Surrey Iron Railway embankment, approximately 130m south west of Lion Green Road, Coulsdon


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.

Greater London Authority
Croydon (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 29612 59341

Reasons for Designation

Railways evolved rapidly from the late-C18 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 In this period the use of iron for rails superseded the earlier prevalence of wooden or wood-iron hybrid rails.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 predominantly 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, acting as feeders for some of the main canals: like the Loughborough and Nanpantan of 1794, the Little Easton Gangroad in Derbyshire of 1795, and a large number of canal feeder lines in the South Wales valleys. But the Surrey Iron Railway of 1803 (with a south extension completed in about 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. Gradually other public railways appeared, including the Gloucester and Cheltenham (1811), and a group of lines between Abergavenney and Hereford (1814-1829) which carried goods. The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway (begun in 1826 and which opened in 1830) was the first passenger steam-powered railway but also carried freight. These all represent the embryonic forms of the main line railway, that emerged fully formed in George Stephenson's Liverpool and Manchester Railway at the very end of this period in 1830. SITE SPECIFIC ASSESSMENT The Surrey Iron Railway marks a crucial early stage in the rise of railway transport, as the first public railway, and 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 with use restricted to the sponsoring company, the Surrey Iron Railway significantly allowed a general use of its tracks. The railway company provided the track, and wagons could be hired for a toll. It therefore represents an important diversification in the application of railway use, as well as consolidating the technological development of other early iron railways. The embankment south-west of Lion Green Road represents this key early transport network. The scale of the construction is significant - it is a feature of some considerable height - and is one of the most spectacular sections of surviving earthworks from this railway line. Two further sections of the line just north of Merstham in Surrey, a pair of similarly substantial earthworks (but cuttings), are also representative of the engineering challenges of the line and are already scheduled (county number SU 123). A short section of conserved ex-situ railway track in the grounds of Wallington civic library is listed at Grade II. In the creation of the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway, the southern extension of the Surrey Iron Railway, Jessop and his backers were hoping, ultimately, to reach Portsmouth. This represents the incipience of a radical new idea about railways: that they could be used as major highways between cities, not merely as short feeders to the nearest dockside facility. In this idea lies the origin of the national railway network. However, the idea was years ahead of its time, and the truncated line to the quarries at Merstham is all that came of it. But the Coulsdon embankment is both a tangible relic of this bold concept, and demonstrates one of its key implications, as faced by all later railway engineers: that it would be necessary to construct large scale civil engineering works to surmount natural obstacles. The scheduling of this section is consistent with the existing designations, as well as an appropriate acknowledgement of its interest in a national context.


INTRODUCTION The monument includes a section of the embankment of the Surrey Iron Railway, the first fully independent public railway in the world, dating to c1805. Two other earthworks of this railway, cuttings located to the south in Merstham in the parish of Reigate and Banstead, Surrey, are also scheduled (county number SU 123). DESCRIPTION The monument comprises a railway embankment which is located approximately 130m south-west of Lion Green Road, Coulsdon. The topography in the area falls from south to north towards the Chipstead Valley Road (to the north of the monument) before rising again. The embankment was therefore necessary to ensure the railway continued at a level, and had sufficient height to cross the Chipstead Valley Road via a now demolished bridge. The embankment is a substantial earthwork standing to an approximate maximum height of 8m, at the northern extent of the monument, and approximately 5.5m at its southern terminus. This section runs for approximately 102m north-west to south-east and is of variable width to a maximum of approximately 35m at its base, narrowing to between 2.6m to 5.3m at the apex. It is a solidly constructed and compacted earthwork. There is no visible evidence for the survival of the iron trackways or any associated sleepers but they may survive as buried archaeological features. HISTORY The Surrey Iron Railway was a highly important pioneering early railway. Its construction was sanctioned by Parliament in 1801, and it was completed in 1803 although it was later extended. In its initial phase the Surrey Iron Railway ran from Wandsworth on the River Thames to Croydon, a distance of eight and a quarter miles, closely following the River Wandle. The Wandle Valley was a thriving manufacturing area in the early C19 and was in urgent need of an improved method of transporting raw materials and products. There were numerous mills and factories here, producing textiles, oil, snuff and flour among other products. There was an additional branch line of 1¼ miles to Carshalton. The engineer for the project was William Jessop (1746-1814) who was also a canal builder of considerable repute. The son of a Devonport Quartermaster, he was apprenticed and then became the assistant to the renowned engineer, John Smeaton (1724-92) through which association he was also involved in river navigation, harbour and land drainage projects. On Smeaton's retirement Jessop became the country's foremost engineer in this field. He was noted for his choice of railways in situations where canal transportation was not feasible or economic, as was the case here: his decision to build a railway for this project represents an important stage in the appreciation of the potential of railways for goods transportation. 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), secured to stone blocks at 4ft 2in (1m 27cm) gauge. The railway was open to public use, with its 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. Earthworks on the original line were relatively light, with the track following public roads on flat terrain wherever possible. However, an ambitious extension to the original line was soon added, with another Parliamentary Act authorising the building of the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway. This was begun in 1803 and its eight and three quarter mile length was completed in 1805. This extension to the Surrey Iron Railway involved some civil engineering challenges as the line ascended into the North Downs. The embankment south-west of Lion Green Road is one such example of an engineering solution to the undulating topography in the Coulsdon area. At the southernmost end at Merstham the line connected with a number of lime and stone quarries. This was as far as the line reached. However, the extension represented what had been a very bold, but incipient, idea to extend the line all the way to Portsmouth. This in itself is a significant indicator of how ideas about the use of railways were developing, with contemporaries now envisaging heavy goods traffic being carried on rails between cities inland, much as canals were doing elsewhere. The Croydon, Merstham and Godstone section closed in 1839 and the Surrey Iron Railway by 1846, as horse drawn railways were superseded by steam railways. Some sections of the Surrey Iron Railway were, however, remodelled for steam trains and are lines which remain in use; a testament to Jessop's route selection. EXCLUSIONS The fence which part surrounds the monument is excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

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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.

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