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Locomotive and Train Working around Manchester at the end of the 19th Century: London to Manchester Expresses
From The Mancunian
It is possible that at some future date, historians may interest themselves more in railway statistics than has yet been the case. The story - at the present juncture it might be termed that of the rise and fall - of the Manchester express service is certainly among those deserving of detailed contemporary attention.
Although from the year 1851 Great Northern trains had been permitted to run over the Sheffield Company's as far as Sheffield, up to the summer 1857 any through service between London and manchester was the monopoly of the London and North western. In July of that year, however, the celebrated "Fifty Years Agreement" was arranged between the Kings Cross and Sheffield directorates, thus establishing the first alternative route. The North Western timetables for that month show that there were six daily connections each way between Euston and Manchester, the best express taking 5hrs 35 mins. In view of this agreement, however, Captain Huish revised his company's timetables for August with a five hour express service; but to his amazement, the 1st of the month revealed that the invaders, with their fifteen miles longer route, had arranged for one taking only 5hrs 20 mins. Moreover, during the same month, the spirited running and punctuality of the great Northern company's trains between Kings Cross and Sheffield caused the new route to be largely patronised. But September saw Euston Square on the alert, for Captain Huish further accelerated and overhauled his service. Three extra fast services were added, bringing the total up to eleven, and the fastest timing was cut down to 4 hrs 40 mins. To this, the Great Northern and Sheffield allies answered by putting on two expresses each way accomplishing the journey in five hours. The following are the rival logs:-
The engines used on the fine Great Northern service were "converted Cramptons" with single driving wheels 6ft 6ins in diameter, rebuilt by the then Superindent Mr Sturrocks. It was claimed that these locomotives were capable of performing on the narrow gauge what Brunel's broad gauge leviathans could do on the Great Western Company's main line between Paddington and Exeter. At this period the Manchester Arts Treasures Exhibition was attracting thousands of visitors from London: both routes accordingley had an additional incentive for making the journey as short as possible, while the Kings Cross officials also paid attention to the improvement of their rolling stock.
After the Manchester Exhibition had closed, the time by the Retford and Sheffield route slackened down to 5hrs 10mins, giving an inclusive rate of speed of 42mph between Kings Cross and Retford. This remained the best performance in England up till 1871 when the opening of the Midland route - and their time of 5hrs by three trains each way - led to the Great Northern re-accelerating to 4hrs 55mins, while the North Western still adhered to their 4hrs 40mins service. At this period and until 1880, when the Midland Company opened the Manchester Central Station, all three routes utilised the London Road terminus where, owing to the immense traffic, the resources of the working staff were taxed to their utmost.
From the 1st January 1883 the Great Northern directorate again forced the pace by reducing their time to 4hrs 30mins, when of course, the other two rivals had to follow suit. Throughout 1883, therefore, the triangular duel furnished the following results:-
London and North Western
Again, from 1st July 1884 the Great Northern reduced their time by the "Special Express" to 4hrs 15 mins. when their better situated opponents had to do likewise. The 2pm train from London Road stopped at Sheffield at 2.59 to 3.3pm and Grantham from 4.13pm to 4.17pm and reached Kings Cross at 6.15pm, a journey speed of 47.8mph. The Midland's 11.55am from Manchester Central ran non stop to Leicester 1.54pm/1.59pm, then stopped at Bedford 3.1pm/3.4pm and Kentish Town 4.3pm/4.6pm, reaching St Pancras at 4.10pm. Journey speed 45mph. Two up and one down ran on this timing. One down train was 5 minutes slower. One up and one down took 4hrs 45 mins.
The London and North Western's train now ran via Macclesfield as follows:-
Four years later, viz in 1888, the Midland ran one of its trains via Nottingham, and since this was for a long time the quickest train on the Midland system, its log may be shown in detail:-
Subsequently, however, this excellent express reverted to the direct route via Leicester and Derby, eleven miles shorter. Nothing noteworthy again occurred in the Manchester - London services by any one of the three routes until the spring of 1898 when the North Western Company commenced running the 5.30pm down dining car express with only two intermediate stops. From the following 1st July, "breaks" of 128 miles between Willesden and Stafford by the 10.15am down and 138½ miles between Stoke and Willesden by the 12 noon up were also added.
On the 15th March 1899 the new Great Central route was opened for passenger traffic, leading to several important alterations in the Great Northern service. The King's Cross authorities were compelled to abandon the Manchester London Road terminus for the Central, distance from London via Retford 208 miles, while two of their down and all their up expresses were arranged to travel via Nottingham, a journey of 214 miles. The best time by the Retford route to Manchester now dropped back to 4hrs 32mins while the journey through Nottingham was scheduled to take from 4hrs 40mins to 4hrs 55mins. In its first batch of timetables, the Great Northern announced that until 30th June its trains would be run at "moderate speeds" only, and of the five expresses each way making up this preliminary service, two - the "Special Expresses" - took five hours, three took 5hrs 10mins and two took 5hrs 20mins. Another took 5hrs 30mins, one took 5hrs 40mins and yet another 5hrs 55mins. Again, from the 1st May 1899, the fact of the Great Northern and Great Central expresses tapping Nottingham led to the Midland converting their 9.00am down North express into a through Manchester connection via Nottingham.
With the 1st July 1899 timetable it was expected that the Great Central would level up at least one daily connection to the 4¼ hour standard; but the new line, while reinforcing its programme from five to eight trains each way, still adheres to the 4hrs 45mins limit. In the circumstances, it is not surprising to find that North Western declining any accelerations. This, then, is the up to date table of the "crack" Manchester to London expresses :-
9.00am from St Pancras, arriving Manchester Central 1.15pm; stopping at Kettering, Nottingham and Marple. Journey speed 47.5mph.
London and North Western
5.30pm from Euston, arriving Manchester London Road 9.45pm; stopping at Crewe and Stockport. Journey speed 44.4mph.
4.15pm from King's Cross, arriving Manchester Central 8.45pm; stopping at Grantham , Newark, Retford and Sheffield. Journey speed 46.2mph.
1.30pm from Marylebone, arriving Manchester London Road 6.15pm; stopping at Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. Journey speed 43.3mph.
The foregoing represents the best work done after 42 years of acute competition. The result being that Manchester and London have been brought only 30 minutes nearer to each other.
(The Manchester Guardian 14th August 1899)
(from the records of Walter Laidlaw)
This article first appeared in the Mancunian No.221 in March 2001
Last update January 2018. Comments welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org