Did you know? Horses worked the Tanfield route for 156 years (1725-1881); locos for 137 years (1881-2018)

1725

The Tanfield Waggonway was built in 1725

In Britain in 1725, George I was king & Walpole was prime minister.   The American War of Independence was still 50 years off, & the parents of neither Nelson nor Napoleon had been born.   80% of the 8 million population of Britain worked in agriculture.
In Newcastle in 1725, there was a medieval bridge over the Tyne, no piped water, no hospitals, no banks, no grand streets.   The coal trade was throttled by flooding of pits & poor transport.

In 1725, most roads were rutted tracks, impassable by heavy loads in winter.   Transport of goods was common by low capacity pack horse or slow ox cart.   Canals were providing good service  for bulk goods where lie of the land & water allowed.   Turnpike roads were being built, but tolls were high, & coaches on these were slow, uncomfortable, expensive, infrequent and unreliable.   Long distance travel & transport were best done by coastal wooden sailing ship, but avoiding storms & winter.

Around 1725 there were many advances - Harrison's clocks were allowing accurate ocean navigation which dramatically increased trade; Newcomen engines were enabling deeper drier mines; steel production was beginning (eg Derwentcote); there were developments in textiles machinery leading to factories & cheaper clothing.    People were moving from agricultural work into nascent industries.   
The waggonways of NE England, and the Tanfield Waggonway in particular, led to huge leaps in civil & mechanical engineering.  Waggonways were expensive to build, maintain & run, but were cost effective in the lucrative coal trade.
Causey Arch of 1727, the world's first railway bridge, on the Tanfield Waggonway.
Viewed from the Tanfield Railway in June 2017 (photo courtesy of Andrews Beevers)
The Tanfield Waggonway was one of the starters of the industrial revolution in Britain, and hence the world, by making bulk transport relatively cheap & reliable in all seasons & weather.   In order to satisfy demand for coal, cut-throat commercial drive alongside advances in science & engineering produced infrastructure the likes of which had been unseen since the Romans.   The Tanfield Railway still uses some of that infrastructure today, nearly 300 years later.
Causey Embankment of 1725 nearly 200 years later in NER days (showing
the culverted Causey Burn), over which Tanfield Railway trains run today
(see Tomlinson's North Eastern Railway (1915) opp p10)
Development of the steam engine & locomotive came in the late 1700s & early 1800s, but it was 100 years after the Tanfield Waggonway that the next dramatic change in rail transport occurred, on the 1825 Stockton & Darlington Railway.

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