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LMS Routes

The London Midland Scottish Railway in Warwickshire

Introduction and Background to the LMS The London & North Western Railway
The Midland Railway The Stratford & Midland Junction Railway

The London & North Western Railway

The London and North Western Railway (LNWR, L&NWR) which described itself as the Premier Line was through one of its constituent companies, the London and Birmingham Railway, the first railway to serve the county. Its history is therefore an important part of the development of the county's railway system.

The London and North Western Railway formed on 16th July 1846 by the merger of the Grand Junction Railway, London and Birmingham Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway. This move was prompted in part by the Great Western Railway's plans for a railway north from Oxford to Birmingham. The LNWR initially had a network of approximately three hundred and fifty miles, serving most of Britain's largest cities: Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, and, through cooperation with the Caledonian Railway, Edinburgh and Glasgow. It also handled the Irish Mail for the Government between Euston and Holyhead. As the largest joint stock company in the country, it generated a greater revenue than any other company.

Within a few years of its formation the LNWR had built or taken over several other railways. The main line, now known as the West Coast Main Line, ran from London's Euston station through Warwickshire and on to Carlisle where traffic was passed on to its Scottish partner, the Caledonian Railway, for the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Other main lines ran to Holyhead and then by Mail steamship to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) or, by the LNWR's own steamship, to Dublin or Greenore. The cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Peterborough, Merthyr and Swansea were also served by the LNWR. Alliances with other companies took the LNWR's distinctive plum and spilt milk liveried carriages to cities such as Bristol, Newcastle, Hull, Harwich and even Brighton, so that few areas would not have seen the LNWR. The railway also handled the Irish Mail for the Government between Euston to Holyhead.

The company built rolling stock and locomotives at three major centres:

Crewe - the greatest locomotive works in Britain (and perhaps the World)
Earlestown , the wagon works
Wolverton, the carriage works

The company's locomotives painted 'blackberry black' and coaches in their 'purple lake' livery gave it a distinctive appearance amongst the all red Midland Railway, and the green, chocolate and cream of the Great Western Railway.

After the effort of supporting the country through the First World War the railways of Britain were worn out and beginning to suffer from competition from road traffic. The government forced all companies to merge into four large groups on 1st January 1923. The big four were: the London Midland Scottish Railway, the London North Eastern Railway, the Great Western Railway, and the Southern Railway. The London & North Western Railway joined with the Midland Railway, Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, Caledonian Railway, Glasgow South Western Railway, Highland Railway, North Stafford Railway, Furness Railway, and a few smaller railways including in Warwickshire, the Stratford Midland Junction Railway to form the London Midland & Scottish Railway.*

Grand Junction Railway

Following the success of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, which opened on 15th September 1830, many schemes were proposed for the building of other railways. The earlier problems of a lack of capital no longer applied as investors were easy to find. Other towns and cities could see the benefits that would come from better links between the nation's centres of commerce. Birmingham's businessmen were planning a link to London, and the group of financiers that were involved with the Liverpool & Manchester Railway could see that a line to Birmingham would be an ideal goal for expansion. In 1831 the Warrington & Newton Railway opened and ran about 5 miles southwards from Newton Junction at the centre of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway to Warrington, and the River Mersey. This was considered by these financiers to be an ideal starting point for such a route to Birmingham, and after much surveying, a route was found that was practical and avoided conflicts with landowners.

Authorised by Parliament in 1833 and engineered by George Stephenson and Joseph Locke, the Grand Junction Railway (GJR)opened for business on 4th July 1837, running for 82 miles from Birmingham through Wolverhampton (via Perry Barr and Bescot), Stafford, Crewe, and Warrington, then via the existing Warrington and Newton Railway to join the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at a triangular junction at Newton Junction. The GJR established its chief engineering works at Crewe, moving there from Edge Hill, in Liverpool. Shortly after opening with a temporary Birmingham terminus at Vauxhall, services were routed to and from Curzon Street station, which it shared with the London and Birmingham Railway (LBR) whose platforms were adjacent, providing a link between Liverpool, Manchester and London. The route between Curzon Street station and Vauxhall primarily consisted of the Birmingham Viaduct which consisted of 28 arches, each 31 feet wide and 28 feet tall and crossed the River Rea.

In 1840 the GJR absorbed the Chester and Crewe Railway shortly before it opened. Seeing itself as part of a grand railway network, it encouraged the development of the North Union Railway which took the tracks onward to Preston, and it also invested in the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway and the Caledonian Railway. In 1845 the GJR merged with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and consolidated its position by buying the North Union Railway in association with the Manchester and Leeds Railway. In 1841 the company appointed Captain Mark Huish as the Secretary to the railway. Huish was ruthless in the development of the business and contributed significantly to the Company's success. The GJR was very profitable, paying dividends of at least 10 percent from its opening and having a final capital value of over £5¾ million when it merged with the London and Birmingham Railway and Manchester and Birmingham Railway companies to became the London and North Western Railway in 1846, and the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923. The Bill for the Grand Junction Railway, which was named after the Newton Le Willows junction, was passed in Parliament on 6th May 1833. This was the same day on which the Bill for the London & Birmingham Railway was passed and so work on the line now proceeded apace.

Three engineers were employed to share the engineering duties. They were George Stephenson, who was in overall control, Joseph Locke, who looked after the construction of the northern half, and John Rastrick who looked after the construction of the southern half. This was an interesting time for Joseph Locke as up until now he had worked for George Stephenson, and although he had made quite a name for himself due to the excellent work that he did in the construction of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, he was still seen as Stephenson's pupil, and so the deserved praise had been given to Stephenson.

Locke was now his own man and was determined to prove himself in his own right, and so he laboured vigorously in the construction of the line. Both Stephenson and Rastrick however were involved in other projects and so their commitment, and amount of time spent in the construction work, was much less than Joseph Locke. This caused problems between the engineers themselves and the company directors, which led to Rastrick's resignation in September 1833, eventually followed by Stephenson's resignation on 16th September 1835. After Rastrick had left, Locke and Stephenson shared the engineering duties with Locke concentrating on the northern part from Whitmore to Warrington, and Stephenson on the southern part from Whitmore to Birmingham. There was some bitterness between the two men as Stephenson still considered Locke to be a junior, and not an equal, but Locke however, revelled in his new task.

The next feature of interest was the Penkridge Viaduct which had 7 arches and foundations that were buried in concrete to a depth of 70 feet. Immediately after Wolverhampton station which was the highest point on the line, there was a deep 300 yard long cutting, followed by Summit Tunnel which at 186 yards long carried the railway under Wolverhampton Road and the Wyrley & Essington Canal. The last 14 miles was quite troublesome as it produced many totally unexpected problems. The first was a small aqueduct carrying the Bentley Branch of the Birmingham Canal across the Darlaston Green Cutting. A temporary canal was built as a diversion while the aqueduct was constructed. It used a cast iron liner to contain the water and when filled a severe leakage developed. The canal had to be re-diverted so that the problem could be solved. This took a great deal of time and was the last part of the construction work to be completed.

On the outskirts of Birmingham a detour was needed which required a further Act of Parliament. The resident of Aston Hall was James Watt who was the son of the famous engineer, and was bitterly opposed to the line passing through his grounds. This late change to the route required the hasty design and construction of several extra bridges, viaducts and embankments, which greatly increased Locke's workload. The construction of the line in record time was a great triumph for Locke. The average cost was less than the estimated £20,000 per mile, which was very cheap when compared with the cost of the London & Birmingham Railway at £46,000 per mile.

Considering that this was the first long-distance line in the world, its opening was a very quiet affair. A train pulling three coaches and a mail coach set off from Liverpool, and a similar one set off from Manchester. They met at Newton Junction where both trains were combined and hauled southwards to Birmingham by the locomotive 'Wildfire'. In October 1840 the Grand Junction Railway took over the Crewe & Chester Railway to use as a basis for a route to Ireland via Holyhead.

The Grand Junction Railway continued as a separate railway until an Act of Parliament was passed on 16th July 1846 which allowed the amalgamation of the Grand Junction Railway with the London & Birmingham Railway and the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. The new company was called the London & North Western Railway Company and became the countries largest railway. The amalgamation occurred because of pressure from joint shareholders who had doubts about their investment in two warring companies, and the individual companies themselves realised that they could not realistically expect to retain their monopoly of the Manchester/Liverpool to London route in the face of the increasing number of new railway lines that were being proposed. This amalgamation must have surprised many people at the time, because prior to this the two largest companies thoroughly distrusted each other. The London & Birmingham Railway and Grand Junction Railway violently quarrelled over the London & Birmingham Railway's Trent Valley scheme, and the Grand Junction Railway's interest in a route to Shrewsbury. A year prior to the amalgamation the London & Birmingham Railway joined forces with the Manchester & Birmingham Railway due to the latter's reliance on, and distrust of the Grand Junction Railway. In the event, each of the constituent parts was far more successful than it had been before amalgamation, and the resulting company was one of the most successful of the Victorian railway companies.

London & Birmingham Railway

After the success of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, business people based in Birmingham began to consider the advantages of having a railway. Birmingham had seen rapid economic growth in the 1820s and by 1830 was sending one thousand tons of goods every week by canal to London. It was decided to approach George Stephenson, the chief engineer of the Liverpool & Manchester line, about the possibility of building a railway between Birmingham and London. Stephenson advised them about the route that the railway should take but declined the offer of building the line. Instead, he recommended his son, Robert Stephenson, for the job.

Much of the subscribed funds used for the initial capitalisation of £5,500,000 (£46,000 a mile) came from Lancashire, where great profits were being made in the cotton industries. The Company's first application for an Act of Parliament to construct the line was rejected in 1832, due to pressure from landowners and road and canal interests. However in May 1833 a second act was approved and the line received the royal assent. Construction began in November of that year.

The London & Birmingham Railway Company took Stephenson's advice and in 1833 Robert Stephenson was appointed chief engineer. Stephenson, who was paid £1,500 a year to build what was the first railway into London. Many people living on the proposed route were bitterly opposed to the railway. For example, the landowners of Northampton forced Stephenson to make the line pass some distance from their town and as a result of this change, Stephenson now had to build a 2,400 yard tunnel at Kilsby. Another major engineering problem which faced Stephenson was the Blisworth Cutting.

The 112 mile long London to Birmingham line took 20,000 men nearly five years to build with the railway opening in stages being finally completed on 17th September 1838. The line started at Birmingham's Curzon Street Station and finished at Euston Station in London. In geographic terms, it started at Euston Station in London, went north-north-west to Rugby, where it then turned west to Coventry and on to Birmingham terminating at Curzon Street station. Curzon Street station was shared with the Grand Junction Railway (GJR), whose adjacent platforms gave a link to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), and allowed through rail travel from London to those cities.

Early plans
The railway engineer John Rennie proposed a railway line from London to Birmingham in 1823, and formed a company to build it by a route through Oxford and Banbury, a route later taken by the Great Western Railway. Soon afterwards a rival company was formed by Francis Giles whose line would have been through the Watford Gap and Coventry. Neither company obtained backing for its scheme, and in late 1830 the two companies decided to merge. Robert Stephenson chose the route through Coventry largely to avoid possible flooding from the River Thames at Oxford.

The L&BR; The prospectus for the London and Birmingham Railway offered the following inducements to potential investors:

  1. the opening of new and distant sources of supply of provisions to the metropolis
  2. easy, cheap and expeditious travel
  3. the rapid and economical interchange of the great articles of consumption and of commerce, both internal and external; and
  4. the connection by railways, of London with Liverpool, the rich pastures of the centre of England, and the greatest manufacturing districts; and, through the port of Liverpool, to afford a most expeditious communication with Ireland.

Peter Lecount, an assistant engineer of the London Birmingham Railway, produced a number of, possibly hyperbolic, comparisons in an effort to demonstrate that the London and Birmingham Railway was 'the greatest public work ever executed either in ancient or modern times'. In particular, he suggested that the effort to build the Great Pyramid of Giza amounted to the lifting of 15,733,000,000 cubic feet of stone by one foot whereas the railway, excluding a long string of tasks such as drainage, ballasting etc, involved the lifting of 25,000,000,000 cubic feet of material reduced to the weight of stone used in the pyramid. The pyramid involved, he says, the efforts of 300,000 men (according to Diodorus Siculus) or 100,000 (according to Herodotus) for twenty years whilst the railway involved only 20,000 men for five years. In passing, he also noted that the cost of the railway in penny pieces, 'was enough to more than form a belt of pennies around the equator; and the amount of material moved would be enough to build a wall 1 foot high by one foot wide, more than three times around the equator.'

The line had been planned to open at the same time as the Grand Junction Railway which entered Birmingham from the north. However great difficulty in constructing the Kilsby Tunnel in Northamptonshire delayed the opening. The first part of the line between Euston Station and Boxmoor (Hemel Hempstead) opened on 20th July 1837. The line was not finished in time for the coronation of Queen Victoria on 28th June 1838, but aware of the lucrative traffic the event would generate, the company opened the north end of the line, between Birmingham and Rugby, and the south end from London to Bletchley with a stagecoach shuttle service linking the two parts to allow through journeys to London. The line was officially fully opened on 17th September 1838.

It has often been claimed that initially, owing to the lack of power available to early locomotives, trains from Euston were cable-hauled up the relatively steep incline to Camden by a stationary steam engine. This however was denied by Peter Lecount, one of the L&BR engineers, who wrote in his 'History of the Railway connecting London and Birmingham' (1839), page 48: 'It is not because locomotives cannot draw a train of carriages up this incline that a fixed engine and endless rope are used, for they can and have done so, but because the Company are restricted, by their Act of Parliament, from running locomotive engines nearer London than Camden Town.' The railway opened from Euston on 20th July 1837; the stationary engines and rope haulage did not commence until 27 September, and handled all trains from 14th October 1837. Until then, and whenever the rope system was stopped for repairs, locomotives hauled the trains up the incline. From November 1843 some expresses were worked without recourse to the rope, and from 15th July 1844 the rope working ceased permanently.

The locomotive workshops were established at Wolverton in 1838, roughly half-way between the two termini at London and Birmingham. These workshops remained in use as a manufacturing facility up until the 1980s. The first Locomotive Superintendent was Edward Bury, who also owned the locomotive builders of Edward Bury and Company.

Links and branches
The first branch from the main line was the Aylesbury Railway, seven miles of single track, which opened in 1839 and was leased to the L&BR until purchased outright by the LNWR in 1846. The Warwick and Leamington Union Railway, a branch of almost nine miles between Coventry and Leamington, was purchased by the L&BR in 1843 and opened in 1844. From 1840, when the Midland Counties Railway made a junction to its line at Rugby, the L&BR also provided through connections from London to the East Midlands and the North East. It also made connections to the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway at Hampton-in-Arden between Coventry and Birmingham. In 1845, the Northampton and Peterborough Railway, a 47-mile branch from the main line, was opened from Blisworth. Also in 1845 branch lines, from Bletchley to Bedford and from Leighton to Dunstable, were leased; they opened in 1846 and 1848. In 1846 the L&BR leased the West London Railway (jointly with the GWR) which opened in 1844 between Willesden Junction and the canal basin at Kensington. The L&BR purchased the Trent Valley Railway in 1846 on behalf of the LNWR; this fifty-mile line connected Rugby on the L&BR with Stafford on the Grand Junction Railway thus creating a more direct line from London to Liverpool and Manchester by avoiding the original route through Birmingham. The Rugby and Stamford Railway, a further branch into the Eastern Counties was approved in 1846.

In 1846 the L&BR merged with the Grand Junction Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway to form the London and North Western Railway, which in turn was later absorbed into the London Midland and Scottish Railway, before finally passing into the hands of the nationalised British Railways (BR)in 1948. The major change to the line during the 1960s was electrification, which was carried out as part of BR's Modernisation Plan. Neither of the two L&BR's original termini, both designed by Philip Hardwick, has survived in its original form. Curzon Street station in Birmingham closed to passenger traffic in 1854 (the original entrance building remains) when it was replaced by New Street station and the original Euston station in London was demolished in 1962 to make way for a replacement structure which opened in 1968.

Harborne Railway

The Harborne Railway was a short railway branch line that connected the city centre of Birmingham with the outlying suburb of Harborne. The line was first authorised in 1866, and was proposed as a single line to connect Soho, on the Great Western Railway's Birmingham to Wolverhampton route, with the residential area of Lapal on a proposed line from Halesowen to Bromsgrove connecting with the London and North Western Railway at near to Monument Lane. However, objections from landowners prevented a lot of the line from being built, and in the end only 2½ miles was built, the section from Monument Lane to Harborne. It took five years to build, but finally opened to passengers on the 10th August 1874 and to goods traffic on the 1st of October. There were three intermediate stations, at Icknield Port Road, Rotton Park Road and Hagley Road.

The line was independently owned, but was operated from the outset by the LNWR, who took fifty percent of the gross receipts from both passenger and freight traffic. It was worked as a single line throughout, working by the 'one engine in steam' principle, with six trains each way on weekdays. The 'staff and ticket' system was introduced in 1882, to be superseded by the 'electric token' system in 1892. Due to the continuing growth of traffic, a passing loop was installed at Rotton Park Road in 1903 . The line was an early example of a commuter route, and was highly successful at first, though there were initial problems recovering the original investment. The receiver was called in in 1879 and the line remained under his control for another twenty-one years. Nevertheless, at its peak in 1914 there were twenty-seven return passenger workings a day, starting at 5:35am and running through to 11:15pm. The journey time from Birmingham New Street to Harborne was short being approximately sixteen 16 minutes. The Harborne services were usually operated by FW Webb's 2-4-2T or 0-6-2T 'Coal Tank' locomotives.

In 1923, the Harborne Railway, together with its operators the LNWR, became part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway at the grouping. The line began to suffer competition with buses, and as the trains were frequently delayed due to congestion of the northern route into Birmingham New Street, passenger numbers fell. Icknield Port Road station closed in 1931, and the other stations closed to passengers on 26th November 1934. The last scheduled passenger train ran on the 3rd June 1950. However, the line remained opened to freight traffic, reverting to the 'one engine in steam' principle to serve businesses in Harborne, and the Mitchells and Butlers' Cape Hill brewery. This traffic also eventually succumbed to road transport with the line closing completely on 4th November 1963. Part of the route has subsequently been converted into a footpath, the Harborne Walkway.

* Courtesy of the LNWR Society.