Graham Trust explains why the first bill to establish the Liverpool and Manchester Railway failed

Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 5th August 2011 by Liam Physick

Graham Trust talks about the failure of the first bill to set up the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The canal proprietors united to lobby against the bill, and their counsel, Edward Alderson, humiliated Stephenson by pointing to the glaring errors in his survey and estimates, resulting from the fact that Stephenson had appointed an inexperienced team of surveyors and had not checked its findings. Graham also mentions one of the many theories of the origin of the word “Geordie”: Stephenson’s safety lamp was used in Northumberland in preference to the Davy Lamp used elsewhere. Following the bill’s failure, Stephenson was sacked by the company, but John Moss remained on good terms with him, while Stephenson developed the world’s first railway, the Stockton and Darlington - though, unlike the Liverpool and Manchester and unlike a modern railway, it used fixed engines and horses as well as locomotives to pull the carriages

Interviewee: Graham Trust

Interviewee Gender: Male

Date of Interview: 16th November 2010

Interview Transcript

Graham: I’ve said that the, the canal proprietors were, they were enormously wealthy but Sandars and Moss and other people on the Manchester, Liverpool and Manchester Board, they were wealthy men themselves, and men of influence, so . . . and they had a very good case, so they had the merchants of Manchester and Liverpool, as well as other parts of the country, the Potteries and the Midlands, which were enormous manufacturing centres, they had all of those interests on their side, so they did have a considerable voice and they had a good case, and, and they went, they presented a bill to Parliament in 1825, and, unfortunately, the canal, the main canal proprietors, united, they, they, they set down their differences for the purpose of defending their interests in 1825, so you had the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and the Bridgewater Canal, and they managed to get the bill kicked out . . .

Jenny. Right.

Graham: . . . much to Stephenson’s embarrassment, I mean, it wasn’t his fault that the bill was kicked out, it was, there were, a, many reasons, but historians tend to cite Stephenson’s woeful interactions with the canals . . . do, do, do you want to go into this, do you think?

Jenny: No, yeah, that would . . . I think it’s quite interesting, cos I heard that the – this could be truth or not – that the, when he presented the bill in Parliament, they were quite shocked by his broad accent, they couldn’t understand him.

Graham: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Well, I’ll, I’ll read you this extract from my book which includes quotations, and, so, on 26th April, Stephenson was cross-examined on his survey and estimates, about which it soon became apparent he knew little. He had trusted a largely inexperienced team to survey the line in the summer of 1824, and had not properly checked their findings. His nemesis was Edward Alderson, who was counsel to the canal owners, and Alderson took delight in exposing his errors and omissions, describing the Railway as “the most absurd scheme that ever entered into the head of a man to conceive.” Stephenson’s woeful estimate of the height of a bridge over the River Irwell led Alderson to query whether he was “so ignorant of his profession as to propose a bridge not sufficient to carry off the floodwater of the river or to permit any of the vessels to pass, which of necessity must pass under it, and leave his own railway, road, liable to be several feet underwater” and, unfortunately, Stephen (sic) recounted that fun was made of his, his accent, it wasn’t a Geordie accent, I can explain why it wasn’t a Geordie accent, it was a Northumberland accent . . .

Jenny: Right.

Graham: The reason we have “Geordie” today is because Stephenson patented a miners’ safety lamp at the same time as Humphrey Davy famously patented his and what happened was that, everywhere in the country, down mines, they used Humphrey Davy’s safety . . .

Jenny: Lamp.

Graham: . . . lamp, except in Northumberland, they used George Stephenson’s safety lamp, and somehow, “George” has been corrupted into “Geordie”, so . . .

Jenny: Right.

Graham: . . . that’s where we get “Geordies” from . . .

Jenny: Oh, right!

Graham: . . . cos the miners were wearing George’s safety lamp. But anyway, in Parliament, fun was made of his, his, his accent and someone asked if he was a foreigner – we’ve heard that before . . .

Jenny: Yeah.

Graham: . . . that persists to this day with Geordies, and another hinted that he was mad, and subsequently the bill was thrown out 31st May, and Stephenson was promptly dismissed from the company, and Moss would have been one of the people who made that decision, it was a blindingly obvious decision to be, to be made, cos he had been discredited and embarrassed, but Moss wrote to him, very shortly after that, Moss kept on very good terms with Stephenson, and he kept on good terms with Stephenson throughout Stephenson’s life, and Moss wrote to him on 13th July, and he said that, “No one can be more satisfied that I am that you deserved very different treatment that you met with from Mr. Alderson. Your talents are of a very much more valuable nature than that of a witness in the House of Commons”, and Stephenson replied from Newcastle on 18th, “I assure you the trouble and anxiety of mind I met with in London, still gives me much grief”, though thereafter – that was 1825 – Stephenson concentrated all his thoughts on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825, and that was the first . . .

Jenny: Railway.

Graham: . . . railway in the world. It wasn’t the first proper railway as we would understand it now – Liverpool-Manchester was the first proper railway as we would understand it – it was, the Stockton and Darlington was variously the means of traction, sometimes it was locomotives, sometimes it was fixed steam engines pulling the carriages on ropes, and passengers were pulled in carriages by horses. Liverpool and Manchester was the first railway, all of its carriages – freight and passengers – were pulled by locomotive engines, there were no fixed steam engines on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway apart from here, at Edge Hill which, as I say, were, they were used to pull the carriages up to Crown Street and drag them up from the Wapping Tunnel.

Tagged under: liverpool and manchester railway, george stephenson, canals, john moss, locomotives, stockton and darlington railway, bridgewater canal, joseph sandars, surveying, mersey and irwell navigation company

Categorised under: The Station & Railway Pioneers

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By Graham Trust on 16th November 2011

Dear Liam,

You describe my assertion that Stephenson was not to blame for the rejection of the 1825 Bill as bizarre. I note you are a History graduate of Liverpool University, so I think you deserve, and will appreciate my explanation for this comment. Please bear in mind that, wherever possible, the sources I use in my book are contemporary, or as near contemporary as it is possible to find. Why would I subscribe to the views of 20th / 21st century historians when I have the word of a Deputy Chairman of the L&M at my disposal? “Original” sources lend many insights which contradict the accepted versions of events.

Please bear in mind that, in my chat with Jenny, I had to skirt over the contents of my book otherwise she would still be sat there listening to me today (I would be in ecstasy, though).

You will know that Stephenson began to give evidence on 25 April, and some of that evidence was flawed (the vast bulk of it was NOT!). This Bill had been first introduced to a parliamentary committee over a month earlier - on 21 March. The following is a quote from my book:

“However, by the end of March, Moss was harbouring grave doubts about its prospects. He complained that he had ‘not felt very sanguine in the cause since our committee decided that Ellis and Brandreth were proper persons to send to London - I have seen much to find fault with…’

By April 4th(!), he conceded that the Bill was now ‘more than doubtful…The fact is that we shall lose it by the folly of our own people. Sandars, Ellis, Booth, Brandreth etc are very good men to conduct an opposition but totally unfit to carry any measure.’ Moss intended to stay in London until 1 May ‘to assist in the committee provided that they will listen to reason. I have some doubts and I shall act accordingly.’

Debating of this Bill did not finish until 31 May - the day it was thrown out. Even by 19 May, when an exasperated Moss finally left London, other committee members remained, under the delusion that they could get the Bill through (that’s an awfully long time after Stephenson’s supposedly damning evidence, isn’t it?). Moss was under no illusions, and was told that the other committee members felt “relieved” by his absence. So you can see that, in Moss’s mind, Stephenson’s testimony, though partially embarrassing, was merely the icing (or maybe even just the cherry) on a half baked cake, and it was not so damning as to dampen the spirits of the majority of the L&M’s representatives (all intelligent men) for more than a month afterwards.

You may not agree with my view. You may have access to more relevant materials than I do, but I hope you will agree that my view is categorically not a bizarre one. What I do find bizarre is why I said “15 October” when I knew / know full well it was 15 September when the railway opened. This is not the first (or last) time my mouth has uttered this nonesense - even though I have given it clear and stern instructions not to. Oh well. No one’s perfect.

I wish you, Jenny and everyone else on the project the very best for the future. I am delighted to have been asked to contribute to it in some way, even if, like Stephenson, my evidence may have gone a little awry from time to time.


Graham Trust

By Graham Trust on 16th November 2011

Did I say 25th September? Sozzer. I meant 15th. Doh!

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