Thursday, 19 October 2017

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Earliest Railways (3) : The iron road

In part 1 of this series we saw how the idea of the railway went back millennia, in part 2 we saw the rise of wooden wagonways. Wooden rails quickly wore out, a more durable alternative was needed.

Some tramways added an iron wearing rail atop the wooden rail. However the thin wearing rail, while more durable, also wore out under heavy use or became detached from the wooden rail underneath [1]. What was needed was to make the rails solely out of iron, a much stronger solution and with reduced friction compared to wood. Iron rails could also carry heavier wagons which might break wooden rails. The strongest rails were fish-bellied rails, a type patented by Willian Jessop, which had the thickest iron (the "fish belly") in between the sleepers [2]. However cast iron rails were much more expensive than wood.

Fish bellied rail, public domain image [3]

Among the earliest iron rails were at Coalbrookdale in 1767 [4], they may have also been used at the Middleton Railway as early as 1758 [5]. The Caldon Low line in Derbyshire also had iron rails not long afterwards. Cast iron rails also appeared in South Wales in the early 1790s. The extra expense of iron rails meant that such a railway was a more long term investment often attracting interest from canal companies who saw railways as a cheaper way to extend their network especially in areas of hilly terrain where a canal would need to major expense of lock flights [6]. A major line was the Cromford & High Peak Railway which linked to the Cromford Canal.
Cromford & High Peak Railway

The rails used on these tramways were known as "edge-rails". They were intended to work with flanged wheel, as railway tracks do today. However there was a competing type of track which gained popularity in the late 1700s, the flanged rail or plateway. These were L-shaped and intended for use with wagons which had flat (unflanged) wheels [7]. They were first developed by John Curr in 1787 and were cheaper and easier to make than edge-rails [8]. They would also allow normal road carts to use the plateway, though in the event this seldom occurred. Networks of plateways quickly expanded, especially in the Midlands and South Wales though the North East of England where the largest wooden wagonway networks had been built the edge-rail remained the rail of choice. Plateways lost their popularity as steam power began to be used.

A drawback with cast-iron rails was their brittleness under heavy load [9]. Plateways helped alleviate the problem somewhat. The main breakthrough came with the wrought-iron rail. Wrought-iron was stronger and was patented by John Birkenshaw in 1820 [10] as a T-rail with a flat top and a fish-belly to add strength between sleepers, a development of which is now standard on railways across the world. Birkenshaw's rails were supported by George Stephenson and used on the Stockton & Darlington main line in 1825 and the rest (as they say) is history...
Wagon of the Stratford & Moreton Tramway, notice the rails

[1] Andy Guy & Jim Rees, Early Railways 1569-1830 (Shire Publications, 2016) p. 18
[2] Bertram Baxter, Stone Blocks & Iron Rails (Tramroads) (David & Charles, 1966) p. 43
[3] John Elfreth Watkins, The development of the American rail and track (US Govt, 1891) p. 657
[4] Baxter p. 40
[5] Mark Jones, Discovering Britain's First Railways (History Press, 2012) p. 25
[6] Baxter p. 22
[7] Jones p. 26
[8] Guy & Rees p. 20
[9] Michael Bailey, "The history of tracks and trains: a lesson in joined-up thinking", Proceedings of ICE Civil Engineering 158 August 2005, p. 135
[10] Baxter p. 53

World of Learning

I've attended the World of Learning event at the National Exhibition Centre a few times now and today i went again for the 2017 edition. As usual i took in a few free seminars on learning and development and tried to avoid sales people. The event is more aimed at staff training than what i do which is create courses for a private college but i did pick up a few pearls.

As with last year though most of the expert hints on best practice seemed to be stuff i already do, which is self-affirming of course though maybe also slightly annoying as it would be good to hear more ideas on how to improve what i do.

One problem with going every year is that it does become a bit samey, even some of the freebies were the same as last year. But its good to get out of the office at least once a year. Now to try and implement some of the good ideas i picked up. Sound! My courses need sound. Luckily we do have a plan in place...

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Duffield Castle

Duffield Castle in Derbyshire dates from Norman times, the castle was built by one of William the Conqueror's soldiers Henry de Ferrers who had been granted a number of estates in return for his service. He already had a castle at Tutbury but another castle was needed at Duffield to protect the North of his Derbyshire estate. The site the castle was built on has probably also been a defensive position in Saxon times and earlier.

The original Duffield Castle was made out of wood in the traditional Norman motte and bailey style. The castle was rebuilt in stone following the original's destruction by Henry II after Henry de Ferrers great-grandson William picked the wrong side in a rebellion. The rebuilt castle had the third largest medieval keep in the land, only slightly smaller than the Tower of London.

Two generations of owner later and the castle was destroyed again, this time on the order of Henry III after the castle's then-owner Robert again rebelled against the king. This time there was no comeback for Duffield Castle. It was razed to the ground and the stone reused in other buildings. The site was rediscovered in 1885 though the Victorian archaeologists missed some of the features of the castle when they cleared the site and marked the foundations.

Saturday, 14 October 2017


I've been to Duffield in Derbyshire quite a lot over the last few years but whenever i go its just to catch a train on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway up to Wirksworth (some examples of visits this year are here and here). Today i decided to explore the small town instead including the remains of Duffield Castle (which will be covered in a separate post).

I also visited the fine parish church and saw a number of interesting and quaint buildings, as well as some cattle. You can see my Duffield photos here.