The Willington Waggonway: rediscovery, rescue, preservation and research

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Talk or debate
14 November 2017 14:00 - 16:00
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The very substantial remains of a section of a wooden waggonway originally constructed in 1785 were discovered on Tyneside in July 2013.  The discovery was made during archaeological investigation and recording at the former Neptune Shipyard at Walker, Newcastle upon Tyne in advance of its redevelopment.

The remains were identified by early railway historian Les Turnbull as part of the route of the historic Willington Waggonway.  The site was reckoned to be of world significance for the archaeological record of the development of railway technology.

The significance of the discovery is summarised below:

  • it was the most complete and best-preserved section of early wooden railway to have been found anywhere in the world
  • it was the earliest railway yet discovered which was built to what became the international ‘standard’ gauge, ultimately defined as 4’-8½” or 1435mm
  • the site included the only ‘wash hole’ for waggonway wheels ever to have been professionally excavated and recorded
  • there is evidence for the re-use of ships’ timbers in the construction or maintenance of the waggonway; if these timbers originate from types of vessel which no longer survive they may be an important source of evidence for their construction

This talk will cover the discovery, rescue and preservation along with new evidence brought to light by the current research and briefly explore the impact of the waggonways on the North East , there lasting worldwide legacy and plans for the remains of the Willington Waggonway.

This is a free public event run by the Discovery Museum in partnership with the Newcomen Society, North East.


Dominique Bell, Project Coordinator for the Willington Waggonway Research Programme. Contact E-Mail - Tel no. +44 (0)191 277 2260


Discovery Museum
Blandford Square
Newcastle upon Tyne
United Kingdom

Contact Details

Alan Brown
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