The Death of Huskisson, Part 2: Hulton of Hulton's view

After the tragic death of Huskisson

Previously we looked at the events leading up to the accident to William Huskisson MP at Parkside during the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830.

We will not follow Stephenson's furious drive to Eccles with the mortally wounded Huskisson as this has been copiously documented by others. My assumption is that Stephenson had the welfare of his injured passenger paramount in his mind and took Northumbrian, its tender and the band car up the southern track with a minimum of delay.

Instead, we will focus on events back at Parkside. One can imagine the profound shock accompanying the instantaneous shift from an atmosphere of triumph to one of tragedy. Some have commented on the fact that it took 90 minutes to restart the procession and that this reflected the debate as to whether the remainder of the event should be cancelled.

The decision to continue to Manchester

Of course, the decision may have been made much faster than this but the trains still needed to be prepared in the light of the changed circumstances. What we know is that the first two trains drawn by Phoenix and North Star were coupled and collectively pulled the remainder of the ducal train on the adjacent track. However, as we saw previously, Phoenix was a full half-mile beyond Parkside and now had two trains, North Star and Rocket, between it and the ducal carriage.

From a logistical perspective it would have made sense for Stephenson to have taken the ducal train up to North Star before departing with Northumbrian but the decision to continue to Manchester had presumably not been made at that stage. Having the ducal train at the centre of the procession also made sense from the perspective of coordinating subsequent movements. The assistant engineers in charge of each train presumably made their way to Parkside to advise on options and make appropriate arrangements.

It would appear that Wellington and Peel, Home Secretary and a subsequent Prime Minister, were in favour of returning to Liverpool. In addition to concerns over propriety, Wellington was probably aware of the "mixed" reception that likely awaited him. The Directors on the other hand had invested both financially and psychologically in a successful launch and were conscious of the damage that might accrue from cancelling the remainder of the event. Although doubtless shocked by the accident, all would also be aware of the inherent dangers in older forms of transport. Stage-coaches overturned with alarming regularity as they sought to cut journey times and Peel, in fact, was ultimately to die in a fall from a horse. Wellington, of course, had seen much worse carnage during his military career.

The views of local men

The view of the Directors was supported by two locals, the Boroughreeve of Manchester, in 1830 one James Burt (not apparently Mr Sharpe as stated by Rolt and Ferneyhough), and local pit-owner and magistrate William Hulton of Hulton.

As magistrate, Hulton of Hulton had been responsible for the infamous Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Sabre-wielding cavalry were sent to reinforce local yeomanry supporting the arrest of speakers at a political rally in Manchester's St Peter's Field. The resulting deaths among members of the crowd led to widespread condemnation in the newspapers and a subsequent clampdown on press freedoms. The meeting was addressing electoral reform and little progress was made by Wellington's administration subsequently, this being the slightly convoluted cause of Huskinsson's departure from government two years previously.

Hulton of Hulton was congratulated by the establishment on his stance as magistrate on that fateful day and this may have added weight to his views at Parkside. He did, however, have a conflict of interest which is rarely mentioned, namely that he was the owner of a Stephenson-engineered railway, the Bolton & Leigh, that opened in 1828. This took coal from his pits near Bolton to the canal at Leigh as well as cotton in the reverse direction for the mills. It would later have a junction with the Liverpool & Manchester line and Hulton would also open a coalyard at Crown Street in Liverpool. His views being supported by the Boroughreeve, Wellington reluctantly acquiesced and the engineers could make their arrangements.

Planning train movements

Locke was arguably the senior engineer in Stephenson's absence albeit that his relationship to the Company was tenuous following his critical report on the tunnel surveying. This had cast George in a poor light with predictable consequences. Thomas Longridge Gooch had acted as Stephenson's personal assistant but the other Stephensons (both Roberts, one son, one brother of George) would doubtless have spoken for George. My guess, however, is that Locke or Gooch would have worked with Booth to plan movements. While doubtless shocked by the accident, they would have been well aware of the human cost to date of the railway in terms of navvies and railway staff killed and maimed. While Huskisson was doubtless a valued and respected friend, he rarely visited Liverpool and the accident was manifestly not the fault of the company.

The first engines in the procession, Phoenix (Robert Stephenson, son of George) and North Star (Robert Stephenson, younger brother of George), would have been best prepared (in terms of watering, oiling and fuelling) to make an early start with the ducal train. The fact that they were both in the lead and each pulling at least one more carriage than the others suggests that there was also greater confidence in their reliability and capacity compared to the other engines.

However, they (and hence the other five trains on the northern line) would have had to reverse by up to half a mile to return to Parkside, a time-consuming activity that might explain some of the 90 minute delay (which would also include getting errant passengers onboard and updating them).

Whether the watering etc of the later arriving trains had been completed at this stage is unclear. However, the combined train at the front would have been making much slower progress than hitherto so there was every likelihood that they would catch-up.

Onwards to Manchester

The progress to Manchester was a slower and significantly more sedate affair. Northumbrian was encountered at Eccles. Having already been to Manchester to collect surgeons and, more significantly, the materials and instruments required for an amputation (which never happened), it had returned and it now resumed its lead role with the ducal train.

Approximate timings for lead trains:

Departure Edge Hill: 11:00
Arrival Parkside: 12:00
Departure Parkside: 13:30
Arrival Manchester: 15:30

The ducal train would depart Manchester just after 16:30. For the remaining passengers, however, the most arduous part of the journey was still to come.