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Early Railways


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© Northumberland Archives, ‘The Coal Waggon’, ZMD 78/14

The next Conference has been arranged for the 16 – 19 June 2016 (Thursday evening to Sunday lunchtime), to take place at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northern England. The opening lecture will be given in the magnificent lecture hall of the North of England Institute of Mining & Mechanical Engineers (NEIMME), the other papers will be heard in the Live Theatre on the Quayside, a modern and spacious tiered auditorium. Further details will follow.


Researchers into the history and archaeology of early railways who would like to present their findings are invited to indicate their intention to the organising committee by the end of May 2015. A 300-word synopsis should be submitted for consideration by the end of September 2015.

The standard length of papers is 30 minutes, with shorter presentations and papers welcome. As before, it is intended to publish the proceedings. Proposals for papers, which are encouraged on such topics as economic, business and social history as well as on technical subjects, and any queries, should be sent to:

The handbill for the Call for Papers can be downloaded here

Early Railways 5 publication


Those who subscribed to the subscription list for Early Railways 5 have now received their copies. ONLY TWO COPIES remain and are available for sale at the retail price of £55 including post and packing world wide. To obtain a copy of this valuable book please use the following ’add to cart’ button where payment can be made by credit or debit card or from a paypal account. Otherwise, please send a cheque for £55.00, made out to Six Martlets Publishing, to: Six Martlets Publishing, 4 Market Hill, Clare, Sudbury CO10 8NN, United Kingdom. Please be sure to include a postal address with your order. A list of the contents of Early Railways 5 can be viewed below.


A new international conference series on


will alternate with the existing Early Railway Conference on a 2-year cycle. The first main-line conference was held in


from Thursday 19 June to Sunday 22 June 2014.

Further information can be found here.

ER5 photo 1
Conference papers have researched the close relationship between early rail transport and other industrial transport systems including canals, such as here at William Reynolds' Hay canal-incline near Ironbridge.



The Early Railways conferences will continue as before, at a four-year interval, with the next planned for 2016.

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 ’main line’ and ’pre-main line date or style’, although there will inevitably be elements of crossover at times. They share a common purpose, in hoping to shed new light on subjects which are, in terms of railway history, relatively little studied or published.


The First conference was held at Durham University in September 1998 and proved highly successful. It was immediately agreed to hold a Second, which took place at Manchester’s Museum of Science & Industry in 2001, with the Third at York’s National Railway Museum in 2004 and the Fourth at University College London in 2008, a date which coincided with the 200th anniversary of Trevithick’s London locomotive trials.

Click here for a review of the Fourth Conference.

ER5 picture 2
Tyneside coal waggonways formed the most extensive railway system in the world by the end of the eighteenth century. [Reproduced by permission of the North of England Open Air museum, Beamish.]


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 proved memorable; a gravity-waggon run and a private train on the Ffestiniog Railway on one of the stormiest nights for several years.

ER5 picture 3
Risca viaduct on the Sirhowy Tramroad in South Wales, opened in 1805, is one of the iconic structures of the early railway period. [Reproduced by permission of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust: Elton Collection.]

See above, under ’Early Railways 5 - Invitation to subscribe’ for a list of papers that were presented at the Conference:

ER5 picture 4
Photographs of operational early railways are comparatively rare. Here horses pull a train along a plateway at Hirwaun in South Wales. [Reproduced by permission of Rhondda Cynon Taff Libraries.]



Papers from all four 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.

The only volume still in print is Early Railways 2, which can be ordered at

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


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.


Enquiries about the Early Railways conferences and publications by e-mail to:

The Early Railway Conference is jointly sponsored by

The standard length of papers is 30 minutes, with shorter presentations and papers welcome. As before, it is intended to publish the proceedings. Proposals for papers, which are encouraged on such topics as economic, business and social history as well as on technical subjects, and any queries should be sent to: