Seems like Yorkshire is home to plenty of old stuff and now we’ve found that it’s home to Middleton Railway, which is known as the oldest working railway, excluding cable systems, in the world. The line was built in 1758 in Leeds, West Yorkshire, and was originally wooden tracks, which were changed to iron edge rails in 1799.
The railway/ wagonway was used as a cheap way to transport coal and was the first railway granted by an Act of Parliament. It allowed Leeds to become a developing industrial bug for glass, metal, potter and the brewing industry.
It was built to move coal from the pits down to the river in the centre of Leeds. At the start of the Industrial Revolution where there were already steam engines in the mills. These were requiring more coal for the mills as well as people moving to the towns in the area needing it also. This series of events meant that there were huge demands on the pits to dig the coal out and get it to where it was wanted.
Prior to the railways, it was moved on donkeys in small quantities. The idea was to build a wagonway and carts and these would be pulled allowing for larger quantities. The first-ever act of parliament was made to give priority to the wagon way.
These were the first railway to have an act of parliament to build a railway. To keep the price of coal down, they replaced the horses with steam engines. These were the first steam engines that worked that was built to work in a commercial environment. So this railway can be said to be responsible for the locomotive industry in Leeds.
In 1812, the Middleton Railway under the management of John Blenkinsop became the first commercial railway in the world to successfully use steam locomotives.
Leeds produced more locomotives than any other town in England. The line came to an end in the 1960s when the national coal board went around shutting the smaller pits.
The railway remained here and Leeds University Transport Society thought it would be great to run this railway and negotiated to run trains on the track – running a daily train service bringing raw materials.
The finish for this line of commercial hauling ended when the motorways came – it was then decided it would be turned into a tourist line instead.
Over 40 years ago the trust was formed which has 30 volunteers who upkeep the tourist side of things catering for a range of people. The volunteers restore the vintage locomotives using the same skills as 200 years ago for tourists to enjoy.
You can visit the railway and meet Santa over the festive period on these dates: Saturday 3rd, Sunday 4th, Saturday 10th, Sunday 11th, Saturday 17th, Sunday 18th, Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th December 2022. For more information visit the website here.
Feature Image Credit: Flickr