Pictures of the Past: educating future railway engineers in late Georgian Liverpool

Pictures of the Past is the autobiography of railway engineer Francis H Grundy, better known to his brother-in-law at least as Henry. It describes his early years in Liverpool around the time of the construction of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) which opened in 1830. While many books mention the railway in passing, few describe in any detail the principal characters engaged in this groundbreaking enterprise. While there are likely many errors in Grundy's recollections, the book also provides some curious insights.

Oh yes, spoiler alert…

Introducing Henry

Grundy writes his story in 1879 from the perspective of a civil engineer who emigrated to Australia 20 years previously after spending some 23-26 years in the UK (the experiences in Australia are discussed in the book but not here). This suggests that he was born in 1833 which does not fit with the events covered. It is possible that the period in the UK excludes his education and upbringing which would perhaps put him in his early or mid-teens in 1833. Unfortunately, Grundy is evasive as to the date and place of his birth, although it seems reasonably clear that his formative years were spent in 1820s/30s Liverpool after his family moved from Manchester with Henry aged two.

We are told that he lived on Parliament Street in a large house overlooking St James' cemetery and that his father was associated with the church. Indeed, the 1829 edition of Gore's directory shows the Rev John Grundy living at 45 Upper Parliament Street. Rev Grundy preached at the Paradise Street Unitarian Chapel with the more famous James Martineau who was greatly admired by Henry (he was somewhat intimidated by equally renowned sister Harriet). In 1835 Rev Grundy retired to Bridport, Dorset due to ill health. Henry had four sisters and three brothers.

Liverpool St James bury 2.png
Fig: St James's cemetery in 1831 by Thomas Talbot Bury. Stephenson's house on Upper Parliament Street is third from left in the distance. The Grundys may have lived in the large house first on the left.

Grundy's schooldays

Grundy talks of "returning from school down the long vista of Old Parliament Street" and of his teacher at the age of 6 as being a "Miss Hurry". Fast forward to 1831-2 (probably earlier, in fact) and Miss Hurry is teaching chemistry, biology and astronomy with memorably dramatic practical demonstrations. Henry regards her as a "good soul" (perhaps suggesting a relatively mature woman) and "ahead of her years" as far as her teaching methods were concerned. There is a letter mentioning a Miss Hurry written to her mother in 1829 by 9-year old Elizabeth Jane Roscoe, granddaughter of William Roscoe, and alluding to a ball at school.

Gore shows that in 1829 a Miss Jane Hurry taught at a boarding school at Windsor, a district on the edge of Toxteth Park which is indeed uphill from the house on (Upper) Parliament Street and close to the station at Crown Street. The school is associated with several teachers named Bradley who give their address as 1 Crown Street, Windsor. One of these may be a John Bradley who compiled school textbooks on astronomy and geography.

Crown Street at this time crossed Upper Parliament Street and ran a short distance along what is now Kingsley Road. Swire's map of 1823 shows just two buildings on Crown Street, both in this area and to the rear of where Windsor Terrace would shortly be. By 1854 the Bradleys have moved to a school and seminary in Whitfield Street off Park Road.

Fig: Henry Grundy's school may have been located behind Windsor Terrace which formerly extended into the space occupied by the new build shown here on the corner of Upper Parliament Street and what is now Kingsley Road but was then an extension of Crown Street.

Miss Hurry's celebrity lodgers

For Henry, however, the most remarkable lessons are those given by one of Miss Hurry's lodgers, the L&MR engineer Joseph Locke. In what was surely a piece of improvised pantomime, Locke would sit behind Miss Hurry and mimic her movements during a lecture demonstration until in exasperation she quit the room at which stage he would take over the class, typically with disastrous results. Miss Hurry would then return and scold him for endangering her students after which Locke would declaim loftily that they would all have died for science and announce a half-day holiday. Locke's amusing interventions were necessarily infrequent as he was mostly working "double tides", i.e. day and night, on completing the L&MR.

Locke was responsible for the western end of the L&MR but resigned in December 1829 to undertake work on other Stephenson projects, notably in Stockport. This was probably a consequence of the discovery by directors that L&MR staff were working on Stephenson's non-L&MR projects in the Clayton Square office. Locke was replaced by Stephenson's personal secretary and draughtsman Thomas Longridge Gooch. Grundy identifies Gooch as another of Miss Hurry's lodgers which is curious as most accounts state that he lodged with the Stephensons. However, his replacement, Frederick Swanwick, presumably took Gooch's place in the Stephenson household in early 1830.

The only address in Gore for Miss Hurry is the boarding school so presumably she was resident on Crown Street and, if Locke were her lodger, this would provide an alternative explanation for Locke's earlier use of Crown Street as address in a letter to William Roscoe (who would now be a relatively near neighbour in Lodge Lane). This assumes, of course, that Locke stayed on in Liverpool while undertaking the work in Stockport. Clearly a location so close to the station would have been of considerable interest to the engineers who may also have benefited from arrangements for meals and laundry in what was probably quite a new build.

Grundy's opinion of Gooch is a little lukewarm, calling him a good, painstaking man though lacking in the originality and ambition shown by his younger brother, the more famous Sir Daniel. Once he qualifies as an articled engineer, Grundy encounters Gooch again in Yorkshire where both are working on a new railway. Grundy indicates that by this stage the somewhat staid Gooch was not averse to "a little jollity", i.e. drinking, in the evenings (an occupational hazard for railway engineers at the time) but on this occasion suffered a monumental hangover.

The Stephensons

The Grundys must have been near neighbours of George Stephenson at no. 31 (now 34) Upper Parliament Street. While "Old George" is mentioned several times, it is not clear that he was close to the Grundys while in Liverpool as Henry recounts a story of George in later years attempting to eject him from a train. Recognising George, Henry had deliberately acted as though he had no ticket and, while being thrown from the train, protested both his innocence (he had a ticket) and that George had failed to recognise him from a previous meeting three years previously. Although Grundy never visited George after he retired to Tapton House, the book has an interesting chapter by one of George's (unnamed) personal secretaries from that era. He confirms that George's limited literacy did not prevent him giving fluent and accurate dictation.

George Robert Stephenson, son of George's elder brother Robert, also appears to have been a pupil of Miss Hurry at this time though whether he was boarding or living with George or his father (an engineer on the Bolton & Leigh Railway) is unclear. Gooch's enforced departure may suggest that space in the Stephenson household was limiting and that there was indeed an additional resident (there was probably also a guest room for the likes of George's son Robert who visited Liverpool not infrequently). Grundy later worked closely with his former schoolmate over a three year period in Yorkshire. George Robert Stephenson would go on to run Robert Stephenson & Company following the demise of George's son Robert.

The opening of the L&MR

Grundy's father was on one of the trains on the opening day but hired a driver and carriage to take seven of the family, including Henry, somewhere around midway and hence near to Parkside where Huskisson was struck and fatally wounded by Rocket. Grundy's recollections of the day are incorrect in several significant details but he adds some interesting colour to the published account. He claims that virtually all the horse carriages from four counties were parked three-deep along the length of the railway. As those awaiting the trains engaged in a picnic it resulted in a cold collation some 30 miles long! It also meant that news of Huskisson's accident spread rapidly in advance of any official announcement and that drivers were alerted to stand to their horses' heads as the unfamiliar and noisy engines approached.

Grundy claims to have seen his father pass by in advance of the incident at Parkside and to have later seen distant figures on the track. Of course, the accident delayed all the trains which were spaced out over a distance of more than a mile. Members of each crew would likely have left their train to find out what had happened and what was to be done. On the other hand Grundy claims to have witnessed an engine, presumably Northumbrian, speed to Liverpool (he means Manchester) for medical support. This suggests, somewhat improbably, that he was beyond Eccles where Huskisson was being cared for in the vicarage. An alternative explanation is that this was one of the engines that had gone from Manchester to Eccles to take on water and fuel only to have to backtrack to near Huyton (the first place beyond Manchester where they could change track) on encountering the ducal train which had departed Manchester earlier than anticipated on the same line.

In the evening the Grundy family had engaged a balcony on Williamson Square from which to view an assembly intended originally to celebrate a successful opening. Instead they saw Lord Stanley, later Earl of Derby, address a large crowd with news of the day's sad events,

The family also watched the funeral from their house on Upper Parliament Street although I suspect the procession came up the parallel Duke Street. This might explain why young Henry failed to see the coffin, the procession on Upper Parliament Street simply being crowds heading to vantage points in and above the cemetery from which to observe the interment.

The Edge Hill stations

Grundy recounts two stories about the environs of Edge Hill station (at that time meaning Crown Street). One happens on a Sunday morning when crowds have come to see trains start out from the Chatsworth Street cutting where the locomotives were connected to the carriages that had gravity run down through the short tunnel from Crown Street. According to Grundy, the cutting had a small footbridge, possibly the one that can be observed in Bury's print of the Moorish Arch, that was overloaded with people and failed. I have no independent verification for this apart from Bury's print which indeed shows the footbridge as though it might be damaged (compare with later edition).

Fig: Bridge collapse at the cutting? A distant footbridge can be seen through the Moorish Arch.

The second story concerns Henry stowing away on a train to Manchester with classmate Will Booth, son of L&MR Treasurer and Secretary Henry Booth. Young Booth allegedly had free run of Crown Street station and was allowed by the stationmaster, an otherwise unknown Mr Hilbries, to sit in an empty compartment of one of the departing carriages running through the small tunnel to the cutting. On the day in question he was joined by Henry and the pair, for once evading the stationmaster's attentions, travelled through the tunnel as usual. However, instead of returning to Crown Street by pony, they hid under the carriage seats and went on to Manchester.

This sounds like an improbable counterpart to the Stephenson story but there are one or two points that lend interest if not credibility. Firstly, as expected for a first class closed carriage, the train stops just once. Although the guard calls this as Newton, it is in fact the watering station at nearby Parkside where, unusually for that time, a passenger gets into their compartment. Tickets having been checked on departure, the boys are able to leave the train at Manchester without hindrance.

The return journey, however, is more problematic as they are challenged while climbing the stairs from the booking hall to the first class waiting-room and platform (the geography here is correct). Unknown to staff at Manchester and without the means to pay (normally seats are booked in advance), they are required to quit the station. Deciding to walk to Liverpool, they get lost and, somewhat improbably, the first person offering assistance turns out to be a relative of Will Booth, namely Tom Potter (later Sir Thomas Potter, MP and Mayor of Manchester). Tom takes them for a brief sojourn at an unspecified "big house" after which they catch the 11pm mail train back to Liverpool where their respective families await them. Presumably this fortuitous reunion is either due to inspired guesswork or to news of the two strays being transmitted back from Manchester via the earlier train.

Fig: The first class booking hall at Manchester Liverpool Road station. The boys would have entered by the door on the right and needed to get to the platform at first floor level via the staircase on the left.

There's more…

While the above description covers Grundy's time in Liverpool, the book also follows his career as a engineer during the early days of the national network. Written for general interest and, perhaps, to cash in on the jubilee the following year, there is much on what had been casual practices such as alighting from moving trains as well as a firsthand account of a serious crash. The extent to which the drama and colour has been embellished is, of course, unknown. People encountered are discussed in varying levels of detail, notable examples being poet and essayist Leigh Hunt and the ill-starred Branwell Brontë. Doubtless the Australian chapters will be of interest in those quarters as well.

Incidentally, there are, sadly, only word pictures.