The first local meeting to consider the possibility of a railway for Blackburn took place at the Old Bull Inn in December 1840. By that time the North Union Railway had reached Preston from the south and it was proposed that any Blackburn company should attempt to link with this new line. Those who attended the meeting felt that the time was not yet right to risk investing in this new mode of transport. However, their reticence was to be short-lived, for within three years firm proposals were in place to connect the adjacent towns of Preston and Blackburn with a new line, appropriately named the Blackburn & Preston Railway. The Act of Parliament authorising the route was passed on June 6th 1844 and the first sod cut on August 19th. In engineering terms, the line was relatively easy to build - there were no tunnels and only one major viaduct, the three-span 108 feet high Hoghton Viaduct. The Blackburn Standard considered this to be "one of the most striking objects on the line".
The opening of the line on June 3rd 1846 created great excitement in the town. Once again, the Blackburn Standard were in attendance:
"A train of carriages was ordered to be in readiness, and four o'clock was fixed upon as the hour for making the first trip...The news had become known to some thousands who crowded round the Station and the train, lined the road for a considerable distance, filled the windows and doors of the adjoining houses, topped the walls and the nearest bridges, and occupied every available opening from which a view of the road or train could be obtained."
The Blackburn & Preston railway became part of the East Lancashire Railway, and in June 1848 opened an eastward extension to Accrington, connecting with the rest of the ELR network via Haslingden to Bury.
Since 1845, the B&PR had a rival in Blackburn, in the shape of the Blackburn, Darwen and Bolton Railway who planned to link the towns named in their title. An extension of their planned route occasioned a change in title in 1847 when they became the Bolton, Blackburn, Clitheroe and West Yorkshire Railway, often known simply as the 'Bolton Company'. Initially, the two rivals had an amicable relationship - the B&PR agreed to let the Bolton Company share their new railway station at Stoneybutts (now better known as the Boulevard), but tempers frayed when suitable terms for the payment of tolls and checking of tickets could not be agreed. Eventually, the Bolton Company decided to build their own railway station on Bolton Road - the site is now part of Fogarty's Distribution Yard. The East Lancashire Railway (as the B&PR had now become) were annoyed by this move - they decided to spoil the opening of the Bolton Company's extension to Clitheroe, by blocking the route through their station. George Miller takes up the story:
"On the day scheduled for the opening...they found the junction at Daisyfield barricaded with baulks of timber, with several engines and other rolling stock loaded with stones, and it was not until some days later that wiser counsels prevailed and the East Lancashire Company withdrew the obstruction".
Ironically, the two companies amalgamated in 1857 to become part of the huge Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway network, which in turn became the London Midland & Scottish Railway in 1923. Despite these early disagreements, Blackburn profited from excellent railway communications to Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire which helped to maintain the booming cotton industry well into the 20th Century.
By Nick Harling
Blackburnians perish in train inferno
This year on the 20th of August 2008, it will be the 140 year anniversary of the Abergele train catastrophe. Described by newspapers as ‘frightful’, or as The Illustrated London News put it – “a rush down the crater of Mount Vesuvius into the fiery gulf beneath it could hardly be more appalling”. This rail disaster claimed the lives of 33 men and women. However it is not the statistics of the event that make it so intriguing, rather who it was that died, and the manner in which they did so.
Shortly after noon on Thursday the 20th August 1868, six runaway wagons smashed into the Irish Mail train as it travelled up the line between Abergele and Llanddulas. Two of these wagons contained barrels of paraffin, 1700 gallons in total. Upon contact with the engine, the paraffin exploded and set the first four carriages alight. These front carriages were separated by two mail vans from the rear carriages. Every single person within the rear carriages survived – every single person within the front carriages perished, and interestingly three of these unfortunate victims hailed from Blackburn.
The reason for this disaster is to do with the goings-on at Llanddulas station. Llanddulas station is located at the top of an incline, which passes through a cutting containing a blind bend. At the time of the accident, the Irish Mail train was making its way up this incline on its way to Holyhead from Chester. At the same time at Llanddulas, the shunting of a 43-wagon goods train was taking place on the main line – moving it to make way for the Irish Mail which would be arriving in 15 minutes. With only six wagons left to move all was going well, that is until the engine and three attached wagons backed into those that remained on the main line. Instantly, these began to roll down the hill. The Irish Mail however was not aware of the incoming danger, due to the curve in the cutting. By the time the wagons were in view, it was too late to take precautionary measures to reduce the severity of the accident.
It has been said that the truly tragic results of this event were not because of the collision itself, but more the combustible material which the wagons responsible contained.The passengers died from the effect of the fire rather than injuries sustained in the crash. The fire itself was not an instantaneous blast that engulfed the whole train – rather taking the carriages one by one as the paraffin ran down the hill. What is interesting however is that in these few minutes when there was opportunity to escape (the passengers had been warned by a local woman shouting and crying out about the danger), few people attempted to get out. There was little reaction at all, but when the passengers themselves became aware of the flames as they engulfed the carriage, it was too late. Escaping would have been very difficult at that point – the carriage doors being locked, so a clumsy exit out the windows and a drop down into fire surrounding them would have been necessary. Onlookers and those who had got out of the unaffected carriages at the rear believed the burning carriages to be empty, as no sound was to be heard and no movement was to be seen from them.
As has been noted, the significance of this event is not how many but who died. All the victims were members of the upper class, and their entourage of servants or whoever else they were travelling with. Included in those who perished were Lord and Lady Farnham; Sir Nicholas and Lady Chinnery; the wealthy Alymer family; Captain J Prestley Edwards and his son; and Judge Walter Berwick from the Bankruptcy Court in Dublin. Also among the deceased were a Mr. William Townend Lund, a Mr. William Parkinson and a Mr. Christopher Parkinson.
The latter three were Blackburn businessmen, and they were all part of the same family - the Parkinsons being brothers, and Mr. Lund their brother-in-law. The Blackburn Standard states the men were ‘well known, and were highly and deservedly respected by all who knew them’ – not out of place amongst the other passengers on the Irish Mail. The story took an ironic turn however when it was revealed that these three men should not even have been on the train. Their plan was to spend a few days on holiday at the Lakes of Killlarney, but by rights their train from Blackburn to Liverpool should have been too late to catch the connection to Chester, to be in time to board the Irish Mail that day. To be sure they arrived in time, the brothers bribed the driver of the Blackburn train to go at full speed. This unfortunately for them, allowed them to make the ill-fated connection.
Because of the way in which they died, the bodies of the passengers in the fatal carriages were so badly burned that they were unrecognisable; indeed, in many cases the doctors trying to identify the bodies could not even tell if they were male or female. However, what was not fire damaged too badly were their possessions – possessions that, of course, would be worth a lot of money, for instance Lady Farnham’s jewels had been valued at £4000 to £6000. These possessions were strewn up and down the track after the crash, later to be collected to be used for identification of the bodies.
How quickly did the family find out there had been a fatal accident? The answer is the same day, as the Victorian telegraph system was much more efficient than we might imagine. Having arrived in Chester in time to catch the Irish Mail, the three men telegraphed the family in Blackburn to let them know they had arrived. That very afternoon news accident reached Blackburn, and the family immediately sought confirmation that the men had indeed boarded the train. They contacted the Chester station master, who replied saying three men matching their relative’s description had been seen getting into one of the train’s front carriages. Unwilling to accept the inevitable truth, a flurry of telegrams were sent to anywhere and everywhere the men might be. It was reading a list of survivor’s names published later that day and discovering their loved ones not to be on it, that prompted the need for members of the family to make their way to Abergele. These were for the Messrs. Parkinson, a third brother Robert, and for Mr. Lund came his brothers James and Thomas.
They left on Friday afternoon, and a telegram was received from them late that night. Alarmingly, it warned the family to ‘prepare for the worst’. On Saturday morning, one of the gentlemen returned to break the news to the family in Blackburn that their loved ones had indeed perished in the flames.
Given the state of the bodies, the victims had to be identified by their possessions; even so, the way in which William T. was identified was unusual. He had been given a Chubb patent key ring as a present from his brother, and attached to it was a small steel ticket with a number on. This was to prove vital when a bunch of keys was found amongst the debris. The Chubb establishment was telegraphed immediately, and in their directory they found Mr. Lund’s number identical to that on the keys. A watch was also identified as Christopher Parkinson’s, given to him by his brother William.
Local families bereaved
The funeral took place on Tuesday 25th at ten o’clock. A mass grave at Abergele churchyard was dug, in which Lords and Ladies would lie side-by-side next to footmen and train guards. A memorial stone containing the names of all the victims was created to go with it. The inquest began the next day, attended definitely by Thomas Lund but possibly also his brother and brother-in-law. It lasted eight sessions, examining seventy witnesses and scrutinising every aspect of the event - from inspecting the carriage door locks to watching demonstrations of wagons going down the Llanddulas incline – until a verdict was reached on the eighth day on Friday 4th September. The jury decided the passengers came to their death through manslaughter, and actual cause of death was from suffocation after inhaling the oil vapour. Those blamed for the manslaughter were the two brakemen of the goods train and also the stationmaster for not ensuring that the wagons were off the main line, leaving good time for the Irish Mail to pass.
After a criminal enquiry, the two brakemen and station master were declared to be not guilty, rather the railway company be blamed for failing to provide the means for trains to run safely. Following this, the London and North Western Railway Company was sued for compensation for some of the losses suffered by various parties. One of these parties were the three Lund children – George, Robert and Edith. They were now orphaned as their mother Jennet (sister of William, Christopher and Robert) had died in 1866. William T. was a highly successful commission agent, and his yearly profits were estimated to be at £1200. The children received £4350 compensation from the company, and went to live with their father’s sister Alice.
The homes of the Parkinson and Lund families on Richmond Terrace are still there, although they have been converted into offices.
William Townend Lund's office on Exchange Street has long since disappeared. A modern office building stands on the site.
Exchange Street, the site of William Townend Lund's office
Richmond Terrace, the Lund family home.The property was originally
number 5, but 5 and 6 have been knocked through to form a larger office.
19, Richmond Terrace, the Parkinson family home.
This story was researched and written by Carla Harwood, a sixth-form student at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School, whilst on work experience at Blackburn Museum.
Lower Darwen engine shed was situated alongside the Blackburn to Darwen railway on a high plateau of land to the South of Blackburn Rovers Football Club. It was opened in 1875 by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company.
Map Showing the Location of Lower Darwen Engine Shed
The men who worked at Lower Darwen were known as “Cloggers” because they all wore clogs, clogs kept your feet cool and safe on the footplate, as quite often heavy cobs of coal would drop off the shovels and clogs were like steel toecaps and the coal wouldn’t break your foot. The social life and the working life of the railwaymen blended into one, they used to say that the railway ran on liquid…..Tea and Beer.
In steam days there was always a thirst to quench and dust to wash down and the hours and shifts they worked prevented a normal working life. It was quite common for railwaymen to visit public houses, nip to the betting shop, do their shopping, get their hair cut, and even visit the cinema whilst waiting for their back workings to arrive. Thankfully they didn’t do all these things at once or the railway would have ground to a halt on many occasions. At all sheds there where a number of men who worked the system to get easy shifts and their rest days always happened to be a Sunday.
Coal was plentiful and many of the older railwaymen tended to take a piece of coal home (no central heating in the1950s), one such character got a little greedy one night by taking a bigger cob of coal than usual. He staggered down from the shed onto Bolton Road to catch the bus to Blackburn. As the bus set off, he climbed up the steps to the upper deck. The bus suddenly lurched and the cob of coal fell out of his coat and bounced down the steps and hit the conductor in the back and he nearly fell off the bus into Bolton Road. In the 1950s the drivers were real characters and some of them had nicknames” Mr Wonderloaf”, “The Count”, “Windrush”, “Clarence” and ”Telstar” and many more, all the staff at Lower Darwen worked and played together they would organise day trips mainly to the Lake District by coach being picked up at the Fernhurst pub on Bolton Road near to the shed plenty of food and drink and a sail on Lake Windermere, they all mixed together which was not usual in some other sheds.
One cold winters day a driver was just finishing his shift he told his fireman you go home he would put the engine in the shed, which was usual practice. The engine was No 42733, a Hughes Fowler 2-6-0 “Crab ”, a type well-liked by the crews because of its pulling power, the driver brought the engine into the shed then he stopped because he had to change the points, he climbed down to change the points but he had not put the brake full on, and because of the freezing conditions the engine began to move forward very slowly, when he realised he tried to get back on board but failed and the engine ran past him embedding itself in the back wall—no buffer stops—demolishing the water softening plant, luckily no one was injured and the wall was repaired and the engine sent for repairs.
A Plan Of The Layout Of Lower Darwen Engine Shed
Showing Where The Runaway Engine Finshed Up,
Near The Water Softening Plant.
Unfortunately in the 1960s steam was being replaced by diesel trains. Branch lines, smaller stations and engine sheds where being closed. Lower Darwen finally closed on 14th February 1966 before steam finished in 1968. Don’t despair all you steam enthusiasts new steam engines are being built and running on preserved lines, go along old and young and enjoy!
Written and researched by Jeffrey Booth( Library Volunteer)
Information and pictures from Blackburn’s Railways in the 1950s and 1960s
By Stuart Taylor Published by Foxline (Publications) Ltd.