Earthworks of Surrey Iron Railway


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Reigate and Banstead (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 28667 54554, TQ 28732 54999


Two cuttings of Surrey Iron Railway near Harps Wood, north of Mertsham.

Reasons for Designation

Railways evolved rapidly from the late 18th century to the 1830s. This era saw a transition from horse-drawn haulage along wooden or cast iron tracks, for the purpose of moving heavy wagons over relatively limited distances in mining or other industrial contexts, to the world's first modern, fully locomotive-hauled, main line trunk railways linking major cities. The era from circa 1790 to circa 1830 represents the age of the development and growth of the early iron railway. These early railways were also known as waggonways (especially in the North East) or tramways, tramroads or plateways. In this period the use of iron for rails superseded the earlier prevalence of wooden or wood-iron hybrid rails. William Jessop’s patent of 1789 for his fish-bellied, 3ft cast iron rail set the standard. Such reliably solid iron rails allowed railways to increase their carrying capacity and range of potential uses. The mileage of these railways also increased substantially in this period. While still a transport form most characteristic of the greater coalfields, they came to be used in a variety of industrial contexts, including in the general carriage of goods in areas without a dominant single industry. Likewise, whereas at the onset of the period, railways are predominately owned and operated exclusively by major mining or other industrial proprietors on their own land, public railways for the general carriage of goods on routes over land granted by Parliamentary statute began to emerge.

The first public railways were owned by canal companies and were associated with canals. However the Surrey Iron Railway of 1803 (with the south extension completed in 1805) is believed to be the first fully independent public railway, on land acquired under Act of Parliament, and which was not subsidiary to a canal but was a stand-alone transport system. The Surrey Iron Railway marks a crucial early stage in the rise of railway transport, using the developing iron rail technologies for new uses in an area not dependent on mining. It is believed to be the first fully independent public railway in the world. Unlike other early railways, built privately and for private use, this was a significant step forward in allowing anyone to use railway transportation. A short section of conserved ex-situ railway track in the grounds of Wallington civic library is listed at Grade II. The two cuttings near Harps Wood are substantial earthworks, representative of the engineering challenges of the line and as such of great significance to our understanding of railway development.


See Details.


This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 26 November 2014. The record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.

The monument includes two cuttings of Croydon, Mertsham and Godstone Iron Railway, which together with the Surrey Iron Road, formed part of the Surrey Iron Railway. It is situated to the east of London Road North where it meets the M23 Motorway at Harps Wood, in the parish of Reigate and Banstead. One section, approximately 100m east of Cranston House, stretches a distance of about 183m. The second section located further north, approximately 90m east of the house called Little Orchard, stretches a distance of about 823m. This section of the line meanders through the bottom of a valley, with slopes to the east and west. The cutting is a substantial earthwork: a maximum of 46 metres wide and 9 metres deep. There is no visible evidence for the survival of the iron trackways or any associated sleepers but they may survive as buried features.

The Surrey Iron Railway was a highly important and pioneering early railway. The first phase of the railway, completed in 1803, was known as the Surrey Iron Road. It ran 13 km from Wandsworth on the River Thames to Croydon, closely following the River Wandle along its route. The Wandle Valley was a thriving manufacturing area in the early 19th century and the railway was used to transport raw materials and products. William Jessop (1746-1814), a canal builder of considerable repute, was responsible for engineering the project. The decision to build a railway in this instance represented an important stage in appreciating the potential of railways for goods transportation. A line extension, of which this monument forms part, was completed in 1805 and known as the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway. At the Merstham (southernmost) end the line connected with a number of lime and stone quarries.

The line was double-tracked and the rails were cast-iron tram plates of L-section in 3ft (91cm) lengths with a vertical flange on the inside (requiring rimless wagon wheels which could therefore also be used on roads), secured to stone blocks at 4ft 2in (1m 27cm) gauge. It was open to public use, with users supplying their own horses and wagons. Tolls were charged per ton per mile, and varied according to the type of goods being carried. No passenger-carrying service was envisaged, however. The Croydon, Merstham and Godstone section closed in 1839 and the Surrey Iron Road by 1846, as horse drawn railways were superseded by steam railways.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
SU 123
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Otter, RA , Civil Engineering Heritage: Southern England, (1997)
Simmons, J, Biddle, G, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (2003 ), 134 & 487
Buchanan, R A, 2005, Jessop, William (1746-1814), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , accessed 22 May 2009 from
Croydon online, accessed 22 May 2009 from
Surrey HER 1065, 3745, 4260. NMR TQ25SE60, LINEAR 64. PastScape 968489, 1041410.


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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