Nostalgia: Lancaster and Preston railway

A reconstructed view of Penny Street Station by David Vale.
A reconstructed view of Penny Street Station by David Vale.

Dr Andrew White takes us on a journey through the Lancaster and Preston railway.

One hundred and eighty years ago Lancaster was preparing to build a railway, linking it to the Midlands and London.

A drawing of John O' Gaunt locomotive by its driver in 1849.

A drawing of John O' Gaunt locomotive by its driver in 1849.

It also wanted to seize the initiative as to where such a railway would go, since there was a chance that the town would be bypassed by a future main line between London and Scotland.

At this point Preston was still without a railway link, but the North Union was building a line which connected with Liverpool and Manchester and would soon connect with the Grand Junction and London and Birmingham Railways.

A group of local merchants and entrepreneurs formed a company and soon obtained an Act of Parliament.

By 1838 they were building the line, which was relatively level and straight, with few engineering difficulties on the way. The biggest challenge was the building of the viaduct across the Conder valley at Galgate, which intercity trains still use.

The railway opened in 1840 with great celebrations and trains started running the day after, with some running through or connecting with trains to London.

There was constant trouble with the North Union which controlled the station at Preston. Passengers from Lancaster were charged sixpence for travelling a few yards through a tunnel under Fishergate.

Many got out and walked instead, in which case the North Union made sure that their connection set out before they arrived.

Does this sound familiar?

The Lancaster and Preston company was not the most effective and managed to get itself into all kinds of trouble. In 1842 it was leased to the Canal company, which was at least well-managed and this unhappy arrangement – a transport monopoly - continued for several years.

Meanwhile the railways had moved on. A continuation of the line was built from Lancaster to Carlisle over Shap, opening in late 1846 and soon linking up with railways to Glasgow. Moderate incompetence in running the Lancaster and Preston section had been acceptable when it was on its own but was definitely not so when other companies started to run long-distance trains over this line. Matters came to a head in 1848 when a late-running local train was caught up and run into by Lancaster and Carlisle express while waiting at Bay Horse station.

One woman passenger was killed and a number of others injured, several of the carriages being wrecked. Soon after this the Lancaster and Preston company joined with the Lancaster and Carlisle and later both became part of the London and North Western Railway. It had had a short independent life of only 13 years.

Today nearly all of the former Lancaster and Preston forms part of the West Coast main line. The original station called Penny Street, 
now set among the buildings of the hospital, also survives in part.

l The story of the railway line ‘The Lancaster and Preston Junction Railway 1836-1849’ - has recently been published by Dr Andrew White, former Head of Museums, in a booklet available from the Market Bookstall and other bookshops, priced at £5. It contains a number of reconstruction drawings by David Vale.