London and Birmingham Railway

London and Birmingham Railway

:"This is about the 19th century railway company. For the 21st century train operating company, see London Midland"The London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) was an early railway company in the United Kingdom from 1833 until 1846, at which date it became a constituent part of the London and North Western Railway. The 112 mile (180km) long railway line that the company built between London and Birmingham was, when it opened in 1838, one of the first intercity railway lines in the world, and the first railway line to be built into London. It survives to the present today, as the southern section of the West Coast Main Line.

The line was engineered by Robert Stephenson. It started at Euston Station in London, and travelled north-north-westward until reaching Rugby, where it turned west to Coventry and thence to Birmingham.In Birmingham the line terminated at Curzon Street Station, which it shared with the Grand Junction Railway (GJR), whose platforms were adjacent, thus providing a link to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), and allowing onward travel by rail from London to those cities.


Early plans

The idea of building a railway line from London to Birmingham had been mooted as early as 1823 when a company was formed by John Rennie to build such a line. Rennie proposed to build a line between the two cities via Oxford and Banbury (the route later used by the Great Western Railway).

Soon afterwards another rival company was formed by Francis Giles who proposed to build a line via the Watford Gap and Coventry. The two companies were unsuccessful in achieving backing for their schemes, and in the autumn of 1830 the two companies decided to combine their efforts.

The joint company appointed Robert Stephenson as chief engineer, and he soon decided in favour of the route through Coventry, largely because he feared flooding from the River Thames at Oxford.

The L&BR

The prospectus for the London and Birmingham Railway offered the following inducements to potential investors: The company was created with an initial capitalisation of £5,500,000. [cite book
title=A History of the English Railway
author=John Francis
] Much of the subscribed funds came from Lancashire, where great profits were being made in the cotton industries of Manchester. [cite book
title=A History of Prices, and of the State of the Circulation, from 1793 to 1837
author=Thomas Tooke

The Company's first application for an Act of Parliament to construct the line was rejected in 1832, largely due to pressure from landowners and road and canal interests. However in May the following year, a second act was approved and the line received royal assent. Construction began in November of the same year.


The line was initially supposed to open at the same time as the Grand Junction Railway which entered Birmingham from the north. However enormous troubles with the construction of the Kilsby Tunnel in Northamptonshire delayed the opening.

The first part of the line between Euston Station and Boxmoor (Hemel Hempstead) was opened on 20 July 1837. The line was not finished in time for the coronation of Queen Victoria on June 28 1838, but realising the potentially lucrative traffic this would generate, the company opened the line between Birmingham and Rugby to the north, and London to Bletchley to the south, and a stagecoach shuttle service was introduced linking the two, allowing people to complete the journey to London. The line was officially opened to all traffic throughout, on September 17 1838.

Initially, owing to the lack of power available to early locomotives, trains from Euston were cable-hauled up the relatively steep incline to Camden by a stationary steam engine. The original engine shed, a roundhouse, still stands at Camden, having been, for most of its life, a warehouse, and more recently an arts centre, The Roundhouse. The main works, initially at Edge Hill, near Liverpool, quickly moved to Wolverton.

From 1840, when the Midland Counties Railway made a junction to its line at Rugby, the L&BR also provided through connections from London to the East Midlands and the North East. It also made connections to the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway at Hampton-in-Arden between Coventry and Birmingham.


In 1846 the L&BR merged with the Grand Junction Railway and a few other companies, to form the London and North Western Railway, which in turn was later absorbed into the London Midland and Scottish Railway, before finally passing into the hands of the nationalised British Rail in 1948 to become part of the West Coast Main Line as it is known today.

Neither of the L&BR's original termini, both designed by Philip Hardwick have survived in their original form. Curzon Street station in Birmingham closed to passenger traffic in 1854, having long been replaced by New Street station, whilst the original Euston station in London was demolished in 1962 to make way for the present structure which opened in 1968.

Construction parallels

Peter Le Count, the first Assistant Secretary of the London Birmingham railway, produced a number of - possibly hyperbolic - comparisons in an effort to demonstrate that the London and Birmingham Railway was "the greatest public work ever executed either in ancient or modern times". [,M2] In particular, he suggested that the effort to build the Great Pyramid of Giza amounted to the lifting of convert|15733000000|cuft|m3 of stone by 1 foot (445,508,947.4 m³ by 0.305 m). The railway, excluding a long string of tasks - drainage, ballasting &c - involved the lifting of 25,000,000,000 cubic feet (707,921,164.8 m³) of material reduced to the weight of stone used in the pyramid. The pyramid involved, he says, the effort ot 300,000 men (according to Diodorus Siculus) or 100,000 (according to Heroditus) for twenty years. The railway involved 20,000 men for five years. In passing, he also noted that the cost of the railway in penny pieces, was enough to more than form a belt of pennies around the equator; and the amount of material moved would be enough to build a wall one foot (305 mm) high by one foot wide, more than three times around the equator.

London and Birmingham railway gallery for 1838

Euston station entrance.

The Harrow on Hill railway cutting.

Denbigh Hall Bridge.

Beechwood Tunnel near Coventry.

Locomotives of the L&BR


*"Rugby's Railway Heritage" by Peter H Elliot (1985) ISBN 0-907917-06-2
*"The London & Birmingham Railway 150 Years on", by David Gould (1987) ISBN 0-7153-8968-8
*" [,M2 Our Iron Roads: Their History, Construction and Social Influences] ", by Frederick S. Williams (1852), pp128-129. Available from Google Book Search

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