The Early Railway Age
Wooden railways, which had been used increasingly to carry loads down to navigable water during the century and a half before 1750, came into even greater demand as feeders to canals. Iron rails started to replace the iron-plated wooden ones; they were first cast at Coalbrookdale for the wagonways there in 1767 at a slack time when few outside orders were coming in. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the cast-iron L-shaped plate rail, for carrying unflanged wheels, also became popular and was widely adopted throughout the country south of County Durham. Its main protagonist was Benjamin Outram, founder of Butterley Ironworks in Derbyshire, whose company became concerned with the layout of railways using Butterley rails. He claimed that, properly engineered and with robustly constructed wagons, these plateways would allow a single horse to draw up to six tons on a
. down gradient, twice the load then usual (so he claimed) using edge rails. Plateways became particularly in1portant in South Wales from 1790 onwards, the longest of them stretching for twenty-four miles from above Tredegar right down to Newport.! A conservative estimate puts the total length of horse-drawn railway* throughout Britain at 133 miles in 1750 and 292 miles in 1800.2 By the early 1820s Tyneside alone is said to have possessed 225 miles of them and South Wales probably more; and there were many more miles in the Midlands and elsewhere.