The Limehouse Viaduct on the London and Blackwall Railway,  which opened in July 1840, is said to be the 2nd oldest railway viaduct in world  , though while that is certainly not true as a number of others were built in the 2nd and 3rd decade of that century, though it may be the second oldest in London, with the oldest being the London to Greenwich viaduct that opened in 1836   though the Wharncliffe Viaduct in Hanwell, though historically outside London, also opened in 1837 for the GWR.  
The line started from just outside the City, at Minories, but within a year a station at Fenchurch Street in the heart of the City was opened  and ran 3 1/2 miles through the East End to Blackwall Station  servicing a wharf on the Thames. The Illustrated London News rode the line in 1851 reporting “Through the windows we had a glimpse of the Tower of London; but soon emerged from the covered way, amid roofs of houses, an ocean of pantiles, and groves of chimneys. We passed the sugar-baking district of Goodman’s-fields, the London Docks, Wapping, St George’s-in-the-East – a neighbourhood crowded with a busy, dingy, working- or sea-going population.” 
The railway and it’s viaduct runs just to the north of the then important Limehouse / Regents Canal Basin  but is not connected with it, it’s role being simply transporting passengers to Brunswick Wharf at Blackwall for transfer to boats and ferries. The L&BR itself operated 3 ferries between Blackwall and Gravesend, then a day-tourist destination and for onward transfer to ocean going boats. 
Blackwall had been since the 1600s a very important wharf for London and played a key role in global travel at that time: “In the early years of the 17th century the port was the main departure point of the English colonisation of North America and the West Indies launched by the London Company.” Later it was where emigrees to Australia would take a ferry to Gravesend to embark on ocean going boats. 
Blackwall was also where famously the first successful English settlers to north America left from in 1606 and a monument to them can be seen on the riverside today called the Virginia Settlers Memorial. 
The riverside at Blackwall had various names at the turn of the 19thC: Brunswick Wharf, Brunswick Pier and “Brunswick Dock ( [aka] Brunswick Basin or Perry’s Dock) … built … between March 1789 and November 1790, when it opened. It had two basins of above eight acres in all, one (the nearer in this picture) capable of holding thirty large East Indiamen and the other a similar number of smaller vessels. Each had separate entrances. In 1806 the dock was bought by the East India Dock Co., formed for the purpose, and became the East India Export Dock. … home of ‘Blackwall frigates’, the last development of large Indiamen, and of Green’s Blackwall line trading to both India and Australia.” 
And it was the East India Dock Company who created the Brunswick Wharf that the London and Blackwall Railway was built to service. “In the early 1830s the river frontage between Blackwall Yard and the upper entrance to the East India Docks basin was rebuilt as a steam wharf by the East India Dock Company. Called Brunswick Wharf, it was intended to cater for the burgeoning steam-packet trade, which was already causing overcrowding in the Pool, and within a few years of opening in 1834, the new wharf was linked to the City by a frequent rail service … Sited on the wharf, the railway terminus was one of Blackwall’s more distinguished architectural compositions, while the earlier river wall was a notable example of late-Georgian engineering. Brunswick Wharf survived into the late 1940s, when, together with the East India Export Dock, it was redeveloped as part of the site of the Brunswick Wharf Power Station.” “In July 1840 the London and Blackwall Railway opened its terminus on Brunswick Wharf itself. Operating originally out of the Minories — and from 1841 out of Fenchurch Street — the railway cut the journey time from the City to the wharf to only 15 minutes. In June 1841 the directors produced figures to show the increasing use being made of the railway: in the six months following the opening of the station more than 170,000 embarked or disembarked at Brunswick Wharf, while the number for April and May 1841 alone was over 115,000.” 
The 4 Penny Railway
The railway was unusual in being, on Stephenson’s suggestion, a cable railway, with static engines pulling the trains by rope, to lower the risk of fire in the docks “The Commercial Railway was incorporated in 1836 to build a railroad from the Minories, an area in the City of London, to Blackwall, in the East End. Blackwall was a centre of shipping and shipbuilding. The operators were reluctant to use steam locomotives because of the danger of fire in the crowded areas through which the line would pass, and because of a desire to provide service every 15 minutes. “At an extraordinary general meeting of the shareholders of the company, held yesterday, the report of Messrs. Stephenson and Bidder, recommending the use of two stationary engines to work the trains instead of locomotives, was adopted.” (Source: Mechanic’s Magazine, January 20, 1838)…Built and opened in 1840 as the London and Blackwall Railway, the 3.75 mile line (after a short extension from Minories to Fenchurch) had two tracks, which were operated independently. … Almost the entire line was built on viaducts. There was a steam engine at each end of each track, 110 horsepower at the London end and 75 horsepower at the Blackwall end. Trains from Blackwall to London were going generally uphill, so the London engines needed more power to pull them.”  The cable power was abandoned by 1849 and ordinary trains introduced but with covered stations.
It was also unusual in it’s very early use of electric telegraph, used to signal when trains were to move! 
The railway was known as the 4d Railway “The London and Blackwall Railway began life as the Commercial Railway (Commercial Rd) but changed name when the line was allowed into Fenchurch St, it was more commonly known as the fourpenny rope due to its 4d fare.” 
Usage was low after the railway to Gravesend opened and later competition from trams saw the Blackwall end of the line closed in 1926 though John Betjeman evocatively remembered traveling to Blackwall probably only a few years before the closure. “Those frequent and quite empty trains of the Blackwall Railway ran from a special platform at Fenchurch Street. I remember them. Like stage-coaches they rumbled past East End chimney pots, wharves and shipping stopping at empty black stations till they came to a final halt at Blackwall station…When one emerged there, there was nothing to see beyond it but a cobbled quay and a vast stretch of wind whipped water” 
For decades after, the line to Blackwall and the viaduct at Limehouse Basin were abandoned, only occasionally used for freight usage, but then ironically after the docks shut, the line was resurrected for use for the Docklands Light Railway, apart from the section from West India Docks to Blackwall which was demolished and bypassed!  
The building of the viaduct and bridge
The L&BR viaduct and it’s bridge at Limehouse were built after 2 rival schemes to connect the City with the new wharf at Blackwall had been floated; the 1st, a northerly sunken route proposed by Robert Stephenson going to Blackwall via Whitechapel, and the 2nd, proposed by John Rennie (The Younger)  the builder of London Bridge in 1832, more directly via Shadwell, and on a viaduct. Ironically while the southern viaduct proposal won, Rennie was not able to take the scheme forward and Stephenson was appointed to enact it! 
John Rennie’s father John Rennie The Older had coincidentally ‘built’ the close-by London and West India Docks and the East India Docks in Blackwall as well as the 1817 Waterloo Bridge. 
The engineers for the London and Blackwall line were Robert Stephenson, the son of George Stephenson but a railway engineer on his own account by this time,  and G P Bidder a working class man who by his mathematical genius had become a renown engineer.  And his father George Stephenson another working class self-taught engineer, ‘The Father of the Railways’, a Geordie who had invented the ‘Geordie’ Safety Lamp for mines, was also involved too.  Rebecca Preston of English Heritage states “The individual involvement of George and Robert Stephenson changed over time and at some points their roles are difficult to untangle. It is probably safe to say that both Stephensons were responsible for the London and Blackwall Railway, with Robert as the lead engineer.” 
A newspaper report from 1840 stated “The architectural part of the railway is neat and unostentalious and was designed by William Tite, Esq, the successful candidate for the building of the New Royal Exchange. The line proceeds on a series of arches from the Minories to the West India Docks, across the Regent’s-canal …The railway is fenced in with a light and ornamental iron palisade, and the ironwork also presents a more pleasing view to the eye as Mr Jackson, the builder, had the contract for the London end, Mr Webb for the centre, and Messrs Peto and Glissell for the Blackwall terminus of the railway.” 
William Tite was famous as a station architect and designed both termini of the London and Blackwall Railway, Blackwall Station  and the Fenchurch Street Station of 1841  and also the rebuilding of the Royal Exchange in the City of London. 
Rebecca Preston suggests though that Tite did not in fact do the design for the viaduct “Tite, whose architectural practice was largely railways based, was responsible for valuations and property acquisition along the route and for the architectural parts of the railway. He had also been set to design the arches and bridges, but when George Stephenson and Bidder were appointed this became their responsibility. Both Stephensons were immediately requested to comment on adopting a plan recommended by Bidder, who probably actually designed the viaduct and bridges.” 
While almost the whole of the route from Fenchurch Street to Blackwall was on a brick viaduct, which now ends just before West India Quay, swept away in the creation of the DLR, it is the bridge at Limehouse Basin that is most interesting. A report from 1842 describes it:
“That portion of the line lying between the Minories and the West India Dock Road is carried by a handsome viaduct of brick, at a considerable elevation above the levels of the streets intersected by it. The whole length of this viaduct is 4020 yards, and the number of arches 285, chiefly of 30-feet span and semi-elliptical form, having a versed sine of 10 feet… A stone weathered cornice, of bo1d outline, runs the whole length, and on either side of the viaduct; this is also used as a blocking-course, in which are fixed the iron standards of the railing, very properly introduced instead of solid parapets, the ill effects of which are daily experienced on the Greenwich Railway : the noise to the passengers is of a stunning description, and the constant destruction of the parapet-copings must have entailed a considerable outlay for repairs. … The largest arches are those which cross over the Regent’s Canal locks; they are three in number, and each of 87-feet span.” 
Historic England has had this structure listed as Grade II since 1980. The long listing, ( incorrectly only crediting George and not Robert Stephenson) states: “1839. Engineers George Stephenson and G P Bidder. Built as part of the London and Blackwall Railway, opened in 1840. An early stock brick arcaded viaduct with console corbelled string below parapet with articulating dies. The Branch Road Bridge of 2 elliptical keystoned arches. Fine 3 arched bridge over the Grand Union Canal, the “centre piece” of the Regents Dock sequence of the viaduct, similar but single arch bridge over the Limehouse Cut. All 3 bridges have heavy ashlar quoining to abutments, surmounted by pedimental blocking course. Heavy keystones to finely gauged brickwork of arches, large stone cornice on corbel brackets below parapet. The Grand Union Canal Bridge has a large arcaded cast iron railing to the parapet. Listed for railway engineering interest. One of the earliest railways to serve the docks, before the great railway expansion of the 1840s. The railway was to revolutionise docking methods and buildings in the 1850s. Built by the famous railway engineer George Stephenson, this viaduct, with its fine arches, also has considerable architectural merit.” 
A DLR leaflet from 1987 has a good history of the line 
But what is it built from!
While most of the viaduct and bridge is made from the then ubiquitous yellowish London Stock Bricks ( see previous Building London posts ) maybe produced locally or imported from further up the Thames as for the West India Docks  the most interesting thing is the sandstones used. There are some neat, ‘picked’ or ‘pecked’ rusticated quoin stones on the easterly pillar but also some massive and decayed plinth blocks which are unusual in London. 
Ruth Siddal of the London Pavement Geology website states the stone is Sandstone from Upper Carboniferous, but does not go into detail nor suggest an origin nor differentiate between the different stones  but for Building London which likes to find the origin of the materials that built London so this is a start. Let’s dig deeper!
Graham Lott in his “The Sands of Time – Britain’s Building Sandstones” states that Sandstone is the word for “… a hard sedimentary rock formed by the weathering, erosion and accumulation of ‘sand-sized’ fragments from any pre-existing rock-type – igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary. Sand accumulations principally form as windblown desert dunes, coastal beaches or the beds of rivers and streams. Geologically, sand includes all particles between 00.063 microns and 2mm in size. Most sand deposits include a range of grain sizes within these limits (deposits which contain a wide range of grain sizes are described as ‘poorly sorted’). Over time, such sand deposits become gradually buried, compacted and cemented to form the sandstone beds quarried today. Geologists refer to this transformation from sand to sandstone as diagenesis, a process which takes place over millions of years.”
“Understanding the mineral composition of building sandstones is not just of academic interest and should be of value to both the producer and user of the stone. The term sandstone provides no indication of the mineralogical composition of the rock. Most building sandstones comprise a mineralogical mix of grains including quartz, feldspar, mica and diverse rock fragments. They might also include other components in their framework such as fossil fragments, pebbles or clay layers”
He notes “England’s sandstones have been exploited for building stone for hundreds of years and much of its surviving stone heritage is constructed of sandstone. In London, which doggedly remains a limestone-dominated city, other British sandstones, with the exception of Kentish Ragstone and Reigate Stone, were not in general use in the city until the early 19th century…”
Siddal indicates that the Sandstone at Limehouse Basin is Carboniferous and Lott continues “Until the 19th century British building sandstone production appears to have remained very localised with each county largely meeting its own needs. Subsequently, however, driven by booming industrial development in the North of England, sandstone production gradually centred on the Carboniferous successions of the Pennines. Today the heartland of Britain’s building sandstone industry is still concentrated on these Carboniferous sandstone resources with numerous active quarries in Derbyshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham.” 
Lott repeats this in his ‘Sourcing stone for the conservation and repair of the buildings and monuments of Britain’, “Far and away the most prolific sources of building sandstones, however, lie within the Carboniferous succession, which remains the most important and most extensively quarried building stone resource in Britain today. Sandstone for building has been quarried since Roman times from the Carboniferous of North‐West England (Northumberland and Durham), the Pennines (Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire) and in the coalfield areas of Wales, Somerset, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and in the Southern Uplands and Midland Valley of Scotland (Hyslop et al. 2006). These areas still form the core of Britain’s modern building stone industry and, because of their variety and durability are most commonly specified for new build projects. The sandstones, include white, yellow, grey and green varieties and range from fine to coarse grained, some with common pebbly grit beds (Craigleith, Stancliffe, Bramley Fall etc; Figure 2). Mineralogically they can be broadly divided into coarse, quartzose sandstones, with pervasive quartz cements, which primarily characterise sources in the Millstone Grit Group, and the finer grained lithic sandstones sourced from the overlying Coal Measures.” 
And Siddal notes that this sandstone is not just Carboniferous but of the Upper Carboniferous, and that could then be a Millstone Grit or one of the Coal Measures sandstones.And the 3 stones Lott mentioned above, Craigleith, from Edinburgh, Stancliffe from north of Matlock in Derbyshire and Bramley Fall, just up the Aire, west of Leeds, are then all possibilities. Looking at the stone at Limehouse there appears to be sandstone and gritstone and maybe more than 3 types. And when trying to identify stone used in London it’s worth noting they tended to come from similar places by similar routes and looking at what was being used in at that point, and how they got there. For example when the London and Blackwall Railway was being built the main railways to the north had not yet been built. The Great Northern Railway  did not open in London till 1850, and the Midland Railway  didn’t open till 1860s, though the London to Birmingham railway from Euston had recently opened  but stone had still got to London from Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Scotland by river, canal and by sea for many decades, even centuries so the railways were not at this time crucial and the 3 mentioned above Craigleith, Stancliffe and Bramley Fall all had come by sea to London by this time. ( Nb Building London will be visiting all of these quarries in 2023 )
So the first possibility then is Craigleith Stone. Watson states of it, “Craigleith Stone, belonging to the upper division of this group, [ Carboniferous sandstones ] has had a good reputation among architects and builders for very many years. The original quarries, about three miles to the west of Edinburgh, are nearly exhausted after having furnished an immense quantity of building material to that city. It was long the principal stone used for both public and private building’s in the Scottish Metropolis, and was also trans- ported to London and to the Continent. The Bank of England in London (1770), as well as the British Museum (1828) and parts of Buckingham Palace (1825-35) were built of it. The specimen indicates that it has a delicate grey-drab colour, and is close-grained, so that it is suitable for decorative, work.” 
This shows it was being used in London for building at this time, but while it’s quite possible that the clean quoin blocks in the bridges are Craigleith, the large plinth blocks are less clear as to what they are. Some of them are gritty and others yellow and sandy, different to the grey of Craigleith so guessing those plinth blocks are not Craigleith, which anyway sounds too good!  
The second possibility would be stone from “..the Stancliffe quarries, Darley Dale, … an example of the more finely-grained rocks in the group. This is known commercially as “Darley Dale Stone.” It was used in building St George’s Hall, Liverpool (1842), also for constructing: the Thames Embankment, London (1870).” 
“The Darley Dale sandstone quarried at Stancliffe, near Matlock, is one of the best know building materials of this class. It is a close-grained, compact, felspathic sandstone of pale brown colour and largely employed throughout the country on account of it’s great strength and durability. In London it has been used for … Thames Embankment” 
But while a possibility for the quoin stones, again this seems of too good a quality to be the massive plinth stones.
So a third possibility then is that the stone is Bramley Fall ( or similar, as the name was applied to a number of similar ‘Rough Stones’), one of the Yorkshire Millstone Grits, and we also know that was being used in London at this time. Bramley Fall was used in the West India Docks in the first decade of the century , by Rennie for abutments at Southwark Bridge 1819 , for building the docks walls at St Katherines Dock in 1829 , Rennie’s London Bridge in 1832 ( for the structural innards, with the Cornish granite it’s is more famous for used for facing) , and the Euston Arch in 1837 . With such previous usage it’s not unlikely that Stephenson would have chosen it and note this comment from Rennie years later referring to “My excellent and talented friend, the late Robert Stephenson,” and it’s likely these engineers would have been sharing ideas and sources.
Regarding the industry in Yorkshire, though 30 years later, The BGS Building Stone County Atlas for West and South Yorkshire quotes “In 1873, 6000 men were engaged in stone-getting and dressing in the quarries in the locality. The produce is about 450,000 tons per annum, and something like £650,000 in value….a large proportion of the stone (fully one half) is sent by rail or water to London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and other places equally distant from Bradford…. ordinary coarse sandstone, known to engineers as Bramley Fall,.” 
The above mentioned Bramley Fall and other ‘Rough Stones’ quarries west of Leeds were all a stone’s throw from the Liverpool and Leeds Canal,  built in the late 18thC, on which stone was transported down to the Aire and Calder Navigation, recently at this point deepened, and to the newly built port at Goole on the Humber, whence it could be transported along the coast and down to London.  
So what are they?
The above 3 pictures show the main 3 types of stone at the Limehouse viaduct: A soft yellowish sandstone, a pinkish gritstone and a grey sandy/gritty stone. So what are they? They are sandstones. But there appear to be a number of sandstones, 3 or even more maybe.
The quoin stones are generally grey and possibly Craigleith or Darley Dale and while some of the massive plinth stones look like a Millstone Grit, possibly then Bramley Fall, it’s unclear what the unusual, massive, decayed, soft, iron stained sandstone plinths are! One of these stones had some iron concretions in it.
It would be great of someone could identify them definitely and that is eminently possible by identifying the exact composition of the sandstone by either close examination and/or petrography and then comparison to known stones. It is also a possibility that somewhere in some archive there is a record of the purchase of these massive stones!
And please do comment and like the posts. It’s very useful to know what visitors and readers are thinking!
Anyway this is a great place to visit! The dock is spectacular, the massive, plinth, viaduct stones are fascinating and it’s a stone’s throw from the mighty, spectacular Thames!
And lots of great ways to get to this structure. Come from the north-east down the Limehouse Cut, approach from east or west along the north bank of the Thames, or maybe most appropriately, walk down the Regents Canal or even take the DLR from Tower Gateway, almost exactly on the spot of the first station, Minories and get off at Limehouse! And if going to Blackwall the East India DLR station is probably better than Blackwall DLR for getting to the site of Blackwall Wharf.
Rebecca Preston, who wrote the authoritative text on the L&BR, which was much consulted in this post, can be found here
 Illustrated London News (ILN), 15 Nov 1851, p. 601 via Rebecca Preston https://surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/1284/detail/#london-and-blackwall-railway
 “British and foreign building stones, a descriptive catalogue of the specimens in the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge” Watson 1911 https://archive.org/details/britishforeignbu00watsrich/page/340/mode/2up
 The Stones of London Elsdon and Howe 1923