The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened on September 15, 1830, connecting the major industrial city of Manchester with the nearest deep water port at the Port of Liverpool, 35 miles (56 km) away. Although horse-drawn railways already existed elsewhere, and a few industrial sites already used primitive steam locomotives for bulk haulage, the L&M was first railway to rely exclusively on steam power, with no horse-drawn traffic permitted at any time; the first to connect two major cities; the first to be entirely double tracked throughout its length; the first to have a signaling system; the first to provide a scheduled passenger service; and the first to carry mail The opening day was a major public event. Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, the Prime Minister, rode on one of the eight inaugural trains, as did many other dignitaries and notable figures of the day. Huge crowds lined the track at Liverpool to watch the trains depart for Manchester.
Trains were hauled by company steam locomotives between the two towns, though private wagons and carriages were allowed. Cable haulage of freight trains was down the steeply-graded 1.26-mile Wapping Tunnel to Liverpool Docks from Edge Hill junction. The railway was primarily built to provide faster transport of raw materials, finished goods and passengers between the Port of Liverpool and mills in Manchester and surrounding towns.
The railway was a financial success, paying investors an average annual dividend of 9.5% over the 15 years of its independent existence: a level of profitability that would never again be attained by a British railway company. In 1845, the railway was absorbed by its principal business partner, the Grand Junction Railway (GJR), which in turn amalgamated the following year with the London and Birmingham Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway to form the London and North Western Railway.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the first public transport system on land which did not use animal traction power. Up to then, the only rail systems for public use had been:
- Horse-drawn plateways, such as the Lake Lock Rail Road (1796), Surrey Iron Railway (1801) and the Oystermouth Railway near Swansea (1807).
- Railways that used a mix of steam and horse-drawn traffic, such as the Stockton and Darlington Railway, or a mix of cable and horse haulage, with a short section using steam locomotion (Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, 1830).
Often described as the Grand British Experimental Railway, the success or failure of which would decide plans for all future railways, the L&MR was intended to achieve cheap transport of raw materials, finished goods and passengers between the Port of Liverpool and east Lancashire, in the port’s hinterland. Huge tonnages of textile raw material were imported through Liverpool and carried to the textile mills near the Pennines where water and then steam power enabled the production of the finished cloth.
The existing means of water transport, the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and the Bridgewater Canal, dated from the previous century, and were felt to be making excessive profits from the existing trade and throttling the growth of Manchester and other towns. (Similar feelings with regard to the railways led in turn to the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal in the 1890s). There was support for the railway from both Liverpool and London. Manchester was largely indifferent, but opposition came from the two local Lords, the Earl of Derby and the Earl of Sefton over whose land the railway was proposed to pass, plus the canal operators.
The original promoters are usually acknowledged to be Joseph Sandars, a rich Liverpool corn merchant, and John Kennedy, then owner of the largest spinning mill in Manchester. They were influenced to do this by William James. Now something of a forgotten figure, James was a land surveyor who had made a fortune in property speculation. He advocated a national network of railways, based upon what he had seen of the development of colliery lines and locomotive technology in the north of England.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company was founded on May 20, 1824. It was established by Henry Booth, who became its secretary and treasurer, along with other merchants from Liverpool and Manchester. Charles Lawrence was the Chairman, Lister Ellis, Robert Gladstone, John Moss and Joseph Sandars were the Deputy Chairmen. A bill presented in 1825 to Parliament was rejected, but it passed in May the following year. In Liverpool 172 people took 1,979 shares, in London 96 took 844, Manchester 15 with 124, 24 others with 286. The Marquess of Stafford had 1,000, giving 308 shareholders with 4,233 shares.
The initial survey for the line was carried out by William James and, being done surreptitiously or by trespass, was defective. Robert Stephenson departed for South America and William James became bankrupt. Consequently, in 1824 George Stephenson was appointed engineer in their place. By this time, he was taking on too much. As Robert was absent in South America, George (who could not do the calculations required, and had relied on his son for this part of the business) left checking the survey to subordinates. Upon presentation to Parliament in 1825 it was shown to be inaccurate. Stephenson’s lack of understanding of the work of his subordinates on major issues — including the levels of the track and the cost of major structures such as the Irwell Viaduct — was ruthlessly exposed by the opposing counsel Edward Hall Alderson and the bill was thrown out. A key opposition figure in this had been Robert Haldane Bradshaw, one of the trustees of the Marquess of Stafford’s Worsley estate, which included the Bridgewater Canal.
In place of George Stephenson, who was now in disgrace, the railway promoters appointed George and John Rennie as engineers, who chose Charles Blacker Vignoles as their surveyor. They also set out to placate the canal interests and had the good fortune to be able to approach the Marquess directly through the good offices of their counsel, Mr. Adam, who was a relative of one of the trustees, and the support of William Huskisson who knew the Marquess personally. Implacable opposition to the line changed to financial support—a considerable coup.
The second Bill received the Royal Assent in 1826, and was for a railway on a considerably different alignment, avoiding the properties of particularly vociferous or effective opponents of the previous Bill, but as a consequence facing the challenge of crossing Chat Moss bog. It was intended to place the Manchester terminus on the Salford side of the river, but the Mersey and Irwell Navigation withdrew their opposition to a crossing of their river at the last moment, in return for access for their carts to the intended railway bridge. The Manchester station was thus fixed at Liverpool Road in the heart of Castlefield.
The terms asked for by the Rennies proving unacceptable, George Stephenson was reappointed as engineer with his assistant Joseph Locke. Previous experience with civil engineers set Stephenson against allowing Vignoles to continue his survey and he resigned. L. T. C. Rolt in his biography of Stephenson suggests that a faction on the Board continued to ask Stephenson for second opinions, and Rennie took umbrage at this. Vignoles may have resigned because he had been appointed by Rennie, and as an ex-army engineer thought it the honourable thing to do.
The 35-mile (56 km) line was a remarkable engineering achievement for its time, beginning with the 2,250-yard (2,057 m) Wapping Tunnel beneath Liverpool from the south end of Liverpool Docks to Edge Hill. This was the world’s first tunnel to be bored under a metropolis. Following this was a 2-mile (3.2 km) long cutting up to 70 feet (21.3 m) deep through rock at Olive Mount, and a nine arch viaduct (each arch of 50 feet (15.2 m) span), over the Sankey Brook valley, around 70 feet (21.3 m) high.
Not least was the famous 4.75-mile (7.6 km) crossing of Chat Moss. It was found impossible to drain the bog at Chat Moss, and one of the men on the site, Robert Stannard suggested timber in a herring bone layout. Stephenson began constructing a large number of wooden and heather hurdles, which were sunk into the bog using stones and earth until they could provide a solid foundation—it was reported that at one point tipping went on solidly for weeks until such a foundation had been created. To this day, the track across Chat Moss floats on the hurdles that Stephenson’s men laid and if one stands near the lineside one can feel the ground move as a train passes. It is worthy of note that the line now supports locomotives 25 times the weight of the Rocket, which hauled the first experimental train over the Moss in January 1830.
The railway needed 64 bridges and viaducts, all of which were built of brick or masonry, with one exception: the Water Street bridge at the Manchester terminus. A cast iron beam girder bridge was used here to save headway in the street below the line. It was designed by William Fairbairn and Eaton Hodgkinson, and cast locally at their factory in Ancoats. It is important because cast iron girders became an important structural material for the growing rail network. Although Fairbairn tested the girders before installation, not all were so well designed, and there were many examples of catastrophic failure in the years to come, resulting in the Dee bridge disaster of 1847 and culminating in the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879.
The line was laid using 15-foot (4.57 m) fish-belly rails at 35 lb/yd (17.4 kg/m), laid either on stone blocks or, at Chat Moss, wooden sleepers.
In 1829, adhesion-worked locomotives had not proved particularly reliable. The experience on the Stockton and Darlington Railway was well-publicized, and a section of the Hetton colliery railway had been converted to cable haulage. The success of the latter method was indisputable, while the steam locomotive was still untried. The L&MR had sought to de-emphasize the use of steam locomotives during the passage of the bill, the public having become alarmed at the idea of these monstrous machines which, if they did not explode, would fill the countryside with noxious fumes.
Moreover, attention was turning towards steam road carriages, such as those of Goldsworthy Gurney’s. There was thus a division in the L&MR board between those who supported Stephenson’s “loco-motive” and those who favored cable haulage, the latter supported by the opinion of the engineer, John Rastrick. Stephenson was not averse to cable haulage — he continued to build such lines where he felt it appropriate — but knew its main disadvantage, that any breakdown anywhere would paralyze the whole line.
The gradient profile of the line had been arranged so as to concentrate the steep grades in three places (either side of Rainhill at 1 in 100 and down to the docks at Liverpool at 1 in 50) and make the rest of the line very gently graded, say 1 in 2,000. To determine whether and which locomotives would be suitable, the directors organized the Rainhill Trials. When the line opened, the final passenger section from Edge Hill to Crown Street railway station was cable hauled, as was the section down the Wapping Tunnel.
The line was built to 4 ft ½ in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge) and double track. Firstly, there was no convenient means of operating the line as single track as the line predated the telegraph. Secondly, the amount of traffic was expected to require double track.
A decision had to be made about how far apart the rails of the double track should be. It was decided to make the space between the separate tracks the same as the track gauge itself, so that it would be possible to operate trains with unusually wide loads up the middle during quiet times (there is no evidence of this having occurred). In later years, it was decided that the tracks were too close together, restricting the width of the trains, so the gap between tracks (track centers) was widened. The narrowness of this gap contributed to the first fatality, that of William Huskisson, and also made it dangerous to do maintenance work on one track while trains are operating on the other.
In late 1829, with construction of the railway almost complete, the Rainhill Trials were held on a short level stretch of the completed line near Rainhill, to test how the track withstood locomotives running over it and to determine which type of locomotive would be used, with a £500 prize at stake. The Trials were widely publicized, and 10,000–15,000 people attended the first day on October 6, 1829. Of the five entrants Rocket, built by George Stephenson and his son Robert, was the only locomotive to complete the trial without suffering a serious failure, and was duly selected as the design to be used. Although often described as a race, and shown as such in illustrations, the Rainhill Trials were a series of independent trials. Each engine ran on a different day. At around the time of the Rainhill Trials, the tunnel to the forthcoming Liverpool terminus — the first tunnel ever dug under a major built-up area — was completed. To win over skeptical locals it was whitewashed, fitted with lighting and a band, and the public charged a shilling apiece to walk through it.
By early 1830, the line was almost complete, and locomotives began trial runs over the route. On June 14, 1830, a test run from Liverpool to Salford drew two passenger carriages and seven fully loaded coal wagons for 29 miles (47 km) in 2 hours 25 minutes without incident. Booth convened a meeting of the directors that evening, who decided that the railway would be ready to open in late summer. After consulting with the office of the Duke of Wellington over when he would be available to attend an inauguration ceremony, and learning that he was due in the area on September 13 to attend a dinner in Manchester, it was agreed that the railway would formally open on Wednesday, September 15, 1830.
The directors of the L&M set out to do all they could to make the opening day a success. It was decided that for the opening, the dignitaries and guests would assemble in Liverpool, and eight of the L&M’s locomotives would haul them in special trains to Liverpool Road railway station, the railway’s Manchester terminus. A number of covered railway carriages “resembling the most luxurious of road coaches”, with cushioned seating and cloth linings and each capable of carrying between 12 and 24 passengers, were provided for the more important persons among those attending. More basic open carriages, described by an observer as “plain homely unadorned butter-and-egg sort of market carts”, each carried 60 passengers. Cabinetmaker James Edmondson was commissioned to design a special carriage for the Duke of Wellington and his companions.
This special train was divided into four carriages. Behind the locomotive was a wagon carrying a band, and behind it were three passenger carriages, with the Duke’s special carriage in the center. It was drawn by Northumbrian, Stephenson’s most advanced locomotive at the time with a 14 horsepower (10 kW) engine. The Duke’s train was to run on the southern of the L&M’s two tracks, and the other seven trains would run on the northern track, to ensure the Duke would not be delayed should any of the other trains encounter problems.
The gathering of the dignitaries at the station and the departure of the trains was a major event. Every hotel room and lodging-house in Liverpool was full the night before. From 9:00 a.m. onwards the area around the station was filled with people, and crowds thronged the trackside at Liverpool to watch the trains depart. One group of men had each paid two shillings for access to the best vantage point, the top of a chimney near the tunnel leading to Crown Street railway station; they were hoisted up by rope and board shortly after dawn to watch proceedings.
Shortly before 10:00 am as the Duke of Wellington arrived, a band played See, the Conquering Hero Comes in his honor, beginning a tradition of the song being played at almost every British railway station opening from then on. The Duke’s party entered their carriage; a gun was then fired to mark the opening of the railway. The Duke’s carriages had their brakes released and were allowed to roll down the incline under the force of gravity to be coupled to the waiting Northumbrian.
Soldiers cleared the tracks of onlookers, and the procession of trains left Crown Street station in Liverpool at 11:00 am, William and Emily Huskisson travelled in the Ducal train, in the passenger carriage immediately in front of the Duke’s carriage. Northumbrian slowed periodically to allow the seven trains on the northern track to parade past it, but generally ran ahead of the other trains. The southern line was reserved for the special opening train conveying the Duke of Wellington together with distinguished guests in other carriages (including Huskisson).
Near Parr, about 13 miles (21 km) out of Liverpool, the world’s first passenger train-on-train collision took place, as described by “A Railer” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, who was travelling in the lead train on the northern track, hauled by Phoenix:
One of our engine wheels, how I know not, contrived to bolt from the course — in plain words, it escaped from the rail, and ploughed along upon the clay, with no other inconvenience than an increase of friction, which damped our speed, and with the additional application of the break, soon brought us to an anchor. The engine, however, behind us, not being aware of our mishap, came pelting on at a smart pace, without receiving its signal for checking motion in time. Accordingly, those on the look-out hastily called on their fellow-passengers to be on their guard, and prepare for a jolt, which took place with a crash upon our rear, sufficiently loud and forcible to give an idea of what would happen, if by any strange chance it had charged us with the unrestrained impetuosity of its powers.
With no reported injuries from this incident, the wheels of the derailed Phoenix were remounted on the rails and the journey continued. After crossing the Sankey Viaduct, the trains passed Warrington Junction, where George Stephenson’s Warrington and Newton Railway was under construction in the expectation of eventual extension southwards to link the L&M to Birmingham and London. After passing Warrington Junction, the parade of trains passed through the historic market town of Newton-le-Willows, roughly at the midpoint of the line. Fifty-five minutes after leaving Liverpool the procession was scheduled to stop for the locomotives to take on water at Parkside railway station, half a mile east of Newton-le-Willows and 17 miles (27 km) from Liverpool. When the train stopped for water at Parkside, it was intended that the other trains should pass in review on the northern line.
The Duke’s train had run more slowly through populated areas owing to the cheering crowds, and by the time it reached Parkside the first two trains on the northern track, Phoenix and North Star, had already passed through Parkside and had pulled up ahead of the station waiting for the Duke’s train to depart. By now, the passengers in the Duke’s train had been travelling for almost an hour, and the water stop at Parkside was the only scheduled stop on the journey. Although it was beginning to drizzle, and despite a request from the railway engineers for passengers to remain on the trains, at 11.55 am around 50 men disembarked from the Duke’s train to stretch their legs. The group consisted of many of the most influential figures of the day, including the Marquess of Stafford, Charles Arbuthnot, Prince Esterházy, the Earl of Wilton, L&M founder Joseph Sandars and William Huskisson. As the rain had formed deep puddles on either side of the railway embankment, most of the party remained on or near the railway tracks.
The group stood around the rail lines and discussed the events of the day and the potential of rail travel. According to Sandars, Huskisson congratulated him on the achievement of his vision, and said to Sandars that he “must be one of the happiest men in the world”. William Holmes, the Chief Whip, then called Huskisson to one side. He suggested that, with the Duke of Wellington in a particularly good mood owing to the cheering crowds which had lined the route, it might be a good time for Huskisson and the Duke to meet and try to arrange a reconciliation.
The Duke of Wellington was becoming unpopular as Prime Minister, particularly in the industrial north west of England, for continually blocking proposed reforms. Huskisson saw himself as well placed to unite the two wings of the Tory party should the Duke retire, or to lead the reforming faction of the party into a split from the Tories and a progressive alliance with the Whigs. He also saw himself as a natural ally for the Duke, despite their political differences, as a Tory popular in Liverpool and Manchester, both of which were traditionally hostile to the party. Newspapers were already beginning to report rumors that Huskisson and his supporters were to be invited back into the government.
Huskisson saw the Duke of Wellington sitting in the front corner of his special carriage. Huskisson walked along the tracks to the carriage, extended a hand, and the Duke reached out of the carriage and shook it.
As Huskisson and the Duke of Wellington exchanged greetings, some of the crowd saw Rocket, hauling the third of the seven trains on the northern track, approaching in the distance. They shouted “An engine is approaching, take care gentlemen” to those people — including Huskisson — standing on the tracks.
The men gathered on the track moved out of the way of the approaching Rocket, either by climbing onto the embankment or getting back into their carriages. Unlike the other carriages, Edmondson had not equipped the Duke’s carriage with fixed steps. Instead, a movable set of steps was at the back of the carriage, to be moved into position to allow travelers to board and alight at whichever part of the carriage was most convenient. With Rocket approaching, there was not time to fetch the movable steps. With Rocket 80 feet (24 m) away, only Holmes, Huskisson and Esterházy remained on the tracks. Edward Littleton MP, a passenger in the Duke’s carriage, reached out to Esterházy and hauled him into the carriage to safety.
Joseph Locke, driving Rocket, now saw that there were people on the line ahead. Rocket was an engineering prototype, and had not been equipped with brakes. Locke threw the engine into reverse gear, a process which took ten seconds to engage. As Rocket continued to approach, Huskisson and Holmes panicked. Holmes clung to the side of the Duke’s carriage, while Huskisson made two efforts to run across the track to safety, each time returning to the side of the carriage.
The space between the rails was 4 feet 8½ inches (1,435 mm), and the carriages overhung the outside rails by 2 feet (610 mm). Pressed against the side of the carriage, the remaining gap was just enough for Huskisson and Holmes to escape without injury, but Huskisson misjudged the distance. According to Edward Littleton, the Duke of Wellington said to Huskisson “We seem to be going on — you had better step in!”. Huskisson tried to clamber into the carriage, but those inside failed to reach him to pull him in. Holmes, still pressed against the carriage, shouted “For God’s sake, Mr. Huskisson, be firm”, but Huskisson grabbed the door of the carriage. With Holmes still pressed against the side of the carriage, the door, with Huskisson hanging on to it, swung out directly into the path of Rocket. The locomotive collided with the door and Huskisson fell onto the track in front of the train.
In the words of Harriet Arbuthnot, who was in the Duke’s carriage, “[Huskisson] was caught by it, thrown down & the engine passed over his leg & thigh, crushing it in a most frightful way. It is impossible to give an idea of the scene that followed, of the horror of everyone present or of the piercing shrieks of his unfortunate wife, who was in the car. He said scarcely more than, ‘It’s all over with me. Bring me my wife and let me die.'”
Joseph Parkes, Lord Wilton and William Rathbone were the first to reach Huskisson. They found that a wheel had passed over his right calf and thigh, leaving his knee itself untouched. A flap of skin on his upper leg had been cut back, exposing the muscles, and the exposed arteries had not been severed but were flattened, pulsing with Huskisson’s heartbeat. The damaged leg shook uncontrollably. Observers noted that Huskisson did not appear to be in pain, and instead lay watching the leg shake. Huskisson shouted “This is the death of me”. Parkes attempted to reassure him, but Huskisson replied “Yes, I am dying, call Mrs. Huskisson”. A man threw his coat over William Huskisson’s leg to spare Emily Huskisson from seeing the extent of his injuries, and she was helped from the carriage in which she had been sitting. In hysterics, she attempted to throw herself onto Huskisson, but was restrained by fellow passengers as Lord Wilton applied a makeshift tourniquet he had made using handkerchiefs and an elderly passenger’s walking stick. Other passengers ripped the door of a nearby railway storeroom from its hinges, to serve as a makeshift stretcher. Huskisson was lifted onto the door, shaking his head and saying “Where is Mrs. Huskisson? I have met my death, God forgive me.”
Men ran along the track in both directions to tell the other trains not to proceed. In the initial panic, the first thought of many of those present was that the Prime Minister had been assassinated.
Henry Herbert Southey, physician to the recently deceased George IV, had travelled in the Duke’s train, as had Dr. Hunter, professor of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh. The two of them rushed to Huskisson’s side, joined shortly afterwards by Joseph Brandreth, a Liverpool surgeon who had been travelling behind Phoenix.[note 8] The doctors suggested returning Huskisson to Liverpool for treatment, but George Stephenson insisted that it would be better to take him on to Manchester.
The Northumbrian was detached from the Duke’s train and rushed him to Eccles, where he died in the vicarage. Thus, he became the world’s first widely reported railway passenger fatality.
Meanwhile, back at Parkside the other seven trains had come to a halt following the accident. The electrical telegraph had not yet been invented and no signaling system was in place advanced enough to communicate with Northumbrian, with Liverpool and Manchester, or with the party who had accompanied Huskisson to Eccles. The remaining passengers and railway staff congregated near the accident site to discuss how best to proceed. The L&M staff argued that since the railway was not at fault for the accident they should be allowed to continue to Manchester to prove the viability of the design. They also made the point that a large crowd would by now have gathered in Manchester, waiting to see the arrival of the trains and to get a glimpse of the Duke of Wellington. Joseph Sandars also suggested that, did the group not continue, the Manchester crowd would hear rumors of the accident and believe it to be more serious than it was. The Prime Minister and Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, felt that it would be disrespectful to Huskisson to continue, and advocated that the group return to Liverpool to await news of Huskisson’s condition.
At about the time Whatton’s party of surgeons arrived at Eccles, riders on horseback arrived at Parkside from Manchester and Salford. They reported that the crowd in Manchester was becoming restless, and that the authorities feared a riot if the Duke did not arrive. The Duke’s party returned to Edmondson’s elaborate ducal carriage, still on the southern track. Northumbrian had gone ahead with Huskisson and the other seven locomotives were all on the northern track, and there was no way to move what remained of the Duke’s train onto the northern track or transfer a locomotive to the southern. A long chain was tied between Phoenix on the northern track, and the three remaining carriages of the Duke’s train on the southern track. At 1:30 pm Phoenix and its train were then attached to North Star and its train and the two locomotives set out at low speed towards Manchester, passing Eccles and heading into the deserted marshland of Chat Moss.
As Wellington’s makeshift train slowly headed towards Manchester, it was accompanied along the route by cheering crowds, still unaware of the accident. As they passed the milepost marking 25 miles (40 km) from Liverpool, in the middle of Chat Moss, they met Stephenson and Northumbrian on the southern track, returning from Manchester. Stephenson told the party of Huskisson’s condition when he last saw him before leaving Eccles for Manchester (erroneously claiming that amputation had already been attempted successfully), and boasted of having set a new speed record. The three remaining carriages of Wellington’s original train, still on the southern track, were detached from the train and attached to Northumbrian, which set off at full speed for Manchester. As the train approached Manchester the trackside bystanders became increasingly hostile, booing, hissing and waving banners against Wellington. Hostile crowds spilled onto the track, forcing the trains to slow to a crawl. Eventually the crowds on the track became so dense they were unable to disperse as the trains approached, and the trains were obliged “to play the part of the juggernaut car”, pushing people out of their path with their own momentum.
The Duke of Wellington arrived at Liverpool Road, the L&M’s Manchester terminus, a little before 3:00 pm. As the messengers sent to Parkside had warned, the crowd had become hostile; one observer described them as “A slovenly, ragged set, with hair uncombed and beards unshaven, with waistcoats open, exhibiting unwashed skin, dirty linen, and bare necks.” While some present cheered, others — especially weavers — hissed the Duke and pelted his carriage with vegetables. Two tricolor flags were hoisted, and banners reading “No Corn Laws” and “Vote by Ballot” were waved. The passengers on the trains disembarked and headed to a buffet of cold meats in the L&M’s warehouse. On disembarking from the train the Reverend Thomas Blackburne learned for the first time that Huskisson was in his vicarage, and rushed home to Eccles by horse. Fearing the hostile crowd, Wellington refused to leave his carriage, sent for food to be brought in to him, and ordered that the locomotives be readied for return to Liverpool as soon as possible. At 4:37 pm, the trains began to pull out of Manchester to head back to Liverpool.
The hasty departure from Manchester degenerated into chaos. Mechanical failures and a lack of space to turn the locomotives meant that the seven trains on the northern track were unable to get out of the station. Only three carriages — the Duke’s among them — managed to leave successfully. At around 6:30 pm the Duke arrived in Roby, and went to spend the night at the Marquess of Salisbury’s house at Childwall Hall. Meanwhile, the remaining 24 passenger carriages were eventually lashed together with rope and fastened to the three locomotives which remained usable, which hauled this single long train, carrying around 600 passengers, out of Manchester at a speed of around 5 mph (8 km/h), further slowed by crowds of people standing on the tracks and by grit and mud settling on the rails.
The eight trains had been scheduled to arrive back in Liverpool at 4:00 pm. By 7:00 pm, the passenger train was not yet even halfway back to Liverpool. As darkness fell it began to rain, and the drivers, fearing for the safety of the trains in the dark and wet, slowed the train further. As it had not been intended that the inaugural journey take place in the darkness the trains were not fitted with lighting or engine lamps; the driver of Comet, leading the train, held a burning tarry rope to light the way ahead. Although some of the crowds lining the route were now dispersing, many others had remained to see the trains return. These crowds had been drinking all day; as the train passed under bridges the train, with its open carriages, was pelted with objects thrown down from the bridges, and on one occasion Comet struck a wheelbarrow, apparently deliberately placed across the rails. Passing Eccles, the train stopped briefly for enquiries to be made about Huskisson; those enquiring were told that he was looking frail, and a successful operation was unlikely in his current condition.
Shortly after passing the accident site at Parkside, the train passed a group of uniformed men walking along the railway carrying a variety of objects. It later transpired that this was the band, who had left their wagon when it had been commandeered to carry the injured Huskisson. The train which had carried the Duke of Wellington to Roby had not had space for them, and had left them to wait for the other trains which they believed were following. The band had eventually given up waiting and walked home, along a grass verge that was turning to mud under the heavy rain. As the train passed Sutton the three engines were unable to haul the combined weight of the train up an incline, and 400 of the men aboard were obliged to get out of the train and walk for a mile, illuminated only by the sparks flying from the locomotives, as the engines slowly hauled the empty carriages up the gradient. The train finally arrived in Liverpool at 10:30 pm. Many of the guests had planned to return home in daylight following the completion of the journey, and set out into the pitch-black city in search of somewhere to sleep.
The group who had watched the departure of the trains from the top of the chimney near the Liverpool tunnel, meanwhile, had been forgotten in the confusion, and were unable to get down from their vantage point. Eventually at around 8:00 pm John Harrison, a teacher of gymnastics and swordsmanship, lowered himself down the rope hand-over-hand, and coaxed the others to follow him down in the same manner. The angry group then set out in search of the worker who had been supposed to bring them down.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate start to its career, the L&MR was very successful. Within a few weeks of opening it ran its first excursion trains, carried the first railway mails in the world, and was conveying road-rail containers for Pickfords; by the summer of 1831 it was carrying tens of thousands by special trains to Newton Races.
Although the Act had allowed for it to be used by private carriers paying a toll, from the start the company decided to own and operate the trains itself. Although the original intention had been to carry goods, the canal companies reduced their prices, (an indication that, perhaps the railwaymen had been right to suggest their charges were excessive) and the extra transit time was acceptable in most cases. In fact the line did not start carrying goods until December, when the first of some more powerful engines, Planet, was delivered.
What was not expected was the line’s success in carrying passengers. The experience at Rainhill had shown that unprecedented speed could be achieved. The train was also cheaper and more comfortable than travel by road. So, at first, the company concentrated on this, a decision that had repercussions across the country and triggered the “railway mania”.
Initially trains travelled at 17 miles per hour (27 km/h), due the limitations of the track. Drivers could, and did, travel more quickly, but they would be reprimanded: it was found that excessive speeds could force apart the light rails, which were set onto individual stone blocks without cross-ties. In 1837 work started to replace the original fish-belly rail with parallel rail of 50 pounds per yard (24.8 kg/m), on sleepers.
The tunnel from Lime Street to Edge Hill was fully completed in 1836, and when it opened carriages were separated from their engines and lowered to Lime Street station by gravity, their descent controlled by brakemen, and hauled back up to Edge Hill by rope from a stationary engine. The tunnel is approximately 1,980 yards (1,811 m) long.
On July 30, 1842, work started to extend the line from Ordsall Lane to the new Manchester Victoria station. The extension was opened on May 4,, 1844, and Liverpool Road station was thereafter used for goods traffic for over a century. In 1845, the L&MR was absorbed by its principal business partner, the Grand Junction Railway (GJR); the following year the GJR formed part of the London and North Western Railway.
Being one of the first railways, many lessons had to be learnt from experience, but not many passengers were killed except by their own negligence. The L&MR was also responsible for the gauge of 4 ft 8½ in (1,435 mm), which came to be used more or less universally. The L&MR used left hand running on double track, following practice on British roads. The form of couplings using buffers, hooks and chains, and their dimensions, set the pattern for European practice and practice in many other places.
The original Liverpool and Manchester line still operates as a secondary line between the two cities — the southern route, the former Cheshire Lines Committee route via Warrington Central is for the moment the busier route. On the original route, an hourly Transpennine Express non-stop service runs between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool (from/to) Newcastle), an hourly fast service is operated by Northern, from Liverpool to Manchester, usually calling at Wavertree Technology Park, St Helens Junction, Newton-le-Willows and Manchester Oxford Road, and continuing via Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport. Northern also operates an hourly service calling at all stations from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria. This is supplemented by an additional all-stations service between Liverpool and Earlestown, which continues to Warrington Bank Quay.
On March 12, 1980, the Post Office in Great Britain released a set of five stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (Scott #904-908 with the strip of five listed as Scott #908a). The stamps were designed by David Gentleman, printed using photogravure by Harrison & Sons Ltd. in sheets of 100, perforated 14½ x 14. Each of the stamps is denominated at 12 pence and a strip of five stamps forms a continuous design. From left to right, the individual stamps portray Rocket approaching Moorish Arch in Liverpool (Scott #904), First and Second Class carriages passing through Olive Mount Cutting (Scott #905), Third Class carriage and sheep truck crossing Chat Moss (Scott #906), horsebox and carriage truck near Bridgewater Canal (Scott #907), and goods truck and mail-coach at Manchester (Scott #908). It’s an attractive set (I really like how so many British stamps form such a continuous design) but, unfortunately, I only have the cover pictured above. To see the official first day cover with carriage wheels postmark (a classic!), presentation pack cover, PHQ cards, and advertising posters, please visit the Collect GB Stamps site.