Hello again Readers
I have accepted a writing challenge and am taking part in an event called WeSeWriMo 2015. Basically it is to set your own writing targets this month of August but also produce some serialised writing for an audience. My target is to write 8 episodes or chapters and in so doing produce 10-20,000 words. I also plan to design a book cover. This may sound mad but there is method in my madness. I want to work up some existing research material and notes and use it as the basis for my third true crime book. I have a tentative title – “Murder Mystery and Mayhem on the Railways – 1830-1899. Ok time to climb aboard, the journey is about to begin…..
The First Railway Accident
It is generally accepted that the first true railways were developed in Great Britain. True there were trackways made of wood on which horses pulled wagons as early as the 16th Century in Germany. Two developments – iron rails and steam engines changed everything and both were developed by British engineers. In 1804 Richard Trevithick invented the first steam engine to run on smooth iron rails. In 1812 the Salamanca became the world’s first commercially successful steam locomotive. Designed by John Blenkinsop and Matthew Murray it ran on the Middleton Railway. One year later in 1813 Puffing Billy commenced work on the trackway between Stockton and Darlington. William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth introduced pistons connected to coupled wheels in their locomotive design, allowing for better traction. In 1821 George Stephenson was appointed as Engineer for the Stockton to Darlington line. Stephenson dismissed the original plan for a horse-drawn tramway and surveyed the 25 mile route with a mind to introducing steam locomotives. Plans were also made to carry passengers as well as coal. On 27th September 1825 the Stockton and Darlington became the world’s first locomotive hauled public railway. Traction was provided by Stephenson’s own design, Locomotion No.1. The railway was not entirely steam-powered as horses were still used in some sections.
On 24 May 1823 The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was formed. Businessmen in both towns wanted a faster and cheaper way of transferring cotton from the port of Liverpool to Manchester and East Lancashire. Finished goods could make the return journey and the trains could also carry passengers. The route for the 35 mile line was surveyed and decided on. It would include a crossing of the treacherous Chat Moss Bog. In October 1829 the line was nearly complete but the decision about which locomotives to use was still undecided. The directors decided to run a competition to see whether stationary steam engines or locomotives should be used. Five engines competed in a competition run along a mile long length of line at Rainhill in Lancashire (now in Merseyside). These were the Cycloped, The Perseverance, the Sans Pareil, the Novelty and the Rocket. Tests were performed over several days and one by one the various locomotives broke down or dropped out. Only one locomotive, the Rocket completed all of the trials and so was declared the winner. It averaged 12 miles an hour but could reach 3o mph hauling 13 tons and won the £500 prize for its builders, George and Robert Stephenson. They also received a contract to build locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The line was completed by early September 1830 with a terminus station at Crown Street in Liverpool and at Liverpool Road in Manchester.
The directors of the railway were keen to make a good impression and made extensive preparations and invited the elite of the kingdom to be present on this most auspicious day. On 15 September a special opening train left Liverpool bound for Manchester and hauled by the locomotive Northumbrian. A special ornamental grand coach conveyed the Prime Minister the Duke of Wellington and coupled behind were more coaches carrying distinguished guests including Prince Esterhazy, Marquis of Salisbury, various Earl and Viscounts and all of the directors of the railway and local MPs including Huskisson the MP for Liverpool. The train stopped for water at Parkside near Newton Le Willows and waited there for trains to pass in review on the Northern line. The trains were late arriving and some gentlemen took the opportunity to get down from their carriage and walk down on the earth and cinders between the two rails. This included Prince Esterhazy and William Huskisson, MP for Liverpool. The latter caught the eye of the Duke in his carriage and recognition followed. The Duke extended his hand from the carriage and Huskisson advanced to take it……
“While in the act of shaking hands, heralds announced the approach of the Rocket Engine on the opposite rail; a cry of danger was instantly raised and Prince Esterhazy was helped into the carriage by Mr. Littleton the member for Staffordshire. Mr Huskisson remained outside and several voices exclaimed come in, take care Mr Huskisson. The unfortunate gentleman became flurried and rapidly caught hold of the door but unhappily in endeavouring to ascend he missed his footing and either fell or was thrown by the door and in falling to the ground, part of his person extended on the other rail, and the Rocket, coming up at that instant went over his leg and thigh and fractured them in a most dreadful manner.”
He is said to have uttered a scream of horror and the words “ I have met my death- God forgive me!”. He was attended to by Dr Brandreth and otheer medical gentlemen and raised with some difficulty into the front coach. The Northumbrian and one coach was detached from the train and Huskisson placed aboard. He was rushed over to Eccles and conveyed to a vicarage of Rev Mr Blackburn, vicar of Eccles. The locomotive was driven by George Stephenson himself
“Mr Ranson an eminent surgeon of Manchester, was shortly afterwards in attendance, but although amputation was first thought of. It was afterwards decided against, it being feared the operation would cause the immediate death of the patient. Towards evening he became more calm, and we understand had sufficient strength to make some additions to his will, and was sufficiently composed to receive the Sacrament.”
It was left to the vicar of Eccles to communicate details of the final sad moments and his letter to the Mayor of Liverpool was printed in some newspapers,
“Eccles Vicarage, Wednesday Sept 15 1830.
Sir – With the deepest grief I have to acquaint you, for the information of yourself and of the community over which you preside, that Mr Huskisson breathed his last at nine o’clock this evening. He was attended from the moment of the accident with indefatigable exertion by Dr. Brandreth of Liverpool, Dr Hunter of Edinburgh, and Mr Beenom, Mr Whatton, Mr Garside and Mr White of Manchester. His last moments were soothed by the devoted attention of his now distracted widow, and by the presence of some of his distinguished and faithful friends.”
The accident at Parkside had cast a long shadow over the rest of the inaugural day. A grand reception and banquet were awaiting the numerous guests upon their arrival in Manchester. On the following day the Duke of Wellington had been invited to another reception and banquet at Liverpool as there was a plan to present him with the Freedom of the Corporation. A decision had to be made about how to proceed,
“For some time it was debated whether the journey would be proceeded in, or whether an instant return to Liverpool would not be the better course. The Duke and Sir Robert Peel countenanced the latter, asserting they had seen sufficient to enable them to pronounce favourably upon the undertaking. It was however decided at length to be “onward” and after a considerable delay, the engines were fastened and began to move, the grand car being fastened to the engine on the adjoining rail. No display was permitted and the bugles ceased their sound. The crowds that cheered on every side met no kindred response, and no doubt felt much surprised at the apparent want of courtesy in those they were anxious to compliment.”
The party proceeded to Manchester but the Duke was not popular with the numerous weavers and mill workers. His grand carriage was pelted with bricks and stones and when they arrived at Liverpool Road a large and unruly crowd was waiting for them. They waved flags and banners and the Duke decided against alighting. He decided to make an immediate return to Liverpool as did most of the party, including the elite assembly of lords, earls and viscounts. The return journey too Liverpool was protracted as the locomotives could not be turned and some had failed. The three that were still working hauled a single train of 25 carriages back to Liverpool. They arrived six and a half hours late and the train was pelted with missiles by crowds lining the track.
The planned grand reception in Manchester was therefore somewhat subdued,
“The Dinner, as may be fairly presumed, was but thinly attended. Only forty seven gentlemen sat down, among whom were Mr Brougham, who arrived about three o’clock, Mr Calcraft MP and Admiral Fleming.”
Despite this most unfortunate start, The Liverpool to Manchester Railway proved to be a great success. Within a few weeks it began running excursion trains for passengers which proved wildly successful. In the summer of 1831 it carried tens of thousands by special trains to Newton Races. It was built primarily to deliver cotton and finished goods faster and cheaper but the great success was the unprecedented growth in passenger numbers. It was the first railway to run exclusively on steam power, the first to have double track throughout its length and the first to have a signalling system. It was also the first to be fully timetabled and the first to carry mail. John B Jervis of the Delaware and Hudson Railway wrote some years later,
“It must be regarded …. As opening the epoch of railways which has revolutionised the social and commercial intercourse of the civilised world”
William Huskisson was the world’s first reported casualty on the railways. His death was not in vain, the gap between the two lines on the Liverpool to Manchester Railway was deemed as inadequate and was subsequently widened. The formation and layout of the railway formed a template for others to follow, including standard gauge for the tracks. It offered a blueprint for other railway pioneers and soon railways were springing up all over the land.
The first day of the railways in 1830 had also shown a darker side. There had been mayhem, social unrest and a tragic loss of life. The passengers on the inaugural train had been told not to leave the carriages and Huskisson’s death had shown the tragic outcome of trespassing on the line. Huskisson would not be the last to be “flurried” at the fast approach of the steam engine. In the years that followed came more tragedies, mayhem and loss of life on the nation’s railways. By no means were all of these accidental deaths……………