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Preston in the 1840s, new railways and old problems

Posted on - 5th November, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News, Preston Railway Station, Transport
The Preston riots, 1842 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The Preston riots, 1842 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The year 1846 was an important year in Preston. It was the year that the Blackburn and Preston Railway opened. It was also a period of deprivation among the working classes. 1842 saw a riot in Preston when workers went on strike for better working conditions. Another big change was the arrival of the railways.

The railways were built to service industry and it was not until later in the century that the working classes could take advantage of the travel opportunities. Below is the opening day timetable for the Blackburn and Preston Railway. Trains from Blackburn began at 7am and ran until the last departure at 7pm in the reverse direction; the last train left Preston at 8.05pm.

The Blackburn & Preston Railway, first timetable, 1846 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The Blackburn and Preston Railway, first timetable, 1846 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The Blackburn and Preston Railway only existed for a very short period and was absorbed by the East Lancashire Railway soon after. In turn, this became the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. 

Below is an 1849 ticket to transport a horse from Blackburn to Preston on the new railway. Horses were the only way of distributing goods from Preston Station to the factories and shops in the town.

Horse ticket from 1849 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Horse ticket from 1849 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Railway Mania

The 1840s saw a massive boom in railway building. This was the period of Railway Mania. Many schemes were completed in Lancashire and the speed of growth was massive. For example, in 1820 there were no commercial railways operating in Britain; by 1920 120 companies ran trains over 20,000 miles of track.

Mapping the changes

The rate of change during the Victorian period was great and the Ordnance Survey frequently had to update maps and plans. A new set of maps was drawn up for Preston in 1847. This comprised 25 large-scale sheets. The maps offer a fascinating insight into this pivotal period. All of the Preston maps are available online at the National Library of Scotland.

Even in the 1840s the amount of railway in Preston was impressive, considering that the first line in Britain was opened only 17 years earlier.

Preston Station in 1849 Pic: Ordnance Survey
Preston Station in 1849 Pic: Ordnance Survey

Early locomotives

Locomotives in the 1840s were quite small and the East Lancashire Railway used some quirky designs. The locomotives were mostly made by local companies and had open cabs with very little protection for the drivers.

The North Union Railway had built the line through Preston, however, they only had 18 locomotives in 1846. The locomotives were an odd mixture of designs, from five or more different manufacturers. Some were made by the Haigh Foundry in Lancashire. Up until about 1856, Haigh had built over 100 locomotives. Perhaps the best-known mid-Victorian locomotive manufacturer, apart from Robert Stephenson, was Eduard Bury of Liverpool. These became known as the Bury type and were operated throughout the region.

Read more: Dig into more Preston history with Geoffrey

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