Author:   John Goodchild

Published:   2002
Edition:   Paperback
Pages:   55
Genre:   Mining & Industrial Heritage

Status:   In Stock


Wakefield’s First Railway and its Collieries 1798-1880 by John Goodchild.

One could well ask why the story of Smithsons’ Colliery and the railway which carried its coals away to Wakefield and wider markets is of particular interest and significance. Many other collieries were at work in the West Riding when this colliery opened in the 1790s – many indeed with larger outputs than this one, and almost all of them had their own connecting railways.

But in fact the significance of this colliery was and is very considerable, and that significance lies in a number of factors which are in themselves very varied, but unite to form a unique story.

Smithsons’ Colliery and its development is perhaps uniquely well documented. The documents come from quite separate collections which are the papers of the Smithsons themselves and the records of their estate and coal landlords, the Earls of Cardigan – major land and coal owners to the north west of Wakefield far into the twentieth century. Then there survive too, the records relating to Joshua Smithson’s bankruptcy, and all that they have to tell us about the business. In addition, the papers of the Smithsons’ local rival in coalmining, William Fenton, the Coal King of the West Riding, have been preserved, and finally, a range of maps, illustrations, rate books, trade directories, newspaper references and other local records throw sidelights on the story. Together, these sources identify the major factors and incidents in connection with this colliery.

It was the first colliery to supply Wakefield with coal via a lengthy railway connection. At just over three miles, its railway was probably, in the 1790s, the longest line in Yorkshire, and for a time its main line was only just short of five miles. For a time there were also connections with the Lake Lock Rail Road, probably the world’s first public railway, owned and run by the world’s first public railway company.