William Smith's Tucking Mill to Kingham Quarry Tramway

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In 1798 William "Strata" Smith, the "Father of English Geology'", bought a small estate at Tucking Mill by the Somerset Coal Canal in the Valley below Combe Down. During 1809 or 1810, he conceived the idea of opening a Bath stonequarry at Kingham Field, an the edge of Combe Down, and conveying the stone by a railway down, to Tucking Mill where it would be sawn by machinery (a water-powered device?), and then loaded an to canal barges. Kingham Field was part of the Midford Castle estate of Charles Conolly.

William Smith (in partnership it appears with his brother John) also built a lift bridge near his house, operated from the north side. Presumbaly built on stone with the bridge itself being made of wood. This may date from April 1802, with a replacement in situ approx March 1812 (costing £36) Entries in Smith's diaries show that planning started in the summer of 1810 and was well advanced by the 26 January 1811.Then he agreed to sell Tucking Mill Meadows to Conolly for £1 330, presumably to finance the scheme. On the 9 April 1811, his diary records: 'agreed with Mr Conolly for 0'Neal to begin his (Conolly's) part of the Railway'. Exactly a month later he wrote to Conolly: 'Iron rails must be ordered'. An inclined plane was undoubtedly necessary for part of the descent to Tucking Mill, and on 16 May 1811 Smith was 'at Bath, writing on . . . Rollers &c'. On 26 May 1811 he signed a 'conveyance and agreement for a lease of the Land & Stone & Railway'. Smith saw John Thomas of the Kennet and Avon Canal an 9 June 1811 and 'agreed with him for 32 tons Rails for Mr C and 13 for myself at £8.7.0.' The ranal (sic) Journal records this transaction in more detail:

Laying of the rails was in progress during August 1811, when Smith spent several days at Tucking Mill. On the 15th he 'ordered better spikes to be used in laying the rails'; on the 17th he 'went to Railway and advised about the laying &c'; on the 18th 'Mr Wm Hill called and talked over the-proposed sawing of stone by the power of my waterfall'. A second boatload of Iron Rails arrived an the 23rd. It is thought that some of the rail used was second-hand from the Caen Hill flight (on the Kennet & Avon Canal).
On the 26th he sent the terms of a proposed co-partnership in stone manufacture to J Lowder Esq, Architect. Smith was still pursuing this matter in February 1812.
table Smith ordered the saws for the stone manufactory in August 1812, and in late October was at Tucking Mill 'continuing improvements to the saw frames.' early in November, attention switched to the quarry where an the 6th he saw the 'quarry arch opened' This undoubtedly refers to the entrance tunnel into the quarry, thus the whole scheme probably came to fruition during tramrailNovember 1812.
In April 1814, Smith mortgaged the remainder of his estate to Charles Conolly including Tucking Mill Wood, on which the 'upper side thereof was made a railroad communicating with the Railroad of .. . Charles Conolly and extending from thence to near the Coal Canal'. This and the diary entries show that Conolly owned the upper part of the railway and leased it to Smith who owned the lower, or Tucking Mill, part. ( It seems likely that Conolly ran the tramway further up Summer Lane to serve his Vinegar Down Quarry),
Unfortunately Smith's imaginative scheme failed due to the unexpected deficiency of the stone and the fact that the Napoleonic Wars were such a financial drain on the Nation's coffers that
cdtunvirtually all building of note stopped!.
When the quarry and railway ceased working is not known but, as late as May 1819, a Mr Frost visited him in London and talked 'of going down to Bath &c to see Tucking Mill and stone of a hard quality for paving'. A month later, an the 11 June, Conolly had Smith committed to the Kings Bench Prison for debt and by 1820 Tucking Mill belonged to Conolly ". The lower part of the railway is clearly defined from Smith's house (ST 765 615) to just north of Tucking Mill viaduct (ST 764 617) a distance of about 350 Yards, rising at a gradient of near 1:10. This length appears to have been of single track and not rope worked. Descending wagons were probably braked with sprags inserted between the spokes of the wheels. A few single-hole stone sleeper blocks can still be seen. These, together with a rail fragment and some nails show that plate rails were used. A small quarry above the railway was linked to it by a short siding.

Beyond the viaduct there is no definite trace of the railway, but it is likely that the present footpath to Summer Lane follows it very closely. Kingham is a small open quarry by Summer Lane (ST 765 621) Which has been backfilled with quarry waste over a tunnel of railway proportions. This must be the'quarry arch' Smith saw opened on 6 November 1812. The tunnel is made of unmortared scappled freestone blocks, and has fallen in about 30 ft from the entrance. It undoubtedly led to underground workings. Recent excavations showed that it once extended closer to the Lane. See above picture

Besides stone, the railway may have carried sand used for bread-oven floors, which Smith obtained from small tunnels driven into the hillside behind his house. The partly collapsed entrance to one of these survives by the railway close to Smith's house.

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Smith's house can be seen in this picture with the footpath/site of the tramway to be seen on the right.

I am indebted to David Pollard and his paper "Bath Stone Quarry Railways 1795/1830" in the BIAS Journal vol.15, pp 13 - 18, 1982. (David used to run the underground quarry museum at Corsham), and to Derek Hawkins, and to Andrew Mathieson (The Weigh-House. No 31. Autumn 2000. pp16-17)

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PS. If one walks up this path one soon comes into a large field. To the left of what appears to be the 'sensible' line of the tramway is a large block of Bath Stone, still upright, with various markings/holes/ notches etc. Is this part of the tramway?


(April 2005. I am indebted to Tim Lunt who wrtes: " This stone is I believe a gatepost which marked the end of the hedge grubbed out by the current landowner a few years ago. ".)

William Smith's commital to a debtor's prison was relatively short-lived. He left London for Yorkshire. He was later to get the recogntion he deserved for an amazing feat. He not only worked-out the order of the rocks (initially in the Somerset Coalfield nearby), but also he could 'date' the rocks by a study of the fossils he found. He then travelled the length and breadth of England and Wales surveying the rocks and noting their occurance and 'dip'. This detail was turned into a gigantic map (16 + 1 engraving plates!), the first of its kind in the world. The staggering beauty and genius can be seen by comparing it with its modern -day counterpart - done by satellites, computers and 'committees'. There is very little difference!. Smith did all this by himself in the days before the railway.