4th July 1837. Locomotion.

Newton Road Station

Newton Road Station, West Bromwich on the GJR.

So used to the idea of stationary steam engines were early railway  pioneers, that only later was the ‘locomotive’ considered the more practical option to haul trains.

The coming of the railways brought as much disruption and concern as any large development today.

However some were optimistic. In George Eliot’s Middlemarch we read: ’somebody told you the railway was a bad thing’, Caleb tells old Timothy Cooper. ’That was a lie. It may do a bit of harm here and there….so does the sun in heaven.’

However, in Mrs Gaskell’s novel Cranford where The Grand Junction Railway was to by-pass the village, it caused dismay, but it was in places like Camden in north London that wholesale destruction was seen, and noted in Dickens’ Dombey and Son.

It was George Stephenson and the largely unknown Joseph Locke, who were authorized to build The Grand Junction Railway (GJR) (1833-1846), which constituted the first Trunk Railway completed in England, and set to join the four main cities in England.(1)

The line was opened Today on 4th July 1837 and ran for 82 miles from Newton-le-Willows on the Liverpool-Manchester line to Warrington and then to Birmingham via a new junction at Crewe where a new town was created, and Stafford and Wolverhampton. Eventually London would be reached.

Locke proved to be the better organizer, kept costs down by avoiding expensive tunnelling and built gradients which George Stephenson avoided.

Both surveyed the proposed route in 1829, with George responsible for southern part, but Locke was to take control of the whole line in 1835



GJR engine Columbine at the London Science Museum.

Amalgamations came early and by 1840 the GJR had absorbed the Chester and Crewe and five years later it merged with the Liverpool and Manchester, and bought the National Union Railway in association with the Manchester and Leeds.(2)

On the 16th July 1846, the now GJR London/Birmingham/Manchester Railway was merged with the London North West Railway (LNWR), which company lasted until the 1923 amalgamations, when it became part of the giant London Midland Scottish LMS in the 1923 amalgamations.(3)

(1) Locke has a park and ‘folly’ tower named after him in Barnsley his home town. In 1847 he became MP for Honiton.

(2) The driving force with the GJR was its Secretary, Captain Mark Huish, and with profitability high it paid a good dividend.

(3) In the 1948 nationalization of the railways, it became the London Midland Region of British Railways, the ancestor of West Coast Mainline.

Ref: gracesguide.co.ukjoseph locke.

Ref: wikipedia.com/permanent_way_history.

Ref: Flickr/Image of Columbine.

Ref: Book of GJR, Thomas Roscoe 1839. Station Image.

Ref: wikipedia.org/grand_junction_railway.


The wrought-iron rail-track of the GJR was, in profile, shaped like a double dumb-bell, as it was hoped that it could be re-used by being turned upside down. However this proved impracticable, but was still considered better than Robert Stephenson’s ‘fish-belly’ rail on the later London to Birmingham.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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