West Coast Main Line (1837)

The West Coast Main Line is the modern railway line that runs from London to Glasgow via the Midlands and North West England. The 401 mile route is made up of various lines which were created separately from 1833 and amalgamated from to become the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) in 1946.

These were the Grand Junction Railway (GJR), opened in 1837, the London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) (1838) and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway (M&BR) in 1840.

In the Railway Act of 1921 they became part of the London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) railway and, in 1948, the London Midland Region of British Railways: the LNWR is effectively an ancestor of today’s West Coast Main Line.

Right: Notice the Highland Terrier on the side of this Scottish-based engine, 37022, on the WCML with National Carriers in the background. Image © P. Spilsbury.

Grand Junction Railway (1837)

The Grand Junction Railway (GJR) was an early railway company, which existed between 1833 and 1846 when it was amalgamated with other railways to form the London and North Western Railway. The lines which comprised the GJR now form the central section of the West Coast Main Line.

The Grand Junction Railway Company was established in the second half of 1832 by the consolidation of two rival companies: the Birmingham and Liverpool Railway Company and the Liverpool and Birmingham Railway Company.

Authorized by Parliament on 6 May 1833 and designed by George Stephenson and Joseph Locke, the Grand Junction Railway opened for business on 4 July 1837, running for 82 miles (132 km) from Birmingham through Wolverhampton (via Perry Barr and Bescot),  Stafford, Crewe, and Warrington, then via the existing Warrington and Newton Railway to join the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at a triangular junction at Newton Junction. The GJR established its chief engineering works at Crewe, relocating there from Edge Hill, in Liverpool.

The Grand Junction Railway Bridge at Arpley. Photo © P. Spilsbury.

Shortly after opening with a temporary Birmingham terminus at Vauxhall, services were routed to and from Curzon Street Station, which it shared with the London and Birmingham Railway (LBR), whose platforms were adjacent, providing a link between Liverpool, Manchester and London.

In 1840 the GJR absorbed the Chester and Crewe Railway shortly before it opened. It was the absorption of this company that led the Grand Junction Railway to build its locomotive works at Crewe, which led to Crewe becoming a major railway town. Seeing itself as part of a grand railway network, it encouraged the development of the North Union Railway which took the tracks onward to Preston, and it also invested in the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway and the Caledonian Railway.

The bridge over the River Mersey near Arpley as it looked on 9 July 2004.

It began operation with a temporary Birmingham terminus at Vauxhall. The travelling post office where mail was sorted on a moving train was instituted on the Grand Junction Railway in January 1838.

Using a converted horse-box, it was carried out at the suggestion of Frederick Karstadt, a General Post Office surveyor. Karstadt’s son was one of two mail clerks who did the sorting.

In October 1838 the Liverpool Mercury reported that

It is confidently expected, that after the ensuing winter is over, and the embankments on the London and Birmingham Line are well settled down, first class trains between Liverpool and Manchester and London will not occupy more than nine hours in the journey. This being accomplished, what further improvement could be desired between London and Lancashire?

Considering itself as part of a grand railway network, the company encouraged the development of the North Union Railway which extended the tracks onward to Preston, and it also invested in the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway and the Caledonian Railway. In 1845 the GJR merged with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and consolidated its position by buying the North Union Railway in association with the Manchester and Leeds Railway.

In 1841 the company appointed Captain Mark Huish as the secretary of the railway. Huish was ruthless in the development of the business and contributed significantly to the company’s success.

The GJR was very profitable, paying dividends of at least 10% from its beginning and having a final capital value of more than £5.75 million (equivalent to £560.92 million now) when it merged with the London and Birmingham Railway and Manchester and Birmingham Railway companies to become the London and North Western Railway in 1846, which in turn formed part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923.

Daresbury railway station (above, left in a photo supplied by C. Ball) was in Moore on the Birkenhead Joint Railway between Runcorn and Warrington. It was named after the village of Daresbury about a mile away, as Moore had a second station on another line (A note in Wikipedia says Daresbury Station was initially called Moore but the name was changed to Daresbury in April 1861.

See also the Disused Railway Stations website where you can see photos of the station site as it today ) It was open to passengers between 18 December 1850 and 7 July 1952. It continued to be served by goods trains until full closure on 1 June 1965. The other two images are of the current line near Arpley.

One person of interest in connection with the Grand Junction Railway was William Allcard. He was born in 1801 and lived at Bank House on Sankey Street by the Town Hall between 1839 and 1854. He was also given the task of building the Sankey Viaduct on the Liverpool and Manchester. He went into partnership with William Buddicom in the manufacture of railway engines. Allcard Street off Folly Lane in Bewsey is named after him. Read more about him later in the series. If you can’t wait, have a look in Grace’s Guide.

We’ll finish off this section with a series of photos from Peter Spilsbury.

Read more about the line in Wikipedia: Grand Junction / Chester and Crewe Railway

See also: The Daresbury District Heritage Group

If you are in northwest England in summertime why not pay a visit to The Railway Age at Crewe to see the railway heritage which made the town famous. They open from Easter to the end of September. Check out their website.

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London and Birmingham Railway (1838)

The London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) was an early railway company in the United Kingdom, existing from 1833 to 1846, when it became part of the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR). The 112-mile (180 km) railway line which the company opened in 1838, between London and Birmingham, was the first intercity line to be built into London. It is now the southern section of the West Coast Main Line.

The railway engineer John Rennie proposed a railway line from London to Birmingham in 1823, and formed a company to build it by a route through Oxford and Banbury, a route later taken by the Great Western Railway.

Soon afterwards a rival company was formed by Francis Giles whose line would have been through the Watford Gap and Coventry. Neither company obtained backing for its scheme, and in late 1830 the two companies decided to merge.

The new company appointed Robert Stephenson chief engineer, and he chose the route through Coventry, largely to avoid possible flooding from the River Thames at Oxford.

It started at Euston Station in London, went north-west to Rugby, where it turned west to Coventry and on to Birmingham. It terminated at Curzon Street Station, which it shared with the Grand Junction Railway (GJR), whose adjacent platforms gave an interchange with full connectivity (with through carriages) between Liverpool, Manchester and London.

These elaborate cast iron gates are from the Doric Portico that formed the entrance to the original Euston Station in London. They were designed by the inventor and locksmith J J Bramah for the Euston terminus of the London & Birmingham Railway in 1838.

The gates are now on display at the National Railway Museum in York.

The prospectus for the London and Birmingham Railway offered the following inducements to potential investors:

First, the opening of new and distant sources of supply of provisions to the metropolis; Second, Easy, cheap and expeditious travelling; Third; The rapid and economical interchange of the great articles of consumption and of commerce, both internal and external; and Lastly, the connexion by railways, of London with Liverpool, the rich pastures of the centre of England, and the greatest manufacturing districts; and, through the port of Liverpool, to afford a most expeditious communication with Ireland.

London & Birmingham railway plan of the line and adjacent country by C.F. Cheffins, 1839

The company was created with an initial capitalisation of £5,500,000. Much of the subscribed funds came from Lancashire, where great profits were being made in the cotton industries.

The London & Birmingham Railway Coat of Arms on the original Euston station gates, displayed in the National Railway Museum in York (above).

Image by RuthAS is used under Creative Commons licence.

The construction of the line was the subject of much opposition by landowners, who organised a campaign in the early 1830s to prevent the L&BR from driving a line across their estates. As a result, some routes were modified. The line had been planned to open at the same time as the GJR which entered Birmingham from the north. However great difficulty in constructing the Kilsby Tunnel in Northamptonshire delayed the opening.

The line was officially fully opened on 17 September 1838, with the first passenger train from London to Birmingham arriving that day. The first London-to-Birmingham trains took 5+12 hours to complete the 112+12-mile (181.1 km) journey. In July 1846 the L&BR merged with the Grand Junction Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway to form the London and North Western Railway.

The Birmingham terminus, Curzon Street, of the London & Birmingham Railway in 1838. Used under Creative Commons licence.

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Manchester and Birmingham Railway (1840)

The Manchester and Birmingham Railway was built between Manchester and Crewe and opened in stages from 1840. Between Crewe and Birmingham, trains were worked by the Grand Junction Railway.

After the building of the Grand Junction Railway and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, investors began to look for other routes south of Manchester. From 1835, the GJR was considering a branch to the Potteries, while the Manchester and Cheshire Junction Railway was planning a line from Manchester to Crewe with branches outwards. Meanwhile, George Stephenson was investigating a line from Manchester and Stockport to the Potteries, which developed into a proposal for a “Manchester South Union Railway”. Also involved were proposals for competing lines through the Trent valley to Rugby.

After two years of proposals and counter-proposals, what emerged was a scheme to run from a junction from the GJR at Chebsey, with branches to Macclesfield and Crewe, into Manchester Store Street, which received Parliamentary authorisation in 1837. There were plans to take the line to Rugby, but for a number of reasons, including lack of finance, they were put on hold. A section between Heaton Norris and a temporary station at Travis Street in Manchester was opened first in 1840.

Manchester London Road station. The Manchester tram network (seen in the picture) was electrified between 1901 and 1903, so it was probably taken after 1903, and the lack of motor traffic indicates this was probably before 1910, so it was probably taken circa 1905.

Image used under Creative Commons licence.

In 1841 the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway, which was to share Store Street, also began running into Travis Street. Store Street finally opened in 1842 and later became known as London Road (it became Piccadilly in 1960). Services were extended to Sandbach but entry to Crewe, where it would use GJR metals to Birmingham, proved more difficult. In the end it was agreed that the GJR would work the trains south of Crewe, while the M&B would work them into Manchester.

Although the company’s finances remained weak, it built a number of short branches, and, although a minor player, its position made it a crucial part in revived plans for the Trent and Churnet valleys, which involved the London and Birmingham Railway with which they would compete.

Eventually the complex relationship between the M&BR, the GJR and the L&BR was resolved by their merger in 1846 to form the London and North Western Railway.

Construction of platforms 13 and 14 in 1959. Upon opening the station was renamed Piccadilly. It is now where trains to and from Warrington Central arrive and depart. Image by Ben Brooksbank is used under Creative Commons licence.

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London and North Western Railway (1846-1922)

The company was formed on 16 July 1846 by the amalgamation of the Grand Junction Railway, London and Birmingham Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway, as seen above. This move was prompted, in part, by the Great Western Railway’s plans for a railway north from Oxford to Birmingham. The company initially had a network of approximately 350 miles (560 km), connecting London with Birmingham, Crewe, Chester, Liverpool and Manchester.

The headquarters were at Euston railway station. As traffic increased, it was greatly expanded with the opening in 1849 of the Great Hall, designed by Philip Charles Hardwick in classical style. It was 126 ft (38 m) long, 61 ft (19 m) wide and 64 ft (20 m) high and cost £150,000 (equivalent to £15,670,000 in 2019). The station stood on Drummond Street. Further expansion resulted in two additional platforms in the 1870s with four more in the 1890s, bringing the total to 15.

The LNWR described itself as the Premier Line. This was justified, as it included the pioneering Liverpool & Manchester Railway of 1830 and the original LNWR main line linking London, Birmingham and Lancashire had been the first big railway in Britain, opened throughout in 1838. As the largest joint stock company in the United Kingdom, it collected a greater revenue than any other railway company of its era.

The front entrance to Euston Station on 5 March 1994 when all my photos were recorded on film.

With the Grand Junction Railway acquisition of the North Union Railway in 1846, the London and North Western Railway operated as far north as Preston. In 1859, the Lancaster and Preston Junction Railway amalgamated with the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway and this combined enterprise was leased to the London and North Western Railway, giving it a direct route from London to Carlisle.

In 1858, they merged with the Chester and Holyhead Railway and became responsible for the lucrative Irish Mail trains via the North Wales Main Line to Holyhead and handled the Irish Mail. On 1 February 1859, the company launched the limited mail service, which was only allowed to take three passenger coaches, one each for Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth. The Postmaster General was always willing to allow a fourth coach, provided the increased weight did not cause time to be lost in running. In 1860, the company pioneered the use of the water trough designed by John Ramsbottom. It was introduced on a section of level track at Mochdre, between Llandudno Junction and Colwyn Bay.

46517 at Winsford Junction (LNW) in the exchange sidings opposite the signal box on the Cheshire Cat Tour on 14 May, 1966. The tour was nicknamed “The Cowpats of Cheshire”. The train has just come off the (now closed) Over & Wharton branch.

Photo © P. Spilsbury.

46254 City of Stoke-on-Trent shunting the 3 O’ Clock parcels at Bank Quay Station in 1964. Images © P. Spilsbury.

The company inherited a number of manufacturing facilities from the companies with which it merged, but these were consolidated and in 1862, locomotive construction and maintenance was done at the Crewe Locomotive Works, carriage building was done at Wolverton and wagon building was concentrated at Earlestown.

At the core of the LNWR system was the main line network connecting London Euston with the major cities of Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, and through co-operation with the Caledonian Railway) Edinburgh and Glasgow. This route is today known as the west Coast Main Line. A ferry service also linked Holyhead to Greenore in County Louth, where the LNWR owned the 26-mile (42 km) Dundalk, Newry and Greenore Railway, which connected to other lines of the Irish mainline network at Dundalk and Newry.

The erecting shop at the Crewe Locomotive Works ca. 1890. Image used under Creative Commons licence.

The LNWR also had a main line connecting Liverpool and Manchester with Leeds, and secondary routes extending to Nottingham, Derby, Peterborough and South Wales.

On 1 January 1922, one year before it amalgamated with other railways to create the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), the LNWR amalgamated with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (including its subsidiary the Dearne Valley Railway) and at the same time absorbed the North London Railway and the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company, both of which were previously controlled by the LNWR. With this, the LNWR achieved a route mileage (including joint lines, and lines leased or worked) of 2,707.88 miles (4,357.91 km).

42730 at Dallam shed. Photo © P. Spilsbury.

The company built a war memorial in the form of an obelisk outside Euston station to commemorate the 3,719 of its employees who died in the First World War. Following the Second World War, the names of the LMS’s casualties were added to the LNWR’s memorial.

The LNWR became a constituent of the London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) railway when the railways of Great Britain were merged in the grouping of 1923. Ex-LNWR lines formed the core of the LMS’s Western Division.

Nationalisation followed in 1948, with the English and Welsh lines of the LMS becoming the London Midland Region of British Railways. Some former LNWR routes were subsequently closed, but others were developed as part of the Inter City network, notably the main lines from London to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Carlisle, collectively known in the modern era as the West Coast Main Line.

Other LNWR lines survive as part of commuter networks around major cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.

Electrification of the line in the late 1960s and early 1970s brought the network up to date with faster locomotives and the end of steam. Steam officially ended on 11 August 1968, but it stayed on in industry well into the 1980s and of course there are many heritage lines to this day. Many bridges were adjusted to accommodate the new electric power lines travelling underneath. My photo here shows the electrified line at Warrington Bank Quay in September 2006.

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Images of Locomotives at Dallam Shed. All are © P. Spilsbury and not available at Creative Commons.

The Dallam shed 8B building still exists to this day, but looks very different. It now houses the engineering firm Clarcor UK, who took over the former Locker Air Maze company in 2002. Paul has kindly supplied these two photos taken around the 1980s.

Reader Story

I have many happy memories of my grandfather and the railway. He was a driver, and as a child of about 7-10 years old I went down to Dallam shed with him. He also took me to work with him on a number of occasions after he gave up main line driving.

He started as a cleaner at Dallam with the LNWR aged 14 in 1917. The shed employed a ‘knocker-upper’. He was a lad that rode round the town in the early hours on his bike with a long pole. He had to go to homes of the staff on ‘early turns’ and tap on the bedroom window with the pole to wake up the driver/fireman!

Grandfather tells me the story of an incident in the ’30s when a tank engine somehow ended up in the turntable pit on its side. He stayed at Dallam shed until it closed in 1967, apart from a 3-year break in the early 60’s when he was on the National Executive of the NUR. It was when he returned to the railway that he left steam and, after a course at Derby, started on the DMU’s. It has to be said he was glad to see the back of steam.

He drove DMU’s, on Warrington/St Helens trips and on more than one occasion I went with him. My grandmother would take me to Bank Quay and when his train came in I’d get on and do 2 or 3 trips with him sitting along side him in the drivers compartment. Later he moved on to shunters at Froghall Lane, Walton Old Junction and Arpley sidings.

I remember to get to Walton Old Junction we had to walk from Arpley along the tracks over 12 Arches Viaduct and not a Hi-Vis jacket in sight! Walton Old Junction sidings were closed on weekends so on one occasion I remember on a Friday evening travelling in the shunter from Walton back to Dallam where it was stabled for the weekend. Heaven for a small boy. I don’t know what the Health & Safety Executive would make of it these days.

Another memory was my grandfather telling me that when they were filming Brief Encounter at Carnforth [between 5 and 16 February 1945] locomotives were banned from stopping for water at the station.

I also remember as a small boy standing with my mother and/or my grandmother at a bus stop on the town centre side of Central station bridge and regularly seeing a steam engine, normally a Black 5, stabled behind the station wall where Midland Way runs now.

And this is what the area looked like on 15 August 2010. The view, left, shows the shed itself.

The second, wider shot shows the area alongside Dallam Lane which formed part of the Warrington and Newton Railway.

The Warrington and Newton was eventually diverted to Bank Quay along the main line seen here.