I recently spotted a cash machine outside East Croydon station with a message on the screen which says:
“Welcome to Croydon
Home of… The world’s first horse drawn
railway in 1803 (Croydon to Wandsworth)”.
A nice touch, however horse drawn railways were already long established by the time the Surrey Iron Railway opened in 1803. The first railway for which documentary evidence is currently known is apparently the Wollaton Wagonway, near Nottingham, which was referred to as a “passage now laide with railes” in a document dated 1 October 1604. This used horse power, as did many subsequent lines in mining areas of the northeast of England.
The claim to fame of the SIR is that it has long been widely described as the world’s first public railway; previous railways had been private lines for the use of the owners of a mine, quarry or similar. However there is now doubt as to the accuracy of this claim, as it appears that the SIR was in fact preceded by the Lake Lock Rail Road, near Wakefield, which opened in 1798 but doesn’t seem to have had as good PR.
In a moment of boredom I contacted the operators of the cash machine. Not only did I get a reply, it was longer and politer than I expected (or deserved?). Apparently they obtained the information from the Wikipedia article on the SIR, and “these screens are due to be changed and this information will then be removed”.
I promise to get out more.