The London & North Western Railway Co., or “Premier Line” as it ultimately became known, was undoubtedly one of this Country’s premier railway companies, The LNWR came into existence following the amalgamation in 1846,of three of the principal west coast companies; the London & Birmingham, Grand Junction and Manchester & Birmingham Railways. The latter however did not fully extend to the limits implied in its title, occupying roughly the same route as the present Styal Line into Manchester Piccadilly, with its connection to Birmingham made over Grand Junction metals from Crewe.
The LNWR as it existed in 1846 was divided into Northern and Southern Divisions, with separate Chief Mechanical Engineers (CMEs) for each, not to mention individual livery styles and a number of other things. Wolverton and the Southern Division was in the hands of Edward Bury, from London & Birmingham days, later followed by McConnell. The Northern Division based on Crewe began life under Alexander Allan and Richard Trevithick, and later John Ramsbottom. From 1857 onwards however, the two divisions of the LNWR were merged, with Ramsbottom assuming overall control of the C.M.E.’s side from Crewe.
Crewe itself soon assumed considerable importance as major junction, with completion of Robert Stephenson’s Chester & Holyhead line – the “Irish Mail Route”. The old Grand Junction Railway was also connected northwards from Crewe with the Liverpool & Manchester and Wigan & Preston Railway. The Potteries too, through the North Staffordshire Railway, also had an interest in Crewe and the flowering LNWR. Further north there was the Lancaster & Preston Junction and Lancaster & Carlisle Railways, which later became part of the LNWR empire, though not for some years after the merger of 1846.
To the south, the LNWR was anxious to improve its communication with the capital, avoiding the need for a circuitous route from the manufacturing centres of the north through Birmingham, the Trent Valley line was constructed, though not without some opposition. The opposition to this line came initially from the LNWR itself, since the Trent Valley line was projected originally as a separate company, the LNWR taking it over after the light had been seen, so to speak. At Rugby, connection was made with the fast growing empire of George Hudson’s Midland Railway. In fact, until the Midland opened its own route to London and St. Pancras, that company was obliged to rely on the LNWR for through carriage of its passengers and goods, from the manufacturing districts of the East Midlands, and of course coal from the South Yorkshire Coalfields. There was much antagonism between the two companies at one stage, the Midland threatening to send its traffic to London over the metals of the rival east coast route of the Great Northern Rly. The LNWR was to encounter the Midland again in later years, much further north, with the building of the Settle-Carlisle line.
Motive power in the early days was diminutive, both by modern standards and those of contemporary companies, particularly the broad gauge GWR, whose massive outside framed single wheelers were twice the size of Bury’s bar-framed 0-4-0 and 2-2-0 types. Coaching stock was small by comparison too, though despite this, tales are told of double, triple and even quadruple heading trains out of Euston. About this ti.me too, there appeared from Crewe, one of the Company’s famous and unique locomotive types – the now preserved “Cornwall”, a relatively small engine with massive single driving wheels. Trevithick’s original design though was rather different to the form in which it is preserved today, essentially, in order to lower the centre of gravity, its boiler was carried below the driving wheel axle!
A nightmarish proposition for those required to maintain it no doubt. However, not all LNWR motive power was quite so freakish, some solid designs were produced at Wolverton under McConnel, known for some obscure reason as ”Bloomers”. Although again, they were really quite s all designs. In fact the Company was to be beset for many years with motive power of both small size, and in many instances poor performance. Ramsbottom’s ”Newton” class 2-4-0’s though small, were the forerunner of perhaps the Campany’s most successful design of steam locomotive until the early years of the 20th Century. I refer of course to the ever famous “Precedent” class, or as they became popularly known – the “Jumbos”.
Probably the LNWR’s most “colourful” period coincided with the. arrival of the autocratic F.W. Webb as Chief Mechanical Engineer, and also with those of Richard Moon as Chairman and Capt. Mark Huish as Company Secretary. This trio were, even by Victorian standards, extreme in their attitudes and formidable in the wielding of their power and influence over all who ca.ne into contact, or conflict, with them. Two interesting stories are related over the activities of two members of this trio, though the one concerning Capt. Huish serves to underline his management methods, which, it appears, were learned whilst pirating the South China Sea, in pursuit of the lucrative, but illegal, opium trade; F.W.Webb on the other hand was of a more religious upbringing, his father having been a vicar. Christianity left its mark on this man in an obscure sort of way, for on an occasion whilst paying a visit to one of the workshops at Crewe, upon entering a building which had shortly before seen some form of accident, the area being thick with smoke and fumes, a workman had been overcome by these same fumes. On witnessing this, Webb is reported to have instructed the foreman to take the hapless individual outside, revive him and sack him forthwith. Perhaps in relating this incident, all the reasons are explained for Webb’s dogmatic and obstinate pursuit of the compound locomotive.
During this period, between say 1860 and 1900, there occurred the steady expansion of the Euston empire, stretching to the Scottish border and beyond, with the lliance of the Caledonian Railway to across the Irish Sea and the Euston owned Dundalk, Newry & Greenore Railway. Its steamship services ere surpassed by few others, whilst its main line, forever known as the West Coast Route was amongst the busiest and hardest to work of any railway in the country. The LNWR even managed to gain a foothold in West Cumberland, over the Cockermout, Keswick & Penrith line, purchasing the Whitehaven Junction Railway, and having operating agreements and joint ownership with the Furness, of one or two others. By 1870, the LNWR had indeed established a fair sized and extremely profitable railway. In size, with around 1400 miles of track, even this was to more than double by the end of its independent life, it was second only to the GWR; although its income was very nearly double that of the company with the broad gauge. It had also, the two important arteries of the Chester & Holyhead, acquired in 1858, and the Lancaster & Carlisle, leased, optimistically perhaps, for 90 years.
Locomotives figure prominently in any account of the “Premier Line” at this time, not surprisingly in view of the almost bewildering number of designs produced by Webb during the period from 1870 to 1903. Webb, as is well known, was an ardent and staunch a supporter of compounding as a means of effecting economies in locomotive operation as any other. He was also ably backed in this respect by the company Chairman – Richard Moon. Moon too was constantly striving for economy, tempered with the desire to maintain the position of the LNWR, and his own naturally, as one of the world’s largest, wealthiest and most respected joint stock companies. This he undoubtedly achieved during his tenure of that office, between 1861 and 1891. But it was perhaps Webb’s brilliance as a mechanical engineer that is remembered most, many of the innovations on this country’s railways in the latter half of the century were the product of his inventive genius. As an example, Adam’s ”Radial Tanks” on the London & South Western Rly. possessed a design of trailing axlebox which owed much of its development to Webb’s own ideas on the LNWR, to say nothing of his patented electro-mechanical interlocking lever frames for signalling!
As a locomotive engineer, Webb was probably second to none. Although remembered most for his largely unsuccessful pursuit of compounding, in his simple expansion designs of the “Precedent” class 2-4-0 and “Cauliflower” goods 0-6-0’s there appeared successful designs of locomotive unsurpassed by many, many others. A great number of the latter survived nearly a century, passing into the hands of British Railways. But it was in the direction of locomotive design that his genius really let him down for not being content with developing simple expansion types that would perform the work required, he became obsessed with his pursuit of the compound locomotive. It was this principle really that consisted in costing the LNWR far more than any equivalent saving in fuel consumption. His designs, such as the “Experiment”, “John Hick” and “Dreadnought” classes were almost total failures, being both heavy on fuel and difficult to operate. Moreover, he later attempted to dispense with the idea of coupling the driving wheels together, with the result that whereas often the leading wheel could be seen turning in one direction, the trailing wheel would revolve in the opposite direction!
Despite this handicap in the motive power department the LNWR’s train services provided a level of punctuality second to none, smoothness and comfort in travelling too were unmatched, for a time at least, by any other company. In appearance, the ”Blackberry Black” of its locomotives, with their complex lining in red, cream, pale blue and grey made a pleasant, and in some of the grimier industrial areas, outstanding contrast with the “Purple Brown” and white coaches.
Train speeds of the late Victorian period were not, on the whole, high, but certainly comparable with those of other railways. The crack Anglo-Scotch express, was the 2-0 pm “Corridor” from Euston, even so, it took some eight hours to reach the Scottish border from the Capital. Indeed, just prior to the famed ”Race to the North” of the late 80’s and 90’s, Edinburgh was reached in around ten hours of travelling – an interesting comparison with the 4.5 to 5 hours of today’s “Pendolinos”. These timings are roughly comparable to the speeds achieved soon after the Euston to Glasgow electrification was completed in 1974. For the LNWR’s premier services, around 120 years ago, “slow”, would not perhaps be the right word – sedate would fit the bill much mare precisely.
Following the turn of the century, the first two decades saw yet another interesting period in the LNWR’s history, and one of considerable change. This relatively short period saw three changes of C.M.E., taking the Company up to amalgamation with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1922, before finally merging into the LMSR on 1st January 1923. Train timings were improved somewhat after 1900, although by today’s standards, still sedate, with average speeds in the order of 55 mph for express trains. Passenger loadings were constantly increasing hence also the trailing tonnages hauled by the locomotives. It should be pointed out though, whilst we are now accustomed to reading accounts of performance with train weights cited in tons, in LNWR days it was customary for the guard to inform the driver that he had ”Eight equivalent to sixteen on”. This in effect was to say that there were eight bogie coaches behind the engine, each of which, by tradition was reckoned to be of equivalent weight to two standard four-wheelers.
The practice of quoting grain weights in terms of vehicle numbers continued for some time. Not so for the Webb compounds though, for no sooner had George Whale succeeded to the post of CME, than he embarked on a program of scrapping the three-cylinder passenger types, and modifying the 4-cylinder goods locomotives. The LNWR was desperately in need of efficient, powerful and simple, above all simple, locomotives. To this end, Whale saved the day, surprisingly quickly too, by all accounts the drawings for the ”Precursor” class 4-4-0 were prepared in March 1904 and quantity production was in full swing by September of that year. Whale also produced the “Experiment” class 4-6-0, a larger version of the “Precursor”. In fact, it has been said that both of these designs were developed from Webb’s own ”Precedent” class 2-4-0. Perhaps the last, and in some ways most outstanding LNWR locomotive type was produced under the guidance of C.J. Bowen-Cooke in 1913, the 4-cylinder 4-6-0’s of the “Claughton” class. This locomotive was the result of a series of comparative tests on the LNWR of a Great Western “Star” class 4-6-0, though in appearance, the “Claughton” was unequivocally a product of Crewe. The later products of the LNWR from Crewe, from various CME’s of the early Twentieth Century, were entirely successful in their work. The “Claughtons” particularly, for in fact it was on this design that the LMSR based its ”Baby Scot” or “Patriot” class 4-6-0s, some of which were “Claughton” chassis with LMS designed superstructures.
The days following the 1914-18 war were something of a period of “marking time” for the LNWR, and Crewe Works, having been fully occupied with munitions work there was little prospect of recovery to pre-war levels of operation. In 1921,the Act of Parliament which sanctioned the formation of the four grouping companies, came into being, whilst the amalgamation in 1922 with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway was nothing more than a curtain raiser for the fun and games that beset the newly constituted LMSR in 1923. Having just emerged from a war, slightly the worse for wear; the LNWR was about to engage in another, with even greater consequences. But that, as they say, is another story.
A number of the LNWR locomotive designs lasted into the British Railways era, and even one of the “Claughton” 4-6-0s survived to be given BR No. 46004, and classed as 5XP – albeit with a new boiler fitted. The smaller classes and freight designs from the Webb and Whale years lasted a very long time, and in 1955, the last of Webb’s 2-4-2 tank engines was withdrawn – and claimed a place in the BR London Midland Region magazine:
At the time of the 150th anniversary of the ‘Rainhill Trials’ in 1980, the LNWR was represented by another Webb Stalwart – the “Coal” tank, the last of which had been withdrawn in 1958. Still looking good in “Blackberry Black”.