15th September 1830. First Rail Fatality.

Today in 1830 William Huskisson MP, The Rocket and the Liverpool to Manchester Railway met for the first and last time when the first passenger line between the two cities opened. 

The Duke of Wellington was also on this inaugural run, led by the ‘Northumbrian’, but an occasion which saw the first railway fatality, when Huskisson was killed whilst endeavouring to get a better view, misjudged the speed of The Rocket which didn’t have brakes or whistle, relying on a hunting-horn.

The business man behind the project was Joseph Sandars who founded the Liverpool to Manchester Railway Company, appointing George Stephenson as Chief Engineer.


Plaque to William James.

However the original projector of the route and other railway lines was lawyer and geologist William James, one of the forgotten heroes of the first railways to run in Britain.

Not surprisingly all attention has been given to George Stephenson, who busy with the construction of the London Midland Railway, took all the credit for the Rocket, but a later Parliamentary Inquiry reprimanded him for claiming the Rocket as his own.

However in justice, Stephenson’s rise was the stuff of dreams being born in Wylam in 1781 untutored, growing up in a cottage with only one room to house a family of six, whilst earning money from cobbling and the repair of clocks and watches.

George’s innate talent as an engineer was eventually rewarded in the luxury of Tapton House in Chesterfield and a monument in Westminster Abbey, thus becoming a household name.

The visionary railway pioneer William James over-reached himself in ambition, went bankrupt, and after serving a time in jail for debt, died in Bodmin, largely unknown: sadly the way of the world.


The last journey of William Huskisson, Simon Garfield, 2002.

upload.wikimedia.org/william_james/Pic of Plaque.

Birmingham Post.Belated recognition for Rail Pioneer. 30.5.2013. Chris. Upton.

William James. Rail and Canal Historical Society.



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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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