Middleton’s official birthday

by

and the early history of railways

Mathew Murray a Manning Wardle Class “L” locomotive built in 1903, hauling two passenger coaches converted from covered goods vans on the Middleton Railway. Photo the Middleton Railway Trust.

(Click picture to see it in its original context on the Middleton Railway’s website.)

The Middleton Railway celebrated its official birthday this weekend. We had already reported its natural birthday last April, but we reckon that when a railway is 250 years old and has operated trains for every one of its 250 years, it deserves to have two birthdays, just like Queen Elizabeth!

The Middleton Railway occupies a unique niche in railway history. Appearing not once, but five times, in our railway history timeline.

600 BC – The Diolkos wagonway, transported boats across the Isthmus of Corinth in Greece since around 600 BC. Wheeled vehicles pulled by men and animals ran in grooves in limestone, which provided the track element, preventing the wagons from leaving the intended route. The Diolkos was in use for over 650 years, until at least the 1st century AD.

1550s – Wagonways or tramways are thought to have developed in Germany in the 1550s to facilitate the transport of ore tubs to and from mines, utilising primitive wooden rails. Such an operation was illustrated in 1556 by Georgius Agricola.

1604 – The Wollaton Wagonway completed and recorded as running from Strelley to Wollaton near Nottingham.

1758 – The Middleton Railway becomes the first railway in the world to be granted powers by an Act of Parliament. Previously railways could only be built with the permission of the owners of the land over which they were to run.

1802 – Richard Trevithick builds one of his high pressure steam engines to drive an automatic hammer at the Pen-y-Darren iron works near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, he then mounted the engine on wheels and turned it into the world’s first steam locomotive.

1803 – the horse drawn Surrey Iron Railway opened – arguably, the world’s first public railway. There were no official services, anyone could bring a vehicle on the railway by paying a toll.

1804 – Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotive hauls 10 tons of iron, 5 wagons and 70 men along the Merthyr Tydfil Tramroad from Penydarren to Abercynon, a distance of 9.75 miles (16 km) in 4 hours and 5 minutes, at an average speed of nearly 5 mph (8 km/h). The weight of the engine breaks the fragile cast iron plates of the tramroad and locomotive haulage is not adopted.

1812 – John Blenkinsop, Manger of the Middleton Pits, introduces regular steam haulage to the Middleton Railway . The locomotive Salamanca, specially designed to be light enough not to break the cast iron rails, had a toothed wheel on one side to haul itself up the steep gradients with the help of a rack rail laid on one side of the track. So the Middleton Railway also becomes the worlds first rack railway!

1814 – George Stephenson Stephenson builds his first steam locomotive Blücher for hauling coal on the Killingworth wagonway. This steam engine could haul 30 tons of coal up a hill at 4 mph (6.4 km/h), and was the world’s first successful flanged-wheel adhesion locomotive

1821 – An Act of Parliament is passed to allow the building of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The 25-mile (40 km) railway was intended to employ horse drawn traction to connect various collieries situated near Bishop Auckland to the River Tees at Stockton, passing through Darlington on the way. Stephenson the railway company’s engineer, persuades Edward Pease, the company’s Chairman and principal financial backer to employ steam locomotives from the start. The railway is built to a gauge of 4 ft 8 ½ ins (1,435 mm) which is subsequently adopted as ‘standard gauge’ in most of the world.

1826 – The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Act is passed authorizing the construction of the world’s first modern railway, one designed from the outset to employ steam traction.

1829 – The Rainhill Trials are held by the Directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Trails are not just to choose the best steam locomotive, but to decide wether the trains are to be hauled by steam locomotives or by stationery steam engines hauling the trains using winding drums and cables. George Stephenson’s Rocket wins hands down and the Directors of the L&MR decide to adopt locomotive haulage for all but the steepest inclines on the line.

1830 – The Liverpool and Manchester Railway is opened and the great age of railways is born. William Huskisson, MP is run over by a train and killed during the opening ceremonies, the first recorded fatal accident on a railway.

120 years of glorious railway history follow.

1950 – A committee is formed after a public meeting in the Imperial Hotel in Birmingham with the object of acquiring the 2 ft 3 in (686 mm) gauge Talyllyn Railway which had just closed.

1951 – The first train is run under the auspices of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society making the Talyllyn the first volunteer run preserved railway in the world.

1960 – The Middleton Railway becomes the first standard-gauge railway to be taken over and operated by volunteers. The volunteers of the Middleton Railway operated a freight service until 1983.

Several hundred museum and tourist railways are saved by volunteer run societies all around the world.

2008 – The Middleton Railway completes 250 years of continuous operation, the only railway in the world to have done so.

Given its truly unique place in railway history, the Middleton Railway has earned the right to have two birthdays each year!

More about the celebrations:

Middleton TodayMiddleton Light Railway celebrates 250th anniversary

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2 Responses to “Middleton’s official birthday”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    I confess that this is bit of riduculous hair-splitting about a side-issue in a highly interesting piece – probably indicating that I need to get a life… however, re the Talyllyn Railway: for quite a long while, a proud slogan and boast on the part of the Preservation Society, concerning its railway, was “We never closed”.

    The situation at the time of the momentous Birmingham meeting in October 1950 was, strictly speaking, as follows. Subsequent to the death that summer, of the TR’s long-time owner Sir Henry Haydn Jones — the railway had continued in operation, in accordance with his wishes and with provision made by him to do so, until the end of the summer tourist season (first days of October). Since the closing in 1946 of the slate quarries which it served, the railway had carried very little traffic other than tourists in summer; to be precise, it was a case in Oct.1950 of an end-of-season suspension of services, not formal closure. In fact, there was no way that services would have resumed the following year, or ever, under the “old regime” – apart from the railway’s almost-ruinous condition, it had been unremunerative for many years, with the owner covering the shortfall out of his own pocket. Technically, though, it was a question of rescuing a railway which otherwise would have closed, rather than an actually-closed one.

  2. Perry Says:

    Your mention of the Diolkos wagonway prompted me to send these three links. Grooves were cut in the rocks of the shore to guide the carts servicing the ships involved in the alum trade. It was the “COAST” series that highlighted the trade for me.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/northyorkshire/content/articles/2005/07/21/coast05walks_stageseven.shtml

    http://www.exnet.com/1995/12/18/science/science.html

    http://www.fortunecity.com/greenfield/ecolodge/25/alum.htm

    Regards,

    Perry

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