Above: This is one of the only paintings made of the railway. It shows the trucks being hauled along the track, on an embankment. The five trucks are being pulled by a horse.
The railway was established at a meeting in the Spread Eagle PH, Wandsworth, on 24 July 1800. Work started in 1801 to construct railway tracks from Wandsworth to Croydon, and thence to Merstham, in order to convey chalk, dug from the Surrey hills around Epsom, to the Thames. In addition, coal, building materials, lime, manure, corn and seeds were also carried. It was designed by Benjamin Outram, from whose surname the word ‘tram’ was formed. The architect Edward Banks worked on the railway as a young man.
It should be mentioned that heavy goods like those already mentioned were usually moved by canal. The idea of building a railway to convey the goods was quite revolutionary.
The line became the world’s first public railway. The rails were used by trucks, pulled by horses, laden with heavy commodities. The rails ran on stone sleepers. None of the original track exists along the route of the old line but a few of the original sleepers from the line are preserved outside West Hill Library.
It was a public toll railway, providing a track for independent goods hauliers to use their own horses and waggons. The company did not operate its own trains. Sometimes it leased out the track and the dock. Sometimes it collected tolls and kept the line in repair itself. The double-track plate-way had a spacing of about five feet between the centres of the stone blocks. The gauge was recorded as 4 feet 2 inches – the same as on the Croydon Merstham and Godstone Railway. The nine-mile route followed the shallow valley of the River Wandle, then heavily industrialised with numerous factories and mills – from the River Thames at Wandsworth southwards to Croydon, at what is now Reeves Corner. A short branch ran from Mitcham to Hackbridge and Carshalton.
The Surrey Iron Railway was in use until 1844 when it was sold to a steam railway company – hauling normal passenger trains. The old tracks of the original railway were lifted in 1848. Subsequently, much of its trackbed through Mitcham to Croydon was used for the Wimbledon to West Croydon railway which was opened in 1855. This was closed in 1997 to re-open in May 2000 as part of today’s Croydon Tramlink system.