Early stations: Reid's Farm, Chat Moss (Part 1)

Barton Moss map.png

As ever, there is a fair degree of conjecture in what follows. Basic background comes from standard texts by Thomas and Ferneyhough.

The evolution of intermediate stations

When it opened in September 1830, there was no timetable for intermediate stopping places on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR), indeed no list of such stations at all. That's not to say that journeys to and from intermediate stops didn't occur even on suppposedly non-stop first class trains, just that it was a largely informal, smallscale affair with "road money" being collected by the guard. Thomas estimates that there were about 25 potential stopping-places defined largely by the stationing of an L&MR employee at a fixed location and, of course, a passenger.

In 1831 when the first schedule of fares from intermediate stations was published, no times were specified for arrival at these locations. The reason given was that trains stopped only on request at staffed locations and typically at only around six per journey of the seventeen that had actually made their way into the schedule. Factoring in additional unnecessary stops would slow down operation of the railway for both the stopping trains (mostly second class carriages) and the first class trains that stopped for passengers only at Newton.

These intermediate stations were mostly level crossings where the gatekeeper would stop the train when requested by raising a blue flag on a pole (passengers requested a stop via the guard). Although gates were generally present (stations often had the word Gate in their name), in quiet areas these were typically closed against road traffic by default. Gatekeepers were also involved in maintaining the track, the first cohort being recruited from labourers who had built the railway.

Once on board, passengers paid their fare to the guard who apparently made his way between carriages while trains were underway. The guard also checked that passengers did not travel beyond their declared destination although the company did not make a fuss over what they considered a sideline to their main business of moving freight and passengers between the two termini.

The remainder of this post attempts to answer three questions: why was a stopping-place on Chat Moss called Reid's Farm, who was Reid and what impact did the railway have on him?

Chat Moss Wynne.png
Sketch by Francis Elizabeth Wynne (c) Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales

Reid's Farm:

Among the early stations Reid's Farm stands out as particularly transient, appearing just once in the fares schedule in 1831, for some reason lumped in terms of fare with Patricroft for Manchester-bound trains and with Bury Lane for trains from Liverpool. By 1832 it had disappeared.

The locations of early stations on Chat Moss changed frequently before ultimately disappearing completely from this thinly populated area. At the time Chat Moss encompassed a number of very boggy areas with the easternmost being Barton Moss. Indeed, it has been suggested that Reid's Farm became Barton Moss station although this itself closed, reopened and shifted location eastwards before finally closing again.

The water-logged mosses made the area desolate and impenetrable to all but the most hardy and determined. Indeed, it was widely believed that it would prove an insuperable barrier to the passage of the railway between the Liverpool and Manchester. Embankments edged out from either extreme of the four and three-quarter mile stretch but spoil tipping was insufficient to bridge the most water-logged areas. Ultimately George Stephenson followed the advice of Robert Stannard and adopted a strategy of draining the relevant area and then floating the railway on a mesh of saplings, dried moss, sand and gravel.

Stannard had been the first to establish a horse-drawn light railway on the Moss as part of an attempt by Liverpool polymath William Roscoe to bring the area under cultivation some 25 years previously. The bankruptcy of the bank Roscoe managed brought an ignominious end to his largely unsuccessful experiment, Roscoe hiding on the Moss from his creditors until his financial affairs were put in order. Others, however, continued the quest, notably Leeds MP Edward Baines who acquired much of the land that Roscoe had started to bring under cultivation.

Who was William Reed?

Baines employed a land agent to manage this enterprise, one William Reed. Reed's strategy for draining and fertilising the area of Barton Moss was notably successful to the extent that he was consulted on similar projects elsewhere and in 1833 had the distinction of being appointed secretary to the Manchester Agricultural Association.

Reed apparently lived on Barton Moss Farm but probably had only a minor share in it. His role was more advisory and managerial and it is likely that whatever farming he did personally ceased around 1832. The farm itself was owned by a consortium of subsidiary investors in the Baines project, many from Liverpool (with possible overlap with railway investors). It was close to the railway and near the end of a lane with its own light railway used to carry first marl and later nightsoil (sewage) to the fields from Manchester whence it came by barge.

As Barton Moss Farm was adjacent to the first Barton Moss station, it seems not unlikely that the latter's original name, Reid's Farm, derives somewhat obliquely from the farm's occupant, William Reed. This appears to have caused Reed some embarrassment as he wrote to the Manchester Guardian newspaper in November 1831 pointing out his very tenuous claim to the farm. This public repudiation might explain the rapid change of station name to Barton Moss.

Barton Moss was abandoned in favour of Lamb's Cottage in 1832 but was back in the timetable by 1839 although it subsequently moved eastwards to its second position in 1862. The L&MR named at least one other station on Chat Moss after a local farmer, in this case McGrath's Farm which replaced Lamb's Cottage according to Thomas but appears otherwise largely forgotten.

Reed, the land agent

What little we know of Reed comes from occasional mentions in the newspaper and testimony he gave to parliamentary select committees, both indicators of esteem. We learn, for example, that Reed had previously worked in Surrey and that initially he was at best lukewarm about trains crossing the Moss. When questioned by a Parliamentary committee in 1833 he said that there was little use of the railway for taking produce to market and that the railway's transporting of Irish agricultural goods to Manchester lowered the profitability of farms on Chat Moss. As these farms had given jobs to poverty-stricken hand-weavers who had already lost one livelihood due to mechanization, this development potentially had severe consequences.

Reed changes track

What subsequently became of Reed is subject to a good deal of supposition, his name being a common one. One possible interpretation, hopefully an interesting one, follows.

A land agent called William Reed then gives evidence on the performance of trains on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1833 in hearings for the Southampton Railway bill. His firsthand expertise is gained in the presence of the resident engineer. It looks like the agriculturalist has changed track.

By 1834 Reed was giving further positive evidence of benefits accruing from the railway to a Parliamentary Committee dealing with the Great Western Railway.

In Manchester his trail then goes cold. Perhaps the work on Chat Moss was now largely done and greater challenges lay elsewhere. Baines pointedly fails to name him in his history of Lancashire and gives credit for Chat Moss to his predecessor instead.

Reed the railway entrepreneur

In 1835 William Reed's name appears on a draft land conveyance on behalf of the Liverpool & Southampton Railway Company (L&SR; later the London & South Western). He is listed on the document as secretary of the company and is living in Vauxhall, Surrey. The company was incorporated in 1834.

A William Reed becomes a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1840.

The William Reed from the L&SR then moves to France to act variously as secretary or director of the largely British-built Paris-Rouen, Rouen-Havre and Paris-Strasbourg Railways in France. During this time he probably lived in Paris in Rue de Berlin. Liverpool financiers such as John Moss and Charles Lawrence figure as directors of some of these enterprises and it is possible that the connection goes back to the Chat Moss days. These and others such as Chaplin, Locke and Brassey also featured in the L&SR.

Reed features prominently in the diaries of railway contractor William Mackenzie between 1841 and 1849 alongside railway luminaries such as Locke and Brassey during construction of the railways in France. Latterly Mackenzie refers to him as "Old Reed", possibly to distinguish him from "Ch Reed" who is also mentioned. MacKenzie died in 1851 at the age of 57 and is buried in the churchyard of St Andrew's Church, Rodney Street, Liverpool.

Opening of the Rouen-Havre railway in 1844

The year 1845 saw a peak in railway projects and in 1848 a William Reed is listed as being or having recently been a director of the Dutch Rhenish Railway Company and the Royston & Hitchin Railway Company. Bradshaw's Register of 1862 lists him under both the Severn Valley and the Wimbledon & Croydon. However, a street directory of Kensington states that he is employed by the seaman's wages branch of the Admiralty. Perhaps this is a consequence of the railway bubble bursting but it might also mistakenly refer to his son of the same name.

Reed, beyond railways

Apart from his business affairs, little is known of Reed other than his having spent time in Surrey before his move north. The Reeds were a prominent county family but his origins are obscure. During his tenure at the London & South-Western he lived adjacent to the line at Weybridge in what may have been a company-owned mansion called Fir Grove that was subsequently purchased by his chairman John Easthope MP.

He had at least two daughters, Mary (possibly also known as Polly) and Rosa, and four or more sons, including William Thomas Reed (first son) and Charles Edward Reed (fourth son) and it is the latter who appears alongside William on the list of directors and staff of several projected railway companies.

A limited family history search has been carried out using the free census database FreeCEN. This suggests that in 1851 Reed's wife Elizabeth Bishop, aged 59, was living on the south coast at Hove along with her two daughters Mary and Rosa and two of her sons, Charles Edward and Frederick. Of these the eldest was Charles Edward ("occupation: gentleman") who was 25 and had been born in Streatham, Surrey. His sister Mary was 22 and listed as born in London, Middlesex. The two youngest, Rosa (18) and Frederick (16), on the other hand were both born in Salford, Lancashire. This suggests that Elizabeth was resident in Lancashire between 1833-1835 although her husband had started work in the south towards the end of that period.

The house, 39 Lansdowne Place, was part of a well-appointed terrace adjoining the sea front and the family had a butler, cook and housemaid. The location would have been convenient for visits by the children to their father in France. Indeed, William Mackenzie's diary mentions that he dined occasionally with Elizabeth and the two daughters as well as William ("old Reed") and Charles Edward. Reed is also sometimes accompanied by a Miss Harcourt who is probably his niece. His sister may have married a Harcourt, a 66-year old James Harcourt being listed in an 1861 census return for Thomas (Thos.) William Reed. At this time Thomas, born in London, was 42 and resident in Beech Lodge, Isleworth, with his wife Maria. Harcourt was a half-pay officer born "W Indies Calcutta" raising the possibility that William or Elizabeth might also have had overseas military connections.

Reed's connection with the projected Severn Valley Railway dates back at least as far as 1857 when he is listed as deputy chairman with Charles as secretary and Sir Samuel Morton Peto as chairman. Around this time Reed was living in Hanworth, Middlesex, but seems to have moved to Kensington where he owned and let a number of properties, finally selling his own house in 1862. He is described as a "man of substance". His son Thomas William Reed describes himself as a "proprietor of houses" in his 1861 census return so may have taken on this role from his father or alternatively father and son may have become conflated.

William Reed may then have maintained a London residence, Winter Lodge (and/or Oak Lodge), on Addison Road, Kensington and a country house at The Mount, Sunninghill.

More than one Reed?

Reed died on October 15th, 1865. The notice in the Gazette(pdf) ties together his residences in Sunninghill, Kensington and Hanworth, all of which are cited in railway company lists at one time or another.

If there is an obvious weak link in the narrative, it is in the transition from Chat Moss to London. It seems not unlikely, however, that he impressed the Liverpool men with hsi competence and had a skill set that was of value to them. Mackenzie's participation in the Paris-Strasbourg project was, he said, conditional on Reid acting as British co-director. Nobody else would do.

Election Day sketch notes

A day I'll long remember so hope you'll forgive mini-blog.

Marginal seat, fifth in Tory hit-list. Concerned citizen, seeing (mostly) dire opinion polls, walked off street in Hoylake night before. Solo leaflet drop in pouring rain, sodden address list falling apart, Tory team doing similar nearby. Slow progress in gathering gloom, disoriented, drenched, done by 10, home, sleep.

Up at 4:30, leaflet drop in occasional showers at 6, only earlybirds in centre as many doing drops elsewhere in region. Then telling at polling station for first time, learning ropes, then back to centre with returns. Car park near full, centre amazingly transformed into bustling hive of activity. Folk from all over, just as diverse as JC's speech on WK beach. Atmosphere friendly but determined. Organised chaos to be expected, probably many people like me new to it, others coming across for day.

Home to vote, quick snooze then back to centre for more. Missed pies though saw remains! Back out to polling stations, swapping between them for 1-2 hr shifts, sustained by coffee, biscuits and sarnies at centre. Met wonderful Labour tellers, young and old, but young in particular, many from safe seats, were real credit — groundwork canvassing in weeks before, worked til they dropped on polling day. Impressed not only by motivation but by depth of political savvy too. Volunteers still coming in after work, some with kids in tow, wanting to help.

Voters in solid Labour area also inspiring. Ordinary folk, going to or from work, mums with kids, first-timers with parents, parents with proxies, frail and disabled determined to vote in person.

Finished at 7. Too knackered for knocking, lots of tired folk in centre, major credit to teams still on streets or heading that way to bitter end. Farewell to equally exhausted Andy who organised tellers, his fingers crossed we'd done enough.

Home, meal, online. Disbelief at surprisingly positive exit poll, early results not overly helpful. Too tired to fret much. Sleep.

Rest is history of a sort because we're not done yet. Til next time. 🙂

Concept for a William Roscoe Museum

These notes capture some ideas for the concept for a William Roscoe Museum in the presently empty Lyceum building at the bottom of Bold Street in central Liverpool. It is a very early work-in-progress.


The building comprises three spaces. If you look at it from Bold Street, from left to right:

  • Museum of the Past, telling the story of the growth of Liverpool during Roscoe's lifetime in terms of his own life experiences and his involvement in the arts, sciences, agriculture, humanities (history, poetry), politics, commerce, etc, as well as his roles in establishing new institutions in the city and acting as a cultural ambassador for visitors from other countries. Physical exhibits would be augmented by interpreters in period dress as well as augmented reality (AR) displays customised for different ages and backgrounds and delivered by selecting virtual books from tables or shelves.
  • Cultural hub: this would be a hub pointing to other cultural institutions across the city region as well as providing a small performance and interpretation space. By default it would show an AR performance of Roscoe's poem for children "The Butterfly's Ball, and the Grasshopper's Feast", perhaps based around a physical sculpture.
  • Museum of the Future and a showcase for science outreach and innovation in industry and commerce.

The proposal would in any case make an interesting OpenSim build.


Whatever happened to Liverpool Crown Street station?

The short version recounted in most books is that in 1836 Liverpool Crown Street station became a coal yard once it no longer served passengers. The longer version is a little more involved. As ever, there is a fair amount of surmise and interpretation in what follows.

As early as 1831 it looked as though Crown Street's days were numbered. Not only was the station too small and well outside the city centre but letters were being published by the Liverpool Mercury newspaper complaining of the "sea of mud and filth" it generated. This presumably derived from the increase in horse-drawn traffic in the vicinity, the omnibus service, carters and hackney cabs, as well as movement of cattle, pigs and sheep from the docks.

Of course, it was not simply the operation of the passenger service as there were two areas of similar size next to the station, namely the goods yard (normally called Millfield Station) and the workshops for erecting and maintaining wagons and carriages (often called Gray's Yard). Both would generate their own traffic and, of course, Crown Street traffic would itself switch to carrying freight rather than passengers. It seems unlikely that the "sea of mud and filth" abated.

Nevertheless, by 1831 the company had decided to move its passenger operations to the present-day Edge Hill station with a tunnel down to the centre of Liverpool terminating in a grand new station on the site of the former Lime Street cattle market. This immensely ambitious project was successfully completed and the new stations opened in 1836.

But what happened to Crown Street?

Readily available information is scarce but we can make some guesses based on maps and a report from the Liverpool & North-Western Railway Company (L&NWR) dated 1849 (following a series of amalgamations, the L&NWR now ran Crown Street). The report identifies a number of specific actions that could be taken to promote coal traffic into and exports from Liverpool. Among the recommendations was to clear the old cattle station so that track could be run directly into the coal yards north of the former station.

Crown St map.png

The coal yards

Although Millfield carried a significant volume of coal, the major proprietors were to have their own yards to the north. These included pit owners such as William Hulton of Hulton and Richard Evans of Haydock. Movement of wagons in that direction took a somewhat circuitous route, presumably as they needed to use the cable system driven by the engines in the Moorish Arch. The train (minus locomotive) was drawn up into the station through the 1829 Stephenson tunnel and wagons were then shifted individually via turnplates onto a branch heading to the yards to the north. Presumably much of the motive power was provided by horses. Although the company only had two for its own use by 1849, the maps show many of the coal proprietors had significant stabling in their yard.

The cattle station

By 1836, however, there was also a need to herd cattle from Ireland onto purpose-designed wagons for shipment to Manchester. Given that the 1849 report stated this cattle station had to be removed to revise the track layout, the most likely location was the site of the former Railway Offices.

Two additional sidings and a set of four turnplates were installed so that trucks could be shifted from the cable-driven middle track emanating from the Stephenson tunnel to the new sidings. The site of the former station building was occupied by a series of seven loading pens.

My guess would be that cattle were driven up the hill from the docks and entered through the gate by the entrance block. There was probably a wall there to keep the animals off the track. The cattle then crossed the new track extension going into the northern coal yards. It would be feasible to block these routes with wagons as there were adjacent turnplates. The cattle could then enter a collecting area (sheds or stables there originally had been removed) before being fed into the loading pens adjacent to the track. One constraint appears to have been the location of points midway along this siding such that only three wagons could be sent towards the tunnel at a time.

There was also a further set of pens at the end of the two tracks, possibly holding pens for large or mixed loads or, alternatively, used for end-loading onto wagons on the second parallel siding. Another possibility is that the two railway companies with a presence at Crown Street, the Liverpool & Manchester and Grand Junction, had separate but colocated facilities.

The question as to whether the shell of the old station building was used for some of the loading pens is moot although there is a good match for the location of the station and the rear walls of the pens. In any case, reuse of materials from the former station would seem logical.


Construction of the coal yards to the north likely required some excavation and they did not become operable until the respective collieries (Hulton and Haydock) were themselves connected to the main L&MR line from Manchester in 1831. Coal proprietors also used Millfield although the process was equally laborious until the second tunnel was opened (and which ran into Millfield) in 1849. Unlike the Stephenson tunnel, this could be worked by locomotives.

As mentioned previously, the wagons were laboriously turned one at a time onto the northern extension even after the second tunnel was opened in 1846. The cattle station was basically blocking a more direct route to the northern yards.

In 1849 the L&NWR northern Goods Manager Braithwaite Poole compiled a report recommending an increased emphasis on coal. The manner in which this was enacted is unclear but the end-result was movement of agricultural traffic to the extreme north of the yard, demolition of the cattle station and formation of an extension that curved from the new tunnel through the site of the cattle station and down the centre of the northern yards to the new agricultural depot. Millfield was to be given over exclusively to coal and the now-redundant buildings in Gray's Yard demolished.

Poole was subsequently and arguably somewhat harshly dismissed by the L&NWR. His plans, however, enabled Crown Street to continue to operate successfully until space became an issue and further expansion then took place at the new Edge Hill station. Crown Street itself closed in 1972 and is now a public park.

[1/5/17: map added and some minor updates]
[16/5/17: added comment re shared use of cattle station]

Look behind you! The Crown Street entrance block

Crown Street was the first station on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which opened in 1830. First- and second-class passengers were initially conveyed by distinct trains with yellow and blue carriages respectively. Second-class travel was less expensive and accordingly more spartan.

The conventional view of Crown Street station shows the Railway Office with the 1829 Stephenson tunnel in the distance (The Trust has a very nice compilation). The Railway Office appears to have been demolished when passenger operations switched to Lime Street in 1836. Of course, there were other buildings on the site and one that is rarely mentioned is what I call the Crown Street entrance block. This would have been to the left rear of the conventional view and beyond Crown Street would have been the walls of the Botanical Garden.

The entrance block

This comprised two buildings and a curved wall (which I will call a quadrant) abutting a wall running from Smithdown Lane to Crown Street. There was a similar quadrant facing it that was joined to sheds, possibly stables, running behind the station. Some maps show a rectangular structure within the quadrant with a narrow rectangle leading to the adjacent building. I'm assuming that this was a horse trough and associated pipe that the quadrant wall protected from collision with coaches. The pillar seen in one picture would likewise serve as a bollard for the portico to the main office building, particularly if the coach on that side was required to reverse into the space. The presence of horses would inevitably lead to the possibility of the clothes of passengers being sullied if forced to cross the yard; reversing in would help avoid this, another perk for premium service.


As far as the entrance block is concerned, I am suggesting that the innermost building provided quarters for the gatekeeper while the streetside building was a slightly grander affair. One possibility is that this served as the coaching office for second-class passengers as well as the reception for parcels. Clearly it was in a good position to control access to the yard and it also provides the means to partition the first- and second-class passengers who were catered for in Manchester by two different entrances. The end-on orientation of the Liverpool building otherwise makes this awkward.


Did the streetside building become a coal office?

The building as shown is loosely based on plans for one of the coal offices on Crown Street. Thus there is a front door which leads to a counter. I would suggest that there was a long desk under the front windows and a coal fire to the rear beyond which parcels might have been stored. The upper storey served as overnight accommodation for train crew.

The build is also influenced by a 1972-dated photograph on p.13 of Hugh Hollinghurst's recent book on Liverpool's Railways Through Time. This shows the two buildings of the entrance block although the gatekeeper's hut is longer than shown on the early maps (some elongation was evident on maps by the 1950s). While the original block may have been demolished and rebuilt, I am intrigued by the possibility that the original second-class railway office may have been repurposed as a coal merchant's office and known as such to residents of the nearby Myrtle Gardens well into the twentieth century.

The Liverpool Botanical Garden, Part 2: a virtual visit

Some major caveats: this post features a very early build of the garden which follows an outline published map. Please bear in mind that it is based on limited research and negligible botanical knowledge! In particular, I have been unable thus far to find any pictures of the Stove or information on the role(s) of the two thin rectangular blocks on either side (I have supposed they are related to the heating system and thus have given them rather ugly chimneys). Even where images of a building have been found, they invariably show only one side and are only available uncoloured. Rather crucially, few plants have been added thus far and there is no internal detail within the buildings. Even so, I hope the model will grow over time and serve to complement the adjacent Crown Street railway station build. I find the juxtaposition of the garden and station very interesting in a symbolic sense and the two now occupy the same 768x768 metre OpenSimulator varregion.

A visit to the botanical garden

It's springtime in Liverpool 1830, a sunny day for once and the ideal place to be is the Botanical Garden on Crown Street. Assuming you can afford it, of course. It's maintained by subscription with limited entry so not really what you would call a People's Park.

In the distance we can see the new station underway. It will be opening in the Autumn and the adjacent works is busy making carriages and wagons. The foundry belches out a fair bit of smoke and there's some concern for the plants although to be fair there are plenty of chimneys in evidence in the garden — they're part of the heating system needed to keep the exotic plants warm on less clement days.

The garden has rather a strange layout, basically an elongated triangle. It's surrounded by a high wall which helps shelter the plants but also, of course, restricts entry to those who can pass through the gate.

The entrance

crown street and gate.jpg

The gate featured in Mr Troughton's illustrations to Mr Corry's book on the History of Liverpool; indeed, there were two prints of the entrance gate that are dedicated to Dr Bostock, one of the two physicians who supported the initial project along with Mr Roscoe. The garden plays an important role in the cultivation and study of plants for medicinal purposes. The pictures in the book show two different versions of the gateway itself but in one case also the house adjacent to the two lodges.

The curator's house

This is where Mr Shepherd lives. He is the curator with overall responsibility for maintenance of the wide range of plants in the collection. Like Mr Roscoe, he is now advanced in years and supported in his work by his nephew Henry as well as the staff he oversees.

The herbarium and library

Mr Shepherd's house is also the location of the herbarium, a very valuable record comprising dried and pressed specimens of many thousands of plants from all around the world. Liverpool is fortunate in being a port. Many sea captains return from voyages with novel plants that they pass onto the botanical garden. The garden also employs professional plant hunters who explore other continents with the aim of finding new plants for the garden.

Making sense of this diversity has led to development of a new science, botany, and botanic gardens in places like Chelsea, Oxford, Dublin and Edinburgh have provided specimens for scientific study as well as underpinning the medical and economic applications of plants. Mr Shepherd's house also holds a library of valuable books that assist in the identification of plants. Mr Roscoe has been engaged in writing a monograph on the tropical Scitamineae which include commercially significant plants such as ginger, arrowroot and turmeric.

The initial view on entry

view through gateway.png

Entering through the narrow gateway one is immediately struck by how the garden fills the field of view. Immediately you can see a gently winding path that follows the righthand wall and extends into the far distance. It is complemented by a straight path that follows the course of the lefthand wall. The view is, however, intercepted by two buildings, the Stove and the Conservatory.

The paths in this area are generally circular and this shape provides visual interest as well as delineating particular habitats and giving maximum opportunity to observe the plants therein.

The Stove

The stove is the repository of the most demanding tropical plants. As its name suggests, it is heated by one or more stoves. Besides rare and delicate plants, it is also home to an iguana. Those accompanied by a dog are advised not to take it into the Stove as the iguana is readily startled by their appearance and likely to attack the canine with its tail before running off to hide.

Beyond the stove is an area for the growth of plants found in rocky situations and beyond that an area for plants adapted to boggy conditions.


The Conservatory


This also features in Mr Troughton's illustrations and the picture in this case is dedicated to Mr Roscoe. The building is seen to its best advantage on the return as there is a large glazed area facing roughly to the south. The chimneys signify that it is a well-heated building as required by its principal dimensions of some 240 feet wide by 24 feet high.

On the northerly side are a series of large tubs whose plantings are used to illustrate the features of the principal groups of plants.

The garden extends for some distance beyond the conservatory and this is the domain of the herbaceous plants. There is also a large pond with attractive water lillies.


The popularity of the garden appeared to dwindle at one stage. However, a concerted attempt has been made to popularise the venue and musical entertainment is commonly available on Thursdays during the appropriate months. This has been known to attract several hundred visitors who can combine visual and audible attractions with the opportunity to meet and chat with friends and acquaintances.

overview from gate.jpg

Thoughts on Smithdown Lane

The Liverpool & Manchester Railway Trust is doing an archive month on Twitter and very good it is too.

The evidence

One of their posts was a reminder that the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company (L&MR) had offices on Smithdown Lane, between Myers Street and Edge Vale, and, indeed, their outline can be seen on the 1836 map as well as the 1830 map previously published by the Trust. The tweet images, however, date from much later and it is possible that the buildings not only changed hands and hence purpose but that they changed appearance as well.

Overall layout of the offices

Almost all of the L&MR operation was carried out behind high walls. The Smithdown Lane offices are an exception albeit that absence of significant glazing in parts suggests they were designed with privacy and security in mind.

On first sight the offices seem slightly underwhelming although not entirely without architectural pretension compared to the brick-built housing nearby.

They are single-storey but with high ceilings. The general layout appears symmetrical with two small "wing" units and a larger central unit. The wings are separated by (formerly) gated courtyards although these may service the buildings at the rear rather than the offices. In any case it seems unlikely that there was significant additional glazing there (of course, there might be skylights not visible here).

The symmetry seen from Smithdown Lane is, however, illusory as maps show that the wings had very different shapes due to the skewed nature of the junction with the adjoining streets.

The two "wing" units

Thus the lefthand wing (as seen from the Lane) has a triangular layout and abutts a neighbouring garden in Edge Vale. The chimney seen in the photograph seems likely to be a later addition although it isn't clear how the buildings were otherwise heated (the chimney behind the righthand unit may belong to a building at the rear). The size of the doors suggests that it could have been used to garage a small coach or cart although the building's shape and dimensions would be a limitation and it might also function as a storage space or repair shop.

The righthand unit has a more quadrilateral floor plan although the doors seem slightly smaller. The presence of a more distinct shuttered window suggests that a degree of lighting was required. My guess is that this could be a small stable. It extends some distance up Myers Street with (probably) an additional narrower doorway (with step) there.

The central unit

The central block appears to comprise two separate elements, one smaller one to the left and then a larger one to the right. The angles at which the photographs were taken shows the left wing and centre block as being improbably shallow in depth but in fact they both go back some way.

The smaller element simply has a door and a skylight which doesn't suggest an office of a superior of any significant status. Perhaps this was the domain of the person responsible for the two wings, someone looking after the horse and cart or the stores.

The larger element is only properly seen in the sketch. It has both a door and a partially shuttered window. On the right is either a noticeboard or, more likely, a service hatch.

Now this could be an office for a middle-ranking manager plus a clerk or two with the hatch used for interaction with others in the street. Its role is unclear so what follows is pure conjecture.

It is tempting to think of this as the reception area for second class passengers and we know that there was a door in the wall opposite and steps down to the station. How such passengers were received is obscure but this seems an unnecessarily distant and awkward location for them.

It could be a reception for carriages and carts about to use the carriage ramp down to Millfield Yard.

It could be a shop servicing the significant numbers of people working in the vicinity.

The list of possibilities is almost endless but, finally, my favourite: it could be a payroll office that also served as a secondary base for policemen (in the lefthand central unit) and provide some form of secure transport for monies collected at the station and, indeed, paid out to staff by payroll clerks via the central hatch. As this would service both Millfield Yard and Crown Street there is some logic in having it in a location separate to but accessible to both. There were, of course, additional policemen in the hut adjacent to the tunnel. Bearing in mind that the term police station is supposed to derive from a connection with the railways, this might even be the very first police station! A tempting conclusion but, of course, pure conjecture.

Changed use and end of service

It isn't clear what became of the units and whether they changed function with the opening of Lime Street in 1836. They are manifestly still present albeit with changed use in the 1920s and 1930s but the area then changes dramatically, most likely due to bomb damage, and they disappear.

Death of Huskisson, Part 3: Manchester and the way back

There is even more conjecture here than normal. Many accounts written at the time and since are partial, evasive or both, Rolt being an exception in his biography of the Stephensons which, like this post, derives somewhat from a collection of anecdotes and reportage.

For those playing catch-up: Part 1, Part 2.

As a reminder, the ducal train was on the southern track pulled by Northumbrian. The seven trains on the northern track running into Manchester Liverpool Road station were drawn by Phoenix, North Star, Rocket, Dart, Comet, Arrow and Meteor and were pulling a total of 24 carriages.

From Parkside to Manchester

For the passengers on the eight trains making up the inaugural procession on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the severe injury to Huskisson and a change in the weather had dampened spirits and more. The crowd waiting for the trains to pull into Manchester extended some four miles up the line and was by no means entirely welcoming. Progress was slowed by track incursions that incidentally threw wet sand over the carefully cleaned tracks. The 59th Regiment were in attendance in addition to the railway and civil policemen but the crowd was immense and contained unruly elements.

The social and political context

The people of Manchester had multiple issues with the ultra-Tory Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, including electoral reform (Manchester returned no MPs at this time and the franchise generally was limited) and concern over the railway taking jobs from other transport sectors such as canals and coaching. The living and working conditions of those employed in mills and mines were poor and the owners frequently exploitative. As we have seen, there was also a history of dissent being repressed by violent means. Some among the crowd chose to express their discontent vocally, by holding-up banners and placards, by wearing revolutionary cockades (thoughtfully provided gratis by a local newspaper) and by throwing stones. The atmosphere was very different from Liverpool and doubtless exactly what the Duke had feared.

The crowd at Manchester

The arrival of the procession was signalled by the firing of a cannon, the sound being heard by the mortally injured Huskisson at Eccles some 4-5 miles away. As the engines were due to be serviced again there later, this may have been as much a signal as ceremonial although it provoked Huskisson to express concern for the Duke's safety. For the crowd near the station it might have been perceived as a starting pistol.

Many who had come to see the trains would have been just plain curious and hoping for a sight of the famous Duke above all else, something they could tell their children and grandchildren about in years to come. The extent of the crowd, however, meant that police and military cordons became severely over-stretched and as a consequence the crowd surged through and accessed locations supposedly off-limits such as the track and station.

These people, of course, enjoyed the best view of the engines, coaches and celebrity passengers cooped somewhat anxiously in their gilded carriages. More broadly they probably also valued the opportunity to see Manchester, the adjacent Salford and, of course, the crowds, from the elevated vantage point of the track. Whether politically motivated or not, there was much to see.

The passengers

The consequences for the trains was, however, serious. While the ducal train may (unusually) have run into the station using the normal departure track, the seven trains on the northern line were likely backed off a little and strung out at least as far back as the bridge over the River Irwell. It is probable that they stopped at specific locations where specially positioned turnplates permitted engines to cross to and from the adjacent track. Passengers were supposed to walk to the station and ascend a specially constructed staircase to the first floor of the new goods warehouse where a cold collation awaited them. The ladies were also provided with a withdrawing room at the far end.

How many braved the crowds is not known. Certainly the Duke remained in his carriage resolutely shaking hands with both arms and on occasion even kissing babies as politicians for some reason do. He and his elite co-passengers presumably had sustenance ferried to them. Some of the Directors' wives did descend, however, as we know that the wife and family of John Moss were subsequently left behind. Coordination between trains now became difficult or impossible.

The train and engines

Trains usually dropped their passengers before traversing the Water Street bridge but let us assume that the ducal train pulled into the station on the line normally used for departures and that Northumbrian would subsequently use turnplates on the track to cross to the adjacent line and run round to the front. It's possible that it first dropped off the band car that had been used as a makeshift ambulance for Huskisson but was no longer serving any useful purpose as the band had left the train at Parkside.

Meanwhile Dart, Comet, Meteor and lastly Phoenix deserted their trains, crossed to the southern line (presumably by means of turnplates) and ran to Eccles to pick-up water. The fact that Phoenix left suggests that the action was sanctioned by Stephenson who was nearby in the ducal train. The engines were therefore following a pre-determined plan with the departing locomotives expected to return before the second cohort repeated the operation (as they would do subsequently).

At one level, of course, it was entertaining for the crowds to see the locomotives in motion. However, it had the additional benefits of sweeping the crowd back from the eventual path of the ducal train and reducing the possibility of sabotage of the expensive engines by any Luddite tendency among the crowd.

An alternative (conspiracy) theory

If you like conspiracy theories, there was another possible issue with Eccles beyond watering and the deeply ailing Huskisson. Earlier in the day the vicar's wife, Mrs Blackburne, had heard that men from Oldham were planning to descend on Eccles to attack the trains and she assisted in summoning local special constables to protect three miles of adjacent track. Stephenson may have heard of this problem and sent the engines as a reconnaissance in force to check that there would be no interference with the ducal train as it stopped for water (although it is possible that Northumbrian had been replenished during its earlier visits to Eccles).

Accelerated departure of the ducal train

Unfortunately, the decision was then taken to have the ducal train leave Manchester at short notice at 16:37 as the Deputy Chief Constable was no longer able to guarantee the safety of the party and the Duke in particular. The DCC was one Stephen Lavender who had been a principal detective in London's Bow Street Police Office and was likely experienced in close protection. Lavender had had a distinguished career in London and has appeared since as a character in a number of historical crime novels.

Unfortunately we don't know what specific intelligence framed the decision and whether it applied specifically to the situation in the station or, as seems more likely, to the restive crowd outside who had not had their "turn" (whatever that might involve). In addition a "buffer" of local dignitaries and well-to-do families may now have moved away allowing more dubious groups and individuals to get closer to the Duke. Perhaps Lavender had it in mind that one Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, had already been assassinated in 1812 and he was determined to avoid the possibility of a repeat here. Doubtless Peterloo also weighed heavily on minds.

Whatever the cause, it was the presence of the ducal train that was the inciting trigger and Lavender's gut instinct presumably told him that its departure would help defuse the situation as well as protect the Duke. Overall, however, the Duke's reluctance to continue to the city had been proven well-founded.

No way back from Eccles

By this time the other engines now on the southern line were on their way back from Eccles. As there was no turning place (these had been specifically removed for safety reasons as far as Huyton, possibly under Gooch's orders), they were forced to reverse to run ahead of the ducal train although Phoenix hung back to act as pilot for Northumbrian. Pilot in this context implied inspecting the line for obstructions.

Night fell around 19:00 and the trains improvised by using burning tarred rope to light the way.

The Duke had been scheduled to attend a celebratory dinner in Liverpool but under the circumstances detrained at Roby around 19:30 whence he travelled to Childwall Hall where he was the guest of the Marquess of Salisbury.

Meteor, Comet and Dart meanwhile raced to Huyton where they transferred to the northern line and headed back towards Manchester.

The remaining trains combine at Manchester

In the absence of the apparently errant engines the decision was taken to combine the remaining carriages and engines into one train comprising three locomotives (North Star, Rocket and Arrow) and no fewer than 24 carriages. According to Rolt, however, the engines first went to Eccles for water which must have been an incredibly dispiriting sight for the bewildered passengers left behind (and perhaps takes some shine off the conspiracy theory).

Once the engines returned, they transferred to the northern track and the carriages were shunted together. Once started sometime after 17:00, the progress of the aggregated train was, unsurprisingly, slow, typically 5 mph. There is some suggestion that they paused at Eccles again, perhaps asking after Huskisson (whose condition was beyond hope; he died around 21:00), as some couplings failed there on restarting.

Subsequently they met the three returning engines on the northern line at Parkside, the three having travelled an extra 31 miles from Eccles via Huyton to Parkside. This is the same distance as from Manchester to Liverpool so presumably they picked up additional water and fuel while at Parkside. Dart and Comet (which was leading on the way back and hit a wheelbarrow maliciously placed on the track without derailing) were joined to the train with Meteor (formerly in the rear of the group) now running in advance as pilot.

The passage up the Sutton incline, however, proved too much even with additional engines and gentlemen were asked to dismount and walk alongside the carriages in the dark until the Rainhill Level was reached. The rain was not helping.

Journey's end

On arrival at Edge Hill at 22:00 the combined train would have been split to allow passage of groups of carriages (4-6?) down through the long tunnel to the docks where horse carriages would be waiting patiently to take them home, the "celebratory" dinners in Liverpool having already concluded. There is some suggestion that passengers cheered as they made their way down the tunnel. Whether their calls were answered by those at the docks or by their own echo is uncertain.

It is unclear whether the engines in the Moorish Arch were yet in use or whether this was a simple gravity run with extra breaking provided by pilot wagons. On balance the coupled return of carriages to Edge Hill from the docks powered by the engine in the Arch seems more likely despite evidence from prints that one of the chimneys had yet to be finished.

The last passengers detrained at 23:00.

Looking back

In principle the journey could have taken 5 hours allowing 2 hours stay in Manchester and, indeed, the arrival in Liverpool had been scheduled for 16:00. In practice it had taken a gruelling 11 hours for which the passengers were largely unprepared. Of course, the notion of a day-trip to Manchester for 700-plus people would have been inconceivable prior to the advent of the railway.

From a contemporary vantage-point, the journey had been a nightmare and at the time the newspapers and railway critics made much of the death of Huskisson. Conversely the actor Fanny Kemble mentions in her memoirs how quickly she became emotionally detached from the terrible events of that day. These were, of course, times in which travel delays due to prevailing winds or icy roads were the norm and shipwrecks not uncommon.

As far as the company was concerned, the human cost of their enterprise had already been made apparent as just the previous week one of the assistant engineers had died in an accident. The onus on them was to provide a return for their investors and to exploit any competitive advantage for all it was worth. Significant though the (relatively) successful opening had been, vindication remained for the future. Their eventual success can be judged not only by the global railway system but by the surviving artefacts of that first run, not least Liverpool Road station (now part of the Museum of Science & Industry) and Huskisson's nemesis, the Rocket (in the Science Museum, London).

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.

A gift from Roscoe acknowledged by Locke

The thank-you note

There is an interesting letter from Joseph Locke to William Roscoe. It conveys a brief but respectful acknowledgement of the gift of Roscoe's "late work". The connection between the two is unexpected as they are a generation apart and from very different contexts, Locke an up-and-coming railway engineer and Roscoe a polymath in his twilight years. The note raises some interesting questions.

The location

The letter is dated March 21st 1827 and is sent from Crown Street. Whether Locke was living on Crown Street or writing the letter during a break in his work for the company is unclear. Many of the early employees of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company lived within walking or easy riding distance of the Crown Street plot but the street itself probably had few if any houses on it at that time. The odds are that Locke was sitting at his work desk while composing the brief note.

The date

The date is also significant given the resignation of Vignoles on 22nd February 1827, just a month previously. Vignoles and the Rennies had demonstrated the feasibility of the new route to Parliament's satisfaction in 1826 but the Directors were looking for levels of engagement and engineering know-how that the experienced (and now ultra-motivated) Stephenson was best placed to deliver. Vignoles seems initially to have operated as "co-engineer" with Stephenson before being frozen out due to an error in surveying the Wapping tunnel.

Locke moves to Crown Street

Locke was the son of an old friend of Stephenson's and had served an apprenticeship with him. At the start he worked at the Manchester end of the track and was charged with solving the problem of running the line across the supposedly impassable Chat Moss. With the departure of Vignoles he was switched to the western end (within a month according to the letter date) and, in particular, the challenge posed by the long tunnel to the docks. His role at Chat Moss was taken by Dixon who famously fell into the bog during his first encounter and was much discouraged by the experience.

It seems geographically unlikely that Locke was resident in Liverpool while dealing with Chat Moss although he may have been aware of Roscoe's attempts to drain the Moss for agricultural use back in the 1790s. Roscoe lived on his farm there for a while after quitting Allerton Hall following his bank's failure in the depression at the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Roscoe at Lodge Lane

By 1827, however, Roscoe was 74, a widower and in failing health with his two daughters caring for him at his final address, 180 Lodge Lane (Roscoe House on some maps).

Henry Booth, the company Secretary, also lived on Lodge Lane which raises the possibility that Locke was staying with him temporarily and was introduced to Roscoe as a neighbour. They would have had Chat Moss as a topic of mutual interest and it is possible even on limited acquaintance that Roscoe recognised the potential in the 22-year old Locke and accordingly gifted him the book. By this stage Locke was effectively Stephenson's main assistant ("resident") engineer and Roscoe may have been impressed by the responsibilities incumbent on one so young. The letter is addressed "Dear Sir" so it seems unlikely that Locke and Roscoe had been close acquaintances prior to this time.

There were other potential opportunities for the two men to meet. It is plausible, for example, that Locke, like Booth and Stephenson, was a Unitarian and might therefore have encountered Roscoe at the Renshaw Street chapel. Roscoe was also co-founder of the nearby botanic gardens and may have been concerned about the impact of the Crown Street development on the precious plants located there. Finally, Roscoe must have been a friend or acquaintance of the majority of the Directors and, indeed, had family ties to Moss.

What was Locke doing at Crown Street?

The fact that Locke was working from Crown Street rather than the company's base in Clayton Square is interesting. Firstly, it suggests that there was a building for him to sit in and, secondly, that the familiar Crown Street station may have been built for office use as early as 1827. This would be significantly in advance of the arrival of track through the small tunnel from the Chatsworth Street cutting. The tunnel was finished in 1829.

Of course, levelling the ground at Crown Street would have taken significant time and effort so it is equally possible that Locke was sitting in a temporary wooden hut. The attraction of using the station building for offices, however, would be having something visible to show proprietors while conversely having an edge-of-town base where the engineers might be less susceptible to unsolicited visits from anxious investors. Unfortunately, I have yet to locate maps or source material that pin down the actual construction date for the Crown Street railway offices.

However, In 1828 Thomas Worsdell began work on carriage building, most likely at Crown Street, and again suggesting that significant infrastructure building work was underway on the adjacent Millfield site at this time.

According to Carlson (p.187), Stephenson had more than two dozen immediate subordinates and while not all of these were Liverpool-based, it might signify a need for office space. Subsequently staff in the station building included Booth and meetings of the Directors were held there on a regular basis.

The long tunnel

The primary focus at the western end was initially on the long (Wapping) tunnel to be used for goods traffic down to the docks. This went under the Crown Street site and the extant chimney there dates from the later introduction of steam-hauled trains running up from the docks. This coincided with the introduction of a second tunnel to Crown Street and its conversion to a maintenance and coal yard.

The main shafts ("eyes") for removal of spoil from the unprecedentedly long Wapping tunnel down to the docks were at White Street (top of Duke Street) and Mosslake fields. It has been suggested, however, that there may also have been a smaller one at Crown Street (and elsewhere) that was subsequently reused for the chimney. Locke's presence at Crown Street would therefore be adjacent to one of the excavation sites.

blog edge hill excavation.jpg

Construction of the long Wapping tunnel from the Chatsworth Street cutting (Pyne)

The content of the letter

The bulk of the letter comprises an elegantly constructed sentence of 31 words, the gist being that Locke anticipates benefitting from the "enlightened observations" contained in the book. Conscious of Roscoe's high repute, he ends by recounting the "great pleasure in being thought worthy of your kind attention" and signs off "With great respect".

The handwriting is a cursive script that is delightfully legible even with its elegant ornamentation. Legibility, of course, would be a highly desirable attribute for an engineer annotating plans and sketches for use by others. Stephenson's handwriting by contrast is almost too regular to make reading straightforward while Roscoe's is rather workman-like with little by way of any flourish. While the details are scant, Locke and Roscoe both attended school for a time. Locke in his youth was something of a prankster who left his schoolwork until the last minute but nevertheless excelled. Stephenson, of course, was largely home-tutored and self-taught.

Roscoe's "late work"

Roscoe was a polymath with particular interests in art, history, politics, finance and botany. Which book comprised the "late work" given to Locke is not stated. Roscoe wrote two books of note, one successful (on Lorenzo de Medici, Florentine despot/patron of the Italian Renaissance), the other less so (on Pope Leo X, who later restored the fortunes of the Medicis after a decline following Lorenzo's death). Both books had been published some years earlier but were reissued several times as new editions. While there were other works, my guess would be the that the gift was the biography of Lorenzo.

One of the criticisms made of Roscoe's biographies was his tendency to elaborate on the basis of limited information about his subject. He spoke Italian but never visited Italy and depended on purchase and loan of sources as well as the onsite research of a friend, William Clarke.

Books at that time were valuable items and, whereas Roscoe might have had some complimentary copies to disburse, Locke is an interesting choice of recipient. Perhaps it was an attempt to broaden the horizons of the young engineer or recognition that the breadth of vision already existed. Of course, it might also have the benefit of keeping the name of Roscoe alive in the minds of the new technological elite. That said, Locke was a well-rounded if painstaking individual and, like Roscoe, he became an MP and had a love of poetry.

A fleeting connection?

Whether Locke and Roscoe stayed in contact is unclear. Locke was heavily engaged on railway work in Liverpool and elsewhere while Roscoe's health continued to deteriorate leading ultimately to his death in 1831. There is no evidence that Roscoe ever used the railway. However, some years later Locke appears to have made a reciprocal gift of two shares in the Grand Junction Railway to the wife of one of Roscoe's sons. The fate of the book is sadly unknown.

While Locke remained in the shadow of Stephenson during his time at Liverpool, his railway building subsequently eclipsed that of his master and mentor. The present day West Coast Main Line is mostly due to Locke who was also active in France, Spain and Portugal. Sadly, however, he died relatively young (55) as did his peers, Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The letter is a testament to a poignant interaction between two famous men at opposite ends of their public careers.