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Bolton & Leigh Railway
Bolton in Lancashire, to Kenyon in Cheshire, UK
associated engineer
George Stephenson
Robert Dalglish
date  1825 - October 1829, opened 1st August 1828
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  SD714088
The Bolton & Leigh Railway was the first public railway in Lancashire, and the first in the world to run a steam locomotive capable of being worked expansively. The line was constructed to transport raw materials, such as coal and cotton, between Bolton and Liverpool by providing a link to existing canals. It was later extended from Kenyon, and ultimately became part of the London & North Western Railway.
Ideas had been put forward from around 1822 onwards for a railway to connect the textile manufacturing towns of Bolton and Leigh. The town of Leigh straddles a major east-west artery, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. William Hulton (1787-1864), who owned Hulton Park, north of Atherton (south west of Bolton), and seven collieries on or near its estate, decided a railway was the way to deliver the coal to Bolton. On or before 1st October 1824, he formed a committee of more than 60 local businessmen to promote the scheme.
The committee sought advice from George Stephenson (1781-1848), who was then surveying for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR). He commissioned Hugh Steel (d.1827) to survey possible routes for the Bolton & Leigh (B&LR), who reported back in November 1824. The route and a construction estimate of £43,143 were submitted for Parliamentary approval.
Royal assent for the enabling Act was granted on 31st March 1825. According to Priestley, the 12.5km route started at Haulgh (east of Bolton's city centre) and ran south west to Leigh (west of Manchester), rising 36.3m over the first 2.2km to a summit, then falling 102.7m to the main road adjoining the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Leigh.
The Act also incorporated the Bolton & Leigh Railway Company, with Hulton as chairman, and conferred the power to raise £44,000, in 440 shares of £100. Its provisions allowed steam haulage and stationary steam engine-worked inclined planes for a single track line. The company appointed Stephenson as chief engineer, with local man Robert Dalglish (1779-1865) in an engineering capacity, overseeing day to day work — probably as resident engineer. Construction began in Bolton with the setting out of levels south west to Chequerbent at Westhoughton.
In July 1825, the company considered using two stationary steam engines between Chowbent near Atherton and Chequerbent, dividing the line into two separate inclined planes separated by a level change-over section. However, the revised estimate of £56,564 would have required further fundraising. It was decided instead decided to use a single 14.9kW (20hp) stationary engine working one incline from Chowbent to Chequerbent. The original plan of a 1 in 33 incline at Daubhill, worked by a 37.3kW (50hp) steam engine, was retained.
On 10th January and 28th February 1827, Stephenson reported on progress, recommending some alterations to the route near Chequerbent, Chowbent and Leigh to improve efficiency and reduce construction difficulties. Presumably, these changes meant come parts of the 1825 Act needed revising because the company prepared a second Parliamentary Bill, passed on 26th March 1828. It authorised raising an additional £25,000, and specified the track gauge as 1.422m (4ft 8ins) between the inside edges of the rails and 1.55m (5ft 1in) between the outside edges.
Earlier, on 7th January 1828, the directors of the L&MR had ordered a steam locomotive to help with the construction of their line. It was built at the Robert Stephenson & Co. works in Newcastle, where it was known as the Liverpool Travelling Engine. However, on 21st April, the L&MR directors changed their minds. The locomotive was transferred to the B&LR, as this line was closer to being completed.
The official opening of the B&LR was held on Friday 1st August 1828, though the line was not quite finished — it was complete from the company’s coal wharf at Deansgate in Bolton to Pendlebury Fold near Chequerbent, where a branch line led to two of Hulton's collieries.
The Bolton Chronicle reported that the Stephenson steam locomotive departed from Pendlebury Fold at about 12.15pm, pulling a train of 13 wagons and a coach. According to its editorial on 2nd August, "The whole weight attached to the engine could not be less than 40 tons" (40.64 tonnes). The wagon train was uncoupled at the Daubhill stationary engine, and the locomotive collected six filled coal wagons from one of the collieries. She then demonstrated her capabilities by running without load at 19.3kph (12mph).
Mrs Hulton hung a garland of flowers on the locomotive’s chimney and declared, "No one can observe without admiration this beautiful engine, I therefore beg leave to name it after an object so universally attractive — The Lancashire Witch". Lancashire Witch was apparently driven into Bolton by Robert Stephenson (1803-59), while his father George sat in the coach with the principal guests.
Lancashire Witch had four coupled wheels in 0-4-0 arrangement. The leading pair was driven by cylinders inclined at 45 degrees above the rear axle, enabling both axles to be leaf-sprung. Her slide valves were driven by slip eccentrics, as was usual at the time. But she also had a rotary plug valve in the main steam pipe, driven from the rear axle by bevel gears. This made it possible to control the steam admitted to the cylinders, making Lancashire Witch the first locomotive to work expansively. The boiler had two straight flue tubes with a furnace in each — earlier locomotives usually had single flues, limiting their steam-raising capacity.
The opening ceremony concluded with a reception in Bolton, which apparently "was of a most convivial nature. Many toasts were drunk, including one to George Stephenson and one to his son, Robert, both gentlemen replying in suitable terms. George was forty-seven years of age at this time and entering the period of his life when success, so truly merited, came his way; his son was twenty-four, his life, with all its eventual achievements, before him".
After the opening, work resumed on the section of line between Chequerbent and Leigh. This opened in October 1829, with trains able to run between Leigh and Bolton, arriving at the Deansgate depot.
About this time, Lancashire Witch returned to the L&MR, then still under construction. Another of its locomotives was brought into service on the B&LR — Sans Pareil, initially under hire. She was designed by Timothy Hackworth (1786-1850) and competed in the Rainhill Trials alongside the Stephensons’ famous Rocket. In 1832, the B&LR purchased Sans Pareil for £110. In 1844, she was transferred to Copull Colliery near Chorley, Lancashire.
Plans to connect the B&LR with the L&MR were put before Parliament in November 1828, and passed into law on 14th May 1829. A new organisation, the Kenyon & Leigh Junction Railway Co, was formed with 13 directors, at least nine of whom were also members of the L&MR Co. The cost of the 4km line was estimated at £22,946, which was raised through share capital.
Meanwhile, the B&LR placed orders for three new locomotives, all manufactured in Bolton. Union, a 2-2-0 engine made by Rothwell, Hick & Rothwell of the Union Foundry, had her first run on 2nd December 1830 and achieved 32-48kph (20-30mph) unloaded. The other two, Salamander and Veteran, were built by Crook & Dean of the Phoenix Foundry.
Around 1830, the line began uninterrupted through-running, offering a faster service. The stationary engines, originally installed to haul the wagons and carriages between locomotive-worked stretches, were now used to pull complete trains — with locomotives attached — up the inclined planes.
On 3rd January 1831, the B&LR began a freight service between Bolton, Leigh, Kenyon Junction and Liverpool, with Union drawing the first train. The Kenyon & Leigh Junction Railway (K&LJR) opened to goods traffic on the same day.
Union also hauled the first passenger train on the B&LR, taking a "party of gentlemen" to Newton Races on 2nd June 1831. The railway’s directors decided to open the line for through passengers to Liverpool, and twice-daily services commenced on 13th June. Liverpool travellers boarded from three passenger stations — Bolton’s terminus at Great Moor Street (SD716088), Bag Lane Station in Atherton (SD666037) and Leigh Station (SD651003). A private halt was constructed near Chequerbent, for use by Hulton Park residents. Initially, there was no stop at Kenyon, though it had two junction stations, one the terminus of the K&LJR and the other part of the L&MR line.
In 1836, the B&LR obtained an Act of Parliament giving the company the rights to lease the K&LJR for 25 years and to purchase the line for —44,750.
On 8th August 1845, with the passing of the Grand Junction Railway Act, the B&LR, L&MR and K&LJR ceased to operate separately. Along with the Warrington & Newton, Liverpool & Birmingham, Chester & Crewe and Manchester & Birmingham railways, they were absorbed into the Grand Junction Railway. However, the Grand Junction's existence was short-lived. On 16th July 1846, it became part of the London & North Western Railway.
The Great Moor Street terminus was rebuilt 1871-4, and regular services from Great Moor Street ceased in March 1954. Kenyon Junction Station closed to passengers in 1960, and to all rail traffic on 1st August 1963. On 15th June that year, the last train ran from Bolton to Kenyon. The track was lifted in stages during 1963-9. In 1963, the Bolton terminus closed and demolition of the buildings began (completed in 1966. By March 1974, the station site had been cleared.
Research: ECPK
"George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution" by L.T.C. Rolt, Penguin Books Ltd, London, 1984
"A Concise History of the Bolton & Leigh Railway" by William Stuart Shaw, Wigan MBC Leisure Department, 1983
"George Stephenson: The Engineer & His Letters" by W.O. Skeat, The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, 1973
"Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers, Canals, and Railways, of Great Britain" by Joseph Priestley, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, London and Richard Nichols, Wakefield, 1831
reference sources   Smiles3

Bolton & Leigh Railway