World's first railway inaugurated
Lease signed for Wollaton Wagonway, world's first documented railway, October 1 1604.
The railway age is generally thought of as starting in the mid-19th century and continuing until perhaps the 1950s, but the development of the concept can be traced far further back, centuries before in fact.
The earliest known (and documented) railway is the Wollaton Wagonway, two miles of track in Nottinghamshire built between 1603 and 1604 for less than £200 by Lord of the Manor of Wollaton Sir Percy Willoughby, and mine owner Huntingdon Beaumont. The rails were made of wood, and the motive power was horses, but this was undoubtedly a railway.
The route is unclear, but the system was built to carry coal from Beaumont's pits at Strelley to the road at Wollaton, where more conventional wagons would take the coal on the next stage of its journey, some to the River Trent for shipment by barge, some to customers in the area.
Sadly little detail is known about the functioning of the railway, and though it is thought to have been in operation until at least 1615 no definite closure date is known. But in the decade and more that the line ran it showed what could be done, and Beaumont went on to build other similar lines at pits elsewhere, including Northumberland , establishing the concept in the psyche of British commerce. It was revolutionary, and Beaumont in particular, who appears to have been the genius behind it, should perhaps be recognized along with the likes of George Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel as one of the great railway pioneers.
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