The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was our first inter-city rail
Opened in 1830, it was an immediate success. Other railways
were soon planned to exploit the developing steam locomotive’s
ability to move heavy loads over distance much more swiftly than
could any other means. Horse-drawn road transport was
limited to the modest load that a team of horses was
capable of moving, which was often further reduced by the
poor state of the pre-Macadam road surfaces of that age. Inland
waterways ― principally the canals ― provided a far greater
load-moving capacity, but they were slow and hampered by drought in summer,
ice in winter, a lack of standard dimensions that often prevented inter-working, and by the lethargic and parochial outlook of their
owners. Coastal shipping was also slow and much affected
by the weather, added to which direct access to inland destinations was
very limited. Thus, the railways that followed the Liverpool and
Manchester brought about a second transport revolution — for despite their
limitations, the canals were undoubtedly the first — initially
passenger traffic from the stagecoach operators and then freight
from the canal companies (indeed, by the 1850s railway
freight revenue exceeded that from passengers).
the making of Railway, with proper Works and
Conveniences connected therewith, for the Carriage of
Passengers, Goods, and Merchandize from London to
Birmingham, will prove of great public Advantage, by
opening an additional, cheap, and expeditious
Communication between the Metropolis, the Port of
London, and the large manufacturing Town and
Neighbourhood of Birmingham aforesaid, and will at the
same Time facilitate the Means of Transit and Traffic
for Passengers, Goods, and Merchandize between those
Places and the adjacent Districts, and the several
intermediate Towns and Places . . . .
Preamble to An Act for
making a Railway from London to Birmingham, 6th May
The London and Birmingham Railway and the Grand Junction Railway
(Britain’s first trunk railway, linking Birmingham to Liverpool and Manchester) opened within months of each other.
Sharing a terminus at Curzon Street, Birmingham, the two railways between them
provided (in comparative terms) the first high speed, high capacity transport link between the Capital and the industrial regions
of the midlands and the north-west of England.
“The working- of the line went struggling
towards a state of order. The rails were found to be too light
for the traffic—56lb/yd fish-bellied rails in some cases—the stone
blocks [sleepers] a failure;
fires to luggage on the tops of the carriages frequent; signals by
flag and hand lamps insufficient. The signalmen, dressed in
police uniform, had been drilled by Mr. Superintendent Bedford,
formerly of the Guards and lately of the Metropolitan Police, and
they brought the flag-staff round to the shoulder, as the trains
passed, with true military precision. But they were not
enough, and signal posts were contemplated. These and many
other defects occupied the Board and Management.
The subject of goods traffic engaged much consideration, and, on the
resignation of Mr. [Ashlin]
Bagster, Mr. Joseph Baxendale was appointed manager of the line.
He removed the manager’s office to Camden Station, in a building
originally intended for the passenger booking office, before the
extension of the railway to Euston. Into this building Mr.
Robert Stephenson’s office was also transferred, from a house in St.
John’s Wood, since called the Eyre Arms Tavern . . . .”
Fifty Years on the
London & North Western Railway, David Stevenson (1891).
historical account that
follows addresses the former, the railway; it began life as a local history
project, that of the
market town of Tring in north-west Hertfordshire. For the interest
of the local community, a friend and I aimed to publish accounts of the history of the two great
chalk cuttings gouged through the ridge of
the Chiltern Hills, about 1˝-miles to the east of our Town. The
nearer of the two was built during the 1790s to carry the Grand Junction Canal†
the ridge while its easterly
neighbour, built some 40 years later, performed the same function for the London and Birmingham
We began work on the canal cutting, which we anticipated
would be the more difficult to research, and such proved to
be the case. For the reasons explained in the Foreword to
The Grand Junction Canal: a highway
laid with water, the historical account that emerged was very
different to what we had planned. So when it came to tackling
the railway cutting, and in order to maintain a balance between the two
publications, the challenge had grown into one of producing a history of
the Railway from end-to-end.
The following narrative is not a history in the conventional sense,
nor does it claim to be a detailed treatise on the construction and
operation of the Railway; rather, as its subtitle states, it is a
collection of extracts taken from books and periodicals of the
period that I have placed within a framework of notes (‘linking passages’
wordy for the title). My aim
provide a sketch of the events leading up to and including the
construction of the London and Birmingham Railway, and of its years
in operation as an independent company
(1837-46) ― to include
the era following its absorption into the London and North-Western
Railway and beyond would have been a mammoth task; that
said, I have strayed into the L&NWR period when this
seemed appropriate. I hope that you find my account readable and
I would like to thank my friend and sometime co-author, Wendy
Austin, for her help with the research. Wendy has published,
in her own name, a
number of titles on different aspects of the history of our
town and following her return from a lengthy period
of globe-trotting we were able to collaborate on another,
Railway comes to Tring.
Tring, January 2014.
One advantage of publishing on the Internet, rather than in hard copy,
is that where errors and omissions come to light they can, as a
general rule, quickly
be put right. It was my original belief
that drawings of the original stations at Watford and Tring had not survived, but I
was proved wrong when Russell Burridge (Watford
and Tring) and Tom Nicholls
(Tring) sent in copies of
illustrations that I have been able to include in this paper. My
thanks goes to those two gentlemen for their help.
† Now the southern section
of the Grand Union Canal.
‡ Now the southern section
of the West Coast Main Line.
IN MEMORY OF WILLIAM P. McCOWELL
Station Master at Tring, 1842-1863