Described as one of the earliest and longest waggonways in Northumberland, Plessey Waggonway is known to have ran from Plessey Hall Farm eastwards for some five and a half miles to the port of Blyth. It was in use from at least as early as 1709 and continued carrying goods – mainly coal – until 1812. Though it was very probably far from the earliest – nor, indeed, the longest – in the county, it is remarkable for its survival in the landscape.
Though now overlaid for long stretches by both the A192 and A1061, it can be seen in places as an earthwork over six feet in height. Out of commission by the time of the birth of the railways proper, it was used to transport coal on horse-drawn waggons and was made from beech wood rails laid on oak sleepers – though iron runners were used in later years. The horses would have been small in stature, each animal pulling a ‘chaldron’ of 52 hundred weight – and would be expected to make two round trips per day.
One may look at Plessey and its environs today and wonder what all the historical fuss is about. But this now largely empty space on the map was once a thriving village, with coal being mined from the immediate area – and shipped to London – from as early as the thirteenth century. Plessey Hall Farm itself dates from 1680, but the site was almost certainly occupied by an earlier building belonging to the Plessis family and formed the centre of the local manor. A series of lumps and bumps in a nearby field provide likely evidence of the deserted medieval village.