Bolton and Leigh Railway

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Bolton and Leigh Railway
Locale Lancashire
Dates of operation 1828–1845
Successor Grand Junction Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 7.5 miles (12.1 km)

The Bolton and Leigh Railway (B&L) was the first public railway in the historic county of Lancashire, England. It was also the first railway anywhere in the world to feature expansive operations of steam locomotives. Its completion represented a major stepping stone towards the modern railway line.[1]

It was promoted primarily as a mineral line in connection with the coal pits belonging to the landowner and industrialist William Hulton, west of his estate at Over Hulton, and collieries belonging to the Fletchers at Atherton. On 31 March 1825, the Bolton and Leigh company obtained an Act of Parliament to build a railway line from the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal at Bolton to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh. The pioneering railway engineer George Stephenson was appointed as the company’s chief engineer, while day-to-day engineering tasks were overseen by Robert Daglish, an experienced mechanical engineer and colliery manager. Midway through construction, a second parliamentary bill was passed to account for desired changes to the railway, such as several new alignments as well as to permit an additional £25,000 to be raised.

During 1828, the railway was opened between Pendlebury Fold and Bolton, only two years before the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR). It was completed through to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal during late March 1830. The line was operated by steam locomotives, as well as a pair of stationary steam-hauled inclined planes. Initially, traffic was restricted to the movement of freight; on 13 June 1831, the first passenger services on the route were ran, and quickly became a long term fixture. A full timetable of passenger services was eventually operated, being retained to this level until 1939, where upon they were cut back due to wartime pressures. Further curtailing of services along the line were progressively implemented, along with station closures, during the 1950s and 1960s. Presently, most of the line and its stations have been dismantled, although some traces remain of both its route and some structures.



As early as 1822, individuals had promoted or put forward various competing schemes centred around the notion of establishing a railway which would connect the prosperous textile manufacturing towns of Bolton and Leigh.[1] The town of Leigh happened to already straddle a major east-west artery in the form of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which represented particular strategic value at that time. The wealthy landowner and industrialist William Hulton, who was the owner of Hulton Park, north of Atherton (south west of Bolton), along with seven collieries on or near its estate, came to recognise that a railway would be an optimal means of delivering the extracted coal from his properties onwards to Bolton.[1]

As a part of Hulton’s efforts to generate backing for the envisioned railway, either on or prior to 1 October 1824, he formed a committee comprising more than 60 local businessmen with the mission statement of promoting the scheme.[1] The committee, while seeking out the input and services of industrial experts, contacted the pioneering railway engineer George Stephenson for his own views on the scheme; at the time, Stephenson was already in the process of surveying the route of the future Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR). Accordingly, Stephenson responded by commissioned another engineer, Hugh Steel, to conduct a survey of the viable routes for the railway.[1] On November 1824, Steel gave his report; based upon this ground work, the line’s route, along with a construction estimate of £43,143, were submitted for Parliamentary approval.[1]


On 31 March 1825, royal assent was given to the railway’s enabling act, clearing the way for construction to proceed.[1] Specific provisions permitted the use of both steam haulage and stationary steam engine-worked inclined planes along a single track line. The act also led to the incorporation of the Bolton and Leigh Railway Company, of which Hulton was appointed chairman, as well as authorising it to raise the sum of £44,000, via the sale of 440 shares in the company, valued at £100.[1]

The newly-formed company quickly appointed Stephenson as its chief engineer.[1] While responsibility for the surveying and preparation of the route lay with Stephenson, the railway’s day-to-day engineering tasks were overseen by Robert Daglish, an experienced mechanical engineer and colliery manager who had previously built a locomotive for Orrell Colliery's railway.[2] Construction of the line commenced near Bolton, which initially involved levelling work near Westhoughton.[1] The 12.5 km route between Haulgh and Leigh involved an ascent of 36.3 meters over the first 2.2 km to rise over a summit, before descending a total of 102.7 meters to meet up with a major road that adjoined the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh.[1]

Around July 1825, the company reportedly considered the adoption of stationary steam engines between Chowbent near Atherton and Chequerbent, dividing the line into a pair of separate inclined planes, partitioned by a level change-over section.[1] However, the revised cost estimate of £56,564 involved would have necessitated further fundraising; instead, it was decided to opt for a single 14.9 kW (20 hp) stationary engine that would work a single incline between Chowbent and Chequerbent. Irrespective of this decision, the original plan of a 1 in 33 incline at Daubhill, worked by a 37.3 kW (50 hp) steam engine, was retained.[1]

During early 1827, Stephenson produced several recommendations involving route alterations in the vicinity of Chequerbent, Chowbent and Leigh for the purpose of improving the future line’s operational efficiency, as well as to reduce the difficulty (and cost) of construction.[1] Around this time, the company prepared a second Parliamentary Bill, which was passed on 26 March 1828, to accommodate various changes to the plan. This second act authorised the raising of an additional £25,000, as well as specifying the track gauge for the railway as being 1.422 meters (4 feet, 8 inches) between the inside edges of the rails, as well as a length of 1.55 meters (5 feet, 1 inch) between the outside edges.[1]

Early operations

On 1 August 1828, the first section of track between Derby Street Bolton and William Hulton's collieries at Pendlebury Fold near Chequerbent in Westhoughton was officially opened.[3][4] Despite the fanfare on this date, even this section of the line had not actually been completed in its entirety.[1] Fletchers sidings near Bag Lane provided a connection for Fletcher's collieries at Howe Bridge in Atherton. As originally built, the railway was single track route, roughly 7 12 miles (12.1 km) long, along which a total of two rope-worked inclines using stationary steam engines were present. The engine at Daubhill was capable of generating up to 20 horse power, while a more powerful engine, capable of up to 50 horse power, was put into place at Chequerbent. The line was carried various goods, but primarily coal and raw cotton to the cotton mills in Bolton from the Port of Liverpool via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.[3]

The railway’s first locomotive, Lancashire Witch was built by George and Robert Stephenson.[5] It was originally intended for the L&MR but was delivered temporarily to the B&LR as it opened first, and later moved to the L&MR for use in its construction. During the official opening of the line, Lancashire Witch pulled a special train, comprising 13 wagons and a single coach; it was driven by George Stephenson’s son, Robert Stephenson and carried various company officials and dignitaries, including George himself.[1]

While it was in regular use with the B&LR, Lancashire Witch was used to haul trains up the 1 in 33 gradient at Daubhill.[4] After the high-profile Rainhill Trials, it was replaced by Timothy Hackworth's Sans Pareil. The line was completed through to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh by end of March 1830.[6] During this same year, some services on the railway commenced uninterrupted through-running, which offered a noticeably faster service.[1]

The railway operated from Bolton Great Moor Street to Leigh. In 1829, the 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long Kenyon and Leigh Junction Railway (K&LJ) was incorporated to link the Bolton & Leigh Railway with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, joining it at Kenyon Junction near Warrington.[5] The Act of Parliament (10 George IV. Cap.36) received Royal Assent on 14 May 1829.[7] At first, the railway only used by freight traffic; however, a passenger service was launched over the line on 13 June 1831.[8] Initially, such services were run only twice-daily, but the frequency was increased as the level of demand for passenger trains on the line became proven.[1]

During 1836, the B&LR obtained an Act of Parliament that awarded the company the rights to lease the neighbouring K&LJR for up to 25 years, as well as for the purchase of the line for the sum of £44,750.[1]

The Bolton and Leigh Railway was absorbed by the Grand Junction Railway (GJR) on 1 June 1845. During the following year, the GJR itself, along with the line, was amalgamated into the larger London and North Western Railway (L&NWR).[1]


Lancashire Witch
Sans Pareil

Early locomotives include Lancashire Witch and Sans Pareil, which had competed in the Rainhill Trials. A major feature of Lancashire Witch was the ability to control the flow of steam that entered the cylinders, which made it the first locomotive to feature expansive working; reportedly, when run without load, it could reach speeds of roughly 19.3kph (12 mph).[1] Sans Pareil was used on the railway until 1844, when it was sold to the Coppull Colliery, Chorley and used as a stationary engine up until 1863, when it was presented to the Patent Office Museum (now the Science Museum) by John Hick.[9]

By 1831, the railway owned three other locomotives. Union, which was built in 1830 by Rothwell, Hick and Rothwell, Bolton, along with Salamander and Veteran, which were both built by Crook and Dean in Bolton.[10]



The original stations on the line were Bolton,[8] Bag Lane[11] and Leigh in Westleigh.[12] Kenyon Junction, on the L&M, opened on 1 March 1831.[13] Further stations opened at Daubhill[14] and Chequerbent[15] in 1846, along with Bradshaw Leach on the K&LJ.[16] In 1871, the original station at Bolton Great Moor Street was closed by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) for reconstruction, and a temporary station opened at Crook Street, which was open from 1 August 1871 to 28 September 1874. The new Great Moor Street station opened on that date, having been rebuilt on its original site but some ten feet (three metres) higher. A new direct line to Manchester via Roe Green opened on 1 April 1875.[8]

In the 1880s, the LNWR decided to remove the inclines at Daubhill and Chequerbent. A new alignment was built at Daubhill, and a new station opened to replace the original. The new alignment included a short tunnel. The original line was retained as a freight line at each end, but severed in the middle.[14] The new Daubhill station opened on 2 February 1885, and was renamed Rumworth & Daubhill on 28 April of that year.[17] At Chequerbent, a new alignment and station was also built, but the original line remained in its entirety, serving the Chequerbent Pits.[18] The last station to open was Atherleigh which the London, Midland and Scottish Railway opened on 14 October 1935 as there had been new housing development in the area.[19]


The original stations at Daubhill and Chequerbent were both closed on 2 February 1885, as a consequence of replacement stations having been opened along the new alignment.[14][15] Up until 1939, the passenger service was regular and between Atherton and Bolton trains ran more or less half-hourly. As with other lines, wartime economies reduced services to a minimum. Following the end of the Second World War, services did not return to their pre-war levels (see 1947 LMS Timetable and 1951 Bradshaw Guide) and there were just six trains being operated daily in each direction. The station at Chequerbent and that at Rumworth & Daubhill closed to passengers on 3 March 1952.[17]

All other stations between Bolton Great Moor Street and Pennington inclusive closed to passengers on 29 March 1954,[8] with Atherleigh,[19] West Leigh[12] and Pennington[16] closing completely on this date. Some rugby and holiday special trains served Great Moor street until 1958.[8] Atherton Bag Lane closed to freight on 7 October 1963, Chequerbent closed to freight on 27 February 1965[11] and Rumworth & Daubhill closed to freight on 29 March 1965. The date of closure of Bolton Great Moor Street station to freight is not recorded, but the last of the rails on the line were lifted in 1969.[8] Kenyon Junction closed to passengers in 1960 and to all traffic on 1 August 1963, although the main line itself still remains open to traffic.[13]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v “Bolton & Leigh Railway.” ‘’’’, Retrieved: 18 July 2018.
  2. ^ Sweeney 1996, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b Sweeney 1996, p. 7.
  4. ^ a b "Railways of Bolton". Bolton. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  5. ^ a b "Bolton and Leigh". Spartacus Schoolweb. Archived from the original on 7 May 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  6. ^ Reed, Malcolm C (1996). The London & North Western Railway. Atlantic Transport Publishers.
  7. ^ "KENYON AND LEIGH RAILWAY". Jim Shead. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "BOLTON GREAT MOOR STREET". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  9. ^ "THE STORY OF THE LOCOMOTIVE - 1". Mike's Railway History. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  10. ^ Sweeney 1996, p. 8.
  11. ^ a b "ATHERTON BAG LANE". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  12. ^ a b "WEST LEIGH". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  13. ^ a b "KENYON JUNCTION". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  14. ^ a b c "DAUBHILL". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  15. ^ a b "CHEQUERBENT (1st Site)". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  16. ^ a b "PENNINGTON". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  17. ^ a b "RUMWORTH & DAUBHILL". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  18. ^ "CHEQUERBENT (2nd Site)". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  19. ^ a b "ATHERLEIGH". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 12 April 2008.


  • Sweeney, D.J. (1996). A Lancashire Triangle Part One. Triangle Publishing. ISBN 0-9529333-0-6.

Further reading

  • Whishaw, Francis (1842). The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland Practically Described and Illustrated (2nd ed.). London: John Weale. pp. 38–43. OCLC 833076248.

External links

  • British Railways in 1960 - Bolton Great Moor St. to Fletcher Street Jn.
  • British Railways in 1960 - Fletcher Street Jn. to Leigh
  • A concise history via Leigh Life
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