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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From a fleece to a coat in 24 Hours

NewburyCoat

Newbury, Berkshire – Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1817

In June 1811, John Coxeter,  a well-known cloth manufacturer, the owner of nearby Greenham Mills, took on the challenge of the making of a legendary coat for Sir John Throckmorton.

Coxeter, is reported to have said “So great are the improvements in machinery I have lately introduced into my mill, that I believe that in twenty- four hours I could take the coat off your back, reduce it to wool, and turn it back into a coat again”.

So impressed was Sir John with Coxeter’s claim that not long after the conversation had taken place, Sir John Throckmorton laid a bet of a thousand guineas that at eight o’clock in the evening of June the 25th, 1811, he would sit down to dinner in a well-woven, properly-made coat, the wool of which would come from fleeces still on the sheeps’ backs at five o’clock that same morning. Most thought the feat impossible and it was not long before his bet was eagerly accepted.

Promptly at five o’clock operations commenced, and no time was lost in getting the sheep shorn, the wool was washed, spun, and woven. The cloth was manufactured, dyed and prepared by four o’clock in the afternoon. Just eleven hours after the arrival of the two sheep in Coxeter’s mill-yard. The cloth was now put into the hands of the tailors. Mr. James White, together with nine of his men, began the process of turning the cloth into a “well woven, properly made coat”. For the next two and a quarter hours the tailors were busy cutting out, stitching, pressing, and sewing on buttons and at twenty minutes past six Mr. Coxeter presented the coat to Sir John Throckmorton, who, before over five thousand people who had gathered to watch, put on the coat and sat down to dinner with 40 invited guests in time for dinner to be taken at eight o’clock that evening.

Throckmorton won his 1000 guineas and John Coxeter had the sheep roasted for the crowds that had gathered to see the fun, as well as donating 120 gallons of beer in one of the greatest publicity stunts of the age.

The original coat is still displayed at Coughton Court near Alcester the seat of the Throckmorton family since 1409.

Newbury, however, has its own version of the coat, produced when the feat was repeated in 1991 – knocking a further hour off the record!

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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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A Race Track, an Airfield and Maggots

Silverstone (MAP: OS Old Series 1:50,000 – published in 1835)
Silverstone
Silverstone is a village and civil parish in Northamptonshire. The village is listed in the Domesday Book.

Silverstone is also the current home of the British Grand Prix, which it first hosted in 1948. The circuit itself straddles the Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire border, with the current main circuit entry on the Buckinghamshire side and built on the remains of a WWII RAF base.

Even being at the forefront of technical innovation Silverstone has its roots firmly in the landscape’s past. All the corners of the racing circuit have names, many relating to the local area, as shown on the map.

• The first corner on the circuit is Abbey. Named after Luffield Abbey, which occupied the centre of the site from the twelfth century until its Dissolution in 1551 when the land was passed to Sir Francis Throckmorton.
• The second, Farm Curve, simply takes it’s name from a nearby farm.
• The third and fourth corners have literal names in Village, named after Silverstone Village and The Loop, the only corner to be named after it’s shape.
• Then there is Aintree, named after the Aintree course, where the Grand Prix alternated with Silverstone in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s.
• Followed by the Wellington Straight, only named in 2010, which takes it’s name from the Wellington Bombers which flew from RAF Silverstone during WWII.
• Next comes Brooklands, named in honour of the Brooklands Motor Circuit, known as the home of British motor racing.
• Luffield, like the first corner is named after the medieval Abbey.
• Woodecote, like Brooklands, was named in honour of an existing circuit, namely the RAC owned Woodcote Park in Surrey.
• Copse corner is named after the nearby Chapel Copse and Cheese Copse that border the track.
• The oddly named Maggotts actually takes its name from the adjacent Maggots Moor (written with only the one ‘t’ on the map).
• Becketts and Chapel Curve both take their names from the medieval chapel of St Thomas à Beckett which stood near the track features.
• Like the Wellington Straight, Hangar Straight takes it’s name from the time of the RAF base. Two of the largest hangars stood in this area.
• The next corner Stowe takes it’s name from the local area of Stowe, to the south of the track, famous for Stowe School.
• Vale. Although the track is predominantly flat, this is the only undulating area on the track and the probable source of the name. Another theory is that is named after the district of Aylesbury Vale, in which it sits.
• The final corner Club is, like Woodecote, named after the famous RAC club in Pall Mall London.

This weekend sees Silverstone hosing the British Grand Prix with nearly 300,000 people expected to attend. A far cry from the quiet landscape shown on the above 1835 map.

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Mapmaker Plus – Price drop!

Create your own bespoke maps with Mapmaker Plus.

Mapmaker PlusNow available from £14.99

Large format maps supplied folded or rolled. A total combination of 13 map scales and series. Maps available from 1805 to the present day. Choose from seven OS Historical Map Series.

Now includes six present day Ordnance survey mapping series.

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• Ideal for creating your own walking maps   • Explore the past with a historical map

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Historical Map Downloads – Half price!

Cassini Downloadable maps
Warnborough - 1871. 1:2,500

From only £3.99 – One week only. Offer finishes on the 16th February 2015
Coverage – England, Scotland, Wales.
Ideal for research, or print and frame for a personalised decorative map centred on the location of your choice. A4 maps £3.99, A3 maps £4.99

Cassini’s downloadable maps from 1805 to the present day.

• Instant map downloads of any area.  • Including personal inscription.
• Available for all historical OS series. • Choose from eight historical map series
• Highly customisable.                          • Coverage of England, Scotland* and Wales.

Cassini is delighted to offer you our stunning range of historical Ordnance Survey maps. Whatever your interest in the past our historical maps are invaluable works of reference. Ideal for reasearch, or print and frame for a personalised decorative map centred on the location of your choice.

Simply search for the area you are interested in, buy and download the PDF. No waiting for the map to arrive in the post.

Maps available for site-centred downloads
1855-1896 County Series 1:2,500
1880-1910 County Series 1:10,000
1805-1874 Old Series 1:30,000 – 1:50,000
1871 Registration District 1:30,000 – 1:50,000
1896-1904 Revised New 1:30,000 – 1:50,000
1919-1926 Popular Edition 1:30,000 – 1:50,000
1945-1948 New Popular 1:30,000 – 1:50,000
Present Day Ordnance Survey 1:30,000 – 1:50,000

*Scottish maps are only available for Old Series 1805-1874, Revised New Series 1896-1904 and Presentr Day OS mapping.

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Map of the week – Hebburn Colliery & the Davy Lamp.

Original Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1:50,000 – 1867

Hebburn CollieryOn the 9th January 1816 Sir Humphry Davy first demonstrated the Davy Lamp.

Sir Humphry Davy (17 December 1778 – 29 May 1829), a chemist and inventor born in Penzance in Cornwall, tested his Davy safety lamp for miners at Hebburn Colliery. Three years later Davy was awarded a baronetcy, at the time the highest honour ever conferred on a man of science in Britain. In 1820 he became President of the Royal Society.

Davy’s lamp was made public at a Royal Society meeting in Newcastle, three years after the Felling mine disaster in 1812. Davy had discovered that a flame enclosed inside a fine mesh cannot ignite firedamp (a name given to a number of flammable gases, especially methane). The screen acts as a flame arrestor; air (and any firedamp present) can pass through the mesh freely enough to support combustion, but the holes are too fine to allow a flame to propagate through them and ignite any firedamp outside the mesh. If flammable gas mixtures were present, the flame of the Davy lamp burned higher with a blue tinge. Lamps were equipped with a metal gauge to measure the height of the flame. Miners could also place the safety lamp close to the ground to detect gases, such as carbon dioxide, that are denser than air and so could collect in depressions in the mine (black damp or chokedamp); if the mine air was oxygen-poor the lamp flame would go out.

Unfortunately the introduction of the Davy lamp led to an increase in mine accidents. Although the principle was perfectly sound the lamp encouraged the Mine owners to work mines and parts of mines that had previously been closed for safety reasons. A contributing factor to this rise in accidents was the unreliability of the lamps themselves. The bare gauze was easily damaged, and once just a single wire broke or rusted away, the lamp became a hazard in itself.

If you have an interesting story and would like to see a historical map of your area then why not let us know by emailing us.

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