Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Radcliffe Trust - Part V: The Railway

While the Trustees had handled the building of the Grand Junction Canal 50 years earlier, in 1830 a momentous decision was upon them. Robert Stephenson's new railway proposed to cut through the Wolverton estate for a distance of two miles.

On 21st February 1831, the Trustees met at the London home of Sir Robert Peel, to consider the implications of these proposals. They were not opposed to change on principle. They were well aware of the advantages for their tenants of the speedy transport of produce to London markets but they were also conscious of the damage to the land that would result from the embankments and the increased flooding risk from the proposed viaduct. On this occasion they declined their support.

A year later, after further investigation into the risks and benefits, and after being assured by Robert Stephenson that a fourth arch would be added to the viaduct to minimize flooding they gave their assent in June 1832. The bill was debated in Parliament and the Act was finally passed on May 6th 1833.

From this date it took a further five years before the line became a reality. Further negotiations led to the viaduct being expanded to six arches and the diversion of the river to follow a straighter course. (See plan of diversion here.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, this resulted in the demise of the ancient Mead Mill.

There were delays. The line had been completed to Denbigh Hall and from Rugby to Birmingham, so early passengers had to alight at Denbigh and be carried by coaches to Rugby before resuming their journey. The delay was largely caused by the Kilsby Tunnel, although the Wolverton Embankment and Viaduct was not without its engineering and construction problems. The line was complete on 17th September 1838. Wolverton had entered the industrial age.

The event was celebrated by
" a fete on a large scale. A very large assembly of spectators from the neighbourhood congregated at this place. At Stratford, booths and stalls were erected, and the place had all the characteristics of a large country fair. The road to the station was crowded with foot people and vehicles of every description." (Northampton Herald. 22 Sep. 1838)
The watchers on that day were rewarded by the remarkable sight of a plume of smoke coming from a tall funnel moving across the fields to the south. And it was chugging towards them at an undreamt-of speed. It was a short train of two carriages only, which would explain why it had only taken two hours - an average of 25 mph. Regular trains in those first years took three hours and fifteen minutes to reach Wolverton.

Aboard, were George Glyn, the Chairman, Richard Creed, the Company Secretary, and Edward Bury, the Locomotive Superintendent, Robert Stephenson himself and the Duke of Sussex, one of Queen Victoria's uncles.

A day for the history books.

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