While it certainly was not the first railway, the Liverpool and Manchester holds the distinction of being the first true railway in the traditional sense. It was the first inter-city passenger railway with a timetabled service and served almost solely by steam locomotives rather than the old-school horse trains. Opened in 1830, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway set the standard for all other public rail transport that grew up in its wake, a growth which would eventually lead to a comprehensive network of railways criss-crossing the United Kingdom. All this success arose from uncertain beginnings, however, with the Liverpool and Manchester experiencing perhaps the dodgiest of dodgy starts ever endured by any commercial enterprise. Just obtaining permission for a railway and building the line were major trials in themselves, whilst opening day was marred by breakdowns, crashes, foul weather, angry mobs and the first recorded high-profile fatal railway accident.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was conceived out of the need to better connect the bustling port of Liverpool with the towns of Lancashire, many of which were already heavily industrialised by the early 19th Century. Textile raw materials arrived at Liverpool by sea and would then be transported inland to the mill towns where steam-powered machinery and a great deal of elbow grease turned it into finished cloth. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the quickest and most efficient way to move goods around was by canal. In this particular part of England there had been a canal system in place for decades prior to 1830. The Bridgewater Canal had opened in 1761 whilst the Mersey and Irwell Navigation had been in operation since the 1730s, shuffling goods through its various locks and channels.
The canals were good for moving materials in bulk but the boats were tediously slow, often having to be towed from the bank by horses. The companies that owned the canals were also becoming increasingly unpopular due to their excessive profiteering, imposing heavy tolls that observers believed were strangling the growth of Manchester and the other mill towns. An alternative means of transportation was sought and the coming of the railways seemed to provide the answer. Rail transport had already existed for many years in the form of small-scale colliery wagonways but the adaptation of the steam engine for motive traction opened up a wealth of new opportunities. Railways took a major step forward in 1825 when the Stockton and Darlington Railway opened in the northeast of England, using a combination of steam and horse-drawn trains to link the coalfields of County Durham with the ships of the River Tees.
The Stockton and Darlington may have been something of a trial run for the new concept of the public railway but it turned out to be a runaway success, moving people and goods around far quicker than your average stagecoach or canal barge. The benefits were recognised before the Stockton and Darlington was even completed and it did not take long for the idea to reach Lancashire, where the intention to build a railway line between Liverpool and Manchester was originally proposed by Joseph Sandars, a Liverpool corn merchant, and John Kennedy, owner of Manchester's largest spinning mill. The two men were greatly influenced by William James, a land surveyor who had earned himself a fortune through property speculation. James was a major proponent of railway development in those crucial early years and even went so far as to advocate a national network of lines, an idea way ahead of its time but nevertheless one that ultimately became a reality.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company was founded on May 24th 1823 by local merchant Henry Booth, who became both secretary and treasurer. Support for a railway was strong at both ends of the line but plans were frustrated by the opposition of local magnates who owned the land between Liverpool and Manchester, land over which the new railway would have to cross. In the days before electoral reform these landowners held a massive amount of influence over the political process, making it incredibly difficult to get Parliament's permission for anything that went against their wishes.
William James and Robert Stephenson were initially appointed as surveyors and engineers for the new project and the surveying of land for the railway's route began not long after the company was founded in 1823, even though they had yet to gain the consent of Parliament. Much of the work had to be done quickly and covertly in order to avoid attracting the attention of hostile local landowners and their violent minions, thus it was hardly surprising that this first survey was found to be riddled with errors. James was soon declared bankrupt, having already spent several spells in a debtors' prison, and Stephenson left the country in order to pursue engineering projects in South America. In 1824 the company appointed Robert's father, George Stephenson as the new chief engineer.
As a leading pioneer of steam traction and one of the several brains behind the Stockton and Darlington Railway, George Stephenson already enjoyed a reputation as one of Britain's top engineers. By this time, however, Stephenson's popularity was counting against him as his increasing workload meant he could not focus all his energies on any one particular project. He was also a very practical man and a self-taught hands-on engineer who hailed from a humble working-class background, preferring to delegate paperwork and theory to others. Without his son to help him, George was unable do the complex calculations required for the survey so much of the work ended up being done by less-than-capable subordinates.
In 1825 the first Liverpool and Manchester Railway Act was put before Parliament. The results of George Stephenson's survey failed to stand up to the scrutiny of the MPs and their various vested interests. Several aspects of the survey were found to be wildly inaccurate whilst the bluff and uneducated Stephenson, with his thick Geordie accent and total lack of social grace, failed to make a good impression on the haughty politicians. In the end it came as little surprise that the bill was thrown out. Opposition to the bill in Parliament was spearheaded by Robert Haldane Bradshaw, a trustee of the Marquess of Stafford's Worsley estates, which just happened to include the Bridgewater Canal.
Stephenson's failure left him in disgrace, and the directors of the Liverpool and Manchester soon decided that he needed to be replaced. The brothers George and John Rennie became co-engineers while Charles Blacker Vignoles was appointed as surveyor. The Rennies made a tremendous effort to placate and overcome opposition to the scheme. Thanks to their extensive network of legal and political contacts, they were able to approach the Marquess of Stafford directly. Bringing the Marquess round to supporting the railway was a spectacular coup for the company and was possible thanks largely to the efforts of the MP for Liverpool, William Huskisson. Huskisson was a personal friend of the Marquess and also happened to be one of the major supporters of the railway in Parliament. The company's fortunes were also boosted by the return of Robert Stephenson, who was a far more refined, educated and well-spoken character than his father. The younger Stephenson was able to win over the railway's critics with the results of Vignoles' survey, which was not only far more up to scratch than previous efforts but also managed to bypass most of the local opposition by proposing a different route for the new line.
In May 1826 the resubmitted Liverpool and Manchester bill finally passed through Parliament and received the Royal Assent. The company immediately went public and began issuing stock. The Marquess of Stafford did very well out of his newfound support for the scheme, pocketing 1000 shares. In all there were 308 shareholders with 4233 shares. For those who bought shares in the new railway, it would turn out to be a very sound investment indeed.
Construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had not even begun when the process hit its first snag. The Rennies haggled with the company for better terms and ended up being removed from their posts. Vignoles soon followed them out the door, believing it to be the honourable thing for an ex-army man like himself to do. George Stephenson was reappointed as chief engineer but this time he brought his young assistant, Joseph Locke. Locke would later go on to be a great railway engineer in his own right, becoming the chief engineer behind the Grand Junction Railway which in 1837 would link the Liverpool and Manchester line with Robert Stephenson's London and Birmingham Railway, creating Britain's first major railway trunk route.
With George Stephenson back at the helm the business of construction could finally commence. The 35-mile railway was a remarkable engineering achievement for its time. The 2000m long Wapping Tunnel, which linked Liverpool's docks with Edge Hill, was the first tunnel to be bored under a city. Almost as grand an achievement was the 2-mile cutting through the rock at Olive Mount, which was up to 70 feet deep in places. 64 bridges and viaducts were needed on the line, all of which were built of brick and stone with the exception of the cast iron girder bridge that carried the line over the River Irwell into Manchester's Liverpool Road station. The largest bridge on the line was (and still is) the nine-arch viaduct that towered 70 feet above the Sankey Brook valley and Sankey Canal.
The biggest engineering headache of all, however, was how to get the line across Chat Moss, a vast area of peat bog west of Manchester. Various people had tried to drain the Moss with mixed success but Stephenson was of the opinion that drainage was not possible. The solution that he and Joseph Locke came up with was to fill the bog with wooden and heather hurdles, sunk with rocks and earth, to provide a solid foundation for the tracks. Filling went on non-stop for weeks until an adequate foundation had been created. The railway still crosses Chat Moss on Stephenson's floating foundations to this day, supporting trains many times heavier than those used in the 1830s.
As he had done with the Stockton and Darlington, Stephenson used the traditional track gauge of 4 ft 8 1/2 in (1435mm) that had originated with the old colliery wagonways and would go on to become the world's standard gauge. What made the Liverpool and Manchester so innovative was the use of parallel double tracks, allowing trains to travel in both directions at the same time. Double track was used not only because the anticipated levels of traffic required it but also because, in an age before the invention of the telegraph, there was no method of operating a single track line effectively.
By 1829 construction of the railway was progressing steadily and the company bosses set the engineers their next task, finding locomotives suitable for running on the line. Steam traction was still an unknown quality to many people and the planned use of it was de-emphasized during the passage of the railway bill through Parliament, lest any MP be deterred by the thought of these "monstrous machines" blowing up or belching out noxious fumes across the great British countryside. The Liverpool and Manchester board of directors became polarised between those advocating steam locomotives and those who preferred the tried and tested method of cable haulage - using static steam engines beside the line to pull trains uphill on cables and allowing gravity to take them downhill. George Stephenson was not adverse to the idea of cable haulage but he was aware of its one fundamental flaw, that a single breakdown in any one location would paralyse the whole line.
In the end it was decided that using steam locomotives was the best way forward. Early steam locomotives were not very powerful and could not handle steep gradients but the heavily engineered Liverpool and Manchester line was ideally suited to their use. Gradients on the new line were minimal, typically around 1 in 2000 for most of its length, with the only steep sections being a 1 in 100 at Rainhill and a 1 in 50 that led from Edge Hill station down to the Liverpool docks. The finished railway was cable-worked on the steep sections west of Edge Hill, allowing trains to reach the main Liverpool passenger terminus at Crown Street.
In order to find the ideal locomotives for the job, the company directors organised a competition to see which manufacturer produced the engine with the best performance. The Rainhill Trials were held on a section of the partially-completed line in October 1829. A prize of £500 was offered to whoever won the contest, regardless of whether or not any locomotive would actually be chosen for the railway. John Kennedy, Nicholas Wood (a mining engineer with locomotive design experience) and John Urpeth Rastrick (a noted locomotive engineer) presided as judges. Ten locomotives were entered but only five actually got to take part in the trials. They were:
- Cycloped (Thomas Shaw Brandreth)
- Novelty (John Ericsson and John Braithwaite)
- Perseverance (Timothy Burstall)
- Rocket (George and Robert Stephenson)
- Sans Pareil (Timothy Hackworth)
The locomotives were tested upon a variety of criteria, the overall aim being to see which candidate could complete several runs along the 2.5km section of line the fastest and most efficiently. The locomotives were plagued by reliability issues, although Novelty earned the affection of the watching crowds by achieving a then-phenomenal speed of 28mph before having to withdraw from the competition due to a burst boiler pipe. The eventual winner of the £500 was the Stephensons' Rocket, which performed consistently, reached a top speed of 30mph and was the only one to complete the trials. Robert Stephenson & Company gladly accepted the contract to supply locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Sans Pareil was also purchased by the company and ran on the line for two years.
By January 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was essentially complete. That month the first experimental train was hauled along the line by Rocket. Opening day was set for September, with the company preparing to pull out all the stops for the grandiose occasion.
The Grand Opening
The directors decided upon September 15th 1830 for opening day after finding out that the Prime Minister was due in the area on the 13th for a dinner in Manchester and would therefore be able to attend. The Prime Minister was none other than Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. The grand old soldier-statesman had come a long way since masterminding Britain's final victory over Napoleon at Waterloo fifteen years earlier but by 1830 his approval ratings were in freefall due to his continued opposition to electoral reform. Nowhere was the Iron Duke's unpopularity more evident than in the industrial northwest of England, where his unrelenting desire to preserve the status quo meant that the area's booming population was left largely without representation in Parliament. Wellington was not particularly fond of railways either, and became increasingly dismayed as railway-mania took off in later years. When Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway received the consent of Parliament in 1835, Wellington spitefully grumbled to the newspapers that the proposed line would "encourage the working classes to move about". There can be little doubt that he felt the same way about the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Despite his hatred of railways and the local people's hatred of him, Wellington accepted his invitation nonetheless. He was not the only high-profile personality invited to attend the grand opening. The guest list read out like a who's-who of early 19th Century politics and society. Cabinet ministers Sir Robert Peel and Charles Arbuthnot were there. So was the Chief Whip, William Holmes. Fanny Kemble, the actress, author and anti-slavery campaigner also got an invitation as did the Marquess of Stafford, the Earl of Wilton, Joseph Sandars and the Austrian ambassador, Prince Esterházy. William Huskisson attended the festivities against the advice of his doctor following treatment of a kidney complaint. Huskisson saw it as his duty to attend but he also hoped that getting close to the Prime Minister, from whom he had been estranged for two years due to their conflicting stances on various issues, would help to get him out of the political wilderness and possibly even a government post. Being a moderate Tory who was popular in both Liverpool and Manchester, Huskisson was something of a rare breed and several newspapers were already singling him out for greatness. With his future prospects in mind, Huskisson was eager to reconcile with Wellington.
The opening day organisers decided that the Prime Minister and the other dignitaries should assemble in Liverpool and be transported along the line to Manchester in trains hauled by eight of the company's locomotives. The Prime Minister's train, consisting of four passenger carriages, would travel on the southern track while the other seven trains would use the northern track in order to reduce the possibility of Wellington being delayed should any of the locomotives break down or crash. A celebratory luncheon was to be held for the VIPs at the Manchester terminus, Liverpool Road.
The event had already become a major crowd-puller before the first train had even moved, with every hotel and lodging house in Liverpool fully booked on the night before. On opening day itself, the area around Crown Street station was already swarming with people by 9am. At 10am the Duke of Wellington arrived and was greeted by a band playing See, the Conquering Hero Comes from Handel's opera Judas Maccabeus, beginning a tradition of that tune being played at the opening of almost every British railway station from then on. Once Wellington and his party had boarded their carriage, a single gun salute marked the official opening of the railway. The brakes on Wellington's train were released and the carriages gently rolled down the gradient out of the station towards to be coupled up with Northumbrian, the most advanced locomotive that the Stephensons had built to date. The procession of trains began leaving Crown Street at around 11am, rolling downhill through the tunnel to Edge Hill before proceeding on to Manchester under their own steam.
The great departure from Liverpool had gone off without a hitch but it did not take long for the first incident to take place. Some thirteen miles out of Liverpool at Parr the leading train on the northern track was forced to stop suddenly after its locomotive, Phoenix came off the rails, causing the locomotive of the train following behind, North Star, to bump into the back of it. The world's first passenger train-on-train collision was described in the tasteful language of the time by an unknown journalist from Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, who was aboard the leading train:
"One of our engine wheels, how I know not, contrived to bolt from the course—in plain words, it escaped from the rail, and ploughed along upon the clay, with no other inconvenience than an increase of friction, which damped our speed, and with the additional application of the break, soon brought us to an anchor. The engine, however, behind us, not being aware of our mishap, came pelting on at a smart pace, without receiving its signal for checking motion in time. Accordingly, those on the look-out hastily called on their fellow-passengers to be on their guard, and prepare for a jolt, which took place with a crash upon our rear, sufficiently loud and forcible to give an idea of what would happen, if by any strange chance it had charged us with the unrestrained impetuosity of its powers."
There were no reported casualties resulting from the minor shunt and the trains were able to resume the journey once Phoenix was put back on the rails. After crossing the Sankey Viaduct, the trains passed the junction for George Stephenson's unfinished line to Warrington, which he hoped would ultimately be extended further to link the Liverpool and Manchester line to Birmingham and London. Beyond Warrington Junction the trains passed through the market town of Newton-le-Willows, which roughly marked the halfway point on the line. 55 minutes after leaving Liverpool, the first trains reached their scheduled water and rest stop at Parkside station, located in an isolated rural area half a mile east of Newton-le-Willows.
Blood on the Tracks
The Prime Minister's train had travelled considerably slower than the others for the benefit of its occupants and the cheering crowds along the line who came to see them. By the time Northumbrian pulled its illustrious load into Parkside at 11.55am, the first two trains on the northern track hauled by Phoenix and North Star had already passed through and were waiting beyond the station for Northumbrian to resume the lead of the procession. Having been stuck in their cramped carriages for almost an hour, the passengers took the opportunity to stretch their legs and have a closer look at the water apperatus. Some fifty men left the train despite the drizzly weather and warnings from railway officials that it would be safer to stay on board. Parkside had been designed as a potential future junction station for lines to Wigan and Bolton, and had multiple lines of track in place.
The men stood around on the tracks chatting about various topics, most relating to the day's events and the potential of rail travel. William Huskisson took the opportunity to congratulate Joseph Sandars on his achievement before he was approached by William Holmes, who suggested that it was a good time for him to approach the Prime Minister and attempt a reconciliation. Huskisson agreed and went over to Wellington, who was still seated in his special carriage. The two men greeted one-another with a warm handshake but Huskisson was unable to say anything of worth before a shout suddenly went up from the crowd:
"An engine is approaching! Take care gentlemen!"
That engine was Rocket, with Joseph Locke at the controls, approaching Parkside with the third train on the northern track. Most of the men on the tracks immediately scampered out of the way, either getting back into their carriages or taking refuge on the nearby embankment. With Rocket just eighty feet away, only Holmes, Huskisson and Prince Esterházy now remained in its path, unable to board Wellington's carriage because it did not have fixed steps and there was not enough time to attach the removable ones. Another MP in Wellington's carriage, Edward Littleton of Staffordshire, reached down to grab Esterházy and managed to pull him inside to safety.
By now Joseph Locke had noticed that there was people on the line ahead but Rocket, being the engineering prototype that it was, did not have brakes. The only way for Locke to stop was to engage the locomotive's reverse gear but the process took ten seconds and he was already too close to stop in time. Huskisson and Holmes panicked as Rocket continued to bear down on them. Holmes climbed up and clung on to the side of Wellington's carriage but Huskisson continued to dither, running for the embankment twice but returning to the carriage both times. he eventually decided to climb on to the side of the carriage as well, with Wellington himself recommending that the two men had better step inside.
In 1830 the gap between the two sets of tracks was the same as the track gauge itself (4 ft 8 1/2 in) with the carriages overhanging the track by 2 ft. Had Huskisson and Holmes stayed where they were, pressed against the side of the carriage, there would have been just enough room for Rocket and its train to pass them without injury. When Rocket was just feet away, however, Huskisson lost his nerve and tried to clamber into the carriage. When those inside failed to pull him in, Holmes cried out "For God's sake, Mr Huskisson, be firm!" but Huskisson made a grab for the carriage door, which swung open and left him dangling directly in the path of the oncoming train. Holmes, Locke, Wellington and the others watched in horror as Rocket struck the door and Huskisson fell beneath the wheels of the locomotive.
"[Huskisson] was caught by it, thrown down and the engine passed over his leg and thigh, crushing it in a most frightful way. It is impossible to give an idea of the scene that followed, of the horror of everyone present or of the piercing shrieks of his unfortunate wife, who was in the car. He said scarcely more than, "It's all over with me. Bring me my wife and let me die"".(Harriet Arbuthnot, a passenger in the Duke of Wellington's carriage)
Once Rocket had finally come to a halt, William Rathbone, Lord Wilton and Joseph Parkes were the first to reach the stricken Huskisson. They found that one of the locomotive's wheels had passed over his right calf and thigh, crushing the bones of both without damaging the knee. His thigh muscle was exposed and the arteries, although flattened, had not been severed and were seen to pulse with Huskisson's heartbeat. Huskisson, suffering from shock, seemed not to be in any pain but continually called for his wife and announced that was going to die. A man threw his coat over the damaged leg so as not to cause further distress to Huskisson's wife Emily, who had been travelling on the train with her husband. When she reached the scene of the accident she became hysterical and had to be restrained as Lord Wilton applied a makeshift turniquet, which he had made using handkerchiefs and an elderly passenger's walking stick. The door of a nearby railway storeroom was torn off its hinges and used as a stretcher.
As news of an incident spread among the crowd and railwaymen went out to stop approaching trains, panic broke out and many of those present thought that the Prime Minister had been assassinated. The anonymous writer from Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine wrote:
"On looking out, I observed the Duke's train drawn up parallel to another train, with a considerable number of persons on foot assembled in the intervening space; and, at the same time, I perceived an appearance of hustling, and stooping, and crowding together for which I could not well account. In another moment, a gentleman rushed forth, and came running up the line towards us; as he neared, I saw evidently that he was much agitated, and pale, and breathless, in short, that something dreadful had happened was obvious. At length he stopped, and fifty voices exclaimed, "Has any thing happened? What is the matter?" In a state of distracted nervousness, and in broken unconnected words, he at last broke silence: "Oh God! he is dead! He is killed! he is killed!". "Who, and when, and how?" burst from every mouth; the first passing thought on my own, and probably every other mind, being, that some desperate and successful attempt had been made on the Duke's life. The truth, however, soon spread like wildfire to the right and left, acting, as it fell upon every car, like a spell. Smiles and cheerful countenances were changed for one general gloom. Amongst those who were near the fatal spot, the first feeling was one of thankfulness, that their own immediate relative was not the victim; the next, and most permanent, was sympathy with the unhappy lady who saw her husband stretched, lacerated and bleeding, on the ground. A further sympathy was, I am sure, as generally and as sincerely felt, a sympathy with those gentlemen, who, as directors, had for so long devoted themselves to the accommodation of the public, and looked forward to this day as a gratifying and auspicious termination of their labours; conscious, too, as they were, that had their printed directions, issued with the tickets, been adhered to, no such accident could by any possibility have occurred."
Huskisson received on-the-spot medical attention from doctors who had travelled on Wellington's train with him, including the Royal Physician Henry Herbert Southy. The doctors agreed that Huskisson's life could be saved if an amputation were performed as soon as possible, suggesting that he be returned to Liverpool for treatment. George Stephenson then arrived on the scene and convinced them that it would be best to take him on to Manchester. Huskisson was stretchered onto the flat-bottomed wagon of Wellington's train, which had housed the band, and the other carriages were detached. Northumbrian set off, with Stephenson himself driving, and tore through the open countryside towards Manchester, achieving a new world speed record of 40mph in the process. Lord Wilton, Lord Colville and the doctors travelled in the wagon with Huskisson, keeping him comfortable and steady. Crowds of onlookers, who were unaware of what had happened, cheered and waved as Northumbrian rushed past.
One of the doctors, Liverpool surgeon Joseph Brandreth, believed that Huskisson was close to death and suggested that they stop at the first house they come to. It was decided to stop at the vicarage of Reverend Thomas Blackburne in Eccles, four miles short of Manchester. Huskisson, a personal friend of Blackburne, concurred with the idea but none of them were aware that Blackburne had also been invited to attend the opening of the railway and was waiting around with all the other passengers back at Parkside station. When the train reached Eccles, however, they discovered that Blackburne's wife, having decided not to attend the opening festivities, was still at the vicarage and ready to receive them. By now the weather had deteriorated into a fearsome thunderstorm and the doctors struggled to ferry Huskisson on his makeshift stretcher through the torrent of hail and sleet towards the vicarage, which was a few hundred yards away from the railway. Once his passengers had disembarked, Stephenson continued driving on towards Manchester, where he hoped to summon further medical assistance.
Huskisson was taken into the vicarage at and placed on a sofa. Once he had been sedated with laudanum and brandy, the doctors examined his injuries more closely. Being unfamiliar with industrial injuries, they struggled to assess the damage with much certainty. Nonetheless they still believed that Huskisson could be saved if his leg could be amputated. They could not do this without the proper medicine and equipment, however, and were obliged to wait for more help to come from Manchester. That help eventually arrived in the form of four surgeons, led by William Robert Whatton. By the time they arrived, however, Huskisson was suffering from severe spasms and had to be held down in order to prevent him from falling off the sofa. Taking account of the patient's worsening condition, Whatton knew that he had to perform an amputation immediately in order to avoid further, potentially fatal blood loss but that could not be done successfully with Huskisson in such an agitated state. More improvised sedatives were applied and Huskisson soon began to calm down. By 4pm his condition had stabilised enough for him to be able to dictate his last will and testament to his secretary, leaving everything to his wife. Still believing that his end was near, he took the sacrament from Reverend Blackburne (who had returned from Manchester by horse) and said the Lord's Prayer with Lord Wilton.
Trouble in Manchester
Back at Parkside, after the wounded Huskisson and his party had left for Eccles, the assembled crowd of railwaymen and dignitaries debated over what to do next. As the telegraph had not yet been invented and the signalling system was too primitive, it was impossible for them to effectively communicate with Liverpool, Manchester or Eccles. The railway executives, believing that the company was not liable for the accident, argued that the trains should continue on to Manchester in order to prove the viability of the railway. It was also pointed out that a large crowd had gathered in Manchester to witness the arrival of the trains and catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister. Joseph Sandars advised that if the trains did not continue, the crowds in Manchester could become volatile or hear news of the accident and believe it to be more serious than it was. The Duke of Wellington and his Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel argued against going ahead, saying that it would be disrespectful to Huskisson, and instead advocated going back to Liverpool to await news on Huskisson's condition.
Eventually, at around the same time that Whatton's team of surgeons reached Eccles, riders on horseback arrived at Parkside with news that the crowds in Manchester were getting restless. Fearing that there would be a riot if Wellington failed to put in an appearance, it was decided to complete the journey. The three carriages of the Prime Minister's train, stranded on the southern track without a locomotive following the departure of Northumbrian to Eccles, were attached by a long chain to Phoenix and North Star, who's trains had been coupled together on the northern track. The procession of trains began to leave Parkside at around 1.30pm, travelling slowly through the foul weather towards Manchester. The anonymous correspondent from Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine described the journey:
"During the long interval spent in a state of uncertainty, individual feelings were vented in a variety of ways. Some were in tears, some retired from the crowd and paced hastily up and down the road, some seated themselves by the side in silence. Some stood absorbed, while others discussed the accident in little knots and parties. Some were gesticulating, while others were looking on speechless and motionless. The final decision being in favour of advancing, seats were resumed, and we moved on; but the buoyant exhilaration of the morning was past, and the whole now wore the sombre aspect of a funeral procession. The military band was left to return as it could; I saw them, crest-fallen, picking their way homeward through the mud and mire; our trumpeters, who had hitherto rather overpowered us with their efforts, were ordered to keep silence, and no responsive greetings met the shouts of spectators, as yet in ignorance of the sad event. The weather, too, began to assume a cheerless aspect, and the lively face of a well-cultivated country was soon exchanged for the dreary wilds of Chat Moss, that Paradise of Will o' the Wisps, snipes, and blue devils ... A heavy shower, with distant thunder, tended little to raise our spirits in crossing this irreclaimable wilderness of nearly six miles in extent, continuing with more or less intermission till the end of our journey."
As the trains crossed Chat Moss, they were met by George Stephenson, who was returning from Manchester along the southern track with Northumbrian. Stephenson informed the party of Huskisson's condition when he last saw him before leaving Eccles for Manchester (erroneously claiming that the amputation had been performed successfully) and boasted of having set a new speed record. The carriages of Wellington's train were detached from the train on the northern track and re-attached to Northumbrian, which immediately set off at full-speed back towards Manchester. As the train got closer to the city, however, the crowds beside the line became increasingly hostile, with much jeering, booing and the waving of anti-Wellington banners. As the crowds became denser they began spilling onto the tracks, forcing Northumbrian to slow to a crawl and delaying Wellington's arrival even further. When the train eventually pulled into Manchester Liverpool Road station at just before 3pm, all Hell broke loose.
Just as the riders at Parkside had warned, the Manchester crowd had indeed turned nasty. The assembled mob, described by one observer as "A slovenly, ragged set, with hair uncombed and beards unshaven, with waistcoats open, exhibiting unwashed skin, dirty linen, and bare necks.", booed the Prime Minister and pelted his carriage with vegetables. Tricoleur flags, evoking revolutionary sentiment and memories of Napoleon, were waved alongside banners carrying slogans such as "NO CORN LAWS!" and "VOTE BY BALLOT!". As the passengers left the train and headed of to the celebratory luncheon, Reverend Blackburne received the news that Huskisson was in his vicarage and immediately set off for home on horseback. Wellington, fearing the mob, flatly refused to leave his carriage and demanded that food instead be brought out to him. He also insisted that the trains be prepared for return to Liverpool as soon as possible. The Duke's train, now hauled by Comet left Manchester at around 4.30pm, with the other seven trains unable to depart due to mechanical failures and the lack of space to rearrange the locomotives. These trains and their 600 passengers were eventually able to depart after their carriages were joined together in a single long (and very slow) train hauled by the three remaining serviceable locomotives.
At 6.30pm, having stopped at Eccles to enquire as to Huskisson's condition, Wellington's train reached Roby and the Prime Minister disembarked in order to spend the night at Childwell Hall, the nearby home of his friend, the Marquess of Salisbury. Those on the long train, slowed down by the darkness and the weight of its combined load, were not as fortunate as the Prime Minister and did not arrive back in Liverpool until 10.30pm, after which they staggered off exhausted into the darkened city to find somewhere to spend the night. A subdued and under-attended evening dinner was held by local businessmen at the Adelphi Hotel, interrupted only by conflicting reports from Eccles. By 11pm, when the final toasts were being raised to the King's health and to Huskisson's recovery, the MP for Liverpool was already dead.
The Death of William Huskisson
As the trains plodded home to Liverpool during the evening, Huskisson's condition worsened and soon his doctors reached the conclusion that he was beyond help. He needed to have his leg amputated but he was now too weak to survive any major surgery. Huskisson was already resigned to his fate when the news was broken to him and his wife. Emily Huskisson once again broke into hysterics and had to be calmed down, after which she sat weeping in the corner, waiting for the end to come. Huskisson thanked the doctors for their admirable efforts before receiving more laudanum. His reported last words to them were "Why endeavour to support my strength? I must die, it is only prolonging my sufferings". At around 11pm Huskisson's secretary sat down in Reverend Blackburne's study and penned the following letter to the Lord Mayor of Liverpool:
With the deepest grief, I have to acquaint you, for the information of yourself, and of the community over which you preside, that Mr Huskisson breathed his last at 9 o'clock this evening. He was attended from the moment of the accident, with indefatigable assiduity, by Dr Brandreth of Liverpool, Dr Hunter of Edinburgh, and Mr Ransome, Mr Whatton, Mr Garside and Mr White, of Manchester.
His last moments were soothed by the devoted attentions of his now distracted widow, and by the presence of some of his distinguished and faithful friends.
I have the honour to be, SirYour most obedient humble servant.
When the news broke the next day, all further celebrations in Liverpool were cancelled and the city went into a state of mourning for its popular representative. The Duke of Wellington also wrote to the Lord Mayor from his lodgings in Roby, declining the Freedom of the City which he was due to receive that day, before scuttling back to London. On November 15th, exactly two months to the day after the opening of the railway, Wellington lost a vote of confidence in Parliament and his Tory government collapsed. A Whig administration led by Charles, Earl Grey took office and began the process of electoral reform that Wellington had so stubbornly opposed, culminating in the Reform Act of 1832 which redressed many of the grievances regarding Britain's corrupt and antiquated electoral procedure.
William Huskisson's funeral, held in Liverpool on September 24th 1830, was a major public event despite his wife's wish that the occasion remain a private affair, with more than 3000 tickets being issued for his burial in St James' Cemetery and some 69,000 people, roughly half of the city's population, turning out to line the route of his funeral procession. He was lowered into the ground at 1pm and a final gun salute marked the end of the service, although many of Liverpool's businesses remained shut for the rest of the day. Huskisson's substantial tomb remains and is now overshadowed by Liverpool's Anglican cathedral, which was later built next-door to the cemetery.
Aftermath and Legacy
The opening day of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had certainly been an eventful one but the accidents and crowd trouble ultimately did the company no harm at all in the long-term. Indeed the events of opening day had given the railway copious amounts of free publicity, raising public awareness of this exciting new way to travel. The new line was a runaway success, shifting 188,726 passengers and 35,800 tons of goods during the first six months of 1831. Half a million passengers travelled on the railway during its first year of operation, heralding the arrival of the railway at the forefront of the British public's affections and the rapid expansion, spearheaded by the Stephensons, Joseph Locke and other emerging engineers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, that saw Britain's fledgling rail network grow to a colossal 17,000 route miles by the end of the 19th Century. The lessons of William Huskisson's death were not forgotten, however, and George Stephenson ensured that all his new locomotives were fitted with brakes from 1831 onwards.
Following his downfall from power, the Duke of Wellington remained bitterly opposed to railways for the rest of his life. He did not travel by rail again until 1843 when he accompanied the equally anti-rail Queen Victoria for a trip on the London and South Western Railway, which Joseph Locke designed and built. Wellington died of a stroke on September 14th 1852 and was, rather fortunately, remembered more for his military successes than for his political career. One and a half million people attended his funeral.
Rocket remained in use on the Liverpool and Manchester railway for several years until it was rendered obsolete by the introduction of the more advanced Planet class of locomotives. After a period spent working at a colliery, it eventually found its way back to the Stephensons' company in the 1850s as the role it played in the advancement of the Industrial Revolution was recognised. In 1876 Rocket, having been substantially altered since its days on the Liverpool and Manchester, went on display as a stationary exhibit in London's Science Museum, where it remains to this day. Two fully-functioning replicas of Rocket were built during the 20th Century, both done using the Stephensons' original designs and specifications. One of these replicas took part in a re-enactment of the Rainhill Trials on the Llangollen Railway in 1999, marking the 170th anniversary of the original trials. Rocket came out on top once again, narrowly beating off the competition from replicas of Novelty and Sans Pareil.
The original route of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway remains in operation today, serving as a secondary route between the two cities (the former Cheshire Lines Committe route via Warrington, built later in the century, is now the busier route). Crown Street station soon proved unable to handle the growing volume of traffic and was replaced by the larger and better-sited Liverpool Lime Street station in 1836. Parkside station closed after only a few years as the advent of more advanced locomotives eliminated the need for a water stop on the line. The station site has since been cleared and all that is there today is a white stone memorial beside the tracks, marking the site of Huskisson's fatal accident and commemorating his unfortunate reputation as the world's first high-profile railway fatality.