It is surprising to learn that Lancaster had a number of connections with important, and critical railway developments, alongside its perhaps more famous connections with English furniture making, and of course its royal links through John of Gaunt.
Alongside the Lune, the factory of railway wagon and carriage builders – the Lancaster Wagon Co. – was set up on Caton Road. A handy place for a factory too – with the “Little North Western” main line close by, anfd its station at Lancaster Green Ayre. This railway line formed the Midland Railway’s route to the harbour at Heysham, from Clapham, providing a new terminus for its boat trains, which had previously gone to Barrow-in-Furness.
The Midland Railway station at Green Ayre also had a link to the more famous Lancaster Castle station on the London & North Western Railway, via a steeply graded and curved line across land now partly occupied by a supermarket. The line from Green Ayre to Morecambe – both Euston Road and Promenade Stations was electrified just after the turn of the 19th/20th century – and one of the earliest in the UK.
The line had originally been electrified in 1908 by the Midland Railway, with electrical equipment from Siemens, and the 6,600V AC overhead system developed in Germany. This was a very far sighted decision by the railway company, and allowed for much more flexible train operations than the 3rd rail techniques used in the south of England.
More importantly, in the 1950s, it was the test bed for what is today’s UK standard electrification schemes, with equipment from other Lancashire based railway companies – English Electric. Whilst Britiain had tried 1,500V DC overhead systems for main lines, it was more costly and did not offer as much future for higher speeds as the 25,000V AC system. This arrangement had already shown to be very successful in France, and it was this system that went on to be adopted on British Railways. But where to test it?
Clearly, the Lancaster Green Ayre to Morecambe & Heysham was the obvious choice – and it was successful. The impact of this 1950s test scheme cannot be underestimated – its success has been key to BR electrification across the country.
A Ticket to Ride
Established by Robert Gillow, Lancaster was a centre of “high-end” furniture making in the 18th century, it may be less of a direct connection, but one of Gillow’s employees – Thomas Edmondson – he of the railway ticket fame was born in Lancaster in 1792.
Edmondson was a Quaker and originally worked in the Lancaster cabinet making business of Gillow, but left to find his fame and fortune in the rapidly expanding world of railways.
He moved to work as Station Master at Brampton on the Newcastle to Carlisle Railway. Whilst there he devised the idea of using a small piece of cardboard, pre-printed with journey details, with the tickets numbered by hand, and validated by a separate date-stamping press. His most important development was a mechanism to pre-print and stamp the tickets with their serial numbers before being issued to the passenger.
Edmondson tickets are still in use on some railways around the world today – but ceased to be used in Britain in the 1980s. It is unlikely that passenger train travel would have been as successful without Thomas Edmondson of Lancaster’s invention. Gillow’s loss of a cabinet maker was the railway’s gain – all over the world!