When is a railway not a railway?

Surry_Iron_Railway

The Surrey Iron Railway, Wandsworth, London: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1805

The Surrey Iron Railway (SIR) was first public railway independent of a canal to be built by Act of Parliament (1801).

Although private railways were already in operation around Britain these were used exclusively by the owners of mines and quarries for moving their own goods. The SIR was different, it levied Tolls allowing independent goods hauliers to use their own wagons (with wheels at a suitable distance apart) pulled by horses.

Opened in 1803 it ran for approximately nine miles along the side of the River Wandle from Wandsworth Wharf, on the River Thames, towards Mitcham and Croydon

The Surrey Iron Railway is famous for being the first company in the world to include the word “railway” in it’s title.  Despite this it was not what we today would recognise as a railway.  It was actually a plateway, where vehicles with plain wheels ran along flanged rails.

The track comprised iron L-section rails 4ft 2in (1.27m) apart secured onto stone blocks. The trucks were horse-drawn, typically 8ft x 4ft x 2ft deep and weighing about 1 tonne. They could carry 3 tonnes of coal, lime or grain. One horse could pull up to ten wagons but the usual number was about four.

The original plan for a transport connection between Wandsworth, on the River Thames, and the Wandle Valley had been for a canal, but doubts about the availability of water led to the adoption of a plateway.

The railway was only briefly successful financially. It lost much traffic after the Croydon Canal opened in 1809 and continued to decline as steam railways took hold. The advent of faster and more powerful steam locomotives spelled the end for horse-drawn railways. In 1823, William James, a shareholder in the railway, tried to persuade George Stephenson to supply a locomotive. Stephenson realised that the cast-iron plateway could not support the weight of a locomotive and declined and railway was finally closed to traffic on 31st August 1846.

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Shakespear’s birthplace

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Shakespear’s birthplace, Henley Street.  (MAP: 1886 – Town Plan, Scale: 1:500)

Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a 16th-century half-timbered house situated in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, where it is believed that William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and spent his childhood years. Shakespeare is also known to have spent the first five years of married life in this house with his new wife, Anne Hathaway.

The house itself is relatively simple, but for the late 16th century it would have been considered quite a substantial dwelling. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was a glove maker and wool dealer, and the house was originally divided in two parts to allow him to carry out his business from the same premises.

The building is typical of the times and was constructed in wattle and daub around a wooden frame. Local oak from the Forest of Arden and blue-grey stone from Wilmcote were used in its construction, while the large fireplaces were made from an unusual combination of early brick and stone, and the ground-floor level has stone-flagged floors.

The plan of the building was originally a simple rectangle. From north-west to south-east, the ground-floor consisted of a parlour with fireplace, an adjoining hall with a large open hearth, a cross passage, and finally a room which probably served as John Shakespeare’s workshop. A separate single-bay house, now known as Joan Hart’s Cottage, was later built onto the north-west end of the house, and the present kitchen was added at the rear with a chamber above it.

The ownership of the premises passed to William on John Shakespeare’s death.

William already owned his own property in Stratford and had no need for the Henley Street premises as a home for himself or his family. Consequently, the main house was leased to Lewis Hiccox, who converted it into an inn known as the Maidenhead (later the Swan and Maidenhead Inn).

Under the terms of Shakespeare’s will, the ownership of the whole property (the inn and Joan Hart’s cottage) passed to his elder daughter, Susanna, upon his death.

In 1649 it passed to her only child, Elizabeth, and then in 1670 to Thomas Hart. Hart was the descendant of Shakespeare’s sister, Joan, whose family had continued as tenants of the smaller house after her death in 1646. The entire property remained in the ownership of the Harts until 1806.

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Maps, Mudge and the Census!

Mudge Map of Essex

Map: Thames Estuary (OS Old Series 1:50,000 – Published 1805)

The history of the Ordnance Survey’s mapping began in 1791 when the government, fearful of the threat of an invasion by French revolutionary forces, instructed the then Board of Ordnance to make a detailed survey of the vulnerable southern regions of England.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century some maps at the one-inch (1:63,360) scale based on Board of Ordnance surveys were already available to the public, including Kent (1801 – the ‘Mudge map’). The first published by the Ordnance Survey itself was the map of Essex which appeared in 1805. This was the start of a nationally (England & Wales) numbered map series, which later became known as theOld Series.

On the 10th March 1801, the same year as the ‘Mudge Map’ of Kent was published, the first official census was held in Britain.

Objections were raised as some felt that the census was aimed at extracting revenue. Others feared that in the era of the Napoleonic Wars the information would inevitably see its way into the hands of the enemy, allowing Bonaparte to plan an invasion of the British Isles.

By 1800 the need for a census had become greater than the resistance to it. Talk of population growth outstripping the ability of the country to feed that population was a forceful argument in favour of compiling the statistics.

Thus the Census Act of 1800 was passed on 3rd December 1800, receiving royal assent on the 31st December and  the census was carried out on Monday March 10th 1801.

Estimates of the size of the population varied from 8 million to 11 million. The actual figures proved to be: 8.3 million people in England – women outnumbering men by 300,000; the Welsh population was 542,000; and Scotland 1.6 million. Thus the total population at the beginning of the 19th century was officially recorded as 10.4 million.

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Charles Dickens birthplace

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Map: County Series town Plan 1:500 – published 1874

Charles Dickens birthplace

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born at 1 Mile End Terrace (now re-named 393 Old Commercial Road), a secluded and peaceful area of victorian and regency buildings, on 7th February 1812. When Dickens was born, Britain’s Navy was still at war with Napoleonic France and Charles’s father, John Dickens worked as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office.

This was his parents first home and they were to remain in Portsmouth until the winter of 1814 when his father was recalled to London. Charles later remembered that when they left the town it was covered in snow.

Dickens completed the first of his Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol in just six weeks, with the final pages written in early December of 1843. The story met with instant success and critical acclaim and the phrase “Merry Christmas” was popularised following the appearance of the story and has remained as part of Christmas around the world ever since.

Merry Christmas from Cassini.
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Map of the month – Webb, Dover & JellyFish

Captain nWebbDover, Kent (MAP: OS Revised New 1:50,000 – published in 1898)

Captain Matthew Webb was born at Dawley in Shropshire, one of twelve children. He acquired his ability to swim in the River Severn at Coalbrookdale.

At age twelve Webb joined the merchant navy, starting with a three-year apprenticeship. Later, whilst serving as second mate on the Cunard Line ship Russia, he attempted to rescue a sailor, who had fallen from the rigging of the ship, by diving into the sea in the mid-Atlantic. Webb swam for more than half-an-hour, but the man was never found. Webb’s daring won him an award of £100 and the first Stanhope Medal, and made him a hero of the British press.

In 1873, Webb was serving as captain of the steamship Emerald when he read an account of the failed attempt by J. B. Johnson to swim the English Channel. He became inspired to try himself.

On 12 August 1875, he made his first cross-Channel swimming attempt, but strong winds and poor sea conditions forced him to abandon the swim. Just 10 days after this first abortive attempt, on August 24 1875 Webb dived from Dover ’s Admiralty Pier and headed towards France. Porpoise-grease helped insulate him against the cold, but couldn’t prevent the pain of numerous jelly-fish stings. Tantalisingly close to the French shore strong currents prevented him from completing the last few miles for several hours; but eventually the currents slowed and his steady breast-stroke won out. Webb walked ashore some 21 hours and 45 minutes after he left England. His zig-zag course across the Channel had totalled over 39 miles (64 km). He was an instant national hero.

After his record swim, Captain Webb basked in national and international adulation, and followed a career as a professional swimmer. He licensed his name for merchandising such as commemorative pottery and wrote a book called The Art of Swimming. A brand of matches was named after him. He also participated in exhibition swimming matches and stunts such as floating in a tank of water for 128 hours… don’t tell David Blaine.

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Map of the month – Botchergate, Trollope and the Bellman

First Postbox - CarlisleBotchergate, Carlisle (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:500 – published in 1865)

vertical-pillarbox

Thirteen years after Sir Rowland Hill, Secretary of the Post Office, introduced the Penny Post that the first mainland Pillar Box was erected in Botchergate, Carlisle in 1853.

The advent of the British wayside letter box can be traced to Sir Rowland Hill and his Surveyor for the Western District, and noted novelist, Anthony Trollope (known for The Warden, Barchester Towers and the Palliser novels).

Before 1853 it was customary to take outgoing mail to the nearest letter receiving house or post office, where the Royal Mail coach would stop to pick up and set down mail and passengers. People would take their letters in person, or in some areas they could await the appearance of the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public while ringing a bell to attract attention.

In 1852 Anthony Trollope was sent by Rowland Hill to the Channel Islands to ascertain what could be done about the problem of collecting the mail on the islands. To post a letter in Jersey or Guernsey, the post had to be taken down to the quayside and handed to the Master of the Royal Mail steamer in person. This was a somewhat inconvenient practice, subject as it was to the uncertainties of weather and tides.

Trollope’s recommendation back to Hill was to employ a device he had probably seen in Paris: a “letter-receiving pillar”. The first pillar boxes was brought into public use on Jersey in late November 1852 and they were an instant success.

By the next year the idea had spread to mainland Britain, with England’s first pillar box erected at the corner of Botchergate and South Street in Carlisle. In basic form all boxes were vertical cast iron ‘pillars’ with a small vertical slit to receive letters, but by 1857, after experimenting with various designs, horizontal, rather than vertical, slots were taken as a standard. The Committee responsible for the standardisation designed a very ornate box festooned with Grecian style-decoration but, in a major oversight, devoid of any posting aperture, which meant the slots were chiselled out of the cast iron by local craftsmen, usually destroying the look of the box.

Prior to 1859 colours varied until a bronze green colour was chosen as the new standard, which was to last until 1874. Initially it was thought that the green colour would be unobtrusive. Too unobtrusive, as it turned out — people kept either walking into them or past them. Red became the standard colour in 1874, although ten more years elapsed before every box in the UK had been repainted.

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