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The Wagonways

As the demand for coal grew a solution was needed to solve the transport dilemma. The solution was the early wagonways, where a horse pulled a wagon on wooden tracks. The early wagons (chaldrons) were measured in bolls:

1 boll = 2.35cwt which is about 300 kilos
(20cwt = 1 ton)

On level ground one horse could pull 10.5 tons of coal for 24 miles. The wagonways terminated at coal staiths.

(In their heyday they were often referred to as waggons or waggonways.)

In 1748, pits were opened in the Wylam district by the Blacket family. Next to the wagonway was "Street House" the cottage where George Stephenson was born in 1781. It was also at Wylam Colliery that some of the earliest experiments with steam traction in Northumberland took place.

William Hedley built two locomotives in 1814-15 which ran on Losh iron plate rails. (William Losh - Walker Ironworks.) Initially these were four wheelers but this caused extensive damage to the track and were rebuilt as 8 wheelers. The two locomotives were the "Puffing Billy" and the "Wylam Dilly".

In 1818 a line was built from Backworth A Pit to Howdon Pans and on 10th September of that year the first coal shipment from the Tyne of Backworth coal was made.

By 1821 horses had been superseded by steam on the Allotment to Percy Main sector. In 1823 the wagonway was extended to Cramlington with new Staiths at Percy Main catering for the extra coal supplements.

The development of the wagonways and improvements in the way coal was handled at the staiths caused a threat to the livelihood of the keelmen. Violent strikes occurred in 1809, 1819 and 1822.

After the building of public steam railways, part of the wagonways disappeared or connected to the nearest point on the new railways.


Map of the wagonways

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