Site Records


Chatsworth Street
OS Grid Ref:
SJ359949 (East portal of tunnel)

Sub Brit site visit 14.10.2012 and 26.04.2014

[Source: Paul Wright]

The Wapping tunnel was located at the western end of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&M) the worlds first city to city railway built to carry passengers from the start. Engineered by George Stephenson the L&M opened on 15 September 1830.

Although at the time of opening the passenger facilities at Liverpool were to the east of the city at Crown Street the line itself extended further west to a goods station at Wapping adjacent to the docks. To reach Wapping from Edge Hill a 1 mile 49 chain tunnel was required at a falling gradient of between 1 in 38 and 1 in 48. It was 22 feet wide and 16 feet high. Nothing on that scale had been attempted before.

The Wapping tunnel was designed by George Stephenson and the line of its route was surveyed by T L Gooch. The engineer appointed to build the tunnel was Charles Vignoles and work began in 1826.

Looking west towards the Wapping tunnel in 1831. The wapping tunnel is the centre bore. To the right is the Crown Street tunnel. The tunnel to the left with wooden doors was at that time a short dead end bore used for locomotive storage. It was opened out in the 1840s into a double track tunnel that ran to Crown Street. Wagons can be seen on the down Wapping line. They would work to Wapping goods by gravity. A locomotive is seen on the Crown Street line having just been attached to some coaches.
Illustration by Thomas Berry

To construct the tunnel a number of vertical shatfs were sunk from which pilot headings were excavated in both directions until they met. During the construction houses Great George Square were threatened with collapse and Joseph Locke submitted a report showing that serious errors had been made in the original survey. Charles Vignoles resigned and Locke was given the task of completing the tunnel. He cut side shafts that were used to check the alignment and correct the errors. The tunnel was completed in 1829.

A 1906 Railway Clearing House map showing the Wapping tunnel as 1 mile and 49 chains.

The western end of the Wapping tunnel and Wapping Goods station shown on a 1849 town plan.

The tunnel opened before the rest of the line and even had an official opening ceremony in July 1829 when the Mayor and the directors had a ride down the incline in some wagons. The walls of the Wapping tunnel were whitewashed and it was lit by gas lighting. Pedestrians were allowed to walk through it at first and even for a period after it became operational. The dangers quickly became evident and the public were no longer permitted.

The tunnel had double track but it was not designed for locomotive working as it was considered that the gradients were too steep. Trains worked down by gravity and they were hauled up by a cable. The cable was worked by stationary steam engines located in the Edge Hill Chatsworth Street cutting. Six wagons could be hauled up with an average weight of 4 tons. Locomotives were attached and detached at Chatsworth Street.

There were at least two occasions in the early years when the rope snapped causing wagons to roll back down the tunnel and derail. Although nobody appears to have been killed or injured on those occasions there was an accident at the Edge Hill end of the tunnel when a brakesman was run over and killed whilst attempting to disengage the rope mechanisms from wagons. Following the accident a regulation was brought in forbidding brakesmen from working with the mechanisms whilst trains were in motion.

The western portal of wapping tunnel seen looking east from Wapping Goods station in 1831.
Illustration by Thomas Berry

At Wapping Goods station horses were used to move the wagons around. The horses even worked into the tunnel for a short distance as the western end of the tunnel was level for 300 yards. The cable commenced at the bottom of the gradient were it levelled out. To assist the horses the spaces between the tracks had planks laid in them to give a level surface.

The inside of the Wapping tunnel as it was in 1831. At thsat time the tunnel was lit and pedestrians were allowed to walk through it:
Illustration by Thomas Berry

On 8 August 1845 the L&M was absorbed into the Grand Junction Railway which only a year later on 16 July 1846 merged with other companies to form the London & North Western Railway (LNWR).

In 1849 the winding engines at Chatsworth Street were replaced by new engines that were installed near the present day Edge Hill station. The new engines were required to operate the cable worked Waterloo Dock branch. At the same time the Chatsworth Street cutting was widened and a new Crown Street tunnel (to the south of wapping) opened.

In the second half of the 19th century cables replaced the ropes which allowed longer trains to be hauled up from Wapping Goods station.

On 2 March 1874 the Cheshire Lines Committee Railway (CLC) opened a line from Brunswick to a new city centre terminus called Liverpool Central. The line had three long tunnels one of which, the Great George Street tunnel, passed directly over the Wapping tunnel just to the south of the junction between Nelson Street and Great George Street. The CLC tunnel floor was only a few feet from the Wapping tunnel roof.

Looking east towards the western portal of Wapping tunnel from a similar viewpoint as the Thomas Berry view from 1831 of the goods station:
Photo by Paul Wright

A view looking east from inside the Wapping tunnel on 26 April 2014.
Photo by Chris Iles

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[Source: Paul Wright]

Last updated: Saturday, 03-May-2014 05:57:12 BST
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