Railways, as we understand them, have been around for the best part of two centuries. The world’s first “modern” railway system was engineered by George Stephenson and used flange wheeled, self-propelled [steam] trains operating on nowadays traditional railway tracks. The railway connected the industrial cities of Liverpool and Manchester and it is on this route we find Liverpool Edge Hill station making railway history.
Liverpool and Manchester Railway
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) system provided the world’s first passenger railway stations where services were hauled by timetabled locomotives. The railway line opened on 15 September 1830 and originally ran from Liverpool’s passenger terminus [Crown Street] to its counterpart Manchester terminus [Liverpool Road]. The L&MR thus also became the first inter-city railway.
The route extended some 31 miles (50 km) and was an outstanding engineering achievement of its era. It included the world’s first railway tunnel under a major city: the 1.3 mile (2 km) Wapping Tunnel was bored through sandstone from Wapping Goods station, at the southern end of Liverpool docks, to the district of Edge Hill. The railway also included a viaduct, comprising 9 arches, across the Sankey Valley and a 2 miles long rock cutting at Olive Mount. When the line opened, George Stephenson’s locomotive “Rocket” conveyed a number of dignitaries, including the then prime minister, the Duke of Wellington.
Passenger coaches would travel down [through a short tunnel] from Crown Street terminus to Edge Hill by gravity and were cable hauled by winding engines [at Crown Street] on the return. Locomotives would then be attached at Edge Hill for the journey through to Manchester. Liverpool’s Crown Street was later replaced by a new station at Lime Street, after it was decided to divert passenger traffic via a new tunnel between Edge Hill and Lime Street. Work started on the tunnel on 23 May 1832 and the new Lime Street terminus opened on 15 August 1836. Later, Manchester’s Liverpool Road terminus was replaced by the new Manchester Victoria railway station on 4 May 1844, when the line was extended to join the Manchester and Leeds Railway.
Edge Hill Station
Edge Hill is a station serving Liverpool’s Edge Hill and Wavertree districts and has always been the first timetabled passenger stop from the Liverpool terminus. However, there is some interesting history behind this simple fact. There have actually been two stations of that name: the original one was located just a short distance to the south-west of today’s present station. Fortunately, whilst the first one has long since gone, its remains can still be found – even though the site is not open to public access.
The Original Edge Hill
The first station was created at the western end of a deep sandstone cutting [Cavendish Cutting], adjacent to the entrance to three tunnels: the northern, central and southern bores [right]. The largest [central] bore was the Wapping Tunnel, a 1.3 miles long incline descending to Wapping Goods station. Goods wagons were cable hauled [initially hemp rope, then steel] up from Wapping to Edge Hill and descended by gravity back to the goods station. The system used stationary steam winding engines located at the opposite end of Edge Hill station. Stephenson was charged with building some ornate architecture on the line and he chose a Moorish-style arch, which was built over the line in the cutting [below].
Stephenson ingeniously used the arch to hide the two stationary engines, with the steam engine boiler housings also serving as the base of the Arch. The smoke from the boilers was vented via two tall chimneys, built on either side of the tunnel entrances; these chimneys were known as the “Pillars of Hercules”. The cable system was used until 1896, when locomotives took over. The tunnel, when first completed, actually served as a promenade for visitors, with walls being whitewashed and gas lit. The northern and southern tunnels were much shorter. The northern tunnel inclined up towards the passenger terminus at Crown Street. The trains descended by gravity to Edge Hill station and were then hauled back up into Crown Street. The southern tunnel was originally a short length cul-de-sac and was used both as a storage shed and to provide a symmetrical appearance to the western end of the cutting. The tunnel incline was later extended and slewed to pass over the [central] Wapping tunnel to then enter Crown Street goods yard, created after the abandonment of the passenger station terminus. The station area itself was not frequently used by passengers, because it was so close to Crown Street station. However, it was used for marshalling trains [using horses] together with locomotive coupling and uncoupling. Engine sheds, workshops and stables were cut into the sandstone walls of the cutting, either side of the station area, to facilitate these activities.
The Present Edge Hill
The decision to divert passenger traffic, through the new tunnel to Lime Street, required the construction of a new Edge Hill station a short distance further north at the new tunnel portal and it opened in 1836. As a result, both Crown Street and the old Edge Hill station then became goods stations. The new Edge Hill has two tunnels at the western end of the platforms. The northernmost tunnel is the Waterloo Tunnel, and the southerly one is the Liverpool Lime Street tunnel. The station has two island platforms, with buildings dating back to 1836; making it the world’s oldest passenger railway station still in use.
Edge Hill Modelled
The original Edge Hill station and cutting has been splendidly modelled (including urban decay and industrial grime) by Michael Delamar and Chris Hewitt – as part of their EM Gauge [4mm to 1 foot scale] model railway layout called “Crown Street” that depicts the area in the late 1950s and early 60s. The layout has been faithfully modelled based on historical records and photographs, after extensive research. So much so, that model figures in the surrounding streets are representations of actual people identified in old photographs.
Passenger waiting rooms, workshops and boiler house facilities are accurately re-created [left] to show their housing within the excavated, sandstone cutting walls. The steps, just visible to the right, descended down from the northern side of the Moorish Arch. The image [right] shows the tunnel portals at the station’s western end – notice, just above the right-hand tunnel, the remains of the base of one of the “Pillars of Hercules”. The left or southern tunnel, was initially just a storage cul-de-sac but later curved to pass over the centre Wapping tunnel to enter Crown Street goods. The Wapping Tunnel shows the descending incline to Wapping Dock. The tunnel that climbed to the original passenger terminus at Crown Street station is to the right.
Compare the tunnel portal model image with a black and white “archive” photograph of the location [below]. It looks very similar? Well, this is actually another image of the model layout – although it does compare remarkably favourably with the first [archive] picture shown at the beginning!
A fascinating story and history of the first major railway development that was completed in the early nineteenth century. Complimented, no less, by an excellent representation, in model form, of Edge Hill circa 1950/60.