Origins of the Bolton & Leigh Railway
The Bolton and Leigh Railway (B&LR) was the first public railway in Lancashire. A public railway meant carrying goods either by company wagon or privately owned wagon.
Sometime before 1 October 1824 a committee was formed by local businessmen, including William Hulton, Benjamin Hick and Peter Rothwell to promote a railway in the area. The committee is first recorded on that date as requiring its 63 members to pay money into a bank for the “making of a railway or railways or tram road from Bolton to the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
Several routes were proposed and the committee contacted the pioneering railway engineer George Stephenson for his views on the scheme. Stephenson was familiar with the area as he was in the process of surveying the route of the future Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR).
The committee had decided that if they tried to cross the canal at Leigh, with the ultimate aim of making a connection to the proposed Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), they would create so much opposition that their Parliamentary Bill could fail. There was little precedent for approving railways, there was a reluctance from local landowners to have railways on or near their property and the canal companies were very influential. The committee decided to put forth a bill they thought could pass rather than one with a much higher risk of failing.
The Bill had considerable opposition in Parliament but the Act received its assent on 31 March 1825 after clauses had been inserted refusing permission to cross the canal, effectively making the railway little more than a canal feeder. The committee could take some satisfaction in its caution as the Liverpool and Manchester Bill was lost that same year. This first Act authorised the company to raise the sum of £44,000, via the sale of 440 shares in the company, valued at £100. The railway was to be a single track with two rope worked inclines using stationary steam engines, to run from Lecturers Closes at Bolton to the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Leigh.
The B&LR found it needed to revise some of the clauses set out in the original Act and they prepared a second Bill in 1828. The second Act received assent on 26 March 1828. This Act enlarged the company’s powers, and it authorised the raising of an additional £25,000 to meet the increased costs of construction as well as specifying the track gauge for the railway as being 4 feet 8 inches (142 cm) between the inside edges of the rails, as well as 5 feet 1 inch (155 cm) between the outside edges. Sometime after this the line became a standard gauge line at 4 feet 8.5 inches (144 cm).
The Acts for the B&LR also authorised branch lines at the Bolton end, to the Union Foundry on Deansgate, to William Hulton’s coal yard at Great Moor Street and to the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal. The branch to the canal was never built and the branches to Great Moor Street and Deansgate opened for freight in 1829. The first section of track between Derby Street Bolton and William Hulton’s collieries at Pendlebury Fold near Chequerbent in Westhoughton was officially opened on 1 August 1828.
The line was completed through to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh by end of March 1830. At this time, there were rather rudimentary stations at Bolton, Daubhill, Chequerbent, Bag Lane and Leigh.
By 1st June 1832, the canal at Leigh had been crossed and four services per day ran from Liverpool to Bolton and back. The fare was Inside 5 shillings, Outside 3s 6d.
The stationary engines played a prominent role on the line for at least 15 years, an interesting example, amongst the few, of the transitional years embodying both techniques of haulage. It is believed the stationary engines remained in operation until about 1846. Cable haulage was discontinued once locomotive performance had improved sufficiently
Mergers of ownership
In 1844 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had been negotiating with the Bolton and Leigh Railway and the Kenyon and Leigh Junction Railway with a view to an amalgamation. This took place on 8 August 1845 and the B&LR became part of an enlarged Grand Junction Railway. In turn, the GJR, the Manchester and Birmingham Railway, the London and Birmingham Railway and the Trent Valley Railway all amalgamated to become the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) on 16th July 1846.
The L&NWR became a part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) in the grouping of railways in 1923, and then nationalised in 1948 to form British Railways. Throughout all this time, there were passenger and freight (mainly coal) services on the line.
The opening day, 1st August 1828
The official opening of the completed part of the railway (which the Manchester Guardian Newspaper reported as being from Checkerbent to the town of Bolton) was witnessed by “an immense concourse of people”. They saw a procession of a “new locomotive engine made by Messrs. R. Stephenson and Co. of Newcastle to which were attached six waggons filled with people, and decorated with numerous flags and streamers; then followed a very elegant and commodious coach, intended at some future period to convey passengers on the railway. This was filled with ladies amongst whom was Mrs. Hulton. Then followed seven other wagons, decorated with flags, and crowded with passengers, including the musicians of the Bolton old band, who occupied the two last waggons, and played a variety of appropriate airs, during the procession”.
The procession started at 12:15 with the locomotive drawing the thirteen waggons and the coach from Pendlebury Fold, near Hulton Park, to Top-o’th’-Pike where the stationary engine was situated. There were about 150 people on the train which travelled at about 5 mph (8.0 km/h). On reaching the stationary engine the waggons were detached and “Mrs. Hulton, after a short address, baptised the engine by the name of the Lancashire Witch“. The engine was sent back to one of Mr. Hulton’s collieries from whence it returned hauling six waggons containing about 2 tons of coal which it drew with great ease at about 7 mph (11 km/h). The locomotive was again detached from its train and demonstrated some of its abilities, starting and stopping under control even from speeds estimated up to 14 mph (23 km/h). After the demonstration the coach and waggons were attached to the rope of the stationary engine and proceeded down the inclined plane towards Bolton. The waggons were “occasionally moved with great celerity, and occasionally stopped by means of brakes applied to the wheels, in order to shew the command possessed over them by the engineer, in case of any accident or obstruction”.
The objective of the railway had always been to reach Kenyon (south of Leigh) and so to obtain a connection onto the Liverpool & Manchester. This would offer through trains between Bolton and Liverpool. The Kenyon and Leigh Junction Railway was opened for goods traffic only on Monday, 3rd. January, 1831, and on the same day the Bolton and Leigh Company began their goods and coal service between Bolton, Leigh, Kenyon Junction and Liverpool. Their first train from Bolton to Liverpool and return was hauled by the “Union” Locomotive.
At the Kenyon end of the line there were originally two separate Kenyon Junction Stations, one at the terminus of the Kenyon and Leigh Junction Company’s line, this being the only station belonging to that Company, and the other Kenyon Junction Station was situated on the Liverpool and Manchester line, and was owned by that Company.
The distance by rail from Bolton to Liverpool was 28½ miles which in 1831 the trains were covering in 100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes), a much faster service than those offered by the Mail and Post Coach owners between Bolton and Liverpool.
The Bolton and Leigh and the Kenyon and Leigh Junction Companies continued working together until 1836 when the Bolton and Leigh Company obtained an Act of Parliament which gave them the right to lease the Kenyon and Leigh line for 25 years and the right to purchase the line for £44,750. In 1834 the Bolton and Leigh Company leased the running of their Railway to Mr. John Hargreaves of Bolton. He also was granted running rights over the Leigh and Kenyon Junction, and the Liverpool and Manchester Railways.
He was required to provide the Steam Locomotives, Carriages and Wagons necessary for the operation of the services from Bolton to Liverpool. In 1842 there were about 300 wagons in use on the line, all belonging to John Hargreaves, about 40 of which had iron bottoms.
He retained these “rights” until the 31st. December 1845, when he relinquished them upon joining with John Hick to form the Bolton based Company of Hick, Hargreaves.
John Hargreaves was born on 22 October 1800 in Westhoughton. He married Mary Hick (born 1813), daughter of Benjamin Hick of Benjamin Hick & Sons, on 19 October 1836. Hargreaves died in 1874, aged 74, leaving eight surviving children and his widow well provided for, his fortune amounting to £600,000.