Rails In Wolverhampton - The Early Years

by Bev Parker

The Grand Junction Railway

Following the success of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (which opened on September 15th 1830) many schemes were proposed for the building of other railways. The earlier problems due to lack of capital no longer applied and investors were easy to find. Other towns and cities could see the benefits that would come from better links between the nation's centres of commerce. Birmingham businessmen were planning a link to London, and the group of financiers that were involved with the Liverpool & Manchester Railway could see that Birmingham would be an ideal goal for expansion. In 1831 the Warrington & Newton Railway opened and ran about 5 miles southwards from Newton Junction at the centre of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway to Warrington, and the River Mersey. This was considered to be an ideal starting point for a route to Birmingham and after much surveying, a route was found that was practical and avoided conflicts with landowners

gjrmap.jpg (18491 bytes) The Grand Junction Railway ran from Newton Junction on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway to Birmingham. The map only shows the first class stations. There were also 18 intermediate stations.

The Bill for the Grand Junction Railway, which was named after the Newton Le Willows junction, was Passed in Parliament on May 6th 1833 on the same day as the Passing of the Bill for the London & Birmingham Railway.

Work on the Grand Junction Railway began with the purchase of the Warrington & Newton Railway for £73,400, after some hard bargaining with its shareholders. Unfortunately its track needed upgrading which cost a further £6,000, but even so the total expense was less than the cost of building an alternative line.

The estimated cost of the remaining 78 miles was £20,000 a mile. Little time was lost and construction soon got underway.

Three engineers were employed to share the engineering duties. They were George Stephenson, who was in overall control, Joseph Locke, who looked after the construction of the northern half, and John Rastrick who looked after the construction of the southern half.

This was an interesting time for Joseph Locke as up until now he had worked for George Stephenson, and although he had made quite a name for himself due to the excellent work that he did in the construction of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, he was still seen as Stephenson's pupil, and so the deserved praise was given to Stephenson.

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Locke was now his own man and was determined to prove himself in his own right, and so he laboured vigorously in the construction of the line. Both Stephenson and Rastrick however were involved in other projects and so their commitment, and amount of time spent in the construction work was much less than Joseph Locke. This caused problems between the engineers themselves and the company directors, which led to Rastrick's resignation in September 1833, eventually followed by Stephenson's resignation on September 16th 1835.

After Rastrick had left, Locke and Stephenson shared the engineering duties with Locke concentrating on the northern part from Whitmore to Warrington, and Stephenson on the southern part from Whitmore to Birmingham. There was some bitterness between the two men as Stephenson still considered Locke to be a junior, and not an equal, but Locke however, revelled in his new task.

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The Dutton Viaduct.

The principal engineering features were the Warrington Viaduct crossing the River Mersey, and the Irwell & Mersey Canal, immediately followed by a deep cutting, one a quarter miles long.

The Dutton Viaduct crossed the River Weaver, and the Weaver Canal. It was 60 feet high and 500 yards long.

The next feature of interest, the Penkridge Viaduct, had 7 arches and foundations that were buried in concrete to a depth of 70 feet.

Immediately after Wolverhampton station, which was the highest point on the line, there was a deep 300 yards long cutting, followed by Summit Tunnel which at 186 yards long carried the railway under Wolverhampton Road and the Wyrley & Essington Canal.

The last 14 miles was quite troublesome as it produced many totally unexpected problems, the first being a small aqueduct carrying the Bentley Branch of the Birmingham Canal across the Darlaston Green Cutting. A temporary canal was built as a diversion, while construction got underway. The aqueduct used a cast iron liner to contain the water, and when filled a severe leakage developed. The canal had to be re-diverted so that the problem could be solved. It took a great deal of time and was the last part of the railway to be completed.

It was decided to divert the River Tame near Great Barr to reduce the number of times that the railway had to cross the river. The greatest and most difficult of all the earthworks was the Newton Cutting, which had a depth of 80 feet in the centre. In order to complete it on time the large workforce operated around the clock.

On the outskirts of Birmingham a detour was needed which required a further Act of Parliament. The resident of Aston Hall was James Watt who was the son of the famous engineer, and was bitterly opposed to the line passing through his grounds. This late change to the route required the hasty design and construction of several extra bridges, viaducts and embankments, which greatly increased Locke's workload.

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Joseph Locke.

The construction of the line in record time was a great triumph for Locke. The average cost was less than the estimated £20,000 per mile, which was very cheap when compared with the cost of the London & Birmingham Railway at £46,000 per mile.

Considering that this was the first long-distance line in the world, its opening was a very quiet affair. A train pulling 3 coaches and a mail coach set off from Liverpool, and a similar one set off from Manchester. They met at Newton Junction where both trains were combined and hauled southwards to Birmingham by the locomotive Wildfire.

The venture was a great success. In the first six months of operation it carried 232,202 passengers, and continued to prosper during its nine-year life.

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An engine constructed at the Haig Foundry and delivered on Sept 20th 1838.

In October 1840 the Grand Junction Railway took over the Crewe & Chester Railway to use as a basis for a route to Ireland via Holyhead.

It continued as a separate railway until an Act of Parliament was passed on July 16th 1846 which allowed the amalgamation of the Grand Junction Railway with the London & Birmingham Railway and the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. The new company was called the London & North Western Railway Company and became the countries largest railway.

The amalgamation occurred because of pressure from joint shareholders who had doubts about their investment in two warring companies, and the individual companies themselves realised that they could not realistically expect to retain their monopoly of the Manchester / Liverpool to London route in the face of the increasing number of new railway
lines that were being proposed.

This amalgamation must have surprised many people at the time, because prior to this the two largest companies thoroughly distrusted each other. The London & Birmingham Railway and Grand Junction Railway violently quarrelled over the London & Birmingham's Trent Valley scheme, and the Grand Junction's interest in a route to Shrewsbury. Ayear prior to the amalgamation the London & Birmingham joined forces with the Manchester & Birmingham Railway due to the latter's reliance on, and distrust of the Grand Junction. In the event, each of the constituent parts was far more successful than it had been before amalgamation, and the resulting company was one of the most successful of the Victorian railway companies.

Curzon Street Terminus in Birmingham.

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