Warrington’s Early Railways: Freeling’s Grand Junction Railway Companion (1838)

The search vagaries of Google have thrown up another happy discovery: I was sidetracked from the post I was writing into trying to find out what had happened to Warrington’s medieval fairs – and was presented with an extract from this early nineteenth century railway guide: Freeling’s Grand Junction Railway Companion to Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham and Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham Guide.

This proved to be absolutely fascinating – and sidetracked me still further – containing as it does ‘a narrative of the Parliamentary history of the project ; and account of every thing worthy the attention of the traveller upon the line ; including a complete description of every part of the rail-road ; of the noblemen or gentlemen’s seats which may be seen from it ; and of the towns and villages of importance in the neighbourhood ; of the churches, their patrons, and endowments ; the markets, fairs, races and angling stations, to which the railway gives access.

The copy online is a second edition, published by Whittaker and Co London in 1838. The Preface to the First Edition is included, which rather engagingly states that the book has had to be published ahead of schedule, as another work with a similar title, already in circulation, is being mistaken for his and, as it contains a number of serious errors, is doing his public reputation no good. (Railway historians please note that the work by Mr Cornish is unreliable – Mr Cornish states, for example, that Warrington Bridge has twenty arches of sixty five feet span and the same number of feet high, when in fact it has twelve arches, nine of which are only of sixteen feet span and twenty eight feet high.)

This Preface is followed by a fascinating Account of the parliamentary progress of the railway project from its first suggestion in 1823 and its opposition by the Mersey and Sankey Canal companies, until the line was finally opened in 1837. I was particularly interested by how rapidly expertise gained on earlier lines reduced the costs of construction; though the Grand Junction Railway still cost over £1 billion to build in today’s money.

This is followed by a Statement of Receipts and Expenditure to June 30th, 1837, (there’s a useful historical money converter here if you want to know what these equate to today); the Regulations (no smoking in any of the carriages and no tipping railway personnel!) and two Tables of Fares; and then the description of the Journey, starting at Liverpool, begins. A column on either side gives the distance in miles to and from Birmingham at each of the points mentioned in the description.

I have transcribed the entries relating to the journey through Warrington, below:

Two hundred yards after leaving the [Newton Junction] Station, is a line of railroad, turning off to the left ; this is the line from Manchester to Birmingham ; and for about the same distance the carriages travel along a perfect level, but here they begin to descend a plane. At the 151/4 mile-post, an excavation, the first on the Grand Junction Line, commences. We continue to descend what may perhaps be properly called the Bradley Incline, as the village of Bradley lies to the left ; this is the steepest that the locomotive engines travel on during the whole journey. It is rather more than three-quarters of a mile in length, and has as descent of one inch in 85 ; at the post marked 15 1/2, the steep ends, and a gentle declivity of one inch in 476, succeeds, which, with but little alteration, continues to Warrington ; opposite this post the Bradley excavation ends, and a slight embankment commences. To the left is the Vulcan Foundry, a red brick building ; a great many locomotive engines are made here ; the adjoining house belongs to the proprietor of the foundry ; and a little further on, opposite the 153/4 post, are a number of cottages, built of red brick, which are principally, if not wholly, occupied by the families of his workmen.

The country here is a flat valley, richly wooded ; opposite, this post, [16] to the right,, the Sankey Canal flows parallel with the road ; on a fine day, the flats (a class of vessels adapted to this navigation, of from 40 to 80 tons burden) may be seen bearing their burden of merchandize to and from the commercial metropolis of the kingdom, and, with their large red sails, adding much to the picturesque appearance of the scene. On the left, about a mile from the railroad is WINWICK [I have omitted the description of the village] … A little past here (171/2), the Sankey Canal turns to the right, towards RUNCORN GAP, at which place it enters the river Mersey, about 18 miles above Liverpool.

Here ends the Bradley Embankment.[181/4] One hundred yards past here, a single line of rails turn off to the left, towards the town of Warrington. Here are various works connected with the railway carriages. One mile further on, is a bridge across the Line, over which passes the London road ; and just through the bridge is the


                                                    Miles  1st Class. 2nd Class.

Distant from L’pool & Manchester 191/2 miles 4s. 0d. 3s. 0d.

Distant from Birmingham               773/4 miles 16s. 6d. 11s. 6d.

From this Station, Runcorn lies 4 miles west ; Altrincham, 12 miles east. Except, however, he is travelling by a first class train, we should advise the traveller who is desirous to go to Runcorn to alight at the Moore Station.

WARRINGTON. – It is a market town and parish, in the hundred of West Derby ; the population of the parish is 19,155 ; of the town, 16,018. An. Ass. Val. £29,069. Its principal manufactures are, cottons, sail-cloth, hardwares, files, pins, and glass. Its public buildings are, a town-hall, market-hall, and cloth-hall. It has assembly-rooms, a theatre, gas-works, and a dispensary. Its markets are on Wednesday and Saturday ; it has two fairs, for horses, horned cattle, and cloth, viz. on July 18 and November 30, (St. Andrew’s), and a fair every Wednesday fortnight for cattle. It appears probable that the present name was a corruption of the Saxon appellation Woering and Tun, signifying a fortified town. It is situated on the Mersey, over which a bridge was erected in the time of Henry VII. (1496) by the first Earl of Derby, to facilitate the progress of the king, who was about to visit Latham House ; this bridge, after being many times repaired, was pulled down in 1812, and its successor is about to share the same fate, a handsome stone bridge having just been finished. In the time of the Civil Wars, this bridge was frequently the scene of obstinate conflicts, occasioned perhaps by there being on other nearer than Burton-upon-Irwell. In 1643, the town was twice taken by storm by the Parliamentary forces. In 1648, the Scottish army, under the Duke of Hamilton, here made a stand ; General Lambert also here repulsed the Scottish army under the young king (Charles II.); and last, in 1745 it was found necessary to break down the middle arches of the bridge, to check the progress of the Rebels. The livings are, a rectory and two canons, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Chester. C. V. rectory, £40, patron, Lord Lilford ; the curacy of St. Paul, patron the rector, (not in charge) ; that of the Holy Trinity, certified value, £17 10s ; An. Val., P. R. £106 ; patron, Thomas Leigh, Esq. The church, dedicated to St. Elphin, or Helen, is a handsome building, built of red free-stone, probably of Saxon origin, and contains some very curious old monuments ; two ancient chapels remain, in one of which is the magnificent tomb of Sir Thomas Boteler and his lady. Here are also places of worship for most classes of Dissenters, and one Roman Catholic chapel. The schools are numerous, among which are pre-eminent, the Free-school, founded and endowed in 1526, by one of the Boteler family ; and the Blue Coat School, which is richly endowed for the education of 150 boys and 40 girls. There are many charitable institutions in the town. Warrington was the birth-place of Dr. Percival, founder of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester ; of Litherland, the inventor of the patent lever watch ; here the Right Hon, George Tierney received his education ; and its neighbourhood gave birth to John Blackburne, who so successfully cultivated the Cotton-tree, and who was the second person who brought the Pineapple to perfection in England. Warrington gives the title of Earl, in addition to Stamford, to the Grey family.

[I have omitted the descriptions of Runcorn and Altrincham which followed]

We take our departure for the WARRINGTON STATION, and enter upon the Arpley Embankment, small caps which is nearly two miles long, and in some places, from 16 to 18 feet above the fields. The road passes over five bridges, beside the viaduct, in crossing this Embankment. The ascent of the road for the next mile is one inch in 500; then for 21/2 miles, nearly to the mile post (23rd mile), the ascent is scarcely perceptible, being but one in 3474. Looking to the westward, the hight chimneys at Runcorn, and Halton Castle, may be plainly seen. The view from the ruins of this ancient fortress, which was demolished in the civil wars, is very extensive ; we have not room to describe it, but if our readers are about to sojourn for any time at Liverpool, we would recommend them to take the steam boat to Runcorn and promise them much gratification in a visit to the castle and the neighbourhood. To the left is Latchford ; the spire of its church may be plainly seen ; and looking back, the traveller will now have a view of Bank Hall, the seat of Wilson Patten Esq., the member for North Lancashire. Looking forward the Hill Cliff quarry, from whence the stone was obtained for the formation of the bridges and viaducts, is to the south-east. Tradition asserts that the celebrated Nixon prophesied, that when thesse rocks visited Vale Royal, the family of Cholmondely, would have attained its zenith, and much more which this deponent sayeth not.

About forty yards before we come to this post (201/2), the Railroad passes into Cheshire, by crossing the Warrington Viaduct, which has twelve arches, viz., nine land arches of 16 feet span, and 28 feet high from the level of the water ; 2 river arches of 75 feet span, and 34 feet high, and one canal arch of 23 feet high, and one canal arch of 23 feet high from the same level. The river Mersey and the Mersey and Irwell Canal here flow under the road. The Viaduct has a very handsome stone parapet. To the left is Walton Inferior ; a little more to the south-east is Walton Superior. About 30 yards before this post [211/2], we enter the Moore Excavation, which is near one mile and a half in length, and is crossed by five handsome bridges, the first and last of which are built on the skew principle. We now arrive at the


The description of the Journey ends on arrival at Birmingham and is followed by some statistics on the construction of the line. These are followed in turn by a List of Races in the vicinity of the railroad.

The Guides to Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham which close the Companion give a wealth of detail on those things deemed useful or interesting for the visitor by rail. After a short outline of each town, the details of delivery times at the Post Office, the times of the dispatch of railway mails; the times of dispatch of letters for India and Foreign Parts; details of foreign packets and steam packets (Liverpool) and details of coach offices, hackney coach fares and the whereabouts of hackney coach and car stands are all given.

There is also a list of the principal hotels, the banks, the theatres, assembly rooms, galleries, parades, public baths, cemeteries (to visit), zoos, botanic gardens, public buildings of interest, markets and places of worship; as well as a list of charitable, literary and scientific institutions, libraries, newsrooms and newspapers. Everything has a little comment on each to assist the reader in enjoying his stay at these towns.

This really is an absolute gem of a find, both for the railway buff and the cultural historian. (If you click on Freeling’s name some of his works on other lines are also available.)


7 thoughts on “Warrington’s Early Railways: Freeling’s Grand Junction Railway Companion (1838)

  1. Good get, Victoria. It is truly amazing what’s out there on the net. As a railfan, I’m astounded to learn that Mr Freeling anticipated George Bradshaw by a year (although Bradshaw’s guide started essentially as an annotated timetable and it wasn’t until much later that Bradshaw’s became the indispensable rail traveller’s handbook). Maybe Bradshaw, a fellow Lancastrian, took the idea and expanded it — as often happens. One small point, though: you have a typo dating the idea for the railway from 1823 — it should be 1833. The first mainline passenger railway was Manchester-Liverpool and that opened in 1830. Which also means that in only eight years, the railway industry had already linked London to Liverpool-Manchester via the Grand Trunk Railway and the Warrington you love so well. The rapid growth of the railways and their transformation of Britain and the world is a great part of history that is really not well understood today. Rail is either taken for granted or treated as some kind of fairground ride — Michael Portillo notwithstanding. End of sermon. Sorry. See you in Moulder’s Lane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Noel,

      I have just double-checked this and it is 1823. Bills were submitted to Parliament in 1824 and 1826 to such violent opposition that they gave up the idea until the imminent opening of the Manchester – Liverpool railway in 1830 persuaded them to give it another go.

      Freeling’s account of this is here

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, sorry. I’m wrong about the typo. I’ve just looked up the original on your advice and now I understand. This makes it even more fascinating. In the great story of the Manchester-Liverpool project, the other ideas of George Stephenson et al have been pushed to the margin. By golly, they were visionaries in those days. Thanks, and my apologies for jumping to a hasty conclusion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Visionaries indeed, and Warrington businessmen amongst them! They were extra-ordinarily quick to grasp the possibilities of the Liverpool to Manchester line – the Act for the Warrington and Newton Railway was passed in May 1829 to connect to the L& MR line, four and a half miles away at Newton Junction (modern-day Earlestown).

      This was surveyed and engineered by George Stephenson and was opened in July 1831, just ten months after the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company opened Britain’s first inter-city line in September 1830.

      I’ve been meaning for some time to write a post on Warrington being Britain’s first branch line, after watching ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’.

      What amazes (and exasperates!) me is that Warrington has no railway museum and the powers that govern us don’t acknowledge anywhere (one wonders if they even know!) our town’s pivotal place in railway history.


  3. Dear Victoria, I have just discovered something fascinating. I downloaded a copy of Mr Freeling’s companion and was comparing it with your piece above when it became apparent it was not the same as the one you turned up on Google Books. For some strange reason I must not have used the link you provided. The copy I acquired is actually the first edition of 1837 and it came from the Library of Congress — yes, Washington DC — while yours came from the Bodleian, Oxford. So now I’ve downloaded the second edition and have two Freelings. This is seriously good stuff. There appear to be some significant differences — the second edition has a pictorial cover, for instance; the first edition does not include those financial figures at P16, which are revealing. I’ve been looking for Freeling in my collection of railway histories and commentaries but not a mention — only Bradshaw’s. So now I’m writing this up on my blog. With your permission I’d like to insert a link to your piece. Many thanks for the discovery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Noel,

      What fun – and how incredibly interesting! Does the first edition feel rushed to you?

      Do link by all means – I’m so pleased that this discovery is being taken up by someone with real expertise in the field; looking forward to a whole series of articles at your end!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Oh, what a Freeling! | The Traveller

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