Describe the reasons why the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was built and who supported it?

After the demise of the domestic system, by machines and factories built by engineers like Crompton, Arkwright and Cartwright, people moved to the cities and began to get jobs and set up home in these large cities, this boom was known as the ‘Industrial Revolution.’ Liverpool and Manchester were the two main centres of the revolution; by the beginning of the nineteenth century, they were becoming important industrial centres.

“Liverpool grew rapidly as a port. In 1748, only 476 ships used Liverpool. In 1800, it was 4746 and by 1825, it was 19, 837…In 1792 Liverpool imported only 503 bags of American cotton. 1822, just 30 years later, 289, 989 bags came in.” 1

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There was an increasing demand for goods in both cities,

“The cotton trade between the cities was doubling every 10 years…” 2

Despite having to move 1,000 tons of cotton between cities, the transport links were poor. Heavy winds, storms, and frozen surfaces made the canals a bad choice, they were slow, inefficient, and goods were often stolen. Despite these problems, the tolls and charges made by the canal companies made them rich and powerful. By road, one would have to travel 36 miles through horrifically boggy surfaces, stooping off several times for rests, changing horses and overnight stays. This source shows a list of services and the approximate distances:

Transport Link

Distance (miles)

Turnpike Roads

36 miles

Mersey and Irwell Navigation

43 miles

Bridgewater Canal

46 miles

Leeds and Liverpool Canal

58 miles

” 3

These services proved ineffective and poor. The proposed railway would be 31 miles long would cut canal journeys by 36 hours. Liverpool and Manchester needed coal, St. Helens coalfield in Liverpool would export coal and bring it into Manchester, and a railway would mean coal could travel in large quantities, thus reducing the price of coal. The railway would benefit as far as the USA. America exported cotton all over the world, when coming to Britain it would use Liverpool docks, where the cotton would be sent directly to mills in Manchester. Finally, in terms of goods all produce needed by major cities such as cotton, grain, sugar, and coal could be carried nearly 30% – 50% cheaper than how it was by canal or road.

“Therefore, there was no doubt in the minds of merchants and industrialists that a railway would meet all these needs.” 4.

The new railway would not only benefit the industrialists it bought hope to passengers who could travel between the cities quickly and cheaply. The railway would modernize cities by improving public services; mail would arrive quickly along with parcel and newspaper, which could arrive in cities within 2 – 4 hours of printing or being sent. An employment boom would also follow, after the building begins, local skilled and unskilled people would work as engineers and laborers also known as ‘navvies.’

Not just the English would benefit from this railway; Irish farmers and others around the world would have an increase in trade. Irish farmers would now be able to transport their corn, butter, and linen across the sea to Liverpool where it could quickly and efficiently move from Manchester to Yorkshire. Many people supported the railway; Liverpool merchant had improved links with the West and East Indies. Yorkshire manufacturers and traders, Irish corn merchants and Liverpool ship owners were immediately affected by the plans and were supportive.

After witnessing the enormous success of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and realizing how railways would vastly improve lives, a committee was set up. In 1822, merchants and factory owners teamed up with a provisional committee to plan the new line. After two years in 1824 a prospectus was issued, this large document explained the details and reasons why a railway was needed, an extract read:

“The importance to a commercial state, of a cheap and safe mode of transit, for merchandise, from one part of the country to another, will be readily acknowledged.” 5.

George Stephenson had worked well on the Stockton to Darlington line so well that he was appointed for the Liverpool to Manchester railway, and began to survey a line. In 1825 Stephenson’s plan was sent to parliament, however, it was rejected. This rejection was due to many things, one being cost but the main reason was that the route was poorly planned; it would cross through rivers and valleys. As well as Stephenson’s work, many people also sent petitions, this included canal companies, small landowners, Earls, and Dukes. George Stephenson was found at fault for the rejection and sacked.

> Who opposed the building of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and why?

In 1825, the first Liverpool and Manchester railway bill was defeated in parliament due to many reasons. Although Stephenson’s survey was greatly blamed for the rejection of the line, a crucial reason was the fierce opposition to the line. The proposed railway aroused much opposition, particularly from those with interest in he canals, and big landowners, they certainly had a reason to be concerned.

The opposition was led by powerful landowners, the earls of Derby and Sefton, and the Duke of Bridgewater, they all owned land across the anticipated route. They assumed that their land would be cut in half, smaller landowners also supported this. However, they said their strongest concern was the damage to the ‘environment.’ Landowners claimed that the new railway would prevent:

‘…Cows from gazing…stop hens laying and that poisonous fumes from the engine would kill passing birds.” 1.

Earls of Sefton and Derby were worried that foxes and game birds would die, nevertheless, there true concern was that foxes and bird hunting would stop, thus preventing them from taking part in their favorite sport. They claimed:

“In any case, the railway would never work.” 2.

The second group of people who would be greatly affected was the canal and riverboat companies. Owners of the Bridgewater canal and the Mersey and Irwell Navigation’s paramount fear was loss of trade, jobs, and profit. The committee realized this loss and offered them the chance to buy shares and gain some of the railway profits.

The situation was similar with the ‘Turnpike Trusts,’ coachmen, innkeepers, and horse dealers who dealt with the transport links by road. These people had a good reason to be concerned. They could the harm to their business if, as promised the railway was cheaper a, quicker and more popular than the roads.

The final flaw was criticisms of Stephenson’s survey. Opponents said that Stephenson’s survey was flawed; they claimed the plan was not practical. The line would pass through many obstacles one being Chat Moss and would cause chaos in Liverpool, where it entered a built up area.

“No engineer in his senses would go through Chat Moss…”

The above three reasons, were genuine concerns; however, some arguments were less plausible, there were many bizarre reasons brought forward. Farmers feared a great loss of their produce, however the railway would not greatly affect them. Samuel Smiles a railway enthusiast and writer bought forward a host of complaints about the effects of locomotives:

“…Locomotives were responsible for setting crops alight, giving old ladies dizzy spells and causing horse to bolt. 4.

Farmers were made to believe that their cattle would be deformed; for example, they would lose their woolen trade because the lamb would be born black. These early myths, led to people to believe that pregnant women would miscarry at the sight of a locomotive. Like farmers, Doctors also had objections, sanitary objections. The doctor’s peculiar reasons made ordinary folk believe that on entering tunnels you would catch colds, followed by rotting of the lungs. For many years, passengers would leave the train before a tunnel, walk over the muddy hill, and board the train on the other side; this sometimes took 2 to 3 hours. Passengers went to these extreme lengths because of myths that claimed tunnels cause deafness, blindness followed by suffocation.

However, not all of these claims were made because people were uneducated. It was found that many people were intimidated by the technology itself not the railway. Conservers feared change. They hid behind claims that the railway would cause disastrous results, because they thought society would change for the worse. This fear of change linked in with the snobbery of high society people, like the Duke of Wellington. He said the railways would encourage ordinary working classes to travel and learn, he believed this to be a tragic change to society. The Liverpool and Manchester Committee down played the technology and decided to stress the industrial benefits of rail transportation. The landowners were promised that bridges would be built in order the owners remain in charge o their own property. The company expanded its board of directors to include several peers thus gaining more respect in the House of Lords.

After seeing the great benefits, a second attempt was inevitable. Indeed the railway was bad, the railway company commissioned a new survey changing the most controversial parts of the route, this costing �70,000. This was returned to parliament based on revisions of the first plan. Finally, parliament granted approval and work began in 1826.

> How did George Stephenson overcome the problems of building the Liverpool and Manchester Railway?

After clearing many hurdles at Parliament, the mood was very happy and in 1826 Stephenson began work on the line. Although the work had been given a green light, the engineers under the guidance of Robert Stephenson were faced with several problems. The problem encountered during the fight to pass the survey through parliament were nothing compared to the spectacular feats of engineering that were going to be need to get the railway through. Soon after construction began Stephenson arrived at his first problem.