SiR 1) Through Wandsworth

Note: SiR = Surrey Iron Railway. CMG = Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway. CCR = Croydon Canal Railway

As far as it appears just two pictures showing wagons at the SiR’s Wandsworth Basin are in existence. The more famous one is the Youngs painting which is depicted on the McMurrays Canal page and was painted around 1820. The other is this obviously modernish version by Churchman Cigarrettes. Its not wholly accurate but it does give a good impression of how the railway’s canal basin looked.

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The SiR Wandsworth basin as depictued on this Churchman Cigarettes card.

The above picture can be viewed in larger at the NYPL Digital Gallery website.

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The electrical sub-station next to Lawsons Timber Merchants on The Causeway – where the SiR’s tracks began.

The rails of the SiR began just south of The Causeway. The adjacent electrical sub-station stands on the site of the Wandsworth canal basin so this means the SiR had to be on the east side of this, hence it began just inside electrical substation works adjacent to Lawsons Timber Merchants.


Map showing lock, canal & basins, Ram brewery, the Upper Mills and the Surrey Iron Railway’s route (marked red)

The first bit of the railway would have of course been on private premises as far as what is Armoury Way. This would have consisted of several tracks, cranes and stagings that enabled barges and wagons to exchange their goods. Two moveable bridges marked the north and southern ends of the huge basin. When the SiR closed the basin continuned its usefulness as a port of import and export for Wandsworth and its immediate locality. As has been related on the McMurrays page the basin had a long working life which ended in the 1930s.

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The SiR’s approximate course as it left the Wandsworth basin premises and headed south towards Wandsworth High Street.

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The SiR monument in Ram Street, Wandsworth.

As one walks along Ram Street southwards from Armoury Way, in the wall on the western side of the road is a 1994 plaque by the Wandsworth Society noting the railway’s former existence, along with examples of the stone blocks used to carry the cast iron plate rails.

The text on the plaque is as follows: “The Surrey Iron Railway was the first public railway in England, probably the first in the world. The railway ran along this road on its route from Croydon to the mouth of the River Wandle, a distance of nearly nine miles. Goods wagons were pulled by horses along a track of cast iron plates laid on stone sleepers, some of which are set in the wall below. The gauge was 4′ 2″. It opened in 1803, following the passing of the Surrey Iron Railway Act of 1801, and closed in 1846, the victim of the success of newer railways powered by steam.”

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The brewery closed in 2006 and proposals have been mooted for several options which retain some of the buildings, as well as creating shopping and residential areas. As of date no definite plans have been approved by the council. It is not known what would happen to the SiR monument in Ram Street.

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The SiR’s Company seal seen on the wall of the Ram Inn.

Sharp observers will notice that the two depictions of the railway’s coat of arms on this page are somewhat different. The first is the one that can be seen at the Wandle Museum, and the second the one used on walls to mark the SiR. There are subtle differences between these including the woman’s face and the amount of low-relief in the picture and lettering.

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Looking from the Ram Inn across Wandsworth High St towards the Southside Centre

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Young’s Ram Brewery and Inn (now closed) with a red line indicating the approximate SiR course.

The railway continued south along Ram Street, passing through the top corner of the Ram Inn where it touches Wandsworth High Street. Here a level crossing existed. Little is known about it other than the rails had to be of a different type so that no part of the rails projected more than an inch above the road surface. This appears to have been one of the first ever level crossings built for everyone was worried as to how the wagons and road traffic would cope with each other.

Some suggested that the wagons should just cross the road and rejoin the railway either side, but Jessop said there would be problems in getting the wagons back on the rails. Consequently It was ordered that the rails across Wandsworth High Street should not project more than an inch above the surface of the roadway. Nevertheless a lot of people must have tripped up on this! A test was conducted to ensure that horses and carts or omnibus wagons could negotiate this level crossing and the results were satisfactory.

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After Wandsworth High St the SiR’s alignment would have gone between the Santander/Barclays banks towards the Upper Mill.

The Wandsworth Southside Centre’s main entrance sits roughy where the SiR’s tracks continued south. In fact part of the main throughfare of the shopping centre marks the railway’s approximate course as it headed for Garratt Lane. It was once known as the Arndale Centre, the largest shopping centre in Europe and considered a major achievement in terms of architecture and engineering, but there are claims it was in fact one of London’s greatest architectural disasters. Its fortunes flagged badly and many prominent retailers left for other more lucrative pastures.

Arndale Centres were all the rage in the 60s and 70s and 21 centres in all were built in the UK. But the name soon described a somewhat bland shopping experience and many struggled. Wandsworth’s has seen major improvements in recent years, including major rebuilds. It now has a better mix of shops and a 14-screen cinema. However the 2004 decision to rename the centre in honour of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes shall perhaps remain one of life’s greater mysteries!

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Map of the Southside Centre showing a fairly approximation of the Surrey Iron Railway along the Wandle and Upper Mill.

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This part of the Southside Centre (the section between North and Centre Malls) appears to briefly follow the SiR’s alignment.

As well as being built over the River Wandle the centre has also been built upon the former section of the SiR south of Wandsworth High Street. Part of the alignment inside the shopping centre, being the link between the North and Centre Malls, appears to closely follow the SiR’s route.

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Before the shops: Wandsworth’s iconic Upper Mill stood on the Wandle & was demolished in 1962 to make way for the Arndale.

The SiR ran along the west bank of the Wandle to serve Upper Mill and returned over the river to Garratt Lane by Mapleton Road. Opinion is held that the bridges were of wood, but it seems designs by Robert Fulton, the American engineer, were used with cast iron bridges being sourced from Benjamin Outram’s Butterley Works. Outram, as the contractor for the SiR, was not exactly friends with Fulton, having clashed over designs for an aqueduct at Marple on the Peak Forest canal. That canal used Fulton’s advanced paddle gear, a decision it later regretted. Nevertheless over the passage of time Outram may have seen advantages in using Fulton’s ideas.

Besides the fact the shopping centre stands on the Upper Mill site, there’s little in terms of industrial archaeology so we move on to Mapleton Crescent/Garratt Lane.

Next: Garratt Lane/Earlsfield

Surrey Iron Railway pages:

McMurrays Canal / Surrey Iron Railway / Through Wandsworth / Wandsworth to Earlsfield / Summerstown to New Wimbledon / Colliers Wood to Church Lane / Hallowfield Way to Mitcham Jct / Mitcham to Wandle Park / Cornwall Road to Croydon

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