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Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR)
Liverpool to Manchester, UK
associated engineer
George Stephenson
date  1826 - 15th September 1830
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  SJ381901
ICE reference number  HEW 223
The Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) is the world’s first inter-city railway. It passes through challenging terrain and includes many notable engineering works. Principal structures include the swamp crossing at Chat Moss, the nine span Sankey Viaduct' and the deep cutting at Olive Mount. Edge Hill in Liverpool has possibly the oldest railway station in continuous use in its original form. Parts of the line remain in use on the national rail network.
In the 19th century, Liverpool was the major port supplying imported goods to Manchester. By 1820, rapid industrial expansion meant that the existing roads and canals were proving inadequate for trade.
Though engineers William Jessop (1745-1814) and Benjamin Outram (1764-1805) had surveyed possible routes in the 1790s for a rail link between the towns (Manchester became a city in 1853 and Liverpool in 1880), the proposals came to nothing. In 1822, serious discussions began about constructing a line. Key promoters for the project were London engineer Joseph Sandars (1774-1857) and William James (1771-1837).
The Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company was formed on 20th May 1824. Its committee of proprietors included the railway’s chairman Charles Lawrence (c.1777-1853), Mayor of Liverpool 1823-4, deputy chairmen Robert Gladstone (1773-1835), Sandars, Lister Ellis (1778-1829) and John Moss (1782-1858), and treasurer Henry Booth (1788-1869).
In 1824, the House of Lords in London rejected the original route proposed by George Stephenson (1781-1848), the company’s engineer, highlighting survey discrepancies. His scheme started from Princess Dock, north of Liverpool town centre, and ran through the eastern suburbs, which met with opposition from local landowners.
In 1825, George Rennie (1791-1866) and his brother John Rennie junior (1794-1874, knighted 1831) were appointed jointly as the company’s engineers-in-chief. Working with Charles Blacker Vignoles (1793-1875), they surveyed a new route, countering landowners’ objections by passing the suburbs in a deep cutting and descending to near Queens Dock, south of the town centre, through a steeply inclined tunnel.
On 1st May 1826, the new route was approved by Parliament, though the enabling act forbade the use of gunpowder blasting for its construction. In June 1826, Stephenson was appointed principal engineer for the standard gauge line. Initially Vignoles supervised construction on site, though Joseph Locke (1805-60) took over after Vignoles resigned.
From a 12.2m deep sandstone cutting (Cavendish Cutting) topped by a Moorish arch (demolished) in the Edge Hill (SJ371898) district of Liverpool, the goods line runs south westerly through the 1.9km double track Wapping Tunnel to South Quay while the passenger line passes through the adjacent 266m long single track Crown Street Tunnel to a western terminus immediately outside the tunnels at Crown Street (Crown Street Station, later Edge Hill Station).
From Edge Hill, double tracks run north eastwards passing Broad Green, Huyton, Prescott, Whiston, Rainhill, Newton-le-Willows, Kenyon, Glazebury, Chat Moss, Barton, Eccles and Salford, terminating at Irwell Street in Salford. From Whiston the line rises at about 1 in 91 to the Rainhill Level and descends by the Sutton Incline at a similar gradient.
The first part of the project (June 1826) started with efforts to drain Chat Moss swamp and provide the 6.4km Chat Moss crossing (SJ677969 to SJ751985) over the peat bog. In October 1826, excavations commenced for the west tunnels. Earthworks for the cuttings and embankments began in January 1827. In addition to the cutting at Edge Hill, a 21.3m deep cutting with almost vertical rock sides was constructed to the east at Olive Mount.
In 1828, work commenced on the Sankey Viaduct' (SJ569948) at Earlestown — the first major rail viaduct of the railway era. The massive masonry faced brick structure carries the railway over Sankey Brook. It has nine semicircular arches of 15.2m span, and each of its wide-based piers is founded on around 200 timber piles some 6-9m long.
Subsequent ancillary Acts for the railway were passed in 1828 and 1829. The eastern terminus was moved further east, to Liverpool Road (SJ829978) in Castlefield, Manchester. The total length of the railway increased to 50km.
In July 1829, the tunnels were opened. Wapping Tunnel, which cost £45,000, is 6.7m wide and 4.9m high, finished originally with whitewashed walls and gas lighting. The adjacent Crown Street Tunnel is 4.6m wide and 3.65m high. Both were constructed as cable-hauled inclines.
During 1829, many of the 63 bridges originally built for the project were under construction, at a total cost in the region of £100,000. Among them were the skew stone Rainhill Bridge (SJ490914), which cost £3,735 and carries the turnpike road (now A57) over the railway, and the skew stone arch River Irwell Bridge (SJ828979) near the Manchester terminus.
In October 1829, the question of how to provide motive power for the railway was resolved at the so-called Rainhill Trials. The Rennie brothers and Vignoles had planned to use horses, James Walker (1781-1862) and John Urpeth Rastrick (1780-1856) suggested stationary steam engines hauling trains on endless chains and Stephenson favoured steam locomotives. Four locomotives each completed 20 continuous runs along a 3km level section of track. The clear winner was George and Robert Stephenson's (1803-59) locomotive Rocket. Locomotives were used for the railway, except at the too-steep tunnelled inclines where cable hauling was required.
In December 1829, the Chat Moss works were completed and Rocket was the first locomotive to traverse the crossing, on 1st January 1830. Sankey Viaduct was completed in September 1830, at a cost of £46,000. A smaller four-span red brick viaduct (SJ593953) was constructed at Newton-le-Willows.
Also built in 1830 was the iron bridge (SJ829978) over Water Street, near the Manchester terminus. Now demolished, its superstructure had three main I-section cast iron beams of 7.9m clear span and was probably designed by William Fairbairn (1789-1874).
The railway’s tracks were laid originally with 17.4kg/m T-shaped malleable iron rails supported every 915mm on transverse sleepers — stone ones where the formation was firm and oak sleepers over the 21km of embankments.
The railway opened officially on 15th September 1830. However, the day was overshadowed by the first fatality on a passenger railway. Liverpool Member of Parliament William Huskisson (1770-1830) was alighting from his carriage on the locomotive Northumbrian at Parkside when he was knocked down by the passing Rocket (with Locke at the controls) and later died.
On 17th September 1830, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway welcomed the first paying passengers. Freight transport began on 1st December 1830. The whole line was constructed for £739,165 — somewhat below the original estimate of £796,246 — and necessitated some 2.3 million cu m of excavation.
Other companies’ railways then started to connect to the Liverpool & Manchester line. The Kenyon & Leigh Railway, authorised in 1829 and opened January 1831, had a junction at Kenyon. The Warrington & Newton Railway, authorised in 1829 and opened July 1831, had a junction at Newton-le-Willows (now Earlestown). The St Helens & Runcorn Gap Railway, authorised in 1830 and opened February 1833, had a junction at St Helens.
However, the lack of space at the Crown Street passenger terminus, and its distance from the centre of Liverpool, soon meant that a larger facility was required. In 1832, an extension to Lime Street was authorised. A 2.2km incline, partly contained within a 2km tunnel, was constructed between new stations at Edge Hill and Lime Street (SJ351905). The stations were commenced in October 1833 and opened on 15th August 1836. Trains descended under gravity to Lime Street and were cable-hauled to Edge Hill by a stationary winding engine. Crown Street was used as a goods and engineering maintenance depot.
In 1837, the Manchester passenger terminus at Liverpool Road was extended eastwards by adding an arrival station. However, a larger terminus was required to keep pace with the growing demand for rail travel, facilitating expansion and connecting with other railways. In 1844, the line was diverted northwards to Victoria and a new joint station (SJ840990) with the Manchester & Leeds Railway. Passenger services ceased at Liverpool Road on 4th May 1844, and the station was used only for goods traffic thereafter.
In 1846-7, a second tunnel was constructed between Crown Street and Edge Hill. Unlike the original one of 1829, this tunnel had a large enough bore for locomotive working. In 1848, a wrought iron roof clad with corrugated iron sheets replaced the original timber truss roof at Lime Street Station.
On 1st August 1849, a cable-hauled line was opened from Edge Hill to the Victoria and Waterloo Docks through the 2.5km Victoria Tunnel and the 780m Waterloo Tunnel.
Further modernisation was carried out in the second half of the 19th century. Lime Street Station was extended and its present curved glazed roofs installed in two stages, the north side in 1867-8 and the south side in 1875-9. In March 1870, the cable-hauled incline from Edge Hill to Lime Street was converted to locomotive power and, during the 1880s, it was opened out into cuttings in several places. Olive Mount Cutting was widened, and the line was quadrupled between Lime Street and Edge Hill, and from Huyton Quarry to Barton Moss Junction.
Locomotives replaced the cable operations in the Victoria and Waterloo Tunnels on 16th February 1895, and in the Wapping and Crown Street Tunnels from 11th May 1896.
In December 1963, Liverpool Road Station was Grade I listed. In 1975, it closed to rail freight traffic. The refurbished and redeveloped buildings now house the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.
Wapping Tunnel closed on 1st November 1965, and work began on infilling its western end in 1976. The Crown Street depot closed in 1968, and apart from a brick-built ventilation tower (SJ364897) for the tunnel little remains of the terminus complex. A park now covers the site. In 1971, the passenger terminal at Liverpool Docks closed and the Victoria and Waterloo Tunnels became disused.
In June 1988, the stone bridge over the River Irwell near Liverpool Road Station was Grade I listed. Many of the bridges on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway now hold Grade II listing.
Architect (Edhe Hill Station): John Cunningham
Resident engineer: Charles Blacker Vignoles
Resident engineer: Joseph Locke
Resident engineer (Wapping and Crown Street Tunnels): Mr Harding
Resident engineer (Chat Moss): John Nixon
Resident engineer (Sankey Viaduct): William Allcard
Contractor (railway): direct labour
Contractor (Wapping Tunnel): James Copeland of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Contractor (Edge Hill-Lime St tunnel): William Mackenzie
Contractor (Chat Moss, Eccles): Robert Stannard
Contractor (Kenyon Cutting): Thomas Nicholson
Contractor (Water Street Bridge): Fairbairn & Lillie
Research: ECPK
"The Liverpool & Manchester Railway: Construction", Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, 2002, available at http://www.mosi.org.uk/media/33871623/theliverpoolandmanchesterrailway,construction.pdf
"A history and description of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway", Thomas Taylor, Liverpool, January 1832
"A descriptive and historical account of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, from its first projection to the present time" by Joseph Kirwan, W.R. McPhun, Glasgow, 183
"An account of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway" by Henry Booth, Wales & Baines, Liverpool, June 1830
"Opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway”" The Spectator, p.4, 18th September 1830
reference sources   CEH NorthBDCE1

Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR)