posted on Feb, 18 2018 @ 11:18 AM
The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (15/09/1830) was recognised at the time as a very important event.
The Railway Age is normally reckoned as beginning with the Stockton and Darlington railway, which used locomotive trains to carry coal and horse-drawn
coaches to carry people.
But the LMR introduced further innovations, which helped to set the pattern for dedicated railway passenger services.
It was the first railway to rely exclusively on steam power, and the first to have double tracks.
They introduced timetables and a signalling system. They sold tickets.
The opening was carefully planned as a public relations exercise.
They invited the Prime Minister of the day, the Duke of Wellington.
They also invited, of course, their local M.P., William Huskisson.
Huskisson was the more socially conscious kind of Tory. Maggie Thatcher would have called him “wet”.
He had been one of the followers of the deceased George Canning. In the long-term, most of the Canningites, including Lord Palmerston, ended up
joining the Whigs and the Peelites and the Radicals in the new improved Liberal party.
Huskisson had been part of Wellington’s government, as Colonial Secretary. Then his interest in Parliamentary reform had moved him to vote the wrong
way on a redistribution bill.
The next morning, he wrote and did the honourable thing; “I owe it to you… to lose no time in affording you the opportunity of placing my office
in other hands.”
A few hours later he sent a second letter explaining that the first letter had not been a resignation; he had intended to relieve the Prime Minister
of any “delicacy” he might feel about asking for a resignation.
To me, this is a distinction without a difference. If you want somebody not to be embarrassed about having to dismiss you, that implies a promise that
you won’t complain if he does.
The distinction was too subtle for the Duke, anyway. “There is no mistake, there can be no mistake, and there shall be no mistake.” He accepted
the resignation and informed the king.
This was not their first misunderstanding. However, a reconciliation between the two men could reunite the wings of the Tory party and strengthen the
government, perhaps allowing it to introduce moderate measures of reform. A meeting at the opening of the new railway might be just the opportunity
The Duke and Sir Robert Peel had been received in Manchester at a great banquet, which avoided political speeches.
On the railway’s official opening day, “upwards of one thousand noblemen and gentlemen started from Liverpool in about thirty carriages, drawn by
eight engines, decorated with silken streamers, and adorned with various appropriate and gaudy emblems.”
These trains left as a procession, using both tracks of the line. The VIP train was in the lead, of course, pulled by the “Northumbrian”.
“The carriage in which his grace was seated was thirty-two feet in length, having a width of eight feet, and was supported on eight wheels. A grand
canopy, twenty-four feet long, was raised above it upon gilded pillars, and so contrived as to be lowered in passing through the tunnel. The drapery
was of rich crimson cloth, and the whole was surmounted by a gilt ducal coronet.”
There was also a flat-bottomed wagon which carried the band.
According to the programme, they would travel to Manchester, take some light refreshment at a “cold collation”, and come back to Liverpool for a
more substantial dinner.
They were day-trippers! Return tickets, yeah! (Though for one of them, a “one-way ticket” would have been sufficient)
In the days when I was commuting from south London, I often found myself standing in front of a safety notice which began with the words “It is
always safer to remain on the train”. That “always” used to amuse me, because it wasn’t qualified by any explanation like “in case of
The LMR had been giving their first passengers much the same warning. Printed handbills had been distributed at Liverpool. The steps which enabled
easy access to the carriage were moved at the beginning of the journey.
Unfortunately, it is never easy to persuade V.I.P.’s to follow the rules, even in the interests of their own safety.
The V.I.P. train got as far as Parkside, and stopped to take on water. This also made it easier for the other engines to parade past it on the
People who felt the need to stretch their legs clambered down to the ground. They were milling around, perhaps discussing the price of cotton and the
latest news from France.
William Huskisson was amongst them. He turned away from his companion, saying “I will go and shake hands with the Duke”.
He was in the middle of this action, according to witnesses, when the cry went up that Rocket was coming up along the other track. People were
scrambling back onto the train.
The Rocket had no brakes to squeal, but the driver was trying to engage “Reverse”.
One man simply clung to the side of the train, and Huskisson followed his example.
Then he had misgivings and changed his mind. (Where have we heard that before?)
He was a stout man, and had reason to fear that the space between the trains would not be wide enough.
He tried to open the carriage door and get in, which was a fatal mistake.
The door swung open and hit him or the oncoming Rocket, and between them they knocked him onto the line.
The locomotive wheel passed over his right leg, leaving it mangled and bleeding. Noblemen and gentlemen ran to his assistance. They found his leg was
nearly severed below the knee, and the muscles of the upper thigh were exposed.
The Earl of Wilton contrived a hasty tourniquet, using handkerchieves.
The bandsmen were taken off the flat wagon (they had to walk home, in the end), so that Huskisson could be laid upon it.
The injured man had no illusions about his prospects; “I have met my death, God forgive me!”
The “Northumbrian” and the wagon were detached from the rest of the train, and George Stephenson in person took them off in the direction of
Manchester, briefly setting a new land-speed record.
Further up the line, the medical party thought it best to seek shelter for him in a house nearby.
As the other passengers waited for the “Northumbrian” to come back, they argued about their next move. The visiting politicians wanted the rest of
the plans to be called off, without any more ado. The company directors wanted the programme to continue.
Magistrates riding out from Manchester, to find out what was happening, reported that the Manchester crowds were getting impatient and political. If
they did not see something of what they were expecting, public order would be at risk.
Wellington reluctantly allowed the completion of the journey. He did not get off at Manchester for the cold collation, and he also skipped the delayed
dinner in Liverpool.
Huskisson died on the same day, in the late evening. The inquest jury accepted the verdict that the railway company were not to blame.
William Huskisson could have been a contender. He might not have had the right stuff to be Prime Minister, but he still had a future in the game of
As it is, his main claim now to the interest of posterity is that the most famous locomotive in railway history ran over his leg.
[Quotations are taken from a nearly contemporary biography;
“Life and campaigns of Arthur, Duke of Wellington, K.G.” by Rev. G.N. Wright, M.A.]