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A Bury engine heads up a mixed train. The carriage second from the end is a 2nd-class day coach.
Note the guards seated outside, a leftover from stage coaching days. Among other duties they operated the carriage brakes.

“When railways were first established, every living being gazed at a passing train with astonishment and fear; ploughmen held their breath; the loose horse galloped from it, and then, suddenly stopping, turned round, stared at it, and at last snorted aloud. But the ‘nine days’ wonder’ soon came to an end. As the train now flies through our verdant fields, the cattle grazing on each side do not even raise their heads to look at it; the timid sheep fears it no more than the wind; indeed, the hen-partridge, running with her brood along the embankment of a deep cutting, does not now even crouch as it passes close by her. It is the same with mankind. On entering a railway station we merely mutter to a clerk in a box where we want to go ― say ‘How much?’ ― see him horizontally poke a card [an Edmondson ticket] into a little machine that pinches it ― receive our ticket ― take our place ― read our newspaper ― on reaching our terminus, drive away perfectly careless of all or of any one of the innumerable arrangements necessary for the astonishing luxury we have enjoyed.”

The London Quarterly Review, No. CLXVII. (1848).

The London and Birmingham Railway was opened in stages as construction progressed.  A service between Euston and Boxmoor (now Hemel Hempstead station), calling at the intermediate stations of Harrow and Watford, commenced on 20th July 1837:


The public are informed that on and after Thursday, the 20th inst., the Railway will be opened for the conveyance of Passengers and Parcels to and from London and Boxmoor, including the intermediate stations of Harrow and Watford.

First class coaches carry six passengers inside, and each seat is numbered.

Second class coaches carry eight passengers inside, and are covered, but
without lining, cushions or divisions, and the seats are not numbered.

Third class coaches carry four passengers on each seat, and are without

The following, until further notice, will be the times for departure of the Trains on every day except Sundays.


The London Standard, 19th July 1837.

The Morning Post, 16th October 1837


On the 16th October the service was extended to Tring; then, on the 9th April, to a temporary station at Denbigh Hall (Wolverton), a road coach shuttle service being used to bridge the 38-mile gap to Rugby from where, on the same day, a service to Birmingham had also commenced.  On the 17th September 1838, the line was opened throughout, the temporary station at Denbigh Hall being closed shortly afterwards.

Bradshaw’s London and Birmingham Railway timetable for 1839.
2nd class passengers did not have a comfortable journey, especially during the day when the carriages were open-sided.


It is interesting to note that although the Company did not at first offer a third-class service, third-class tickets were offered for the opening of the line to Boxmoor. At a time when agricultural labourers were supporting  their families on between ten and fifteen shillings a week, at 2s. 6d, even a third-class ticket into London would have been prohibitively expensive.  By the time the line was extended to Tring, Company advertising shows that third-class fares were no longer available, the cheapest Boxmoor to Euston (single) fare by then having increased to 3s. 6d.  It is plainly evident that the Company had no interest in attracting the labouring-classes who had to await W. E. Gladstone’s ‘Railway Regulation Act’ of 1844 for a service ― the ‘parliamentary train’ ― that was cheap enough to enable working men to use the railways to find work:

At this period third class passengers fared very badly, in fact, much worse than cattle do nowadays; far from being encouraged, they were tolerated as a necessary nuisance and that was all; but the Manchester and Birmingham Railway led the way to better things, and from the first treated its third-class patrons in a very generous way. Third class accommodation was provided on all the twelve trains which performed the journey each way daily at a rate of some twenty-five miles per hour. This was a great concession, for third class passengers were at this date generally restricted to one or two of the slowest trains of the day, which started at some unearthly hour and performed the journey between its innumerable halts at a leisurely crawl.

The History of the London and North-Western Railway, Wilfred L. Steel (1914).

In January 1842, the railway department of the Board of trade sent out a circular letter to railway companies asking, among other questions, “Whether third-class or other passengers-carriages go with trains partly composed of luggage-waggons.”  In most cases the returns indicated that third-class passengers were conveyed by the same trains as other passengers, but upon the London and Birmingham Railway they were conveyed by a special train along with cattle, horses and empty return-waggons. [1]

A third-class carriage from the earliest days of railway travel.

The seats are so arranged that the whole space of the carriage is accessible by a single door.  Two doors are, however, provided, one opposite to the other, and situated in the middle of the sides of the carriage.  This carriage is adapted to hold about thirty-two persons.  The carriages, which were established on most of the English railways under an order in Parliament, and hence called Parliamentary or Government carriages, closely resemble the one here shown in the position of the doors and arrangement of the seats, but differ from it in accordance with the Parliamentary order in being wholly enclosed, the sides being continued upwards and roofed over and having two or more small glazed openings on each side.

The Practical Railway Engineer, G. D. Dempsey (1855)


From Punch (magazine)

Pity the sorrows of a third-class man,
    Whose trembling limbs with snow are whitened
Who for his fare has paid you all he can:
    Cover him in, and let him freeze no more!

This dripping hat my roofless pen bespeaks,
    So does the puddle reaching to my knees;
Behold my pinch’d red nose—my shrivell’d cheeks:
    You should not have such carriages as these.

In vain I stamp to warm my aching feet,
    I only paddle in a pool of slush;
My stiffen’d hands in vain I blow and beat;
    Tears from my eyes congealing as they gush.

Keen blows the wind; the sleet comes pelting down,
    And here I’m standing in the open air!
Long is my dreary journey up to Town,
    That is, alive, if ever I get there.

Oh! from the weather, when it snows and rains,
    You might as well, at least, defend the poor;
It would not cost you much, with all your gains:
    Cover us in, and luck attend your store.

Today, the Railway Regulation Act is remembered mainly for its requirement that:

one train ― which became known as the parliamentary or government train ― with provision for carrying third-class passengers, should run on every line, every day, in each direction, stopping at every station;

the fare should be 1d. (½p) per mile;

its average speed should not be less than 12 miles per hour;

third-class passengers should be protected from the weather and be provided with seats;

third-class passengers should be allowed to take up to 56 lbs of luggage with them, free of charge.

In his lines in the operetta, The Mikado, the lyricist W. S. Gilbert satirized this slow and inconvenient form of travel thus:

The idiot who, in railway carriages,
Scribbles on window panes,
We only suffer,
To ride on a buffer,
In parliamentary trains.

The Workmen’s Train, an illustration by Gustave Doré


In return for this concession, the railway operator was exempted from paying duty on third-class passengers.

However, train fares remained high, not only for the working classes, but for many potential first and second-class travellers.  The Directors eventually realised that the Company would profit by encouraging more people to travel by train, and that this could best be achieved by reducing ticket prices across the board:

Illustrated London News, 12th October 1844.

Fare reductions were made, and a couple of years later the outcome was reported to Parliament by Richard Creed, the Company Secretary:

Q ― “The Committee understand that the London and Birmingham Railway Company have at different times made reductions in their fares and charges; can you state the particulars of them? ―

A ― In September, 1844, the fares through, between London and Birmingham, were 32s 6d for the mail train; 30s for the ordinary first class; for the second class 25s and 20s; and for the third class 14s.

In October, 1844, they were 30s and 27s for the first class; for the second class 18s; and for the third class 9s 5d.

In April, 1845, they were for the first class 30s, 27s, and 23s; for the second class 18s and 16s; and for the third class 9s 5d.

In May, 1845, we reduced to 27s for the express; and 23s and 20s for the first class; the second class to 17s and 14s; and the third class the same.

In January this year
[1846] the first class were reduced to 25s for the express train; and 20s for the ordinary first class; 14s the second class; and the third class a penny a mile, 9s 5d.

In addition to the above reductions, on the 1st of January, 1845, day tickets were issued at one-third less than the regular fares; so that, while in 1844 a passenger from London to Birmingham and back paid 65s or 60s for the first class, and 50s or 40s for the second class, he now pays only 26s 6d for the first class and 18s 6d for the second class.

Q ― “What is the extent of the difference between the prices charged originally and the present prices? A ― It is exactly one third reduction.

Q ― “Have those reductions been attended in any instance with a loss of revenue? A ― The reductions on the first class in the half year ending 30th of June, 1844, were 17¼ per cent, and it caused an increase in the number of passengers of 19½ per cent. In the second class it was 26 3/5 per cent reduction in the fares, and there was an increase in the number of passengers of 61 1/5 per cent. In the third class the reduction in the fares was 33⅓ per cent, and the increase in the number of passengers 259 per cent. That is the effect of the reductions in the half years ending the 30th June, 1844, and the 30th June, 1845.”

Evidence given by Richard Creed to The Committee on Railway Acts Enactments (26th June 1846).

Points to note are the appearance of the cheap day return and the quite phenomenal increase in third-class travel ― much more so than of first or second-class ― apparently brought about by reduced fares, although the introduction of covered third-class carriages probably played a part.

Stockton and Darlington Railway 2nd-class compartment.

This carriage had compartments for both 1st and 2nd-class passengers.  Comfortable padded seating was provided in 1st-class ― which had additional windows ― wooden benches in 2nd.  As on the stagecoaches of the time, passengers’ luggage was stored on the roof while the guard occupied a rooftop seat (in all weathers).

Another potential cost-saving for the travelling public was that railway companies carried children under the age of ten free, or for a reduced fare, although this concession sometimes gave rise to debate, as illustrated in this Punch cartoon from later in the century:

Guard (taking half-price ticket).
Dignified Little One.

Surely Miss, that young lady is over ten; are you not Miss?
Pray, are you not aware Guard, that it is extremely rude to ask a lady her age?

To return to what the Company considered its ordinary business, the original timetable listed eight trains a day in each direction, of which one terminated at Wolverton.  The two daily mail trains were the expresses of their age, their timings being regulated by the Postmaster General, for The Royal Mail soon recognised the potential that railways offered for streamlining the nation’s postal service.  Mail was first carried by train on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830.  In 1838, the Grand Junction Railway introduced the first travelling post office between Birmingham and Warrington using a converted railway horse-box operated by three mail sorters.

Grand Junction Railway travelling post office (replica), National Railway Museum, York.

Equipment (ca. 1890) used to transfer mail bags to and from a train travelling at speed.

Also in 1838, the London and Birmingham Railway introduced the first lineside apparatus designed to pick up and drop down mail from trains travelling at speed.  This was followed in 1848 by an improved system, with moveable nets fixed to both train and the lineside apparatus.  The ‘Travelling Post Office’, as it became known, was so successful that it gave rise to the ‘Railways (Conveyance of Mails) Act’ later that year, which required all railway companies to carry mail under the direction of the . . . .

“. . . . Postmaster General, by Notice in Writing under his Hand delivered to the Company of Proprietors of any such Railway, to require that the Mails or Post Letter Bags shall from and after the Day to be named in any such Notice (being not less than Twenty-eight Days from the Delivery thereof) be conveyed and forwarded by such Company on their Railway, either by the ordinary Trains of Carriages, or by special Trains, as Need may be, at such Hours or Times in the Day or Night as the Postmaster General shall direct, together with the Guards appointed and employed by the Postmaster General in charge thereof, and any other Officers of the Post Office; and thereupon the said Company shall, from and after the Day to be named in such Notice, at their own Costs, provide sufficient Carriages and Engines on such Railways for the Conveyance of such Mails and Post Letter Bags to the Satisfaction of the Postmaster General, and receive, take up, carry, and convey such ordinary or special Trains of Carriages or otherwise, as Need may be, all such Mails or Post Letter Bags as shall for that Purpose be tendered to them . . . . ”

Cap. XCVIII., An Act to provide for the Conveyance of the mails by railways. R.A. 14th August 1838.

In the first London and Birmingham Railway timetable, the day mail departed from Euston at 9.30 a.m. and from Birmingham at 8.30 a.m.  The journey took five hours, calling at Tring, Wolverton, Weedon, and Coventry; the night mail took 30 minutes longer.  Additionally, there was one first-class train in each direction ― also a five hour journey ― stopping additionally at Watford, Blisworth and Rugby, and five mixed trains, which performed the journey in five and a half hours stopping at all stations (i.e. including Harrow, Boxmoor, Berkhamsted, Leighton, Bletchley, Roade, Blisworth, Crick, Brandon and Hampton).  However, arriving at a station in time to catch a scheduled train depended on knowing the difference between ‘local time’ and that advertised in the railway timetable.

Today, clocks across Great Britain are set to either Greenwich Mean Time or British Summer Time depending on the time of year, but this wasn’t always so.  Before the electric telegraph could be used to broadcast accurate time signals nationwide, time had to be determined locally, midday being when the Sun appeared on the local meridian.  But taking account of the speed of the Earth’s rotation, for every 15º of longitude between two points there is a difference of one hour in the time when midday occurs.  For example, the Sun is on the meridian (i.e. midday) of Birmingham some 7 minutes and 15 seconds later than in London, and this difference was reflected in how clocks were set locally.  Thus, for stations along their lines railway companies published the differences between local time and the times that appeared both in their timetables and on their station clocks:

Cornish’s Guide and Companion to the London and Birmingham Railway (1839).

On 22nd September 1847, the Railway Clearing House (dealt with below) decreed that “GMT be adopted at all stations as soon as the General Post Office permitted it”.  Then, on the London and North Western . . . .

“. . . . as soon as the railway was opened through from London to Holyhead in 1848 the company enforced standardisation according to Greenwich time.  Each morning an Admiralty messenger carried a watch bearing the correct time to the guard on the down Irish Mail leaving Euston for Holyhead.  On arrival at Holyhead the time was passed on to officials on the Kingstown boat who carried it over to Dublin.  On the return mail to-Euston the watch was carried back to the Admiralty messenger at Euston once more.  This was a practice which was taken over from the days of the mail coach and carried on until the outbreak of the Second World War, by which time the spread of telegraphy and the radio had long since rendered it superfluous.  Scottish independence was further undermined by the irresistible spread of the railway.  The Caledonian Railway felt obliged, for reasons of business efficiency, to adopt Greenwich time from the 1st December 1847.

From The Transport Revolution from 1770, Philip S. Bagwell (1974).

By 1855, when Greenwich time signals could be transmitted throughout the telegraph system, it was estimated that 98 percent of Great Britain’s towns and cities were synchronised with GMT.  However, it was not until 2nd August 1880 that a unified standard time for the whole of Great Britain achieved legal status:

“Whenever any expression of time occurs in any Act of Parliament, deed, or other legal instrument, the time referred to shall, unless it is otherwise specifically stated, be held in the case of Great Britain to be mean Greenwich time, and in the case of Ireland, mean Dublin time.”

From The Statutes (Definition of Time) Act, 1880, 43 & 44 Vict. c. 9.




The Company issued its first circular to prospective investors in January, 1831, in which were published the Directors’ initial estimates of construction costs and the revenues they expected from passenger and goods traffic:

Passenger traffic got off to a good start, for even on the partial opening of the line sheer curiosity . . . . .

. . . . brought thousands of passengers; but in the third class open carriages the dust from the roofs of the tunnels and the newly made line, and the hot cinders from the engines, gave them rough travelling.  On October 16th, 1837, the line was further opened to Tring, and on April 9th, to Denbigh Hall.  The stage coaches and mails were conveyed on carriage-trucks to Denbigh Hall, thence by road to Rugby, and the rest of the journey by rail to Birmingham.  The stations were enlivened by the sound of the bugle, but the coach-guards were disgusted with their outside ride on the railway.  The railway guards also had an unpleasant time, for, adhering to old usage they too rode outside on the top of the carriage, where, amidst other disagreeables, their clothes sometimes caught fire.  The roadside stations were enclosed with lofty iron railings, within which the passengers were imprisoned until the train arrived; they were then permitted to rush out to take their places, for which they sometimes had to join in a free fight . . . . The clatter caused by the stone blocks, which were used before the wooden sleepers replaced them, added to the unpleasantness of the journey.  Thus the success of the new mode of conveyance was not then established in the popular mind; and coach proprietors and others interested in its expected failure, still hoped on, and in many cases lost money by their lingering belief in the old system.

Fifty Years on the London and North-Western Railway, David Stevenson (1891).

Contrary to what the Directors expected, the benefits of faster railway conveyance were not so quickly recognised by the shippers and consignees of goods as they had been by passengers, where the general trend was that more journeys by rail were being made than had previously been made by road:

“The attention of the directors has been sedulously given to the means by which the merchandise and cattle traffic may be extended, and they are taking such measures as appear to them conducive to this end.  The proprietors will, however, recollect that this description of traffic will be much longer in accommodating itself to the railway than the passenger traffic.”

Half-yearly meeting reported in The Morning Post, 8th February 1840.

During the Railway’s first complete year of operation ― and despite the “rough travelling” and the “clatter caused by the stone blocks” ― passenger traffic earned revenue of £500,000, well above the Company’s 1831 projection (£331,272).  However, goods traffic did not fare nearly so well, with revenue of £90,000 falling well below estimate (£339,830).  Some types of freight business had at first to be won from the canal companies and from other sources ― for instance cattle, later to become a profitable source of freight revenue, were driven into London along the high roads.  In 1819, the travel writer John Hassell, while visiting the Grand Junction Canal at Tring, reported seeing . . . .

“. . . . herds of cows grazing, and observed a fresh drove of sucklers with their calves coming up to remain for the night, and we found, upon enquiry, that this inn [The Cowroast Inn] was one of the regular stations for the drovers halting their cattle for refreshment; hence I should suppose, the proper name is the Cow Rest, or resting place of those animals, for along the road, and all the way through the breeding and grazing parts of Bucks, Bedfordshire, and Northamptonshire, there is a perpetual supply of cows passing to the Capital . . .”

A Tour of the Grand Junction Canal in 1819, John Hassell.

The Board did not at first consider deadweight freight, such as coal and stone, to be profitable, these being commodities which they felt more appropriate to canal transport where they had been the staple fare from the very start.  But attitudes, especially to coal, gradually changed, and . . . .

“. . . . for more than a hundred years after 1850 the movement of coal was the bread and butter of British railways, the tonnage carried being always well over half the total volume of freight traffic.  In 1865, for instance, the quantity of coal carried by rail was 50 million tons compared with 13 million tons of other minerals (principally iron) and nearly 32 million tons of general merchandise.”

The Transport Revolution 1770-1985, Philip S. Bagwell (1974).

Indeed, trainloads of coal were later to choke the line into London, leading, in 1859, to a third track being laid between Willesden and Bletchley in an attempt to relieve the congestion.

The Weekly Herald, 27th October 1839

Other than the traffic figures, an item referred to in the Secretary’s Report for the first year of operation was the cost of repairs to stations and the permanent way, in particular, the continuing expense of repairing damage dues to slippage ― “. . . . the late extraordinary and continued rains, acting upon works of great magnitude and recent formation, caused a more than ordinary subsidence of all principal embankments . . . .”  In an effort to reduce its maintenance costs, the Board had outsourced civil engineering repairs at a fixed price per mile, but there were “a few embankments and cuttings, which, from their peculiar liability to slips, could not well be contracted for at present” and they were excluded from this arrangement.  In these cases repairs would “by the conditions of the contract, to be paid for as extras for a limited period.”  Indeed, the line was to experience further substantial slips, such as that in Bugbrooke cutting in 1842.

At the half-yearly meeting held in February 1841, the Secretary was able to report that traffic for the six months ended December 1840 exceeded that of any preceding half-year, and that revenue of £406,040 was £61,846 more than in the preceding period.  Despite the initially poor performance of goods traffic, the dividend paid to shareholders for 1839 was just over 8⅓%; this increased to 8⅞% for 1840, 10 per cent for 1841, and in 1842 it peaked at just over 11 per cent (£100 ordinary shares were then changing hands for as much as £223) before dropping back to 10% for 1843.

The arrival platform at Euston, c.1839.



Bedsides turning in a good profit for its shareholders, the Railway was also achieving a good safety record, which undoubtedly helped encourage passenger travel in an age when for most its use was a considerable step into the unknown.  Take, for example, the fear of passing in a train through a tunnel, which appears to have caused some prospective passengers great unease to the extent that the Company felt obliged to obtain several suitably qualified professional opinions:

“Great prejudice once existed against tunnels, arising entirely from ignorance; and the directors in order to quiet the minds of the public, had a special visit to the Primrose-hill Tunnel made by Drs, Paris and Watson, Surgeons Lawrence and Lucas, and Mr. Phillips the Lecturer on Chemistry ― the object being to ascertain the probable effect of such a tunnel on the health and feelings.  The atmosphere of the tunnel was found to be dry, of an agreeable temperature, and free from smell.  The lamps of the carriages were lighted; and in their transit inwards, and back again to the mouth of the tunnel, the sensation experienced was precisely that of travelling in a coach by night, between the walls of a narrow street.  The noise did not prevent easy conversation, nor appear to be much greater in the tunnel than in the open air.  Judging from this experiment, and knowing the ease and certainty with which thorough ventilation may be effected, these gentlemen were decidedly of opinion that no danger occurred in passing through well-constructed tunnels; and that the apprehensions which had been expressed, that such tunnels are likely to prove detrimental to the health and unpleasant to travellers, were perfectly futile and groundless; and to these opinions they all signed their names.”

The London and Birmingham Railway, Roscoe and Lecount (1839).

Regardless of the travelling public’s fear of the unknown, during the Railway’s first year of operation there had been no serious accidents to passengers, which the Secretary attributed in his half-yearly report to the careful observance of the Company’s well considered “regulations”:

“In referring to the progressively-increasing traffic of the railway, as evinced by the half-yearly reports, the directors may be allowed to notice the gratifying fact, that out of 1,483,123 passengers, conveyed on an average sixty-five miles and a quarter each, from the 17th September, 1838, to the 31st December last, according to the Stamp Office returns, not one accident attended with loss of life or limb to a passenger has occurred, although during the whole of this period the works were undergoing those extensive repairs which are inseparable from great excavations and embankments, and requiring the frequent passage along the line of trains heavily laden with materials.  If, then, under these circumstances of disadvantage, the directors are enabled to exhibit results which in the infancy of the undertaking could only have been attained by regulations well considered, and, with few exceptions, carefully observed, it must be admitted that railways afford ample assurance for the safety of travelling, and that the London and Birmingham line posses resources adequate to any extent of traffic.”

Half-yearly meeting reported in The Morning Post, 13th February 1841.

In the opinion of W. L. Steel, historian of the London and North-Western Railway, the Company’s regulations “were somewhat severe”:

“At all the stations on the line was exhibited the following notice: The public are hereby informed that all the companys servants are strictly enjoined to observe the utmost civility and attention towards all passengers; and the directors request that any instance to the contrary may be noted by the offended party in a book kept at each station for that purpose, and called the Passengers Note Book.  But although the companys servants were thus strictly enjoined to observe civility, the passengers were by no means without obligations which they had to carry out, for the companys bye-laws were both numerous and stringent.  The company announced that upwards of 200 men are sworn in as special constables and policemen to enforce a proper attention to the rules of the establishment.  The rules of the establishment were somewhat severe, and it was some time before the force of competition caused them to be relaxed; for instance, on no account were persons allowed on the platform to see their friends off, dogs were only conveyed at the minimum charge of ten shillings, whilst there was a rule for preventing the smoking of tobacco and the commission of other nuisances.

The History of the London and North-Western Railway, Wilfred L. Steel (1914).

Railway Official. “You’d better not smoke, Sir!”
Traveller. “That’s what my friends say.”
Railway Official. “But you musn’t smoke, Sir!”
Traveller. “So my doctor tells me.”
Railway Official (indignantly). “But you shan’t smoke, Sir!”
Traveller. “That’s what my wife says.”  (From Punch)

The “
rules of the establishment” that Steel refers to were derived from the 1833 Act, which gave to the Company . . . .

. . . . full power and authority from time to time to make such Bye-laws, Orders, and Rules, as to them shall seem expedient for the good government of the Officers and Servants of the said Company, and for the regulating the proceedings, and reimbursing the expenses of the said Directors; and for the management of the said undertaking in all respects whatsoever; and from time to time to alter or repeal such Bye-laws, Orders, and Rules, or any of them, and to make others and to impose and inflict such reasonable fines and forfeitures upon all persons offending against the same, as to the said Company shall seem meet . . . .”

Section CLIV., 3 Gulielmi IV. Cap xxxvi., R.A. 6th May 1833.

. . . . under which authority were published a set of bye-laws, which, despite Steel’s reservations, seem no more onerous than those of today ― indeed, the smoking ban, both on trains and on station premises, was years ahead of its time, while the absence of a guard’s van on today’s trains and the very limited space available on luggage racks imposes its own restriction on the amount of
“Luggage accompanying a Passenger”.  The regulations were often reproduced in a condensed form in the numerous railway travel guides of the day, and if they did not represent an attention-gripping read, at least an attempt to read them probably induced a suitably soporific remedy to a monotonous journey:

The London and Birmingham Railway Regulations, c. 1839.

These Regulations were condensed from the “
Bye-laws” at Appendix I., which were also reproduced in some of the railway travel guides.



The entrance to Euston Station . . . .

“. . . . On that great covered platform, which with others adjoining it, is lighted from above by 8,797 square yards (upwards of an acre and three quarters) of plate glass, are to be seen congregated and moving to and fro in all directions, in a sort of Babel confusion, people of all countries, of all religions, and of all languages. People of high character, of low character, of no character at all.  Infants just beginning life ― old people just ending it.  Many desirous to be noticed ― many, from innumerable reasons, good, bad, and indifferent, anxious to escape notice.  Some are looking for their friends ― some suddenly turning upon their heels, are evidently avoiding their acquaintance.”

The London Quarterly Review, No. CLXVII. (1849).

Above: replica Liverpool and Manchester Railway first-class carriage on display at the National Railway Museum, York.

Below: perhaps a little cramped, nonetheless 1st-class passengers travelled in comparative comfort.

Timetables show that when the line was first opened there was only two classes of travel.  First-class carriages looked much like three stagecoach bodies mounted on a common chassis.  Judging by the Liverpool and Manchester railway example on display at the National Railway Museum, passengers travelled in comfortable conditions, if rather cramped by modern standards.  In his Road Book of the London and Birmingham Railway, James Drake describes what a first-class passenger could expect in 1839:

“Upon examining the internal fittings up of the carriages, upon which so much of the comfort of his journey will depend, the traveller will find that the first class carriages are divided into three entirely distinct compartments, and these compartments into six divisions (except in the mails in which there are only four) so that each traveller has an entire seat to himself, in which he can recline as freely and comfortably as in the most luxurious arm chair; and after the shades of evening have gathered over the scenery, can read the news of the day, or turn over the pages of our little volume by the light of a lamp, which is fixed in the roof of the coach.”

Second-class, however, sounded grim, especially for those travelling in the ‘day coaches’ (see below) in a cold, wet and windy weather, and to exacerbate their discomfort the horse-hair buffers between coaches would have added jolts to the noise and vibration from travelling over rails laid on stone block sleepers:

“The second class carriages are, however, of a very different character.  These cushionless, windowless, curtainless, comfortless vehicles, seem to have been purposely constructed so that the sweeping wind, enraged at being outstripped in his rapid flight, might have an opportunity of wreaking his vengeance upon the shrinking forms of their ill-fated occupants.  At night, however, the partnership of the railway with Messrs. Rheumatism and Co. is dissolved, and even second class passengers are provided with shelter from the cold and chilling blast.”


Note the roof luggage racks and the outside seats for the guards.

In The Iron Road Book and Railway Companion, Francis Coghlan offers helpful advice to those unfortunate second-class passengers:

“In the second-class carriages, or rather waggons, there is certainly a preference to be observed.  In the first place, get as far from the engine as possible ― for three reasons:― First, should an explosion take place, you may happily get off with the loss of an arm or a leg ― whereas if you should happen to be placed near the said piece of hot machinery, and an unfortunate accident really occur, you would very probably be smashed to smithereens . . . . Secondly ― the vibration is very much diminished the further you are away from the engine. Thirdly ― always sit (if you can get a seat) with your back towards the engine, against the boarded part of the waggon; by this plan you will avoid being chilled by a cold current of air which passes through these open waggons, and also save you from being nearly blinded by the small cinders which escape through the funnel.”

When the Company introduced third-class travel, passengers in that social strata inherited the second-class day coaches, leaving second-class passengers at least the comfort of compartments enclosed from the elements.

Most of the Company’s railway carriages at this date were built by Joseph Wright, formerly a London coach builder, who in the early part of the 19th century was both contractor to the Royal Mail and owner of most of the stagecoaches then running between London and Birmingham.  Wright was a man of outstanding ability and foresight.  Having closely watched the birth and early development of the railways, he realised that the stagecoach era was drawing to a close.  In the early 1840s he began to manufacture railway carriages utilising his company’s skill and experience of coach building to the full, as is evident from some of his early railway carriage designs:

“The Company’s establishment at Euston Station, which is therefore principally for the maintenance of carriages of various descriptions running between London and Birmingham, consists of a large area termed ‘the Field,’ where under a covering almost entirely of plate-glass, are no less than fourteen sets of rails, upon which wounded or spare carriages lie until doctored or required.  Immediately adjoining are various workshops, the largest of which is 260 feet in length by 132 in breadth, roofed with plate-glass, lighted by gas, and warmed by hot air.  In this edifice in which there is a strong smell of varnish, and in the corner of which we found men busily employed in grinding beautiful colours, while others were emblazoning arms on panels, are to be seen carriages highly finished as well as in different stages of repair.  Among the latter there stood a severely wounded second-class carriage. Both its sides were in ruins, and its front had been so effectively smashed that not a vestige of it remained.  The iron-work of the guard’s step was bent completely upwards, and a tender behind was nearly filled with the confused debris of its splendid wood-work ― and yet, strange to say, a man, his wife, and their little child, who had been in this carriage during its accident, had providentially sustained no injury.”

The London Quarterly Review, Volume LXXXIV (1849).

As early as 1844, Wright patented improvements to railway carriages, in which 4, 6 and 8-wheeled bogies appeared, ideas that in many respects were 50 years in advance of general carriage-building practice.


Some depictions of early railway travel,
from the Illustrated London News, 1847  . . . .
‘Epsom races’

The ticket office.





As the railways grew, the demand for rolling stock was such that Joseph Wright decided to build a new factory where more space was cheaply available.  Lying at the confluence of the London & Birmingham, the Grand Junction and the Birmingham & Derby Junction railways, among others, and in a position in close proximity to the coal and iron districts, Birmingham was a good location.  In 1845, he leased land at Saltley on which to build his new factory, which, when completed, contained “the newest and most expeditious mechanical appliances” and consisted of “workshops, offices, a wharf and other buildings” and included “engines, boilers and other machinery”.

After becoming established at Saltley, Wright disposed of his works in London.  When he died in 1859, the business was continued by his son Joseph under its original name until, in 1862, it became the ‘Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd’.  The firm later became part of ‘Metro-Cammell, and today is a constituent of the Alstom group.

An unusual class of passenger soon to be conveyed in the carriages of the London and Birmingham Railway was the military ― probably the only instance of passenger traffic being won from the Railway’s competitor, the Grand Junction Canal Company, who had formerly undertaken troop movements.  In early Victorian England, there were very few police forces to suppress civil unrest, and when such action was felt necessary, the Government and factory owners called in the army, the Peterloo Massacre (Manchester, 1819) being the most notorious  occasion.  The year 1842 is believed to be the first in which the new railway system was used to deploy troops to quell civil unrest ― the picture below shows troops marching through the Euston Arch amidst a throng of jeering protesters toward the train that will take them to Manchester.

Troops marching through Euston’s Doric Arch, en route to Manchester,
The Illustrated London News, 20th August 1842.

The reason for this particular troop movement is tied up with the political situation of the day, particularly the lack of voting rights ― very few men and no women were entitled to vote at elections.  Out of this injustice emerged the ‘Chartist’ movement, its name being derived from the formal petition or ‘People’s Charter’ that listed the movement’s main aims:

1.    a vote for all men (over 21);
2.    the secret ballot;
3.    no property qualification to become an MP;
4.    payment for MPs;
5.    electoral districts of equal size;
6.    annual elections for Parliament.

Support for Chartism peaked at times of economic depression and hunger, and 1842 was a time when many working-class people badly wanted political reform.  Unemployment and near-starvation brought rioting to Stockport and to Manchester, where workers protested against wage cuts.  Other areas most affected were the Midlands, Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, and the Strathclyde region of Scotland.  With Chartist activists in the forefront, demands for the provisions of the Charter to become law were included with economic demands.  The Government’s reaction was to send in the army to stamp out the unrest, the troops being conveyed to the scene of action by train:

Immediately after the conclusion of the deliberations of the Cabinet Council, which occupied upwards of two hours, orders were forwarded from the Horse Guards to Woolwich, for a party of of the Royal Artillery to hold themselves in instant readiness to depart for Manchester; and a similar order was despatched to St. George’s Barracks, Charing-cross, for the departure of the third battalion of the Grenadier Guards, stationed at that barracks, for the same destination, via the London and Birmingham Railway . . . . About six o’clock a detachment of 150 of the Royal Artillery left Woolwich, having in charge four heavy pieces of ordnance, each drawn by four horses, and accompanied by numerous waggons, containing ammunition, baggage, stores, and accoutrements, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, and proceeded at the terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway . . . . LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM RAILWAY, SUNDAY, ― This morning, as early as nine o’clock, another troop of Royal Horse Artillery arrived from Woolwich at the Euston Station of the London and Birmingham Railway, with three field pieces and ammunition.  About 4 o’clock, the Quartermaster of the 34th Foot, from Portsmouth, attended by an orderly, arrived, and ordered refreshment to be procured from the various public-houses for that regiment, which was en route by the South Western Railway from Portsmouth.  The great excitement at this time prevailed, the Quartermaster being obliged to be escorted from the various public-houses by the police.  In an hour after, two waggons, laden with ammunition and guarded by several soldiers of the 34th came up, and was shortly after followed by the regiment, under the command of Colonel Airey, consisting of 600 men.  On their arrival they were greeted the the most discordant yelling by the mob, and it was as much as the police could do to prevent them from forcing an entry into the railway yard.”

The Illustrated London News, 20th August 1842.

Troops firing on protesters at Preston.
The Illustrated London News, 20th August 1842.

But in general, the early travel writers were complimentary about the treatment they received on arriving at Euston, albeit from the Company’s officials rather than a howling mob.  The following is a typical introduction to Euston Station:

“On arriving in a cab at the Euston Station, the old-fashioned traveller is at first disposed to be exceedingly pleased at the new-born civility with which, the instant the vehicle stops, a porter opening its door with surprising alacrity, most obligingly takes out every article of his luggage; but so soon suddenly finds out that the officious green, straight-buttoned-up officials object has been solely to get the cab off the premises, in order to allow the string of variegated carriages that are slowly following to advance; in short, that while he was paying to the driver, say only two shining shillings, his favourite great-coat, his umbrella, portmanteau, carpet-bag, Russia leather writing-case, secured by Chubb’s patent lock, have all vanished; he poignantly feels like poor Johnson, that his ‘patron has encumbered him with help;’ and it having been the golden maxim of his life never to lose sight of his luggage, it gravels and dyspepsias him beyond description to be civilly told that on no account can he be allowed to follow it, but that ‘he will find it on the platform;’ and truly enough the prophecy is fulfilled; for there he does find it on a barrow in charge the very harlequin who whipped it away, and who, as its guardian angel, hastily muttering the words ‘Now, then, Sir!’ stands beckoning him to advance . . . .

Now them ma’am, is this your luggage?
A John Leech cartoon from Punch.

When every person has succeeded in liberating himself or herself from the train, it is amusing to observe how cleverly, from long practice, the Companys porters understand the apparent confusion which exists.  To people wishing to embrace their friends ― to gentlemen and servants darting in various directions straight across the platform to secure a cab or in search of private carriages ― they offer no assistance whatever, well knowing that none is required.  But to every passenger whom they perceive to be either restlessly moving backwards and forwards, or standing still, looking upwards in despair, they civilly say ‘This way Sir!’ ‘Here it is Ma’am!’ ― and thus, knowing what they want before they ask, they conduct them either to the particular carriage on whose roof their baggage has been placed, or to the luggage van in front of the train, from which it has already been unloaded onto the platform.”

The London Quarterly Review, No. CLXVII. (1849).



The names of several people who played some part in the early history of the London and Birmingham Railway crop up, and then disappear just as suddenly.  Peter Lecount (whose name peppers these pages) is one such person, another is Ashlin Bagster.

If a large organisation is to achieve its business objectives it requires an administrative system ― a bureaucracy if you like ― through which the board can exercise control.  The London and Birmingham Railway Company was no exception and it is in this context that the name of  Ashlin Bagster appears fleetingly.  Had he lived beyond his thirtieth birthday he might ― as the two references to him suggest ― have achieved great things in railway company administration.

Leicester Journal, 25th September 1835.

While still in his early twenties, Ashlin Bagster was appointed Manager of the 16-mile Leicester and Swannington Railway.  Engineered by Robert Stephenson and opened in 1832, the line was essentially a colliery railway built to serve local pits, but it supplemented its modest income by carrying passengers.  Following a level crossing collision between a locomotive and a cartload of farm produce, Bagster suggested to George Stephenson that locomotives be fitted with steam whistles, and Stephenson duly patented his ‘steam trumpet’.  It is to Stephenson that credit for the invention of the steam locomotive whistle is generally given.

Bagster appears to have been sufficiently efficient in his role for Robert Stephenson to suggest his appointment as General Manager of the London and Birmingham Railway, a considerable advance in status:

“We may, in the course of this work, digress a little upon the effects which this new system of travelling will produce; but we do not propose to stop here, further than to notice that the whole code of laws regulating the immense machinery of the passenger traffic of this vast undertaking, may be said to have emanated from Ashlin Bagster, Esq., a gentleman who holds the appointment of agent to the Company for this department of traffic; and under whose management we have no doubt, from his talents and the experience he possesses in such undertakings, the most beneficial results will accrue to the shareholders of the concern; whilst the public will have every reason to find that their comfort and safety have been alike provided for.”

The London and Birmingham Railway, Roscoe and LeCount (1839).

Much of Bagster’s correspondence survives in the National Archives.  The index to the collection alone makes interesting reading, for it illustrates succinctly the wide diversity of subjects that Bagster was called upon to deal with.  The following are just a few examples:



Two receiving houses for parcels in London needed.


The parcels vans cost £35-£40 each, we need three. Tarpaulins are required to protect luggage on the roof.


12 feet turntables delivered.


We have no drawbar chains to any of the coaches.


The sidings and turnpoints at Boxmoor are decidedly backward.


re erecting of small dwellings at each road station.


Method of accounts presentation.


Application to sell newspapers at stations.


O’Connor the constable fined 20/- by the Magistrates for being drunk.


476 sheep successfully loaded as trial from Boxmoor.


Complaints of derailments and damage.


Intoxicated person injured jumping out of train to rescue hat.


Application from porter whose arm was fractured between buffers and amputated.


Derailment of passenger train near Harrow road gates.


Is the Parcels Office to open on Sundays?


Bye laws notices to be framed and exhibited.


Inspectors are selected from the most deserving of the police.


Report two cows killed on the line.


Report of station clerk bad conduct and was dismissed.


Report lighting the mail and second class carriages ― cost of lamps.


Fish traffic ― our proposed charge is 1½d a pound.


Re additional clerks, and salary increases for junior clerks etc.

Taking one letter from the bundle, Bagster wrote to the Company Secretary, Richard Creed, on the 20th April 1837, asking him to bring to the Committee’s attention the following “principal preliminary arrangements for the conveyance of passengers”, on which he awaited top management decisions:

Passenger fares, and whether the trains are intended to travel in classes, or mixed carriages.
Fares of children under 10 years of age.
Weight of luggage to be allowed to each passenger.
Rate for conveying 4 wheeled carriages.
ditto 1 horse 4 wheeled and gigs.
Arrangements for persons [travelling] in their own vehicles.
Rate for conveying 1 horse or pony.
ditto two
ditto three   (one truck will contain three horses.)
Scale of rates for conveyance of parcels.
Protecting notice boards, and boards of rates.
Numbering of carriages, and whether to extend to any, but the first class coaches, lighting of the coaches by lamps.
Admission of coaches into station yard.
Mode of appropriation of area in front of station.
Organisation of police force, on station and the line.
Appointment of clerks, guards (2 to each train), porters, gatekeepers, enginemen, firemen and bankriders.
Uniforms of guards, policemen and porters.
Supply of gas     (of gasometer).
Supply of water.
Clocks and bells to announce starting.
Office fitting, safes, heating apparatus.
Insurance of buildings and carriages.
Hours of departure
Sunday travelling
City receiving house for parcels.
Charge for booking or delivering parcels.

In the same letter, Bagster suggested to the Committee that the following “should form part of the general regulation of traffic”:

No gratuity permitted to attendants.

Smoking prohibited on the station, or in carriages.

No dogs admitted (not even lap dogs).

Applicants intoxicated to be excluded.

Passengers behind time, to have half fare returned, if on same day.

Passengers losing tickets to pay again.

Trains never to stop but at fixed stations.

Company’s servants or their friends, prohibited travelling free on the railway.

Bagster did not remain with the Company for long.  He left to take up an appointment as Manager of the North Midland Railway, but his tenure there was also short lived, for he died in July 1839.

“I was introduced to Mr. Ashlin Bagster, who had been appointed, at the nomination of Mr. Robert Stephenson, to be the first manager of the London and Birmingham line: a tall and serious-looking gentleman, who shook his head when, at his bidding, I copied a letter as a specimen of my hand-writing.  I was, however, appointed a cadet in his office at a salary of twenty pounds per annum; the first clerk to the first manager of the railway! . . . . The details of the preparation for the opening fell upon Mr. Bagster, at a salary of £400 per annum, and his small band of assistants at Euston, at salaries from £20 to £150.  This gentleman provided many of the methods and forms which were adopted afterwards by most of the railways, and which still remain in use.  Of those who took part in the preparations only a few rose to distinction in the development of railways.  Mr. Bagster left the London and Birmingham, and took service on a northern line, but died early . . . .”

Fifty years on the London & North Western Railway, by David Stevenson (1891).



A booking office.

When the Railway first opened, from the passenger’s perspective the method of booking a seat remained virtually unchanged from the stagecoach era ― indeed, that was the origin of the term ‘booked’:

“Passengers were booked just as they were for the stage coaches, and their names and destination all written in the book, and it was some considerable time before tickets were introduced; everything connected with the passenger department was copied from the coaches, and for some time a trumpeter played a tune on the horn as the trains departed from the terminal stations.”

History of the London and North- Western Railway, Wilfred L. Steele (1914).

Steele is here referring to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, but in Fifty Years on the London and North-Western Railway David Stevenson gives a similar description of London and Birmingham practice, although by the time the Railway had opened throughout the system appears to have been somewhat streamlined by the use of colour-coded tickets:

“On paying your fare at either of the Booking offices in London or at the stations, tickets are given, coloured according to the class carriage you are going in.  In London they give pink for the first class, white for the second: along the line, and at Birmingham, the colours are ― first class, yellow, second, blue.”

The Iron Road Book and Railway Companion, Francis Coghlan (1838).

Colour coding assisted aspects of railway accounting and made what today is referred to euphemistically as ‘revenue protection’ easier for the ticket inspector:

“The tickets, which should be of different colours for up and down, and for each class of carriage, should be collected by the guards from the passengers at the last station before the termination of their journey, the upper guard taking the first class, and the under the second class, a ticket collector accompanying the upper guard to receive the tickets and money where excess fares occur, and a trusty porter doing the same with the under guard.  The tickets, when collected, should be given to the head booking-clerk for assortment, and by him sent to the principal office the following morning, except where passengers get down at any out-station, in which case their tickets are to be collected by a man stationed for that purpose at a wicket, where only one person can get through at a time; and the collector must see that each ticket is issued to take the bearer to the station where he has got down.  When passengers are going from this last station to the terminus, they should all be put in the carriages previous to the guard going round to collect the tickets, that he may get theirs also.”

A Practical Treatise on Railways, Peter Lecount (1839).

An Edmondson Ticket.

Two further important refinements were soon made to the ticketing system.  The first to arrive, in 1839, was the ‘Edmondson railway ticket’, which formed the basis of a system for recording the payment of railway fares and accounting for the revenue received.  It was the brainchild of Thomas Edmondson (1792-1851), who introduced it on the Manchester and Leeds Railway to replace the stagecoach system, by which a booking clerk wrote out a ticket ― name, destination and fare ― in manuscript for each passenger, the counterfoil being retained in the booking office.  While this long-winded task was being performed, long queues formed at busy stations.

The pre-printed Edmondson tickets ― a card cut to 1 7⁄32 by 2 1⁄4 inches, with a nominal thickness of 1⁄32 inches ― were not only faster to issue, but their serial numbers provided accountability, since, at the end of each day, ticket clerks were required to reconcile their takings against the serial numbers of the unsold tickets.  This prevented unscrupulous clerks from pocketing the fares.  Tickets of different types and to different destinations were stored in racks within a lockable cupboard, where the lowest remaining number of each issue was visible.  Different colours and patterns helped distinguish the different types of tickets, which were date-stamped on issue.


Carlisle Journal, 31st August 1839.

Edmondson-type ticket dating machine and box of date stamps.

Example of an Edmondson cabinet and ticket storage racks.



The Edmondson ticket did not enter widespread use until after the creation of the second important refinement in the ticketing system, the ‘Railway Clearing House’.  This organisation was set up to manage the allocation of passenger and freight revenue collected by railway companies for journeys that were to be made, in part, over the lines of different companies.

The Edmondson system coped well with ticketing and accounting for journeys made over a single company’s system, but as the railway network grew, single journeys became longer and inevitably crossed the boundaries of other railway systems.  Thus, ‘through charging’ became desirable to avoid passengers having to re-book their journey wherever this occurred, a requirement that applied equally to freight. [2]  A system was therefore required to enable passenger and freight revenue to be divided equitably between the various railway companies that had provided whatever resources were necessary to complete a journey.

These two illustrations show the mayhem that resulted during the transhipment of goods and passengers at Gloucester, where Brunel’s broad gauge met the standard gauge.  However, they also illustrates the problem resulting from the absence of ‘through charging’ arrangements between adjoining railway companies, which the Railway Clearing House resolved.

In 1842, an idea that originated within the audit department of the London and Birmingham Railway led to the formation of the Railway Clearing House (RCH):

“As the railways had not adopted a uniform system of keeping their accounts, the division of these receipts led to much controversy between the different lines, and this, in many instances, delayed the introduction of through facilities.  Accordingly, it occurred to Mr. Morison, an audit clerk [3] on the London and Birmingham Railway, that if a Clearing House, on the model of the Bankers Clearing House, was established, and authorised to divide all the through receipts between the different railways on an uniform system, it would put an end to the bickerings between the companies, and at the same time lead to the introduction of many new facilities.  Mr. Morison brought his scheme to the notice of Mr. Glyn, the Chairman of the London and Birmingham, and the latter enthusiastically took up the idea, with the result that in 1842 the Railway Clearing House was started, under the auspices of nine companies, with Mr. Glyn as Chairman, and Mr. Morison as its first manager.”

The History of the London & North Western Railway, Wilfred L. Steel (1914).

In years to come, the RCH was to have enormous impact in enabling the smooth operation of inter-company accounting and the prompt settlement of outstanding balances ― it was in the processing of passenger transactions that the Edmondson ticket came into its own, eventually becoming adopted universally.

Initially, the RCH handled traffic receipts for the through conveyance of goods, passengers, parcels and live stock between London and Darlington in one direction, and between Manchester and Hull in the other.  Nine railway companies were admitted to participate in the business, these being the London and Birmingham, Midland Counties, Birmingham and Derby Junction, North Midland, Hull and Selby, Manchester and Leeds, Leeds and Selby, York and North Midland, and Great North of England.  By 1845, membership had increased to sixteen companies operating 656 route-miles of track.  In 1842, receipts were £193,246; by 1876, they were upwards of £16,000,000; and by 1933, £34,000,000. [4]

The traffic returns of the different railway companies were checked at the Railway Clearing House.  The (Edmondson) tickets surrendered to the collectors at the end of journeys were despatched to the RCH each month.  This illustration shows how they are sorted into order so that the returns may be checked.”  From Railway Wonders of the World, July 1935.

Sorting railway tickets in the Railway Clearing House c.1935.

A prospective passenger can walk into any station booking-office in Great Britain and purchase a ticket for practically any other station in the country ― and that ticket will take him right through to his destination, irrespective of the ownership of the lines over which he may have to travel.”    From Railway Wonders of the World, July 1935.

So important did the RCH become, that its function became enshrined in law, first in ‘The Railway Clearing Act (1850)’, the preamble to which succinctly states the organisation’s purpose:


13 & 14 Vict., Cap. xx xiii.

An Act for regulating legal Proceedings by or against the Committee of Railway Companies associated under the Railway Clearing System, and for other Purposes. [25th June, 1850.]

Whereas, for some Time past, Arrangements have subsisted between several Railway Companies for the Transmission without Interruption of the through Traffic in Passengers, Animals, Minerals, and Goods passing over different Lines of Railway, for the Purpose of affording, in respect to such Passengers, Animals, Minerals and Goods, the same or the like Facilities as if such Lines had belonged to One Company; which Arrangements are commonly known as and in this Act are designated as the ‘Clearing System’ and which Arrangements are conducted under the Superintendence of a Committee appointed by the Boards of Directors of such several Railway Companies, which Committee is in this Act designated ‘the Committee;’ and the Business of such Committee has heretofore been and is now carried on at a Building appropriated for the Purpose in Seymour Street
[now Eversholt Street] adjoining the Euston Station of the London and North-western Railway Company: And whereas the Clearing System has been productive of great Convenience to the Public, and of a considerable Saving of Expense in the Transmission of Passengers, Animals, Minerals, and Goods over the Lines of the Railway Companies Parties to such Association; but considerable Difficulty has been experienced in carrying into the Objects of the Association, in consequence of the Committee not possessing the Power of prosecuting or defending Actions or Suits, or taking other legal Proceedings: And whereas George Carr Glynn, Esquire, is the present Chairman, Kenneth Morison is the present Secretary, of the Committee: And whereas the Purposes aforesaid cannot be effected without the Authority of Parliament: May it therefore Your Majesty that it may be enacted and be it enacted; That the several Companies which at the Time of the of this Act are Parties to the Clearing System, and every other Company which shall in manner hereafter become Party to the same, shall be subject to the Provisions of this Act.

Further Acts followed, the main purpose of the of the ‘Railway Clearing Committee Incorporation Act’ (1897) being to incorporate the RCH and . . . .

“To confer upon the Railway Clearing House as so incorporated, the power of acquiring, holding, receiving, possessing, and disposing of lands and other property, and of suing and being sued, and prosecuting and defending criminal proceedings, and all other usual and incidental rights, powers, .and privileges of a corporate body.

The London Gazette, 24th November 1897.




The 1836 Act empowered the Company to carry goods in a manner similar to that of canal companies.  Canal companies provided a waterway on which, for payment of a toll, carriers’ barges could ply laden with goods that they had contracted to carry.  Generally speaking, the businesses and carriers that used the canals provided their own wharfs, docks and warehouses. [5]  In a similar manner, the London and Birmingham Railway Company Act envisaged that the carriers would bring in the business and that the Company would charge them a toll for the use of the line, the rate depending on the type of freight and distance carried.  It would also provide the locomotives and wagons and, for an extra charge, warehouse facilities:

“CLXXI. And be it further enacted, That all Persons shall have free Liberty to pass along and upon and to use and employ the said Railway, with Carriages properly constructed as by this Act directed, upon Payment only of such Rates and Tolls as shall be demanded by the said Company, not exceeding the respective Rates or Tolls by this Act authorized, and subject to the Rules and Regulations which shall from Time to Time be made by the said Company or by the said Directors, by virtue of the Powers to them respectively by this Act granted . . . .

“CLXXIV. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the said Company and they are hereby empowered to provide locomotive Engines or other Power for the drawing or propelling of any Articles, Matters, or Things, Persons, Cattle, or Animals, upon the said Railway, and to receive, demand, and recover such Sums of Money for the Use of such Engines or other Power as the said Company shall think proper, in addition to the several other Rates, Tolls, or Sums by this Act authorized to be taken.”

3 GUL. IV. Cap. xxxvi. RA 6th May 1833.

The provision of locomotives was extended in the second Act to include wagons:

“CXIX . . . . That it shall be lawful for the said Company to provide or hire, use and employ, locomotive Engines or other Power, Coaches, Waggons, and other Carriages, and with such locomotive Engines or other Power, Coaches, Waggons and Carriages, or any other Coaches, Waggons, and Carriages, to carry and convey, as well upon and along the said Railway as upon and along any other Railway or Railways, all such Articles, Matters, or Things, Persons, Cattle, or Animals, as shall be offered to them for that Purpose, and to make such reasonable Charges for such Carriage or Conveyance not exceeding the Amount specified in the said recited Act, as they may determine on . . . . ”

5 & 6 Gulielmi IV. Cap. lvi. RA 3rd July 1835.

Thus, in conformity with the Acts’ provisions . . . .

“. . . . The system adopted by the London and Birmingham Company was the open one of allowing all carriers to use the line.  The railway company stipulated that they should supply the locomotive power at agreed rates, and that for the use of the road certain tolls should be levied. [Appendix II.]  These constituted the whole and sole account between the company and the carriers.  The latter collected and delivered the goods, took all risks upon themselves, and provided they paid to the railway company its dues, every needful facility was given to them to carry on their business.  The tolls and haulage rate were so regulated, that whilst on the one hand they contributed a handsome profit to the railway exchequer, they were on the other sufficiently reasonable to allow the carriers to conduct their business to a profit.  In this there was mutuality -- an essential ingredient in all business arrangements.  The competition amongst the carriers was the security which the public had against unfair charges.”

Railway Management, John Whitehead (1848).

However, the open competition carrying system used by the London and Birmingham was not adopted universally:

“An opinion pretty extensively prevails that the railway companies are the carriers of goods on their own railways; but this is true only to a partial extent.  Three modes of proceeding are adopted by different railways in this respect: ― 1. as on the Grant Junction Railway; the Company being their own carriers: 2. as on the London and Birmingham Railway; the Company having nothing to do as carriers, but allowing the regular carriers to use the railway on payment of a certain toll: 3. as on a few minor railways in the north of England, where both the other systems are combined, the Company and the carriers competing one with another.  The comparative advantages and disadvantages of these three systems form an intricate subject, into which we do not propose to enter; both in committee-rooms of the House of Commons and in courts of law, questions of much difficulty have arisen in respect of one or other of these systems.  It happens, however, that on the railway which forms the great artery between the metropolis and the manufacturing districts, viz., the London and Birmingham, the system of open competition is adopted; and the very nature of this competition, coupled with the immense extent of the daily traffic to the metropolis, render this railway a peculiarly advantageous one for watching the communicating machinery which links the Manchester or Birmingham manufacturer with the London warehouseman or merchant.”

Penny Magazine, Volume 2, edited by Charles Knight (1842).

The practice adopted by the Grand Junction Railway, from Birmingham northwards (referred to at 1. above), was to employ a large carrying firm, Chaplin & Horne, as their goods agent, on terms more favourable than those they applied to Pickfords and to other carriers on the line.  However, this arrangement ignored the terms of the Grand Junction Railway’s Act, which required that there be equal charging.   The long-established firm of Pickfords contested this practice in court, and although they won their case with costs, the Grand Junction Railway Company simply ignored the court ruling and continued as before.

In 1839, Joseph Baxendale, a director of Pickfords, was appointed Goods Superintendant of the London and Birmingham Railway.  He set up his office at Camden Station and undertook to design the layout of the Camden goods depot:

“He was cheerful and witty in conversation, ever had a word of encouragement for the youngsters, and was universally beloved by those whom he employed.  The success of Pickford & Co., and the general efficiency of that establishment, proved his administrative power; and his foresight and wisdom at this critical time for carriers were borne out by eminent results.  His clear system of forms and arrangements, by which a hold of the goods conveyed is maintained from the time they leave the consignor until they reach their destination, continues to be the basis of the carrying-business all over the kingdom.”

Fifty Years on the London & North Western Railway, David Stevenson (1891).


Derby Mercury, 18th November 1840.
A mail coach proprietor switches businesses.

Once the Railway became operational, the task facing the Company was to assist the carriers to bring in sufficient business to yield a favourable return on the huge investment made in building and equipping it:

“Sheds were erected for the large carriers, for which they paid a rental; and Pickford & Co. built their own premises, adjoining the station, on land purchased by Mr. Baxendale years before, in anticipation.  Chaplin & Horne became Goods agents for the Grand Junction Railway Co., and had also suitable accommodation provided for them at Camden.  The Company provided waggons which they placed in a siding, from whence the carriers turned them into their respective sheds.  Occasionally the Company supplied tarpaulins for the waggons, for which a charge was made.”

Fifty Years on the London & North Western Railway, David Stevenson (1891).

But when it came to the Railway capturing trade from the established carriers, goods differed from passengers in one important respect.  Although the subject of much complaint over their monopolistic charges and poor service (indeed, it was these failings that provided the business case for building the Liverpool and Manchester Railway), the canal companies nevertheless offered a well-established means of transporting goods, particularly the deadweight cargoes of coal, stone and manure ― of which a great quantity had to be disposed of from the streets of the horse-powered Metropolis.  Furthermore, to minimise their transhipment costs many businesses at both ends of the supply chain were located near canal-side wharfs, docks and warehouses, and they were loath to abandon their investment in setting up a system that worked tolerably well, at least until the benefits from switching to rail transport became undeniable.  Thus the railway companies faced a greater challenge in capturing goods traffic from the canals than they did in capturing passenger traffic from the stagecoach operators, who could not compete with the superior speed and relative comfort of rail travel.  Wherever a railway opened, the existing coach operators either went out of business immediately, or transformed themselves into a railway feeder service.


While the line was still under construction, the Company lacked the capacity to operate a partial goods service in the same way that it operated such a service for its passengers.  As a temporary measure, when it reached Wolverton, Pickford was allowed to use the line to enable the firm’s canal traffic to bypass the summit of the Grand Junction Canal at Tring, which was then closed through drought.  Because Baxendale, in his role as the Railway’s Goods Superintendant, did not grant this facility to all, there was furore among the other carriers who wrongly believed that the Company had entered into a exclusive carrying agreement with Pickford & Co.  This resulted in a petition being presented to Parliament protesting about the Company’s action:

Blackburn Standard, 3rd April 1839.

From April 1839, the Company opened the line to all carriers, although it was used mainly by the large operators, Pickford and Chaplin & Horne:

“The goods traffic was commenced by the transfer of some of Messrs. Pickford & Co.’s extensive canal traffic to the line, and a small temporary loading-shed was built for the purpose, in 1839.  The old waggon sheds were removed, and an adequate workshop for the construction of waggons was erected . . . . Further steps were taken to improve the goods traffic.  A Goods Committee of Directors, with Captain Moorson for Chairman, was appointed; that gentleman having become a Director . . . . Mr. Wyatt, from Pickford & Co’s establishment, was made the Goods Manager, and the Company began to carry on toll for some of the important carriers, in addition to Pickford and Co. Mr. Baxendale, at this time, resigned the superintendence of the line, and was succeeded by Mr. H. P. Bruyeres, a late Officer of Engineers.  The goods traffic progressed but slowly, however, although inducements were offered to road and canal carriers to transfer their business to the railway.”

Fifty Years on the London & North Western Railway, David Stevenson (1891).

In 1839, Baxendale bought a plot of land on the south side of the Regent’s Canal adjacent to the Railway bridge.  On this site he built a warehouse, to a design by Lewis Cubitt, for the transhipment of goods between road, rail and canal.  A railway bridge was erected over the Regent’s Canal to provide a direct rail connection between the warehouse and the Camden goods depot.  The warehouse was opened in December 1841.

Around this time, Thomas Mills succeeded Baxendale as Goods Manager, and he set about reducing freight tolls in an effort to capture traffic from the canals.  Despite a slow start, by 1843 the Company Secretary was able to report increased traffic in merchandise and cattle, and the Company was soon making progress in developing the goods sector of its business ― even if the outcome was occasionally unexpected:

“The cattle traffic necessitated the erection of a large cattle station at Camden.  The animals, who always, in their excitement, ran the wrong way, often escaped on to the main line and charged the trains, getting, of course, the worst of such encounters . . . . A sharp watchman, in a dimly lighted goods shed at Camden, once found a bear, which had escaped from Euston, crouching against a waggon, and, taking it for a thief, he pounced upon it, but retreated in dismay, unhurt.  A hue-and-cry was raised, and poor Bruin was captured, after a spirited chase.  At another time a tiger in a case fell from a load on to the railway.  The fall smashed the case, and the tiger trotted along the line.  Some soldiers were obtained from a neighbouring barrack and went in pursuit.  They found that the signalman had climbed a telegraph post to get out of the way, but on nearing the tiger they discovered that they had marched without ammunition, and the tiger fell to the gun of a gentleman who lived near the spot.  A case containing a crocodile similarly fell from a train, and an inspector, walking the line, thought he was nearing a man run over, but he speedily went back for assistance, on arriving at the object of his attention.

Fifty Years on the London & North Western Railway, David Stevenson (1891).


A Chaplin & Horne advertisement from 1852.

A Pickford advertisement from 1848.


Following the railway company merger in 1846, the newly formed London & North-Western Railway adopted the policy followed by the Grand Junction on the carriage of goods, for it was believed that the independent carriers were making excessive profits from the reduced freight tolls then in force.  The Company denied the carriers access to its line and acquired their business:

“The London and North Western Railway Company have, it is well known, thrown the carriers off their lines, monopolizing the whole of the traffic themselves, and retaining the more influential merely of the dispossessed carriers as agents, upon condition that they further give up their canal traffic whenever it is considered by the company to interfere with their interests.  In pursuance of this condition the parties so retained by this company have since been obliged to cease carrying upon canals; and the only employment they, therefore, now possess as carriers is in conveying goods to and from the railway.  Thus the canals are in a moment deprived of their most enterprising and wealthy traders, whose operations, together with their influence, acquired principally upon this once flourishing field of enterprise, and at a period before railways were in existence are thrown into the scale of their monopolizing rivals.”

Hope for the Canals! Thomas Boyle (1848).

The biographer Samuel Smiles [6] listed, from the railway companies’ perspective, the benefits to be had by acting as their own carriers:

The recent arrangement adopted by railways, of becoming carriers on their own account, has already worked greatly to their advantage.  The carriers and their friends have complained, because the railway companies have not continued no make over to them as formerly, the large profits derived from carrying goods, preferring to retain them for the benefit of the shareholders.  The public are also benefited by the new arrangement in the following respects: ―

lst.  It secures greater punctuality in delivery.  When a certain quantity of goods is sent from one town to another, a truck can be loaded expressly for that town; whereas when there were three or four parties to convey the same goods, they were obliged to load them to some intermediate place, there to be re loaded with a fresh quantity of goods.

2nd.  It secures the public against petty frauds.  The carriers were in the habit of charging what they could get.

3rd.  It secures equality of charges to all parties.

4th.  It facilitates the interchange of traffic; because it enables merchants and others to ascertain exactly what the cost of transit will be to any part of the kingdom.

5th.  It facilitates the settlement of claims for loss or damage.  Under the old system, it was difficult for a merchant to obtain a settlement of these, because the company referred him to the carriers and then again the carriers referred back to the railway company, and so on, without any progress towards a settlement.

6th.  It prevents disappointment in the delivery of goods.  The competition amongst the old carriers was so great, that they very often gave promises which it was perfectly impossible to redeem.

As Mr Booth stated before the Railway Acts Enactments Committee, in 1846, the system of carriers carrying by railway was an exceedingly injurious system ― ‘it was unsound in itself, and made the public pay double profits to a middleman.’

In conclusion, it may be averred that the carriage of goods by railways, is yet in its infancy, and that before many years are over, by far the largest part of the revenue of all railways will be derived from this source . . . .”

Railway Property: its condition and prospects, Samuel Smiles (1849).

. . . . and in his conclusion, that goods revenue would eventually predominate, Smiles was correct.  However, the L&NWR didn’t have sufficient resources to cope with its burgeoning goods business, which resulted in the Company reaching an agreement with Pickford to operate as a goods agents.  The Company acquired Pickford’s shed at Camden, which it rented back to them, and, in 1847, as part of a deal to become a L&NWR goods agent, Pickford gave up the greater part of its canal carrying business.

Following a slow start, by the end of the 1840s there had been a marked growth in goods traffic on the railways in general, as Smiles had predicted, and by 1852 goods receipts had overtaken those from passengers. [7]  In his book Railway Economy, Lardner had already observed the growth of goods receipts and a decline in those from passengers:

“I have already observed that the first projectors of the modern railways contemplated chiefly, if not exclusively, a traffic in merchandise.  The event proved to be the reverse.  The traffic in merchandise was comparatively little, nearly the whole revenue proceeding from the traffic in passengers.  As the railways, however, have become more extensively developed, and improvements have been made in the machinery of locomotion, the goods traffic has been more and more extended, so as to bear a continually increasing proportion to the traffic in passengers.  In order to demonstrate this, I have exhibited in the following table an analysis of the relative amounts of revenue proceeding from passengers and goods for the six years and a half ending December 31st 1848.

“It appears from this, that while, in 1843, thirteen years after the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the goods contributed only 30 per cent. of the gross revenue of the railways, they contributed, in the eighteen months terminating December 30th 1848, more than 42 percent.

Railway Economy: A Treatise on the New Art of Transport, Dionysius Lardner (1850).

Speaking of the high throughput at the Camden goods depot a decade after the London and Birmingham Railway had opened, Frederick Smeeton Williams had this to say:

“The entire arrangements at this station, for conducting the goods department of the Company, are on a colossal scale; and this will not be surprising when it is stated that the merchandise received from up and for down trains, averages between eight and nine hundred tons a day.  During the six months ending the 26th of August, 1848, 73,732 railway-wagon loads of goods entered and departed from Camden station; while, as a remarkable illustration of the development of the latent resources of a great country by cheapening traffic, the carriage performed by the Grand Junction Canal, which meanders alongside its powerful antagonist, has actually increased to a very considerable extent since the opening of the London and Birmingham Railway.”

Our Iron Roads, by F. S. Williams (1852).

As Williams states, the Grand Junction Canal did experience an upturn in the tonnage carried, but the inland waterways were by now in a state of commercial decline in the face of fierce railway competition.




Tring Flour Mills on the Wendover Arm, Grand Junction Canal.

In 1836, the Grand Junction Canal Company, the Railway’s main competitor for freight, earned its peak annual revenue of £198,086, undoubtedly boosted by the construction materials it was then transporting to create its new neighbour with whom a price war soon began.  Before the Railway opened in 1838, the GJCC significantly reduced its monopolistic charges.  Tonnage rose in response, but the increase was insufficient to compensate for the significant price reductions made to attract it, and the GJCC’s fortunes fell into a decline [8] from which they never recovered. [9]  Data submitted in 1846 to the Select Committee on Railways and Canals Amalgamation, shows the extent of the price reductions per ton, brought about by railway competition, along the waterway between London and Langley Mill in Derbyshire: [10]


Rates per ton which the canal companies were entitled charge to under their Acts, and which they did charge.

Reduced rates after 1836:

Grand Junction Canal, 97 miles:


On Sundries

16s 3¾d

2s 0¼d

On Coal

9s 1d

2s 0¼d



Grand Union, 24 miles:


On Sundries

6s 0d


On Coal

2s 11d




Old Union, 19 miles:


On Sundries

4s 9d


On Coal

2s 1d




Leicester Nav., 16 miles:


On Sundries

2s 6d


On Coal

1s 2d




Loughboro’, 10 miles:


On Sundries

2s 6d


On Coal

1s 2d




Erewash, 11 miles:


On Sundries

1s 0d


On Coal

1s 0d


When Pickford retired from canal carrying in 1847, the GJCC lost its major customer.  In an effort to retain Pickford’s canal business, the GJCC itself entered the canal carrying business under the terms of the Canal Carriers Act (1845):

“The canal companies having had a foretaste of what was in store for them, applied to and obtained permission from Parliament to become carriers on their own account ― a privilege which up to that time they had not possessed.  The result has been that the Grand Junction Canal Company, to preserve itself from destruction, is competing for the goods traffic between London and the North at rates so low, that the railway company cannot venture to touch them, much less to drive the canal company as competitors from the field.  When this unseemly strife will end no man can foresee.  Life and death are in the balance so far as the canal company is concerned.

Some palliation for this ruinous and reckless competition might have been found if the Railway Company had been making profit by the trade which their low rates have brought them, but the fact is so far otherwise, that a considerable portion of the profit derived from passengers cannot fail to be absorbed by the losses which are incurred in the conveyance of goods.”

Uniformity of Railway Accounts, George King (1849).

But for the Grand Junction Canal Company, canal carrying and price reductions were to no avail.  In the price war, the railways were able to cross-subsidise loss-leading goods rates from their profitable passenger account, a strategy not available to the Canal, and during the years that followed, the GJCC gradually lost most of its long-distance traffic to its railway competitors.  A measure of this decline can be seen in the amount of coal shipped into London from the Midlands and North of England by canal and railway respectively.  The tonnages for the period between 1852 [11] and 1882 show that the GJC’s share of this trade fell dramatically, which is especially significant, for the transport of coal originally comprised a large part of its business:




By canal

33,000 tons

7,900 tons

By railway

317,000 tons

6,546,000 tons

From the Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Canals (1883)

When the Royal Commission on Canals sat in 1906, the figures they were presented with for the weight of coal being shipped into London were, by rail 7,137,473 tons (45.6%); by sea 8,494,234 tons (54.3%); by canal 18,681 tons (0.119%); and overall for the period 1880 to 1905, 0.1% of the coal shipped to London came by canal, rail and coastal shipping sharing almost equal proportions of the balance.  This dramatic switch to the railways eventually left the GJCC to concentrate on short-haul traffic along the southern section of its waterway, which continued to pay a modest return until the early 1960s, when road transport and factory modernisation eventually killed the remnants of that trade. [12]




During its brief life, the London and Birmingham Railway Company acquired or built several branch lines.  What follows is merely a r
ésumé of the salient points, for each line is a study in itself:

While the London and Birmingham Railway was thus improving its position in the north, it was also developing in the south, for in 1845 it absorbed two authorised lines, the Bedford Railway, a line projected to connect Bletchley with Bedford, and the Dunstable Railway, a railway proposing to connect Dunstable with the London and Birmingham Railway at Leighton.  While on the subject of absorbing neighbouring companies, it may be mentioned that early in the next year (1846) the Aylesbury Railway and the authorised but not constructed Rugby and Leamington Railway were both added to the London and Birmingham Railways system.

In 1845, with a view to improving its position in the western districts of London, the London and Birmingham Railway leased the West London Railway, a railway which had been incorporated as early as 1836 under the somewhat cumbrous title of Birmingham, Bristol and Thames Junction Railway, and whose object was to connect the lines of the London and Birmingham and Great Western Railways with each other, and with Kensington, and also with the Thames by means of the Kensington Canal, which it purchased for £36,000.

The History of the London and North-Western Railway, Wilfred L. Steel (1914).

The lines to which Steel refers, now mostly defunct, are:

1. Opened in 1839, the 7-mile Aylesbury Railway linked the town with the main line at Cheddington.  Although a branch line ― plans to extend it to Oxford never reached fruition ― it was built by an independent railway company.  In June 1844, the railway was leased to the London and Birmingham Railway Company for a period of 7 years at an annual rent of £2,000 and was eventually absorbed into the London & North-Western Railway Company.  It closed to passengers in 1953 and to goods in 1964.

2. Engineered by Robert Stephenson, the 44-mile Northampton and Peterborough Railway was promoted by the London and Birmingham Railway to run from a junction at Blisworth to Northampton and then via Wellingborough, Thrapston, Oundle and Wansford to Peterborough.  The Act received the Royal Assent in 1843; the first section of the line opened from Blisworth to Northampton in May 1845, and throughout in June, the 47 miles having taken only a year to build.  The line was closed to passengers in 1964, and closed throughout in 1972.

3. The Act authorising the Dunstable, and London and Birmingham Railway (the Dunstable branch) received the Royal Assent on the 30th June 1845 and the 6¾-mile branch opened in May 1848.  It closed in 1962.

4. Surveyed by Robert Stephenson, work commenced on the construction of the Bedford, London, and Birmingham Railway (the Bedford branch) in December 1845, and the 15¾-mile line opened on 17th November, 1846, with intermediate stations at Fenny Stratford, Ridgmont, Lillington and Manston (later renamed Millbrook).  In 1850, the Buckinghamshire Railway opened a further section between Bletchley and Verney Junction, and in the following year the section between Verney Junction and Oxford.  The Bedford and Cambridge Railway opened in 1862.

The line once provided an important cross-country link between Oxford and Cambridge, becoming known as the ‘Varsity Line’, although passengers were required to change at Bletchley.  During the Second World War the line was heavily used, but after the war traffic tailed off, especially when faster trains into London made for a shorter journey time via the Metropolis.  British Railways withdrew the services between Oxford and Bletchley, and between Cambridge and Bedford in 1967.  The Oxford to Bicester section was re-opened to passenger traffic in 1987, and there has been much discussion about restoring part of, or even the entire Oxford to Cambridge rail link.

5. The Birmingham, Bristol and Thames Junction Railway ― later to become the West London Railway ― was conceived to link the London and Birmingham Railway and the Great Western Railway with the Kensington Basin of the Kensington Canal, which it bought in 1836, enabling access to and from London docks for the carriage of goods.  Opened in 1844, the line had stations at Kensington and Shepherds Bush, an exchange platform at the point of crossing the Great Western Railway main line and at the junction with the London and Birmingham Railway.  In 1846, the railway was leased to the London and Birmingham Railway, but the railway/canal combination was commercially unsuccessful.  In 1863, the the railway was extended southwards along the canal alignment as the West London Extension Railway, crossing the Thames on a new bridge and connecting south of the Thames with both the London, Brighton, & South Coast Railway and the London & South-Western Railway.  Local and long-distance passenger traffic was carried, and goods traffic exchanged between the connected railways.  Passenger traffic declined after 1940, but the line remained open for sporadic freight services until the 1970s, when passenger use recommenced.  Today, the West London Line, now electrified (part 750V DC third rail, and part 25kV AC overhead), links Clapham Junction in the south to Willesden Junction in the north and carries both passengers and freight.



Grand Junction Railway locomotive ‘Columbine’ (built 1845), the Science Museum, London.

In 1846, the London and Birmingham Railway Company merged with the Grand Junction and the Manchester and Birmingham railway companies, to form the London and North Western Railway.  By the late 19th century, the L&NWR had grown into the largest joint stock company in the world.  However, the great pressure placed on our railway network during World War I., together with little opportunity or resources for proper maintenance, left it in a sorry condition and, when peace returned, it was losing money.  The government of the day aimed to remedy the situation by imposing a merger on most of the 120 railway companies that then existed . . . .

“With a view to the reorganisation and more efficient and economical working of the railway system of Great Britain railways shall be formed into groups in accordance with the provisions of this Act, and the principal railway companies in each group shall be amalgamated, and other companies absorbed in manner provided by this Act.”

From The Railways Act 1921.

In 1923, four large railway companies were formed from this merger in what became known as the ‘grouping’, the L&NWR becoming a constituent of the newly formed London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railway, the direct ancestor of today’s West Coast Main Line.  During the inter-war years, competition from road transport intensified while a further lack of maintenance during World War II. again left our railway system in a very run-down condition.  Under Clement Atlee’s Transport Act, the majority of the U.K.’s railways were nationalised in 1947 (together with road transport, waterways and docks, all coming under the unwieldy ‘British Transport Commission’), from which emerged ‘British Railways’.  Although from the travelling public’s point of view controversial, British Railways did set about pruning the deadwood (perhaps excessively!) and modernising our railway network.  The first section of the West Coast Main Line to be electrified, from Crewe to Manchester, was completed in September 1960, to be followed in March 1967 by completion of the scheme to electrify the former London to Birmingham Railway.

London & North-Western Railway 2-4-0 ‘Hardwick’ (built 1892), National railway Museum, York.





taken from

Cornishs Guide and Companion to the London and Birmingham Railway (1839).

For regulating the travelling upon and use of the said Railway, and for and relating to travellers passing upon the said Railway, and for preventing the Smoking of Tobacco, and the commission of any other Nuisance in or upon any of the Carriages, or in any of the Stations belonging to the said Company, and generally for regulating the passing upon and using the said Railway.

I.  No Passenger will he allowed to take his seat in or upon any of the Company’s Carriages, or to travel therein upon the said Railway, without having first booked his Place and paid his Fare.  Each Passenger hooking his Place will he considered as binding himself and agreeing to abide by and observe these Rules and Regulations so far as they concern himself: he will, on booking his place, be furnished with a Ticket, which he is to shew when required by the Guard in charge of the Train, and to deliver up prior to his quitting the Company’s premises at the end of his journey.  Any Passenger refusing to produce, on request, or at the end of the journey to give up, his Ticket, will be required to pay the Fare from the place whence the Train originally started, or in default thereof is hereby made liable to the Penalty of Forty Shillings.

II.  Passengers at the Road Stations will only be booked conditionally, (that is to say) in case there shall be room in the Train for which they are booked; in case there shall not be room, Passengers booked for the longest distance will be allowed the preference.  Passengers booked for the same distance will have priority according to the order in which they are booked.

III.  Any Passenger who shall have paid his Fare for a second-class Carriage, and shall ride in or upon a first-class Carriage, shall forfeit the Sum of Forty Shillings.

IV.  Dogs will be charged for according to distance, but they will on no account be permitted to accompany Passengers in the Carriages.

V.  Smoking is strictly prohibited both in and upon the Carriages, and in the Company’s Stations.  Any Passenger persisting in Smoking after being warned not to do sob is hereby subjected to a Fine of Forty Shillings, and in case of his persisting after a second warning, he will immediately, or (if travelling) at the first stopping place, be removed from the Company’s Premises and forfeit his Fare.

VI.  Any Passenger in a state of intoxication, committing any nuisance, or wilfully interfering with the comfort of other Passengers, obstructing any of the Company’s Officers in the discharge of their duty, or not attending to the directions of the Guard, in cases where the personal safety of himself or any of the Passengers is concerned, will be immediately removed from the Company’s Premises, or in case he shall at the time be travelling, then at the next Station, or as soon after the offence as conveniently may be, and shall forfeit his Fare.

VII.  Any Passenger wilfully cutting the Lining, removing or defacing the number Plates, breaking the Windows, or otherwise damaging any of the Company’s Carriages, shall he fined Five Pounds.

VIII.  The charge made for Passengers does not extend to Luggage.  The Company will not in any case he answerable for Luggage, unless the Passenger to whom the same belongs shall have booked and paid for it; on booking, a Ticket will he given to the Owner, and a corresponding Ticket affixed to the Luggage, and the Luggage will only be delivered to the party producing such Ticket.  A charge of sixpence will he made for each Passenger’s Luggage not exceeding 112lbs. in weight for the whole distance, and an additional charge of one penny per lb. above that weight.  The attention of Passengers is requested to the legal Notice exhibited in the Booking Offices, limiting the Company’s responsibility for Luggage or Goods booked by any of their Carriages.

IX.  The Company’s Porters will render every facility to passengers in loading and unloading Luggage at the different Stations.  No Fee or Gratuity is permitted to he taken by any of the Company’s Servants under any circumstances whatever, under pain of instant dismissal.

N.B.  By the Act of Parliament above-mentioned after providing for the Recovery of Penalties, and directing that one-half thereof shall go to the Informer, and the other half to the Company, it is by the 211th Section enacted, ‘That it shall be lawful for any Officer or Agent of the said Company, and all such persons as he shall call to his assistance, to seize and detain any person whose name and residence shall he unknown to such Officer or agent, who shall commit any offence against this Act, and to convey him before some Justice for the County, Liberty, or Place within which such offence shall he committed, without any other warrant or authority than this Act; and such Justice is hereby empowered and required to proceed immediately to the hearing and determining of the Complaint.’




(3 GUL. IV. Cap. xxxvi. RA 6th May 1833.)

CLXXII. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the said Company to demand, receive, and recover, to and for the Use and Benefit of the said Company, for the Tonnage of all Articles, Matters, and Things which shall be conveyed upon or along the said Railway, any Rates or Tolls not exceeding the following; (that is to say,)

For all Dung, Compost, and all Sorts of Manure, Lime, and Lime-stone, and Salt, and all undressed Materials for the Repair of public Roads or Highways, the Sum of One Penny per Ton per Mile;

For all Coals, Coke, Culm, Charcoal, Cinders, Building, Pitching, and Paving Stone, dressed; Bricks, Tiles, Slates, Clay, Sand, Ironstone, Iron Ore; Pig, Bar, Rod, Hoop, Sheet, and all other similar Descriptions of Wrought Iron and Castings, not manufactured into Utensils or other Articles of Merchandize, the Sum of One Penny Halfpenny per Ton per Mile:

For all Sugar, Grain, Corn, Flour, Dyewoods, Earthenware, Timber, Staves, and Deals, Metals (except Iron), Nails, Anvils, Vices, and Chains, the Sum of Two-pence per Ton per Mile:

For all Cotton and other Wools, Hides, Drugs, manufactured Goods, and all other Wares, Merchandize, Articles, Matters, or Things, the Sum of Three pence per Ton per Mile.

CLXXIII. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the said Company to demand, receive, and recover, to and for the Use and Benefit of the said Company, for and in respect of Passengers, Beasts, Cattle, and Animals conveyed in Carriages upon the said Railway, any Tolls not exceeding the following; (that is to say,)

For every Person conveyed in or upon any such Carriage, the Sum of Two-pence per Mile;

For every Horse, Mule, Ass, or other Beast of Draught or Burthen, and for every Ox, Cow, Bull, or neat Cattle, conveyed in or upon any such Carriage, the Sum of One Penny Halfpenny per Mile:

For every Calf or Pig conveyed in or upon any such Carriage, the Sum of One Halfpenny per Mile:

For every Sheep, Lamb, or other small Animal, conveyed in or upon any such Carriage, the Sum of One Farthing per Mile:

For every Carriage, of whatever Description, not being a Carriage adapted and used for travelling on a Railway, and not weighing more than One Ton, carried or conveyed on a Truck or Platform, the Sum of Four-pence per Mile.





Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 41 (1842).


“When the Clearing House started business it had been agreed that a mileage charge of ¼d a mile should be levied on waggons travelling on ‘foreign lines’, the charge to apply only to the outward loaded journey and not to the return journey to base.  In addition there was to be a charge of 6s a day [later reduced to 3s] demurrage for each day, other than the days of arrival and departure, that a waggon was detained by a company other than its owner.  These regulations were made to ensure that scarce waggons were not taken by unnecessarily long routes to their destination and were not unduly detained or put to improper use by the companies that did not own them.”

The Railway Clearing House in the British Economy, p.62, Philip Bagwell, Aberdeen University Press, 1968.


This accounts appears to demote Morison to a mere clerk ― other accounts describe him as ‘Head of the Audit Department’, a far more responsible position.


The figures for 1876 are taken from ‘Somers Town and Euston Square’, Old and New London: Volume 5 (1878).  The figures for 1842 and 1933 are taken from Railway Wonders of the World, July 1935.


The Canal Carriers Act (1845) permitted canal companies to become their own carriers.  Following Pickfords withdrawl from the canal carrying business in 1847, the Grand Junction Canal Company took advantage of the Act to create its own ‘Carrying Establishment’ ― it was never that successful, and the GJCC gave up canal carrying in 1875.


Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) had a career on the railways, first as Secretary to the Leeds & Thirsk and then to the South-Eastern railways, before turning his hand to writing biographies of famous people, and books on self-help and other morally uplifting subjects for which he is remembered today.


By the end of the century, passenger receipts were, with some exceptions in heavy commuter areas, barely paying for the provision of the service and the most successful railway companies were those with a solid business in freight, such as the North Eastern railway.


Coal, the Grand Junction Canal’s staple business, suffered badly following the coming of the railways.  In 1852, the GJCC carried 33,000 tons of coal into London; by 1882 this had fallen to 7,900 tons.  During the same period the various railway companies serving London saw their coal traffic grow from 317,000 tons to 6,546,000 tons.  From the Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Canals, 1883.


On the Grand Junction Canal, following a slow decline in freight tonnage over many years, carrying finally ceased in 1981 (the final cargo being lime pulp from Brentford to Hemel Hempstead), although little had been carried after 1964 when British Waterways withdrew from the business.


A route on which the canal companies along the line had reached a tariff agreement.  Canal companies were not particularly good at co-operation, let along amalgamation, both being factors that assisted in their demise.


There is no canal data available prior to 1852, but it can be assumed by then that coal traffic on the GJC was already much reduced from its peak, probably in the 1830s.  Allowing for increased consumption and for trade captured from coastal shipping, much of the 317,000 tons of coal brought into London by rail in 1852 would otherwise have come down the GJC.


The decline of the Grand Junction Canal is described in more detail in the companion e-book, A Highway Laid with Water (Chapter XII. et seq).