutting up to thirty feet deep through the North Downs. This was crossed by several bridges, two of which survive, though largely buried. One carries a public road. This is Dean Lane, Hooley, and the bridge is near to the junction with the Brighton Road. The other bridge is at the end of Lime Works Road, Merstham and is normally crossed only be pedestrians. There is also what appears to be a bridge parapet at Joliffe Road, Merstham.

Dean Lane bridge, Hooley Dean Lane bridge, Hooley, photographed on 25th October 2008.

photograph by Gregory Beecroft

Lime Works Road bridge, Merstham, photographed on 25th July 2009.

photograph by Gregory Beecroft

Lime Works Road bridge, Merstham

These are probably the oldest surviving railway structures in southern England.

The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway was completed in 1830 and used steam traction. The first steam locomotives were neither very powerful nor reliable, and operations could be difficult if the railways did not accommodate their weaknesses. The Canterbury & Whitstable had gradients as steep as 1 in 28 up Tyler Hill, near Canterbury, to a tunnel at the summit. Stationary engines were used to haul trains up both sides of the hill, with locomotive Invicta employed on the level section towards Whitstable. Unfortunately, Invicta proved unable to haul trains up the gradient from Whitstable Harbour and a further stationary engine had to be provided. Until more powerful engines were available locomotive-haulage was possible over less than one fifth of the total route. Passenger services were withdrawn at the end of 1930 and the line was last used for freight in 1953.

Tyler Hill tunnel Tyler Hill tunnel entrance, photographed on 5th April 2009.

Tyler Hill Tunnel was 842 yards long and of restricted dimensions. It was the first tunnel to be used by passenger trains anywhere in the world. It now passes under the campus of the University of Kent and has been partly filled in to prevent subsidence. The photograph shows the north portal.

photograph by Gregory Beecroft

London's first railway was the London & Greenwich, on which trains ran between Spa Road and Deptford from 8 February 1836. It has been in use ever since. The line was formally opened between London Bridge and Greenwich on 14 December 1836, running on a viaduct for its full length. The railway has been greatly widened between London Bridge and North Kent East Junction and many of the arches have had lean-to extensions added, to enable use as workshops. However, a section of viaduct east of Deptford remains largely in original condition, but with a steel parapet railing added.

The London & Greenwich viaduct at Deptford, photographed on 11th August 2007.

photograph by Gregory Beecroft

London & Greenwich viaduct, Deptford
London & Greenwich viaduct, Deptford There were originally 878 arches, but some were demolished when the railway was reconstructed and extended at the Greenwich end. Most were of 18 feet span and the track was 22 feet above ground level.

photograph by Gregory Beecroft

It was planned that the well-to-do could travel on the trains with their horse-drawn carriages loaded onto wagons. Ramps were built to enable the carriages to reach track level and that at Deptford survives. It is somewhat altered, having a stepped roof in place of a smooth incline. The railway had plans to extend the line, but it was not long enough to attract carriage traffic.

Deptford Ramp, photographed on 11th August 2007.

photograph by Gregory Beecroft

Deptford Ramp

All photographs are copyright

return to the Railway Structures menu

return to picture gallery page

This page was created 3 January 2010

SR Target

Valid CSS!    Valid HTML 4.01!