Wylam Waggonway

Hadrian's Cycleway follows the course of the Wylam Waggonway between Wylam and Blayney Row and passes George Stephenson's Cottage which is now in the care of the National Trust.

You may think there is a spelling error in the title but the correct spelling of "waggonway" has two "g"'s. A Waggon was the term used for a truck for carrying coal.

The size of these waggons was measured in "bols". (1 boll = 2.35 cwts - approx. 110 Kg) - the waggons used at Wylam were the largest at 24 bols.

It is thought that the Wylam waggonway was opened in 1748 and was therefore is one of the earliest railways built.

Because the river was too shallow at Wylam the coal had to be taken down river to be loaded into "keels". The waggonway linked the Wylam colliery to the coal staiths (loading point) at Lemington by a level track five miles long along the north bank of the River Tyne. Originally the waggons were horse drawn.

Early horse drawn coal waggon

The earliest track here was made of wood with the waggons hauled by horses. Eventually these were replaced by short cast iron rails about 1 mtr long supported at each end by stone blocks, which allowed the horse to walk easily between the rails. At first the track gauge was 5'~0" but later when locomotives were used it was changed to the standard gauge of 4'~81/2"

Newcastle Keel Boat

At the staithes the coal was loaded into "keels" which were flat bottomed boats - to be taken further down river - where it was loaded on the large sailing coal ships for export to London and beyond.

The cycle route on the south bank of the River Tyne is called the Keelman's Way.

The Wylam Waggonway saw early experiments with using steam traction - William Hedley built two locomotives between 1814-1815 simliar to the one depicted below. Puffy Billy being one of these.

Puffing Billy

One of the most recognised locomotive names of all time, Puffing Billy was built at Wylam on Tyne by William Hedley for coal-owner Christopher Blackett in 1814, and is the world’s oldest surviving steam engine. The original Puffing Billy survives in the Science Museum in London.

The waggonway ceased operation in 1867 and later in 1872 the
Scotswood, Newburn and Wylam Railway was built along the old trackbed.

Early steam locomotive at Wylam Colliery with coal waggons