Site Records


Site Name: Liverpool - Edge Hill Cutting & Tunnels

Chatsworth Street
Liverpool 7
OS Grid. Ref: SJ367898

Sub Brit site visit September 1998

[Source: Nick Catford]


With the success of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, George Stephenson was once again employed to build a new line linking Manchester, the centre of the northern textile industry with the port of Liverpool. The proposed route posed a serious threat to the Bridgewater Canal which had a monopoly on the transportation of goods between Liverpool and Manchester.

Parliamentary wrangling lasted several years but eventually an act was obtained and George Stephenson started work on the Manchester and Liverpool Railway in 1826.

The proposed route proved a serious challenge with a number of difficult engineering problems along the 31 mile long line, including crossing the unstable peat bog of Chat Moss, a two-mile long, 80' deep rock cutting at Olive Mount and a viaduct across the Sankey Valley.


George Stephenson

1949 Street map of Edge Hill

The Liverpool terminus was to be at Crown Street while in Manchester the terminus would be in Water Street.

Another major consideration was whether to use stationary engines and cable haulage or locomotives which were still in their infancy. In order to reach a decision, a competition was arranged to try and find a locomotive that was sufficiently powerful to work on the line. A £500 prize was offered for the winning locomotive with the competition being held at Rainhill, on the completed line, in October 1829. Each competing locomotive had to pull a load three times its own weight up and down the track at Rainhill 20 times at a speed of at least 10 mph. In distance this approximated a return trip between Manchester and Liverpool. Initially ten locomotives entered for the Rainhill Trials but on the day only five arrived and two of them were unable to compete due to of mechanical problems. Of the remaining three 'Sans Pareil' and 'Novelty' achieved a good result but the clear winner was the 'Rocket' built by George Stephenson and his son Robert.

Following the successful outcome of the competition, locomotive haulage over the majority of the line was confirmed although the last section to the two Liverpool termini was cable hauled.

The locomotives would run as far as Edge Hill cutting where they would be detached with loaded coaches being cable hauled through a short tunnel by winding engines at the passenger terminus at Crown Street; returning coaches ran down to Edge Hill by gravity. Goods traffic was handled at the Wapping Goods station close to Liverpool Docks. This was reached by an impressive 2030 metre tunnel from Edge Hill cutting; wagons were cable hauled up from Wapping and descended by gravity.

The Rocket

Horses were used for shunting at Edge Hill and their stables were cut into the sandstone walls of the cutting.

Photo:Edge Hill Cutting (click here to remove titles)
Photo by Nick Catford

As well as the engineering achievements, Stephenson was asked by the directors to build something ornate on the line and he chose a Moorish Arch which was built over the line in the Edge Hill cutting. Stephenson skillfully used this arch to hide the two stationary engines which powered the incline into Wapping.

The Liverpool & Manchester railway opened on 15th September 1830 in the presence of the prime minister, the Duke of Wellington, and a large number of other dignitaries. The ceremony featured a procession of eight locomotives running between Liverpool and Manchester which included the 'Northumbrian', the 'Rocket', the 'North Star ' and the 'Phoenix'.


Edge Hill Cutting in 1883 - pub. by Ralph Ackermann
Unfortunately, William Huskisson, one of Liverpool's MP's, crossed in front of a loaded passenger train to speak to the prime minister. Despite a shouted warning he was knocked down by the Rocket which crushed his legs and he later died of his injuries. The procession continued in sombre mood but when the Northumbrian arrived at the Manchester terminus the passenger carriages were pelted with stones by weavers, who remembered the Duke of Wellington's involvement in the Peterloo Massacre and his vigorous opposition to the proposed 1832 Reform Act.

Despite the tragedy on the opening day The Liverpool & Manchester Railway quickly proved a great success carrying 445,047 passengers in 1831 with profits of £71,098; four years later profits had nearly doubled.

Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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