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.

The Death of Huskisson: Brandreth's view


There are many accounts of events at Parkside that led to the death of Liverpool MP William Huskisson on the opening day of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830. They are typically incomplete or erroneous and there is no reason to suppose that this one is any different. However, it takes as its starting-point a different perspective, by no means original but commonly omitted, that only one engine out of the eight actually took on water at Parkside itself. I've updated this account after having read The Liverpool & Manchester Railway by RHG Thomas which adds some interesting sidelights. Please bear in mind that I draw largely but selectively from secondary sources.

Brandreth's view

Dr Joseph Pilkington Brandreth was a physician who worked at the Liverpool Dispensary on Church Street founded by his father to provide medical advice and treatment to the poor1. His brother Thomas was a solicitor and both brothers were listed as proprietors in the Railway's enabling act. Thomas is probably best remembered, however, for his horse-driven entry to the Rainhill Trials, Cycloped. The two brothers lived next to one another at 43 and 45 Rodney Street.

Brandreth's recollections were recorded in a letter to his sister Mary who had married the MP Benjamin Gaskell and now lived in Yorkshire.

Brandreth was in the last row of seats at the back of the leading train on the northern line which was drawn by the engine Phoenix. According to most reports (but not this one) it would have picked up coal and water at Parkside before moving away and waiting for the other trains to catchup.

Brandreth might be expected to make a good witness given his academic background and affiliation with the company. However, his testimony does not start too well as he gets the number of trains and passengers significantly wrong. To be fair, there are few accounts of that day that appear completely reliable.

Getting out of his carriage and climbing to the top of the cutting, Brandreth looked back and saw "two trains arrive, and stop at their purpose place" but the fourth (this number including Phoenix) remained beside the Duke's carriage. This observation is odd because those two trains should have been drawn by North Star and Rocket which might (erroneously) suggest that it was the next engine, Dart, that was involved in the accident and hence stopped at Parkside.

The multiple watering places

One point uncommonly made by Brandreth but confirmed by Rolt and Thomas among others concerns multiple "watering places". Contrary to many accounts, most engines took on water and fuel at points distant from Parkside itself, presumably to speed matters up by using a parallel rather than serial approach. The details are unclear but we know that Phoenix was about 880 yards from Parkside and that Rocket should have been at 440 yards which suggests that the interval being used was 220 yards and that North Star and Dart were therefore scheduled to halt at 660 and 220 yards past Parkside respectively. If no train was scheduled for Parkside itself (it would have entailed unseemly proximity to the ducal train), then Comet would have been at -220, Arrow at -440 and Meteor at -660 yards.

At a total of 1540 yards, this is patently much less than the 1.5 mile (2640 yard) distribution cited by Rolt who implies an interval of 440 yards. This might suggest that the interval is either incorrect or variable.

However, if four trains with an interval of 220 yards were stationed beyond Parkside and three with an interval of 440 yards before it, the last train would be rather handily stopped at Newton-le-Willows and the total distance would be 1.25 miles or 2200 yards. In that case a delay between the fourth and fifth trains would be expected and the egress of the passengers might have reflected a miscalculation or misapprehension on their part as to when the delay was likely to occur.

A further possibility is that the last four trains would use the same locations as those presently occupied beyond Parkside, the three leading trains starting out as soon as the fourth arrived in place, the latter shuffling up to the position occupied by Phoenix before starting to take on water. This strategy would seem to allow better continuity for the review at Parkside.

The review

The parade was subject to review by the ducal train first at Rainhill and now at Parkside. This piece of theatre was for the entertainment both of the other passengers desirous of seeing the ducal train and, of course, the myriad spectators, many of whom had paid for a seat in a grandstand. Several journals mention that not only did the trains pass by slowly but that they also reversed and ran past again, doubtless with the intention of providing a more prolonged spectacle for the crowds. This latter manoeuvre does not appear in the orders to engine men and likely reflects high spirits on the day among the engineers acting as train directors. It must, however, have been a major concern for the policemen managing traffic in the two stopping places.

The overall context, that this was a review, explains why Rocket was seeking to run through the station, albeit slowly, rather than stopping, its "watering-place" being on the far side. The fact that ultimately it did pass through with minimal delay is explained simply by the need to make space to recover Huskisson once he was removed from the track. Dart, the next engine, was presumably halted short of the accident site, policemen with speaking-trumpets having run back up the line to warn oncoming trains which would have had to run on some distance both to brake safely and to avoid collision.

Coincidentally, there have been a couple of claims made against Dart (controlled by Gooch) as recounted by Ferneyhough2, including the entry for Huskisson in the Dictionary of National Biography. The scenario presented here might give some basis for a possible misunderstanding.

Fearing the delay to the fourth train (Dart) indicated some serious incident, Brandreth left Phoenix and began to walk towards Parkside only to be met by a Mr Forsyth (presumably Thomas Forsyth, another of the early proprietors) who had run to fetch him. Together they returned to Parkside where Brandreth found the mortally injured Huskisson on a door (as makeshift stretcher) being treated by the Earl of Wilton who had applied a tourniquet to the leg (Wilton was not medically qualified but had a considerable interest in anatomy). Wilton would be the main witness at the hastily convened inquest the next day at which the company was completely exonerated.

We now turn to earlier events prior to arriving at Parkside and then at Parkside itself.


William Huskisson was not the first railway fatality but he is probably remembered as the most prominent. He became one of Liverpool's two MPs in 1823 and did much to promote the cause of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in Parliament despite coming from the landed classes and having an interest in the canals. A moderate Tory, he had held a number of significant government positions including President of the Board of Trade but tendered his resignation from government in 1828 when the Lords blocked electoral reform. According to Huskisson, the ultra-Tory Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, was not supposed to accept the resignation but to use it as a bargaining chip with the Lords. It was not to be and his departure from government was arguably a significant loss. While possessing no great oratorical skills and, indeed, being somewhat reserved if amiable, Huskisson was an astute politician who reflected the spirit of the times in much better fashion than the deeply unpopular Wellington. Severe illness in August 1830 meant that Huskisson was incapable of fighting his seat in person in the election but he was in any case returned safely through the machinations of his Liverpool supporters. He received a rapturous welcome when he subsequently visited the Liverpool Exchange in advance of the railway's opening.

The ducal train

The principal guest, however, was the Duke of Wellington who came to Liverpool to open the Railway on 15th September 1830. Together with more than 700 guests he undertook the inaugural 31 mile rail journey from Liverpool to Manchester.

Wellington's ornate ducal carriage and associated cars were being pulled by the powerful steam engine Northumbrian under the control of Principal Engineer George Stephenson. The ducal train ran freely on the southern line while the remaining seven trains used the adjacent northern one. This meant that the VIP train under Stephenson's supervision could vary its speed, review the other trains so their passengers could see the Duke and pause at features of special interest without impeding traffic on the adjacent line. I suspect it also gave Stephenson the opportunity to liaise with the other drivers and would facilitate the rapid extraction of the VIPs in case of need. As we have seen, the trains on the northern line were supposedly separated by about 200 yards, a relatively short distance if one remembers that a train travelling at 15 mph covers 220 yards in 30 seconds.

Arrival at Parkside and an unscheduled promenade

The engines necessarily stopped to take on water and replenish fuel at Parkside, the halfway point, passengers having been specifically asked not to get out of the carriages during this wait. Although the proceedings thus far had not been without incident3, the Directors must have been feeling a certain degree of elation that things had passed off so well and perhaps they dropped their guard. Again, as had earlier occurred at Rainhill, there was an opportunity for the Duke to acknowledge the passengers in the other trains once more as they slowly ran past the ducal train, albeit largely for the benefit of the doubtless considerable crowds. This was, after all, to some extent a repeat performance.

Politically the Duke may have seen the ceremonial aspect of the journey, the parades at Rainhill and Parkside, as an opportunity to impress on both locals and national newspapers his support for some of the country's most powerful technologists and "merchant princes". The entirely positive response he was receiving from the crowds in and beyond Liverpool must have been some vindication. The railway company would in turn be hoping for some implicit endorsement of their product, reflected lustre and a positive review for subsequent projects.

Northumbian was first to Parkside and then saw Phoenix and North Star slow and pass through to their watering-places. Rocket was due next. However, one after another acccompanying dignitaries began to dismount from the train and to stretch their legs at Parkside while they waited for their engine to be serviced and the others to pass.

Estimates of the number of passengers dismounting vary; some say around 15 (at least, initially), others 50 (the ducal train had one or two additional VIP carriages carrying Directors and their guests as well as a car for the band). The men were reportedly mingling and chatting, doubtless in high spirits and looking to the future. The women stayed onboard, either following instructions or because of the absence of steps from the carriage. The policemen apparently attempted to persuade passengers to return to their seats but were in an awkward position given the presence of their superiors. In any event, they were likely significantly distracted from monitoring other areas.

The layout and atmosphere at Parkside

592px-Taking_in_Water_at_Parkside,_from_Bury's_Liverpool_and_Manchester_Railway,_1831_-_artfinder_267572 medium.jpg

The layout of Parkside is reasonably well-documented by the works of Bury and Shaw, the two artists most associated with the early days of the railway. Parkside was located in a relatively shallow but steep-sided cutting with, on the north side, small water reservoirs behind a fence (referred to as "pools" or "puddles" in some descriptions). Contemporary accounts, however, suggest that the reservoir was at that time in the process of excavation and some 15 feet deep. There are some suggestions that the hut seen in many pictures was added in 1831 although the door that later served as a stretcher was expropriated from one of the nearby company "hovels" so buildings were present, either associated with railway construction or for use as stores. Presumably the steep slope of the cutting extended a little further towards the excavation if the hut was absent. The picture shows water cranes opposite one another on either side of the track and on the southern side a boiler and steam engine to pump pre-heated water to them.

(Update 13/09/17) Bury's picture shows a relatively mature Parkside layout with the addition of a shed for a spare engine not seen in the first version. However, the rather dishevelled hut shown may have been replaced by 1834 (possibly in 1831) with a much nicer single-storey building with a hipped roof and a dropped-edge hood moulding over the window, a motif common to several of the company's works (there is an image in the catalogue to the London exhibition termed The Padorama). However, Thomas includes a sketch map by EJ Littleton that suggests a far more primitive layout at the time of the opening with water on both sides of the track rather than solely behind the fence to the left. In that case there were probably no boiler, engine or water cranes although these must have been built soon after to have appeared in Shaw and Bury's prints. The suggestion is that stone had been quarried on both sides of the track and the ravines thus created had both filled with water.

We know little of the crowds present from nearby towns and villages but the bridge closeby and the fields above the cutting would both have formed natural grandstands close to trains and VIPs alike. The intervals between the passage of trains would be filled by music played by the band accompanying the ducal train. We know that there were also significant crowds at Eccles where the injured Huskisson would later be taken and some have suggested that the crowd at Parkside gave first warning of the imminent arrival of Rocket some 200 yards away.


All the engines were under the command of one of the senior engineers although it seems likely that there were regular drivers in attendance as well. Joseph Locke was in charge of the Rocket but Thomas identifies Mark Wakefield as driver and Adam Hodgson as Director of the train. He also names two brakesmen; although the engine may have lacked brakes, presumably some of the carriages did not. The firemen are not identified for any train and also notably unnamed for Rocket only is the flagman. Altogether, the picture emerges of a busy footplate with some potential conflicts of responsibility. Indeed, there are (marginally fanciful) pictures showing Northumbrian with up to seven people, most in top hats, crammed onto the tender and footplate on the opening run.

(Update 13/09/17) Thomas includes a copy of Stephenson's instructions to "engine men" that requires they carry three flags: white (meaning "go on"), red ("go slowly") and purple ("stop"). Presumably these were intended for dismounted guards to communicate with other trains in the event of a derailment or similar incident. However, there was also a signal flag carried by the train (possibly by the guard) which when upright indicated that the train carrying it should proceed and if horizontal "must be considered a signal for the next engine to fall back or come forward, as may be required", a somewhat disconcerting ambiguity.

Rocket was pulling the third train on the northern track. Although winner of the Rainhill Trials the previous year, it was now relatively elderly and, although heavily modified, out-classed by more recent designs. Accordingly, it was pulling a shorter train and was running late into Parkside. It seems not unlikely that it would have slowed in particular on the ascent of the Whiston incline, doubtless slowing the trains behind as well.

(Update 13/09/17) Rocket may also have been delayed by the derailing involving Phoenix and the subsequent minor collision with the following train worked by North Star. The location is not stated but distances between trains were supposed to be 100 yards at slow speeds and 200 yards above 12 mph. Given the collision, the distances were clearly the bare minimum and arguably inadequate.

The Northumbrian's passengers descend

Huskisson had most likely been travelling towards the rear of the ducal carriage and sat separately from both his wife, the latter joining a group of other women, and Wellington. After dismounting at Parkside, he chatted with Director Joseph Sandars and, possibly at the bidding of Chief Whip William Holmes MP, had shaken hands with Wellington, either to be civil or, according to others, to start some kind of rapprochement. Wellington was seated at the forward end of the ducal carriage and to one side, presumably at this stage the side nearest the passing trains he would be expected to acknowledge. Whether Sandars had debarked simply to chat or to encourage a return to the carriages is unclear. Doubtless policemen would be reluctant to enforce company policy if a Director was among those on or between the tracks. It is worth mentioning that the surface of the permanent way would have been close to the level of the rail and there were no sleepers to trip over.

The ducal carriage was sandwiched between two cars for the use of the Directors, their guests and lesser notables and preceded by the band wagon (which is presumably not counted in the sum of three carriages officially drawn by Northumbrian) and tender.

The ducal carriage was 32 feet long and 8 feet wide with 8 wheels. It had only one entrance on each side and lacked built-in steps, a staircase intended for the benefit of lady passengers being hooked up at the rear and not deployed (presumably the dignitaries jumped or lowered themselves down to exit at Parkside). It would be challenging for Huskisson to gain entry without the assistance of those steps.

Huskisson had suffered a strangury at the recent funeral of George IV and the remedial surgery by Copeland had paralysed one leg and numbed part of the other. His attendance at the railway's opening had therefore been in considerable doubt. Walking would have been difficult for him but doubtless lifted by the occasion and proud of the achievements of his constituents, he was determined to participate.

It is hard to imagine what the passengers who descended onto the track had in mind. Having seen Phoenix and North Star pass through, they must have been aware that the majority of trains had yet to arrive and certainly those adjacent to the northern track will have seen how close was the approach of the passing train. They must also have gathered that the other engines were in fact being watered elsewhere. Parkside was a replenishment stop only for Northumbrian.

Walking on the track had been encouraged at some of the "open house" company events held to popularise the railway and it is possible the dignitaries could see passengers disembarking from the stationary North Star and Phoenix further up the line. Those with seats facing trackside (the seating for 30 ran down the middle of the ducal carriage) may have wished to have a better view, dismounted on that side and walked round the engine only dimly aware of the safety issues. Some of the elderly gentlemen, not least Huskisson at 60, may also have sought the opportunity for a "comfort stop". Finally, it is also possible that Rocket's late running had been noted by those on Northumbrian earlier. These were men who had made careers and fortunes from their ability to establish a relationship at a propitious moment that would later lead to a deal. Perhaps this was too good a chance to miss.

Rocket is seen approaching

According to Edward Littleton, the Duke terminated the conversation with Huskisson with the words "Well we seem to be preparing to go on - I think you had better get in". This erroneous statement was presumably precipitated by excitement in the crowd due to the imminent arrival of Rocket, then some 200 yards distant and presumably slowing for the review as it passed the ducal carriage. This may have precipitated the first movement towards the carriages as a means of escape rather than departure as the Duke surmised, unable to see Rocket.

If one assumes that the alert was given at 220 yards and Rocket was travelling at 15 mph then there was an interval of 30 seconds between alarm and impact. Of course, Rocket was most likely already slowing for review so the interval may have been nearer 60 or 90 seconds, sufficient time to consider multiple options.

Huskisson was presumably aware that Rocket was not scheduled to stop. His first reaction would doubtless have been to follow Wellington's advice and clamber aboard the ducal carriage via the door midway along and in the direction of the oncoming Rocket. In the absence of the deployable stairs the 38 year-old Edward Littleton did this with no little difficulty and then pulled Prince Esterhazy up after him. Holmes was also in the vicinity, possibly with one other, and Huskisson may have decided that being at the back of this apparent queue was not the best option for him.

Space around and beyond the train

There are suggestions that Huskisson crossed the adjacent track with a view to harbouring there or clambering up the bank but the presence of the excavations may have limited the available space to climb.

One can roughly estimate the likely minimum overall width of the railway cutting by looking at aerial photos of the Sankey and Newton viaducts which are both about 24 feet across. We know that the distance between the rails was standard gauge, 4 feet 8.5 inches, and, indeed, that the ducal carriage was some 8 feet wide, implying an overhang on either side of about 20 inches. The width of Rocket's train is unclear (several different types of carriage were in use that day) though the overhang was probably much less (some say just 6 inches). However, if we assume it is also 8 feet and the clearance 18 inches, then the clear space at the trackside would be at least 3 feet 3 inches, probably more. This would certainly have been sufficient to accommodate Huskisson if he crossed the track although whether he was in a position to make that judgement is unclear. The presence of the excavated pit and associated works, fence, etc may have complicated matters and we do not know to what extent any space was already occupied by passengers and local dignitaries..

The distance between the two middle rails, sometimes called the "six foot", is contentious with estimates ranging from 4 feet to standard gauge, the attractive but possibly apocryphal idea being that wide loads could be carried down the centre pair of rails. It is not especially relevant to the discussion here.

There may also have been a subliminal concern for Huskisson that he would miss the departure of the Northumbrian with his wife onboard if it were indeed leaving.

Huskisson perhaps then crossed back to the ducal carriage and attempted to clamber aboard. The Chief Whip William Holmes MP called on Huskisson to do the same as him, namely to press his back against the carriage so as to fit into the 18 inch clear zone. Huskisson may have decided that his bulk would count against him. Holmes also had a singularly dubious reputation and had been no friend of the Huskissonites in Parliament (Moss had been concerned about his involvement in piloting the railway bill past the hostile Lords). For whatever reason, on the spur of the moment Huskisson may have felt viscerally disinclined to take his advice.

What happened next is unclear. In his statement to the inquest Wilton said that Huskisson was attempting to move around the carriage door, presumably to get to the entrance, but became entangled with it. His problem with his legs was compounded by a weakness in one arm which had previously been broken three times. By now the locomotive would have reversed gear and was braking to a halt albeit too late to help Huskisson. It collided with the carriage door, knocked part of it off and dislodged Huskisson whose leg fell across the track and under the wheels.

Huskisson would be dead by the day's end and Wellington's ministry would outlive him by a mere two months

  1. The family at one time or another had lived nearby at 44 School Lane and 3 Paradise Street.

  2. Ferneyhough (1980). Liverpool & Manchester Railway, p. 80

  3. One likely death as a member of the crowd was hit by wadding from a starting cannon, one minor derailment and an associated collision.