As the eighteenth century had been the period of canal construction, the nineteenth was to be the century of railway making. Birmingham businessmen were shrewd enough to hail the coming of the 'iron-horse', and gave hearty support to the new industry. Lines between Birmingham and Liverpool opened in 1837 also lines between Birmingham and London in 1838 were the first to be constructed in Birmingham. The Aris's Gazette of July 10th, 1837, comments: -'At an early hour on Tuesday morning, the town of Birmingham was in a state of great commotion and excitement, owing to the public opening of the Railway. Soon after five o'clock streets leading in the direction of Vauxhall were crowded with persons of all ranks anxious to be witnesses of the first public travelling on this most important line of railway'. 'At seven o'clock precisely, the bell rang, and the opening train, drawn by the Wildfire engine, commenced moving. The train consisted of eight carriages, and bearing the following names: - The Greyhound, The Swallow, The Liverpool and Birmingham Mail, The Celerity, The Umpire, The Statesman, and The Birmingham and Manchester Mails. The train started slowly, but, upon emerging from the yard, speedily burst off at a rapid pace. To those who for the first time witnessed such a scene, it was peculiarly exciting, and the immense multitude, as far as the eye could reach, gave expression to their admiration by loud and long-continued cheering, and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs.'
The first Railway Station in Birmingham at Curzon Street was still being built and therefore a temporary station was erected at nearby Vauxhall. Built by Philip Harwick and opened in 1838, Curzon Street Station cost of £26,000 and included accommodation for refreshment rooms, engineers office and directors apartments. Harwick's imposing entrance to Curzon Street station was built on similar lines to his Doric Arch erected at London's Euston Station at cost £35,000 the two stations being at the start and finish of Robert Stephenson's 112 miles long London to Birmingham Line. The line cost £5.5 million, took over 20,000 navies five years to build and was completed in 1838. Trains using the route were equipped with closed and open vehicles plus flat bed wagons on which the gentry could transport their own road. Second Class passengers had the option of a closed carriage if travelling by night by night or a cheaper open wagon if travelling during the day. Third Class passengers travelled in open trucks. By 1850 the time taken to travel the 112 miles had considerably reduced with the time taken to travel from Birmingham to London now being four hours and thirty minutes. The cost was £1-0s-0d for First Class passengers, 15s-0d for Second Class passengers and 9s-4½d for Third Class passengers. Curzon Street was superceded as the terminus of the London to Birmingham line when New Street station was opened in 1854 becoming the main station for LNWR and MR services origination from and arriving in Birmingham. Curzon Street station became a goods station. In 1914 leading up to the Great War more than two-thousand men were employed together with 600 horses and 900 wagons.
The following is an extract from Richard Foster's Birmingham New Street - The Story of a Great Station including Curzon Street.
Up to 1845 the passenger trains of the L&BR, GJR and B&GR had all been accommodated within the existing L&BR and GJR passenger stations. Apart from a lengthening of the L&BR station roof to enable it to accommodate longer trains, the two stations had now grown to such an extent that the existing platform arrangements were inadequate. Perhaps more than the total number of trains in a day, the problem lay in the need to make connections. There were occasions where three trains arrived or departed at very close intervals. This caused problems since the combined station only consisted of two arrival and two departure platforms. The LNWR therefore devised a simple scheme for providing the much needed extra accommodation. It was decided to extend the L&BR departure platform over the site of the original carriage shed. On the north side of the platform extension a new bay platform was constructed, which extended westwards up to the wall of the station buildings. This new platform was set aside for the use of the B&GR trains.
These arrangements served satisfactorily for a few years, but, with the approach of the date when the spur from Lawley Street would be complete, something had to be done to provide accommodation for the Derby trains. The solution adopted was to remove the engine turntable adjacent to the L&BR departure line and slightly rearrange the trackwork. This permitted a further extension of the main departure platform and an extension of the Gloucester 'bay'. A new bay platform was then constructed outside the Gloucester bay for the use of the Derby trains. At about the same time, a substantial slated roof was erected over the Gloucester platform in order to keep passengers dry. A sign 'Platform for Gloucester and Derby Trains' was painted on the gable end of the roof where it would be seen by passengers on trains arriving at the L&BR station. In this form the station arrangements sufficed until all passenger service were transferred to New Street in 1854. The drawings show the arrangements at Curzon Street before and after the new platforms were built.
The main buildings on New Canal Street gained a further claim to fame during their brief period as a hotel. It was here, on 27th January 1847, that a meeting of gentlemen took place at which it was agreed to form the society that was to lead to the formation of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, one of the country's foremost learned and professional bodies. In 1947, a plaque was put up on the main building which read 'To commemorate the formation on this site on 27th January 1847 of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, this plaque was placed here in the centenary year 1947'. There was little physical change at Curzon Street after it closed to passengers in July 1854. Goods traffic continued to be dealt with. The passenger accommodation seems to have been left largely intact, but empty and unused except for dealing with an ever-increasing volume of goods which overflowed from the goods station, while the former passenger lines and carriage sidings came in useful for storage of wagons. From the mid-1850s, railway goods traffic began to expand rapidly. Trade and industry had adapted to the transport opportunities offered by the railway, and were now beginning to exploit them on an ever-increasing scale. By 1859, the position was becoming very difficult; there was just not enough room to handle the traffic now on offer.
The following are extracts from contemporary sources and a 21st century report by Historical England
CURZON STREET STATION IN 1840
LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM RAILWAY STATION, BIRMINGHAM
from Charles Cheffin's London & Birmingham Railway
The station for goods is on the right side of Curzon Street, and the passenger station on the left. It consists of a noble stone building, with arches on either side, and having a portico with four massive Ionic columns in the front, and four three-quarter columns at the back. The entrance to the Station is to the left of this building, on approaching it from the town, and the exit on the right, through the archways before named. This front was designed by Mr Hardwick, and built by Messrs Grissell and Peto, of London, at a cost of £26,000; the stones forming the basis of each column weigh eighteen tons. The building has been fitted up with every convenience as a Hotel, and the Directors have christened it by the name of the 'Victoria'' Here the trains arriving by the Grand Junction Railway, discharge their passengers, and half an hour is allowed for refreshment, the prices of which are regulated by the Company, and hung up in conspicuous places in the refreshment rooms - the servants are not allowed to receive gratuities. The booking offices, waiting rooms, and parcels office, are contained in the long building having a colonnade in front. The arrival and departure stages are about the same height as those in London; but the roof over them is much larger, there being six lines of rails under it.
The roof being one of the finest in the world, some particulars of its various parts may be interesting. It covers a space of two hundred and seventeen feet long, and one hundred and thirteen wide. It is formed of wrought iron, in two spans of fifty-six feet six inches each; and the length is divided into thirty-three bays or spaces between each principal rafter, making thirty-four double or sixty-eight single sets of principals, - a double one being considered to go across both spans, or the whole width of one hundred and thirteen feet, and the single one going across the fifty-six feet six inches only. These principal rafters are supported by three tiers of open ornamented arched girders of cast iron, each tier running the whole length of the roof, the girders being supported by three rows of cast iron columns, one at each side of the roof, and one in the middle; these likewise run the whole length of the roof; and at the row next the booking offices, the roof is firmly attached to the wall of that building.
The weight of the cast iron, in columns, girders, bases, gutters, etc, is about eighty tons; the weight of the wrought iron, in principal rafters, tie rods, tension rods, etc, is also eighty tons; the weight of the planking and slates forming the roof is one hundred and sixty-five tons. Taking into consideration the nails, screws, pins, bolts, and other matters of that kind, the total weight of this immense roof may be taken at three hundred and twenty-six tons! At the end of the departure stage is a small building, containing the police office, porters' waiting room, store room for lost luggage, etc. Farther on is the locomotive engine-house, which is exceedingly well adapted for its purpose. The locomotive engine-house is a building with sixteen sides, capable of holding sixteen engines and tenders, or thirty-two engines alone: these stand with their ends towards the sides of the building, one against each, on sixteen ways, all meeting at a turn-plate in the centre, by which the engines are sent to the respective lines of rails, which run from the engine-house to the station. Under each engine is a pit, three feet deep, which enables the engine-men to get underneath the engine, to examine, clean, or repair it.
In front of the engine-house are store rooms, offices, and workshops, over which is a tank, holding one hundred and seventy tons of water, with a provision for a steam-engine to work a pump from a well below, in case the supply from the Water Works Company should fail. The engine-house is built on land about twenty feet lower than the present surface, under which are store rooms for coke, and a communication to a large coke vault under ground, which opens to the canal. The station of the Grand Junction Railway Company stands adjoining to that of the London and Birmingham. The front elevation, which consists of a handsome central building, supported by two corresponding wings, exhibits a total length of about seven hundred feet to the street. There are two entrances, for the convenience of passengers arriving and departing by the trains, with spacious gateways belonging to each for the passage of carriages of all descriptions.
CURZON STREET STATION IN 1842
by Francis Wishaw
The Birmingham station is situated in Curzon Street, contiguous to that of the Grand Junction Railway. The whole extent of this station is from New Canal Street to the Birmingham Canal, a length of about 860 feet; it is of very irregular form, varying in width from about 183 feet next to New Canal Street to about 290 feet next to the Canal. A stranger arriving at the station for the first time from Birmingham, to leave by the railway, would naturally take the Victoria Hotel in Canal Street for the railway offices; but this would have required the passenger shed to have been quite different in point of location, and also of arrangement. As it is, the passenger shed and offices are at some distance from the Hotel, and placed at right angles thereto, ranging down the middle of the station. The roof of the passenger shed, which is of neat and light appearance, and well constructed, is in two spans, each of 58 feet, supported on two lines of east iron columns, each 12 in number, and on the front wall of the offices. The whole length of the shed and offices is 233 feet. The arrival and departure platforms are each 20 feet in width, and on a level with the floors of the carriages. The lines of way under the roof are six in number, the intermediate spaces being each 8 feet. At either end, and without the shed, are six 12 foot turntables: towards the carriage entrance from Canal Street there is an engine dock 30 feet in length and 8 feet wide, and at the end of the down line. This affords room for a very long train to be altogether under cover at the same time, and also allows the turntables to be immediately used on the arrival of a train, which could not otherwise be done.
The booking offices, waiting rooms, and parcels offices are arranged in the building already alluded to, which is 22 feet wider in the rear, and extending the whole length of this building is a covered platform 8 feet wide, the front of the roof resting on eighteen light iron columns. The court yard, which is between the offices and Curzon Street, affords ample space for road carriages arriving from Birmingham. The entrance to this yard is in New Canal Street; there is also a foot entrance from Curzon Street. Opposite to the departure or up platform, and on one side of the Hotel in New Canal Street, is a gateway for carriages intended to be conveyed by the railway, the carriage wharf being at the end, but without the shed. On the other side of the Hotel is a gateway, corresponding in design, for the departure of omnibuses and carriages in conjunction with the down trains. At the end of the court yard, and opposite to the carriage entrance, but detached from the booking office is a building appropriated to the police and porters, the length of which is 55 feet. Leaving the passenger shed, the six lines of way are produced in straight lines for a distance of about 80 feet to a third tier of turntables, but only five in number. From these tables the lines diverge in different directions: one is produced to the Grand Junction shed on the left; three run into the locomotive engine shed, which is placed close to the Birmingham Canal, and others into the main lines of way, passing over the wide bridge which carries both the Birmingham and Grand Junction Railways over the Canal.
Hardwick's Original Station Building
The description of the original building given below has been derived from Historical England's report supporting its historical listing of the structure, authored by John Minnis, Kathryn Morrison, Emily Cole and Luke Jacob.
Hardwick's original station building was constructed using sandstone ashlar for the walls with lead and slate for the roof. The original building is approximately square on plan, and has three storeys plus a basement. The interior plan revolves around an entrance and staircase hall, at the centre of the western side, which extends upwards from the ground floor, through the building to an octagonal lantern. As originally built, the building had waiting and refreshment rooms at ground floor level, with the board room and administrative offices at first floor level and further offices above. The exterior of Hardwick's building had an entrance front facing west onto New Canal Street and four very tall Greek Ionic columns which are unfluted and rise from a podium. These support the upper part of the building comprising the stepped architrave, blank frieze, and dentilled cornice which continues around all four sides of the building (entablature).
Above this is a blocking course and, to the central bay above the entrance is a blind attic with projecting corners which contemporary prints show bearing the words 'London and Birmingham / Railway', which are no longer evident. Behind the colonnade are three bays, with pilasters in antis at the corners. There is banded rustication to the ground floor and a projecting band at the level of the first floor window sills and both these features are common to all four sides of the building. The centre has panelled double doors, above which is a fan light, with radiating, metal glazing bars. Immediately above this is a large, carved cartouche incorporating the arms of the London and Birmingham Railway Company. To either side are sash windows of three by four panes. Similar sashes at first floor level have bracketed, projecting lintels and shallow, stone balconies with vase-shaped balusters. The three, second-floor sashes are of three by three panes and have projecting surrounds with square brackets.
The north and south flanks are essentially similar; each has three bays with a central doorway to the ground floor and sash windows at either side and to the upper floors. The northern front has superficial indications of the addition of a four-storey hotel wing by Robert Dockray in 1841 (demolished circa 1980). The east front, which formerly faced towards the station yard, has three bays, with two engaged Ionic columns to the centre, flanked by antae. The central bay has tripartite windows to each floor, and the first floor window of the board room has a triangular pediment supported by brackets, and a balcony. Lateral windows are sashes of the same types seen on the flanks. Extending to the north and parallel to the western wall of the building is a portion of stone walling which previously enclosed the area in front of the hotel extension of 1841. This has vase-shaped balusters and rectangular piers.
The interior of the building comprised an entrance and staircase hall entered from the doorway on the western side. There is a later 19th century canted wooden lobby with glazed upper walls immediately inside the door and a similar porter's lodge to the southern wall. The open-well staircase has stone treads and iron balusters of circular section with a mahogany handrail. The eastern wall has a three-bay screen of columns to both the ground-floor and first-floor levels. That at ground-floor level has square columns with pilasters in antis. At first-floor level are two baseless, Greek Doric columns without fluting to their shafts, but with ridges (annulets) to the lower capital, also with square pilasters in antis. The first-floor screen has a full entablature. Doors above basement level have four or six panels and are generally original, with panelled surrounds. Those connecting with the entrance hall at ground and first-floor levels have glazed, semi-circular fanlights. The former Secretary's Room at first-floor level retains a fire surround and two rooms have cornicing of the original pattern and one room has panelling below the dado.
If you are interested in knowing more about Curzon Street Station you can do no better than to read Richard Foster's series of books on Birmingham New Street - The Story of a Great Station including Curzon Street published by Wild Swan Publications Ltd of Didcot. I would like to take this opportunity of crediting Richard Foster as being the source for much of the rich information provided in the captions to the photographs.
Maps and Diagrams