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Preston’s ‘dismal, dilapidated’ station and the early railways

Posted on - 20th August, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News, Preston Railway Station, Transport
An 1850s engraving of the railway entering Preston Pic: Preston Digital Archive
An 1850s engraving of the railway entering Preston Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Preston’s first railway entered the town in October 1838. There was much celebration as the journey time from Preston to Wigan was reduced to half an hour compared to three hours by stagecoach. The railway mania of the mid-19th century led to some short-lived railway companies. The Wigan and Preston Junction Railway was soon absorbed into the North Union Railway. Preston had been growing rapidly and was now connected to London and Birmingham as well as Manchester.

Preston’s original ‘dismal, dilapidated’ station

Preston's first station in 1860 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston’s first station in 1860 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Despite the arrival of the railways, contemporary writers were not impressed by Preston’s first station and feeble early steam engines. Writing in 1883, the historian A Hewitson said: 

“At Preston station, was one of the most dismal, dilapidated, disgraceful looking structures in Christendom. It was not only very ill-looking but an exceedingly inconvenient and dangerous station”.

By 1860 the station had grown piecemeal, from only two platforms to six. Passengers had to cross the lines via a boardwalk, to change sides. Eventually, a footbridge was built in 1855.

The West Lancashire Railway’s Blackburn locomotive Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The West Lancashire Railway’s Blackburn locomotive Pic: Preston Digital Archive

A link to Southport

By the 1880s another line had entered Preston. The West Lancashire Railway opened in 1882. The locomotive above was bought for the line in 1883. It was not new then and of an outdated design. As a result, it was scrapped in 1890. The railway had its own station in Preston and at the other end, in Southport. The Preston station was named Fishergate Hill. The line to Southport was closed in the 1960s.

Preston’s railways in 1913 Pic: Public domain
Preston’s railways in 1913 Pic: Public domain

The map above shows the railways at their maximum extent, in 1913. Note all of the different companies that operated in the town, including Preston Corporation. The Corporation ran the docks railway as well as the tugs that berthed the ships.

Even by the 1860s locomotives were relatively small and underpowered. There was also very little protection for the driver and fireman. As Hewitson wrote:

“The engines were said to be very small and the weak character of the old engines was such that often when a heavy train was leaving Preston for the North, porters had to push at the side by way of assistance.”

Descriptions of the station mention the appalling entrance on the departure side for London. Little thought was given to keeping passengers and goods traffic apart. The booking office entrance was in a coke shed. This was covered in coke dust as well as scraps of paper, envelopes, and other rubbish. The exit road was busy with goods traffic, and passengers had to dodge all of this mayhem.

By 1880 traffic volumes were such that a new station was built.

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