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Birmingham’s Railways

by Colin Hickman

The early days

In 1837 - the same year that Victoria was crowned Queen; three railway companies and a vast army of navvies were closing in on Birmingham. The three companies – London and Birmingham Railway, Grand Junction Railway and Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway – were racing to establish themselves in Birmingham.

First to arrive was the Grand Junction Railway – indeed, so swift was the progress that the GJR from Liverpool arrived too early for a railway station. The intended terminus in Curzon Street and the viaduct approaching it were still being completed.

It was on July 9 1837 that an experimental posse of six coaches and 36 passengers made the journey from Liverpool to the company’s temporary terminus at Vauxhall.

On the following day a return trip was planned:

“The whole town was in a state of great commotion and pleasurable excitement, owing to the public opening … At seven o’clock precisely, the bell rang, and the opening train, drawn by the Wildfire engine, commenced moving. The train consisted of eight carriages, all of the first class. …  It started slowly, but upon emerging from the yard, speedily burst off at a rapid pace  …. The immense multitude as far as the eye could reach, gave expression to their admiration by loud and continued huzzahs, and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs


Curzon Street

Curzon Street Station c1845 Like the Grand Junction Railway, the London and Birmingham Railway was aiming at a terminus in Curzon Street. The geography of Birmingham made it less costly to approach the town along the river valleys to the north-east, creating that extraordinary congestion of lines in the area now known as Heartlands. That the London line was not completed until a year later is hardly surprising. 


Enormous technical and geological difficulties were faced by the engineers, George and Robert Stephenson, and (more directly) by the navvies working on it. Perhaps 20,000 men were engaged on the line, 10 of whom were killed in the Watford tunnel.

George and Robert Stephenson. Mining, Locomotive and Civil Engineers

chfirsttrain.jpg (72275 bytes)


The line was opened throughout on September 17 1838. At last the dream had been realised. The most important manufacturing districts in the country, Manchester and Birmingham, and one of its greatest seaports, Liverpool, had been linked to London, the nation's capitol. As if to salute the enterprise, but more probably to impress the customers, magnificent triumphal entrances to the line were constructed at Euston and Curzon Street.


Although the station at Birmingham was of lesser importance, the company wanted an imposing frontage there too, and Hardwick applied himself to producing an outstanding design. Here were the offices, the director’s board room and a Hotel – The Victoria.  As at Euston, it was fronted by four huge columns. Those at Curzon Street were 45 feet high, and stood in pairs on huge rectangular plinths, themselves some 5 feet high and weighing over 18 tons each. At the top of a flight of wide stone steps was a high doorway surmounted in turn by the armorial device of the London and Birmingham Railway cut in high relief. The left-hand shield represented the City of London, the right hand one the family of de Birmingham, and above these a dragon’s wing charged with a cross, the crest of the City of London.

chShieldCurzonSt.JPG (78136 bytes)
The Grand Junction Railway and the London and Birmingham Railway had arrived, but the big railway adventure was only just beginning. In February 1842 the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway opened its station in Lawley Street, close to the Curzon Street termini, and a year earlier the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway had also arrived in Curzon Street, abandoning its previous terminus in Camp Hill.





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