Early Railways Conference – combined2018-10-10T14:48:08+00:00

Early Railways Conferences


General enquiries about the conferences and publications or specifically about previous Early Main Line Railway conferences to:


or if specifically about previous Early Railways conferences to:


The next conference is expected to be in 2021 and will be a joint one with the Early Main Line Railways Conference and will be known as Early Railways Conference 7, but will span the combined periods of the two previous sets of conferences (see ‘The scope of the separate Early Railway Conferences and the Early Main Line Railway Conferences’ below).

The sixth volume in the highly successful Early Railways series will be available for £35 plus postage and packing for subscribers who pay in advance of publication. The subscription list was to close on 15th October 2018, but will remain open a little longer – so, order now whilst the list remains open. The full retail price will be £55 for orders received after publication, if copies are available.

To order online please use one of the following links, depending on where the book is to be dispatched to:

to UK addresses – £38.50 inc £3.50 p&p

to Europe non-UK addresses – £44 inc £9 p&p

to non Europe or UK addresses – £49 inc £14p&p

Edited by Anthony Coulls and published by the sponsors by Six Martlets Publishing.

To order by cheque through the post please download the order form here and send to the address given.

All subscribers will be acknowledged in the introductory pages of the book; please say exactly how you would like your name to appear in the relevant column on the online order form.


R Carlton, L Turnbul and A Williams Discovering the Willington Waggonway: archaeological excavations at Neptune Yard on north Tyneside in 2013
Steve Grudgings Early Railways in the Bristol Coalfield
Robert F Hartley Why Killingworth?
Dr M J T Lewis Pointwork to 1830
John R New Why displace the horse?
Miles McNair Early locomotives of the St Etienne-Lyon Railway
Dr Michael R Bailey Blucher and after: A re-assessment of George Stephenson’s first locomotives
Colin Mountford Interpreting sources for the operation for the Durham & Sunderland Railway 1836-56
Peter Davidson Early locomotive performance
Andy Guy, Dr Michael Bailey, Dr David Gwyn, Robert Prothero Jones, Dr Michael Lewis, John Liffen & Jim Rees Penydarren re-examined
Dr M J T Lewis Two early French non-railways
Robin Adams Joseph Atkinson and the early images of the Tanfield Arch
Dr Jim Longworth and Phil Rickard Plateways, steel road rails and and Phil Rickard rutways in Australia
Dr David Gwyn The First Railways in Africa
Helen Gomersall When to stop digging: assessing the excavated evidence
AnthonyCoulls Sierra Leone: proposals for a colonial early railway

The scope of the separate Early Railway Conferences and the Early Main Line Railway Conferences

The ‘early railway’ is defined as railways which were pre-main line in concept if not necessarily in date. The ‘main line’ model is considered to be that established with the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in England in 1830, on the understanding that other dates are relevant in other countries.

The two conferences are differentiated by this definition of ’main line’ and ’pre-main line in date or style’, although there will inevitably be occasional elements of crossover. Their common purpose is to shed new light on aspects of railway history which are relatively little studied or published.

Even amongst those interested in railway and transport history, there is commonly a lack of knowledge of the railway before the main line era. There are very few books on the subject in print, in contrast to the thousands available on main line railways. The period covered by the Early Railway conferences reaches back over 2500 years to the first known railway, the remarkable Diolkos of Ancient Greece, carrying goods and even boats across the Isthmus of Corinth. Railways were used in the medieval metal mines of central Europe, and known in England from Tudor times. By 1800 there were many hundreds of miles of lines in Britain, with the early railway regarded as a key element of the Industrial Revolution.

Mine SceneThe technology and invention of the period before the main line was wide-ranging. Railways encompassed channels cut in stone to wooden waggonways to the development of iron and plate rails, haulage by man and beast to balance and powered inclines, and onwards to the invention of the steam locomotive and the long battle to establish its practicality. The great majority of early railways were private lines used to transport industrial materials, but both public railways and passenger railways pre-date the era of the main line. As the only series dedicated to the subject of the early railway, the conferences showcases a broad range of international studies and the 6th Conference included papers on Trinidad, Egypt and Sierra Leone.

The conferences cover such topics as organisation and finance, the transfer of technology, and the results of archaeological excavations, with fresh researches presented, discussed and peer- reviewed for publication. The early railway remains a field of considerable discovery and reassessment: the conferences have consistently challenged established views on technology, innovation and practice.

The Early Main Line Railway Conferences (2014 and 2018) arose as the result of a public meeting which took place at the National Railway Museum in York in 2011. The four papers, that formed the focus of discussion, can be downloaded here:




RAILWAY FINANCE by Dr Winifred Stokes


General enquiries about the conferences and publications or specifically about previous Early Main Line Railway conferences to:


or if specifically about previous Early Railways conferences to:




At the Fourth Conference some time was devoted to a discussion of the aspects of early British railway history that required further documentary and archaeological research and analysis. Click here to download a copy of the resulting Research Agenda.


'The Coal Waggon' © and by courtesy of Northumberland Archives, ZMD 78/14

‘The Coal Waggon’ © and by courtesy of Northumberland Archives, ZMD 78/14

The 6th International Early Railways Conference was held in the City of Newcastle between 16th – 19th June 2016.

The topics covered were wide-ranging: from national and regional studies to those of individual lines; the analysis of archaeological investigations; far- reaching themes of finance, administration, usage, technology and engineering; and with dates from the medieval period to the later nineteenth century. The papers presented new and previously unpublished research and the timetable allowed generous time for questions and discussion.

Tyne Bridges

Tyne Bridges

The Conference began with a reception and a public lecture on the Thursday evening in the splendour of the lecture theatre of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, where Richard Carlton presented the remarkable and unexpected discoveries of the Neptune Yard excavation at Wallsend. The main Conference venue was the Live Theatre, built within a historic warehouse near the Quayside, and fitted with raked seating and modern facilities.

In addition to the main conference proceedings, evening excursions were arranged to the Tanfield Railway, with a private train, a viewing of the famous Arch and dinner in a local hotel; and a cruise along the River Tyne on a reserved boat, with bar and a hog-roast dinner and a commentary about the location of former coal staithes.

Newcastle was at the heart of the Great Northern Coalfield which, by 1800, had over 500 miles of waggonway moving a million tons of coal a year. It was also the nursery of the steam locomotive, developed by local figures such as Hedley and Hackworth, Buddle and Chapman, Nicholas Wood, John Blenkinsop and, most famously, George and Robert Stephenson. Today, it is a vibrant city which retains its distinct regional character. Its riverscape is among the most dramatic in Britain, the town centre a remarkable early 19th century planned development in ‘Tyneside Classical’.

Nearby Beamish Museum houses working replicas of Locomotion, Steam Elephant and Puffing Billy on its ‘1825’ waggonway. Other well-known early railway landmarks at Wylam, Hetton, Killingworth, the Bowes Railway and many other well-known early railway features are within easy reach, together with the World Heritage sites of Durham and Hadrian’s Wall. The Metro Centre, the largest shopping and leisure site in Europe, is less than 10 minutes away by train from Newcastle Station.

Newcastle’s transport links are excellent. The city lies directly on the motorway system, and is less than three hours from London Kings Cross on the East Coast main line. Newcastle International Airport has a direct rail link to the city centre, and the Metro system gives easy access to Sunderland, Gateshead and the coast.

For research, the holdings at the Durham, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear county archives are on hand, together with the very important collection held by the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. It is strongly recommended that visits are made by appointment:





Previous International Early Railways Conferences

The First conference was held at Durham University in September 1998 and proved highly successful. The Second took place at Manchester’s Museum of Science & Industry in 2001. The Third was held at York’s National Railway Museum in 2004, the Fourth at University College London in 2008, a date which coincided with the 200th anniversary of Trevithick’s London locomotive trials.  The Fifth Conference was held at Caernarfon, in June 2012. This represented a long-awaited opportunity to host the conference in Wales, where so many important early railways were constructed and where the first demonstration of the steam locomotive took place. Over 100 delegates attended a highly stimulating and comfortable conference. The evening trip, a gravity-waggon run and a private train on the Ffestiniog Railway on one of the stormiest nights for several years, proved especially memorable.  See above for the 6th Conference.


Papers from all five previous conferences have been published in a series of attractive and authoritative volumes that have already become collectors’ items.

Click here for a list of contents of the Early Railways volumes.

For an independent summary and reviews of the first five conferences and their proceedings: //www.steamindex.com/library/earlyrly.htm

The papers from the 6th Conference will be published shortly – please see the announcement at the top of this page.  The only other volume still available is Early Railways 2, which can be ordered through the Newcomen Society by contacting its Executive Secretary at: office@newcomen.com

The Conference Committee is aware how difficult it is to find copies of the volumes and is examining possible solutions.


The 1st conference was held at the Galeri, Caernarfon, North Wales from 19th to 22nd June 2014.

The second International Conference on Early Main Line Railways has just happened!  It took place  between Thursday 21st and Sunday 24th June 2018 at the National Railway Museum, York, England.

Here is a list of papers which were presented in York.  It is hoped to have news later in the year regarding the publication of the conference papers.

Thursday 21 June
19.00-21.00 Andy Savage The work of the Railway Heritage Trust
Friday 22 June
09.30-10.50 David Hodgkins Railway directors – who they were and what they did
Peter Northover Consultants in planning and specifying early mainline railways
coffee break
11.20-12.40 Neil Clarke Wellington businessmen and the railway
Gion Caprez Early history of Swiss South Eastern Railway
lunch break
13.50-15.10 Ron Cox/Dermot O’Dwyer Dublin-Belfast main line, 1837-1857
Andrew Odlyzko Dionysius Lardner, the denigrated sage of early railways
tea break
15.40-16.20 John New Railways to Portsmouth
19.00-23.00 North York Moors Railway excursion
Saturday 23 June
09.30-10.50 Ivor Lewis Science and the early main line railway
Stephen Murfitt The English patent system and early main line railway technology
coffee break
11.20-12.40 Poul Thestrup The locomotive export to Europe 1836-54 from Sharp Roberts & Co, Manchester (Sharp Brothers)
David Parry Brymbo and the creation of the North Wales Mineral Railway
lunch break
13.50-15.10 Erica Mukherjee The East Indian Railway and the Bengali environment
Jim Longworth Early Australian Mainline Railways and Mutually Beneficial Exchange
tea break
15.40-17.00 Ann Austin The literacy rate and the arrival of railways
Dieter Hopkin The work of artist Samuel Russell – documenting the railway in print
19.00-22.00 Conference dinner
Sunday 24 June
09.30-10.50 David Gwyn ‘Many shall go about’ – L&M Railway opening
John Minnis/Philip Brown Following the tracks of Architects, Engineers and Contractors: a reappraisal of aspects of 19th century railway architecture
coffee break
11.20-12.40 Stephen K. Jones Rise and Fall: steam and the suspension bridge
Mike Chrimes The safest pair of hands: Joseph Locke, 1824-1839


General enquiries about the conferences and publications or specifically about previous Early Main Line Railway conferences to:


or if specifically about previous Early Railways conferences to:





The Institution of Civil Engineers

National Railway Museum, York

Beamish, The North of England Open Air Museum

Newcomen, The International Society for the History of Engineering and Technology

The Railway and Canal Historical Society