The Liverpool to Manchester Railway

The Rocket

On 15th September 1830, the World’s first passenger railway opened to a large crowd waiting on Liverpool Road Manchester.

The first part of the project (June 1826) started with efforts to drain Chat Moss swamp close to the Bridgewater Canal and provide the 6.4km Chat Moss crossing – over the peat bog.

On the opening day a grand reception and banquet was laid on to celebrate the historic occasion. Eight trains set off from Liverpool along two tracks.  One stopped as the wheels came off the track. The train behind crashed into it and thus the world’s first passenger train crash occurred. Luckily there were no injuries.

Eventually both trains continued their journey. Half way to Manchester, they stopped as the engines needed water. The passengers were told to stay on the  trains, but many got off to stretch their legs. This included the MP William Huskisson unsteady and unnerved he stumbled into the track of Rocket passing from the other direction and was hit. He needed urgent medical attention, so a marching band on another train, who were meant to play in Manchester, were told to get off to allow the injured man to rush to Eccles for treatment.

Sadly Huskisson later died – the world’s first railway passenger death. The band were told to walk the 18 miles back to Liverpool.

The trains were mostly open carriages, full of lords, ladies & VIPs in their finest clothes. As the trains approached Eccles, the skies darkened & there was a huge downpour. The passengers got drenched.

At last they came into Manchester looking very bedraggled & distressed.  There were cheers to welcome them, but most of crowd were booing & jeering. The people of Manchester were unhappy. The Peterloo Massacre was still fresh in Mancunian memory & these trains were full of the lords & politicians who did not support parliamentary reform. The local military were trying to control the hostile crowd.

The PM, the Duke of Wellington, sensed the negative Mancunian mood and the hero of Waterloo decided to return to Liverpool. Salfordians who lined the track and bridges, added to the damp passengers misery by pelting the open carriages with all manner of filth along the way. The trains had to stop to clear a wheel-barrow off the track. This was a radical act of railway vandalism.

Where the incline was too much for Rocket and her carriageway, passengers had to get out and walk as the trains struggled. However, these passengers were way better off than the military band who were later seen still miserably trudging alongside the track in the dark as the train passed them.

When they all finally arrived back in Liverpool, the passengers were tired and miserable. The grand ball was cancelled and Wellington swore he would never travel by train ever again. 

Mancunians and Salfordians had played their small part in making sure the day did not go to plan, but the railways would soon come to play an enormous role in the development and histories of Manchester, Salford and the industrial revolution.

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 less than the original estimate of £796,246. It necessitated some 2.3 million cubic meters of excavation a feat of engineering and technology in itself.

Alexandra Fairclough

Image Nick-D, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons