Viaduct across the Sankey


L&MR was opened on 15 Sep 1830 between Liverpool and Manchester. It was first public transport system which did not use animal traction power and the first to provide a scheduled passenger service; although it could be argued that it was seen as even more crucial for goods to be conveyed at the time. The initial 1823 survey for the line was carried out by William James but was considered defective and in 1824 George Stephenson was appointed engineer in his place. Stephenson was replaced, apparently further mistakes were made possibly due to the absence of Robert Stephenson. George and John Rennie were then appointed as engineers, they chose Charles Blacker Vignoles as their surveyor. The crossing of Chat Moss, saw both Rennie’s and the Vignoles resign and bought the return of Stephenson as engineer with Joseph Locke as his assistant (later removed).  The archive collections at IMechE include reports by Stephenson on Locke and Vignoles (and others) and a costing for the crossing of Chat Moss. A selection of these are now available online, alongside illustrations of the line. As with other Railways, the line itself was not the only engineering feat accomplished in order to overcome existing features and the geography of the route: the crossing of Chat Moss is well known for its ingenuity; but ‘permanent’ structures were also built.

Viaduct across the Sankey
Coloured lithograph of the Sankey Viaduct, by TT Bury from the series on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

The Sankey Viaduct is the world’s oldest major viaduct still in use. It was built by Stephenson for the Railway, in the archive we have a report which includes a statement on it given to Stephenson by William Hartley. The Viaduct allowed the line to cross the Sankey Canal whilst still allowing clearance for sailing vessels to pass below the Railway. At 183 metres long, with nine round-arched spandrels on sharply-battered piers its arches are of 15 metre span and 21 metres high. The gradient of the Viaduct also had to be suitable for the locomotives that would run on the line. It is this that Stephenson seems most concerned about in his report; he comments that the nature of the supports require further consideration, it was Stephenson’s opinion that they should consider driving piles close to the Canal. He is also concerned about the piers, these were completed in 1829 but Stephenson was writing in 1832 (the Viaduct opened in 1830 but was not considered complete until 1833). I cannot find any evidence that his advice was taken and his alterations made but if you know differently please comment on the post!

Wapping Tunnel
Coloured lithograph of the Wapping Tunnel, by TT Bury from the series on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

Where the Viaduct solved one problem by going above ground, the Wapping Tunnel solved another by going beneath ground. It was the first tunnel in the world to be bored under a city, used for freight it is 1.26 miles long and was open from 1830-1972. Originally the railway out of Liverpool was to run north along the docks but landowner opposition made this impossible. The new route required considerable engineering works in addition to the tunnel. The 1 in 48 gradient was much too steep for the steam locomotives of the day. A stationary steam engine was installed at Edge Hill cutting in a short tunnel bored into the rock near the Moorish Arch to haul goods wagons by rope up from the Park Lane good station at the south end docks. The goods wagons were connected to locomotives at Edge Hill for the continuing journey to Manchester. At Edge Hill cutting the Tunnel can be seen flanked by another L&MR Stephenson tunnel, Crown Street Tunnel and a later addition (a short tunnel of 1846 that increased freight traffic). The Crown Street Tunnel was bored from a deep cutting at Edge Hill and ran to the passenger terminus station at Crown Street (this was later abandoned for the more central location of Lime Street). It is the oldest rail tunnel in the world to run under streets.

Water Street Station
Coloured lithograph of Water Street Station, by TT Bury from the series on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

Edge Hill was the site of another engineering spectacle, the Moorish Arch where the opening ceremony for the Railway took place and where Stephenson was required to provide a dramatic and decorative feature. Other built features included Crown Street Station, the world’s first public railway station (I understand that student accommodation now stands on the site) and Water Street Station. Water Street was the Manchester terminus of the Railway, it is now the world’s oldest surviving terminal railway station. The station comprised of a slightly curved brick viaduct that terminated in the slope that led up from Water Street to Deansgate, alongside Liverpool Road. The viaduct fronted a solid brick warehouse, with yard used for coal. Passengers conversely got an existing, though enhanced, building which was completed with stucco rendering and a sundial!

It is easy to think of a railway as tracks, signal, points etc but other features are also crucial, not only to its functionality but also to its impact on the built environment.

Archive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers




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