Railways of Britain-article site: Waggonways

last updated: 07/11/08
Introduction to Waggonways

Waggonways played an important role in the development of the Railways of Britain, from the 17th century onwards. They set the principles for today's railways, but instead of using steel or iron rails they generally employed wooden rails to guide and support the vehicles travelling upon them. When this method of transportation first developed is unknown but suggestions have been made that systems of wheel guidance were in use certainly in Roman times but possibly even from Assyrian times. In 1557 a German engineer, Georgius Agricola Agricola, produced a work known as "De Re Mettalica" ("of the nature of metals"). In this book, written in Latin, are pictures of a European mine employing wagons on wooden rails for the movement of spoil and ore from the work face of the mine to the surface. It is a generally held belief that this is the first documented evidence to suggest that railed-ways were in use in central Europe at that time. One illustration in the book is of a mining wagon, named a 'canis', or dog ('Hund' in German). These vehicles ran on wooden planks laid to a narrow gauge, presumably to allow it to fit through the narrow mine tunnels. An iron prong protruded from beneath the 'canis' and fit between the two planks which not only acted as a means of load distribution but also a s a guide for the vehicle as the wheels were not flanged. A physical example of a vehicle, believed to be from the 16th Century, for use on rails was on display at a Berlin Museum<span style="font-family: Arial; color: black