The construction of the controversial Ordsall Chord in Manchester, enabling through-running between Piccadilly Station and Victoria, is the result of how the first railways came to Manchester in the 1830s and 1840s. It is rather ironic that, whilst the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was the world’s first inter-city passenger railway, its taciturn reluctance to work with other companies left Manchester with several isolated mainline stations.

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Map of Manchester's railways c.1855 (Andy Mason, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

Manchester’s first mainline passenger station was built at Liverpool Road (now the home of the Museum of Science & Industry) by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company. In fact it was Manchester’s only railway station until 1838, when, what is now Salford Central (for the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Railway), and the now defunct Oldham Road station (Manchester & Leeds Railway) were opened. But none of these stations were connected by rail: they were built by fiercely independent railway companies, who viewed any form of connection or through-running as a challenge to their traffic, revenue, and status.

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Victoria Station c.1890; the original 1844 building on the left. The other ranges date from the 1860s expansion (Author's collection, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

Next on the scene was the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne & Manchester, and the Manchester & Birmingham companies, who opened a joint station, which today is Manchester Piccadilly – one of the busiest railway stations in Britain, with trains arriving or departing every eight seconds. The Sheffield company, as early as 1836, had wanted to form a junction with the Liverpool & Manchester, enabling trains to run all the way from Liverpool to Sheffield via Manchester, and vice versa. A logical move, but the Liverpool & Manchester Company was opposed, fearing lost revenue, and blocked the move. The Liverpool & Manchester Company was also opposed to the building of a junction and line from Ordsall Lane (on the Liverpool & Manchester) to Manchester Victoria Station. The Manchester & Leeds Railway had found their Oldham Road station too out of the way, and in a far from salubrious area, and so built a new station at Hunt’s Bank, close to Manchester Cathedral, and Chetham’s College. Naturally, the Church Authorities were not happy with this new interloper. Victoria was to be approached by an inclined plane, and trains were to be worked in and out via winding engines at the Summit at Miles Platting, where locomotives were coupled on to continue their journey to Leeds. The Manchester & Leeds had already raised the question of a junction with the Liverpool & Manchester in 1835, which had been flatly refused.

Three years later, the idea resurfaced, to enable trains to work through from Liverpool to Leeds, and an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1839. But then the Liverpool & Manchester got ‘cold feet’, and instead promoted a rival line, running along Whitworth Street, to join with the Sheffield people at London Road. This would become the Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway, opened in 1848. Meanwhile, the northern link to Victoria had stalled. The Liverpool & Manchester refused to act, fearing loss of traffic. The Manchester & Leeds replied by threatening to build a rival line all the way to Liverpool, and a canal and warehouses to enable transhipment of goods from the quays, and wharfs on New Quay Street (near to Liverpool Road Station) to their new station at Victoria. Even the Manchester public were losing patience with the petty territorialism of the Liverpool & Manchester Company, its dilatoriness over the link to Victoria generating much bad publicity. Victoria station opened in May 1844, but the linking line from the Liverpool & Manchester mainline was not finally complete until several months later. There was, in the words of the Manchester Guardian, now ‘one continuous line of Railway Communication across the country from Hull to Liverpool, and the Irish Channel.’ Once the Manchester South Junction line opened, there was the possibility of trains – or at least traffic – being able to run from Liverpool to Sheffield, Liverpool to Leeds, and via the Grand Junction (which joined the Liverpool & Manchester at Newton) to Birmingham, and thence London, all via Manchester, linking the great industrial centres to the major ports.

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Galloway's unsuccessful locomotive Manchester - 'the first built in Manchester'. (Author's collection, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

By the middle of the 1840s, Manchester’s railway scene had developed from a single, isolated station at London Road, to one that is recognisable today, centred on London Road/Piccadilly, Victoria, Salford Central. What there wasn’t was any connection between the two principal stations at London Road and Victoria; whilst the two were rail connected via the junction at Ordsall Lane, trains had to reverse to enter either station.  This problem was partially overcome with the opening of the ‘Windsor Link’ in the 1980s, but the lack of through-running from Piccadilly to Victoria, a product of the fierce rivalry between these early railway companies from over 170 years ago, will only be finally solved in December 2017.

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Anthony Dawson's new book The Early Railways of Manchester is available for purchase now.