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Penkridge, Lord Hatherton and the Railways - Part 1

An article by Robert Maddocks, our Penkridge Local Historian

Penkridge, Lord Hatherton and the Railways.

Part I: The Birth of the Railways

[For impatient readers, direct references to Penkridge have been highlighted in blue]

For an English country gentleman, born in 1791, Lord Hatherton was forward looking and progressive. He admired the "practical" men of the Industrial Revolution, the men of the "Arts", especially the great engineers like James Watt and Brunel. He organised a public subscription to erect a statue in honour of Watt and later tried to persuade the government to make his son a peer of the realm. As MP for Staffordshire Lord Hatherton had been a "manager", a man of "business", working very hard in the interest of the potters, glass makers and iron masters of his large constituency. He took a detailed interest in the new technology and understood its importance to industry and the country.

For most of his career as an MP Lord Hatherton had been seen as a Tory, and then a liberal Conservative. The uncle of his wife was the arch-Tory and reactionary Duke of Wellington but his friend and mentor in the House of Commons was William Huskisson, a liberal Tory. Huskisson (whose half sister was married to Lord Hatherton's uncle) found Teddesley a convenient stopping point on his journey from his Liverpool constituency to London. The Duke came for the shooting. Lord Hatherton attempted to conciliate them and the two wings of the party, to no avail.

Lord Hatherton, encouraged by Huskisson, became an early supporter of the railways and was invited to the opening of the Liverpool-Manchester Railway in September, 1830. Huskisson, as MP for Liverpool was to be present, of course, and the guest of honour was the Prime Minister, the Duke. Perhaps Lord Hatherton (or Mr. Littleton, as he was still then) saw this happy occasion as another opportunity to effect a reconciliation between them. The Duke and Huskisson shook hands cordially when their engine stopped to take on water and its passengers took the opportunity for a stroll.

Events, however, then took a calamitous turn, as Lord Hatherton described in a letter to his neighbour, the Marquis of Anglesey. "Huskisson was speaking to the Duke of Wellington, who was standing at the head of the car, inside. When the Duke said, “Well we seem to be preparing to go on - I think you had better get in”. I was standing close to Huskisson at the time and on hearing the Duke say this I turned round and saw an engine on the opposite railway coming up at great speed - then about 200 yards distant. I got up on the side of one of the cars through the wicket, but not without difficulty for it was very high and there were no steps. I turned round and pulled Esterhazy after me. I then saw Huskisson in great trepidation seize the wicket which was open and try to get round it. He even lifted up his leg to try to enter but it was too late. He had lost his head entirely - the engine had come up and in trying to fling himself out of the way the engine knocked him down on his back in the centre of its road but with his left leg bent on the rail so that the leg and thigh were crushed to a pulp."

Lord Hatherton took a rather pragmatic view of industrial accidents. He claimed that he saw the death of his friend "nightly in my dreams" for the next ten years but it did not put him off the new technology. Less than three years later he described for his wife the precarious journey he and his servants took on the same stretch of track.

"Dearest,

I arrived at Manchester last night at 11 o’clock. This morning at 7, I rose and at 8 had the carriage mounted on the railway (the work of 1 minute) and at half past nine was at Liverpool - 32 miles in 90 minutes!!!

You would have laughed to have seen Thompson and James on the box of the carriage, while we were sometimes flying on the railway a mile in two minutes. Thompson trying to grin with his tongue out and his fingers all on end, and James quite as usual only losing his hat now and then…”

In the following years Lord Hatherton worked in Parliament, helping to manage the vast flow of legislation needed to set up the network. Practical men of business were few and far between in the House of Lords and Lord Hatherton worked on many bills including those of the Great Western, the Birmingham and Derby, and the Greenock and Glasgow. It could be hard work. Lord Hatherton recorded, in amazement, the attitude of the Duke of Cumberland, on the GWR committee, who said, "I have heard part of the evidence but have not read the remainder but I have never voted for any railway bill and by God I never will."

Eventually the thousands of clauses, the vast legal fees and the votes in committees manifested themselves in iron railroads on the ground. The Liverpool and Manchester railway reached out to Birmingham, via Penkridge, as the Grand Junction Railway with the certain promise of a link to London. Lord Hatherton certainly benefited personally from the coming of the railway. He does not record how much his estate was paid for the land used by the railway but he tells us that his friend Meynall Ingram got £10,000 for land that did not bring him £120 a year and reckoned that £3,000 for 20 acres was about right. What is certain, however, is that Lord Hatherton was given nearly £7,000 for his co-operation and consent to the line passing Penkridge.

Lord Hatherton was in London when the Grand Junction Railway was opened on July 4th, 1837 and missed the opportunity to ride through Penkridge in style. He was, however, able to accept an invitation to the public opening of the London to Birmingham line (the southern end of the great link between Liverpool and London) nine days later. The line wasn't finished and only a 25 mile journey was possible. On the return journey to Euston, the engine pulling Lord Hatherton's carriage was derailed at a set of points and the train had to be towed back to London by another engine on the parallel track, using a long chain. Amazingly, the driver of the substitute engine, "who was a common working man" slowed and stopped in the usual fashion when he reached Euston. He had forgotten that he was towing a train on another line which did not have the benefit of his brakes. Lord Hatherton recorded that,

"We were stopped suddenly with a dreadful shock. Few or none in the carriages were aware of the danger till a sudden arrestation of our movement threw all the passengers against each other. I was musing when a sudden and most violent blow on the face stunned me for a moment and for a few seconds saw nor heard anything from confusion of mind. I was aware that we had all met with some dreadful accident and soon found my cheek bone bleeding. On getting out of the carriage I found 20 other persons with their handkerchiefs covered with blood held to their faces and saw one or two persons lying on the ground and everybody suffering more or less from the concussion".

When Lord Hatherton staggered to the front of his train he found that the iron of the lead carriage was embedded into the station wall by about a foot. When he got home he found bits of another passenger's hat embedded in his head. Luckily nobody was killed and the pain Lord Hatherton felt was soon assuaged by "applications of brandy and water".

Perhaps a greater pain was awaiting Lord Hatherton when he returned to Teddesley a fortnight later, by stage coach, of course. Rising early to savour once again the pleasures of country life after weeks spent in London and walking with his gardener,

"my ears were affrighted by the noise of the trains passing on the railroad on the other side of Penkridge which is just opened for the first time. It appeared as bad as the rushing of water over a large mill wheel and the grinding noise of a mill itself not 200 yards distance - for there was a gentle breeze from the west.

I observed throughout this day the same degree of noise whenever any of the 12 trains now running passed backwards and forwards. I frequently heard them three or four miles off. This is a rude shock on the rurality of Teddesley and quite an unexpected result. But I heard the coaches on the roads before, all of which, 24 in number, have now disappeared and I have no doubt that the railroads will become picturesque and poetical in time."

Lord Hatherton noted such things in his journal for the historical record: the amazing noise of the trains ! It is ironic that inhabitants of modern Penkridge are more struck by the prevailing peace and quiet of those times. Many cannot hear the trains today, or the children at the bottom of their garden, for the continuous dull roar of traffic on the M6. Nevertheless, despite the personal losses, Lord Hatherton remained an enthusiast for the new form of travel.

It must not be imagined, however, that Lord Hatherton's experience of rail travel was the same as that of the ordinary passenger. He was offered a service that made other aristocrats envious. He had, for instance the almost unheard of privilege of ordering expresses and mail trains to make unscheduled stops at Penkridge. On returning from London he would alight at Birmingham and order the company to stop the train at Penkridge. When guests or family were due to leave Teddesley he would go to Penkridge station and order them to stop a first class train, the next day, at a time convenient for him. When a peevish Lord Dartmouth wrote saying he ought to have the same privilege, Lord Hatherton replied,

"I have it, not because the railway goes a greater length through my estate than through any other on the line, and it has completely ruined my inn and the town of Penkridge, but because they promised me a station for carriages which they don't now find convenient to give".

Lord Hatherton had wanted to be able to drive his road carriage onto a flat wagon and really travel conveniently. This was clearly not possible with a station perched on an embankment above the town. It is interesting to note his opinion of the impact of the railway on the Littleton Arms in particular and Penkridge in general. The rapid decline in road traffic had a disastrous impact on the Littleton Arms. By 1842 Lord Hatherton was demolishing its fine brick stables, built by Sir Edward Littleton. In 1844 he recorded that he was "engaged in removing much of the very spacious old inn yard in front of the inn, the building having been rendered useless by the coming of the railroad".

After church on Sunday July 30th, 1837,Lord Hatherton strolled down the road to take his first look at the station in action and decided to recoup some of these economic losses by engaging in speculative building. On the following Sunday he met his agent Mr. Bright in the churchyard and ordered him to build some villas and to advertise building ground for Birmingham and Wolverhampton tradesmen. The villas were ready two years later and advertised as "Two newly erected houses, beautifully situated on the banks of the river Penk, between the railway viaduct and the bridge over the river; with a southern aspect, and commanding a beautiful view".

Lord Hatherton had lost a little peace and quiet at Teddesley. He had economic losses at the Littleton Arms. He felt the town of Penkridge had been spoiled. Yet the benefits of the railway to him personally were tremendous. He could now combine his life of politics in London with the pleasures and duties of being a country squire in Staffordshire much more easily. His journal is full of the new wonders rail travel brought. For example: "Friday 15th Sept 1843, Sir Edward Littleton only took a 3 days a week paper and did not receive it until it was 24 hours old. I now receive the London morning paper at half past three at Penkridge - 5 hours after its usual delivery at houses in London", or,

"Tuesday 24th June 1845, Bright and I went by rail to Walsall. Had for the first time what is called a Day Ticket - only recently come into use. Formerly, except with my own carriage, or on horseback at the risk of a ducking, I could have gone only with a pair of horses from the Inn which, there and back, with the turnpikes and the Post Boy would have cost £1..14s..0d. I now go and return for 3/6d in a far more agreeable and expeditious way".

Lord Hatherton loved rail travel. He loved the new opportunities it brought and meeting old friends and interesting strangers in his carriage. He approved of the way it allowed the masses to enjoy days off in the fresh air and at the sea side. He even accepted the greater social mix good humouredly, describing the crowd and bustle at Birmingham station as "very levelling". Despite this Lord Hatherton's relationship with the Grand Junction Railway, owners of Penkridge's railway line, was to rapidly decline into unprecedented bitterness and rivalry.

In Part II, "Railway Mania" I shall describe how the antagonism between Lord Hatherton and the Grand Junction Railway led to years of plots and plans that threatened to change the face of Penkridge forever.

Click here for Part 2

Copyright © 2006 Robert Maddocks