Happy Birthday Liverpool Road Station

15 September 2015 marked the 185th anniversary of the opening of Liverpool Road Station. The station was the Manchester terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first railway for transporting passengers and goods entirely by steam power. The original station buildings survive and are now home to the Museum of Science and Industry.

Liverpool and Manchester Railway Centenary 1930

By the 100th birthday of the railway, Liverpool Road Station had grown considerably to three warehouses, a shipping shed, freight offices, horse stables and a piggery. It was primarily used as a goods depot since the passenger service was re-routed to Victoria Station in 1844. The 1830 station buildings (booking hall and shops) were re-used as offices and workshops.

A Centenary Organising Committee planned events to celebrate the centenary. They visited the original Liverpool terminus of the railway at Crown Street in March 1930 to investigate if commemorative events could take place there, but the site was disregarded. The focus of activity instead was Lime Street Station, an exhibition at St George’s Hall and an historical pageant held at Wavertree Playground in Liverpool.

Although the centenary was developed by Liverpool Corporation and largely funded by London Midland & Scottish Railways, Manchester Corporation became involved and a special trip was arranged. On the 15 September delegates travelled along the Liverpool – Manchester line from Lime Street to Victoria Station and were taken by bus to Liverpool Road. The Lord Mayors of Liverpool and Manchester jointly unveiled this bronze plaque, commissioned by Manchester Corporation, now in the Museum of Science and Industry collection:

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Leaflet for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Centenary held in Liverpool 13 to 20 September 1930. Rocket, Robert Stephenson’s locomotive for the railway which won the Rainhill Trails in 1829, was prominent in publicity for the event. A replica of Rocket ran in a procession of old and new locomotives.Source: National Railway Museum collection: W15/R Dendy Marshall Centenary cuttings book.

Source: National Railway Museum collection: W15/R Dendy Marshall Centenary cuttings book.

Leaflet for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Centenary held in Liverpool 13 to 20 September 1930. Rocket, Robert Stephenson’s locomotive for the railway which won the Rainhill Trails in 1829, was prominent in publicity for the event. A replica of Rocket ran in a procession of old and new locomotives.

It is worth noting that the rival claimant to the ‘first railway in the world’ was the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in September 1825 for coal and goods transportation with an ad hoc passenger provision. The celebration of this railway line was spearheaded by the London North Eastern Railway company. A tableau carried by a rail procession in Darlington included scenes showing transport through the ages. The Pageant of Transport at the Liverpool Celebrations in 1930 was similar to this display. Here you can see a photograph showing an actor dressed George Stephenson with a model of his steam locomotive – Locomotion No. 1 from the 1925 event:

National Railway Museum Collection: Photo album misc 117 Stockton and Darlington Railway Centenary Album.

Source: National Railway Museum Collection: Photo album misc 117 Stockton and Darlington Railway Centenary Album.

150th birthday celebrations at Liverpool Road

Liverpool Road Station closed fully closed in 1975 after operating as a major rail-head for freight in Manchester for 145 years. This was period of crisis for the station, with its future as a museum not secure. A preservation group, the Liverpool Road Station Society, formed in December 1978. The society was frustrated by slow negotiations between local government and British Rail, who offered the station to Greater Manchester Council for £1. The forthcoming anniversary in 1980 became a focus for activism. Council Officers and a number of railway preservation groups worked with the Society to plan a grand event. The Great Railway Exposition was held during August and September 1980, which featured rolling stock, an exhibition and family activities and attracted large crowds.

On 15 September 1930 at Liverpool Road Goods Station it was largely ‘business as usual’, except for the visit by the Mayors of Liverpool and Manchester. On this day in 1980, large scale celebrations galvanised support for local heritage and the preservation of the site as a museum. This goal was realised just three years later when the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry opened on yet another birthday: 15 September 1983.

In terms of my research, it is interesting to note the swing from Liverpool to Manchester as the focus for commemoration of the railway line. There was also ample press coverage of the unveiling of the plaque in Manchester, raising the profile of the ‘oldest railway station in the world’. My next line of enquiry is what happened at the site between these celebrations, from heritage rail trips to ad hoc tourism, I would like to find out how well known Liverpool Road Station was before the campaign to save the station in the 1970s.

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