Council seeks sculpture for Purley to mark Surrey Iron Railway

Early in the 19th century, the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway was used to carry freight between Croydon and London

Croydon Council is offering a £30,000 budget to commission the design and creation of a public artwork for Purley which should commemorate the Surrey Iron Railway, thought to be the world’s first railway.

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1801 for the railway to be built between the Thames at Wandsworth and Croydon, at what is now Reeves Corner. It was a transport system for the burgeoning industrial age. The wagons were hauled by horses, and tolls were charged to carry coal, building materials, lime, manure, corn and seeds. The railway opened in 1802, with another section opening a year later, and it continued to operate until 1846.

The Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway was built as an extension of the Surrey  Iron Railway and opened in 1805, running south through Purley and on to Coulsdon. A remnant of the track bed is retained in Rotary Fields, towards the top corner of the field.

A contemporary map of the route of the Surrey Iron Railway, before the Purley branch was built

According to the poorly drafted artists’ brief produced by the council (large chunks of which look to have been cut and pasted from Wikipedia), they are seeking submissions to: “Create an engaging and visually prominent installation that reflects Purley’s heritage; Reflect the aspirations of the local community and provide an area of public realm that they can be proud of”.

And, in a sign of the times, the submission needs to “Develop a vandal and weather  resistant approach which is simple and affordable to run and maintain”.

This plaque commemorating the Surrey Iron Railway was in the wall of Young’s brewery at Wandsworth, until the building was demolished in 2014

The appeal for submissions was only announced at the beginning of this month, and closes on November 30 (which seems all very hurried), with a decision on the successful submission to be announced in December and the sculpture expected to be made and ready to be unveiled early in 2019. The council suggests a handful of sites in and around Purley town centre, including Rotary Fields.

Further information on the commissioning scheme, and copies of the artists’ brief, can be obtained from the council’s regeneration manager for Purley, Diana Phiri-Whitty, at diana.phiri‐

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