Lambton Waggonway: Southern Terminus
- 'In 1996, excavations were carried out at the site of the former Lambton cokeworks where, in August 1995, during preliminary land reclamation works, evidence for wooden rails were spotted by an alert and interested JCB driver. The rails were covered with about 2m of well-compacted coal and coke dust, which had protected the rails and sleepers from the elements, leaving them in a remarkably good condition. After some further, more controlled clearance, the extent of the remains became evident, and a subsequent archaeological excavation revealed some 150m of wooden track, comprising substantial sections of four tracks, and fragmentary remains of another. This was a most exciting find, especially for those of us who had long studied the waggonways of the North East, but who never believed that we would ever actually see one. Significant elements of colliery structures were also unearthed, including structures which were interpreted as being seatings and ashpits for haystack boilers.
In terms of the detailed findings, the sleepers were of oak tree branches, typically between 1.7m and 2m long. A few were re-used pieces of well cut timber, but many were uncut and extremely rough, curved, and angled. Consequently the sleeper spacing was erratic, varying between 40cm and 85cm. The ends of most sleepers were sawn, and a flat surface cut on the upper ends to seat the bottoms of the rails.
The rails were cut from oak or fir tree, and were used in a variety of lengths between 1.25m and 3.3m, cut to a square section of 12 to 13cm, and fastened down to the sleepers at a gauge of about 4 feet 3 inches [1.29m], with round or square dowels. Some sections of track had a built-up inner rail, especially noticeable on a curved section of track, but also on a straight section of track where it was buttressed by wooden angled buttresses, fastened down to sleepers. One set of points remained, where two tracks converged at an angle of about 12 degrees, but the points had no moving parts, the waggons simply bumped over from a branch line to the main line. The track had been laid on a bed of ash and coal fragments which had been dumped into a shallow trench cut in the natural boulder clay. The ballast between the sleepers comprised small-broken stone, crushed brick and tile, etc.'
[Stafford Linsley's annotation]
- Historical Background
- 'The Lambton D pit commenced working in the late 1770s-1780s, and its first waggonway may date from that period, although wear and tear and replacement of small sections of track would be a regular occurrence throughout the life of the waggonway. Although sections of wooden waggonway have been found elsewhere, notably at Bedlam in Shropshire and at Bersham in North Wales, the Lambton waggonway represented the most extensive, complete, and best preserved wooden waggonway yet discovered.'
[Stafford Linsley's annotation]
- 1780s Likely date of the first wooden waggonway.
- 1870s Line abandoned.
- For a detailed account of the history and excavation see:
Ayris, I. M. et al, (1998) ‘The Archaeological Excavation of Wooden Waggonway Remains at Lambton D Pit, Sunderland', Industrial Archaeology Review, XX: 2-22.
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