Peterborough to Blisworth Railway
The Planning Period
Peterborough to Blisworth Railway (Summary, full version below)
The Planning Period
In the middle of the 19th century, a unique railway line was planned to connect Thrapston to London via Peterborough and all the towns throughout the Nene Valley. However the plan had its opponents – reported in the 4th February 1843 edition of the Northampton Mercury.
· The railway line would have to pass across fields close to the River Nene and these were liable to extensive flooding. This flooding may also affect the Mills along the route, and any compensation would have to come from a court order difficult and expensive to obtain.
· The area along which the railway would run was thinly populated. There were no large towns nor important manufacturers and any present railway profits would be minimised by the use of this line. It would also be more expensive to use.
· There would be no profit to Thrapston.
· It would not be safe as the promoters were planning only a single line from Northampton to Peterborough. A double line would be safer and more convenient.
In short the townspeople felt the plan was being pushed through too quickly in order to get the Order before the Houses of Parliament. They wanted the plan postponed for another year.
A Committee was put together to consider supporting the projected railway line to connect Peterborough with London and the Birmingham Railway.
This Company would be responsible for the Bill going through Parliament.
The Blisworth and Peterborough Railway Bill was finally carried, by a small majority and the railway was finally opened on Saturday June 7th 1845 with a great deal of Victorian celebration.
The following Monday, a train of 15 first class carriages, left Northampton Station at 12.15pm and arrived at Peterborough at 2.20pm. The newspaper recorded that every station along the line was crowded with onlookers, and Peterborough Bridge was packed.
The railway was a success. The newspaper reported that in the early days it was impossible to accommodate the hundreds who wanted to ride the train, thus causing considerable delays. The people even went on to the line in front of the train to get a better look at it which caused severe disturbance. Thankfully no-one was injured, but speeds had to be kept low for safety.
(Summary prepared by Lesley Baden)
Peterborough to Blisworth Railway
The July 1964 edition of Modern Railways (page 59) , there is a reference to the withdrawal of passenger services between Northampton Castle, Wellingborough Midland Road and Peterborough East. Three photographs are included; two of trains around Oundle and one of a train entering Thrapston Bridge Street from the Peterborough direction. That was the extent of the coverage of the closing a railway line that, 120 years earlier, had been a pioneer in so many ways.
The line was unique, however. Other proposals in the Northampton area existed for lines to Market Harborough, for instance. But it was the only line proposed to connect Peterborough and the towns of the Nene valley with London. It did have its detractors as reported in the Saturday 4th February 1843 edition of the Northampton Mercury. The meeting consisted of various land owners and their agents. The meeting took place in the White Hart Inn and was chaired by Earl Fitzwilliam. Other participants in the meeting were Lord Lilford, The Duke of Dorset and Lord Montague. They agreed upon the following:
To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of the undersigned Land Owners sheweth, That Bill is depending your Honourable House for making Railway from the London and Birmingham Railway, near Blisworth, by Northampton to Peterborough, which will intersect the lands of your Petitioners.
That your Petitioners have reason to think, that the public advantage to be derived from the construction of the said Railway is not of such magnitude as call upon your Petitioners to give their assent the proposal. That the said Railway will pass for the most part along and across the meadows adjacent to the River Nene, which are liable to extensive, and, some places, to long continued inundations; and that wherever the said Railway may cross the current of the stream it will cause obstructions to the passage of the flood waters, which (notwithstanding all the facilities that may be afforded by the peculiar mode in which it is proposed to construct it) will of very serious nature, and calculated to injure the adjoining lands. Also [t]hat they have reason [to] think that some cases [of] injury will be inflicted upon the Mills and the valuable property vested therein.
That no compensation for such injuries can be provided prospectively; in consequence of which your Petitioners will left to the very uncertain remedy of an appeal either to jury or to arbitrators. That the country through which the intended Railway will pass is thinly peopled, with no large towns on the line, and important manufactures. That it has been avowed by the Agents for the said measure that the object is not so much to benefit country through which it passes as to bring some additional traffic into the main line of the London and Birmingham Railway at Blisworth.
That your Petitioners have reason to think that, [in] addition to this avowed object, there is further object not avowed by promoters of the measure, viz., the securing to the London and Birmingham Company monopoly of all the railway communications between London and the North, which they conceive to be highly objectionable on public grounds, as it will thereby enable them to perpetuate their present high rates of conveyance.
That the Agents of the promoters of the Bill have repeatedly acknowledged that their employers do not expect to realize any profit upon the branch line from Northampton to Peterborough, and that they look for remuneration only in the increased traffic upon their main line. That your Petitioners beg your Honourable House to consider maturely whether it [will] be desirable to establish a Railway, the receipts upon which will not afford a fair profit to the undertakers.
Your petitioners conceive that under such circumstances the establishment is not likely to be conducted in such a manner as ensure safety and convenience of the public. That in support of these views of your petitioners and confessedly on account of the small profits to be expected, it is understood to be the intention of the promoters to lay only single line from Northampton to Peterborough.
Your Petitioners conceive that such construction is exceedingly objectionable; and if your Honourable House deems it advisable to sanction the undertaking, they earnestly entreat your Honourable House make provision for and to enforce the laying down a double line.
Your Petitioners beg leave also to represent that they understand it intended to cross many important roads upon a level, which they conceive to be attended with much danger. Your Petitioners beg leave further to observe, that no intimation was given the intention to propose such a measure till within a very short time of the period for giving the Parliamentary notices: that they know that the surveys were taken in a very hasty manner; and they have reason to believe that in several instances the most advantageous line has not been adopted.
That some of your Petitioners have consequently proposed to the promoters to postpone the measure to another year, but that such proposal has been rejected. That in the rejection of this very reasonable (as they think) proposal, your Petitioners see additional grounds for apprehending, that the promoters have some unavowed reasons for wishing to hurry the Bill through Parliament.
All which premises your Petitioners pray your Honourable House to take into your most serious consideration, and that they may be heard by themselves, their counsel, and agents, against the said Bill. And your Petitioners will ever pray, &c. It was also resolved, That Petition should lie for signature at the Office of Mr. Archbould, in Thrapston; and that copies should inserted the County Newspapers, and in the Stamford Mercury.
The concern over the proposal to build only a single line was also exercising the proponents as well. A month earlier there had been a meeting of the proponents of the line and this was reported in the Saturday January 28th 1843 edition of the Northampton Mercury.
Blisworth and Peterborough Railway
On Tuesday last an adjourned meeting the inhabitants of Thrapston and its vicinity, was held, Rev. W. S. Bagshaw, in the chair. Mr. Wilkins read the following report which he had drawn up from documents furnished by the agents of the London and Birmingham Railway Company: – Report of the committee appointed at an adjourned meeting of the inhabitants of Thrapston and its vicinity, held the 17th January, and originally convened to consider the propriety of supporting the projected line railway, to connect the City of Peterborough with the London and Birmingham Railway.
The meeting heard how the London and Birmingham Railway Company was going to be responsible for the Bill going through Parliament. It was considered unlikely that the railway was unlikely to be profitable on its own but outside agency like the L & B would make it a source of profit. The meeting also hoped that the opponents could be persuaded not to disrupt the passage of the Bill in Parliament.
The Leicestershire Mercury on Saturday March 4th 1843 reported that the Bill had passed with a small majority:
The small majority by which the second reading of the Blisworth and Peterborough railway bill was carried, should induce the inhabitants of this and other towns through which the line will pass, to increase their efforts in its behalf, and particularly to endeavour to persuade more members of Parliament to support the measure. We are glad to perceive that one of our representatives, Mr. Wynn Ellis, voted for it.
Finally the railway was opened with the usual splendour that our Victorian forebears could muster. The celebrations were recorded :Saturday June 7th 1845 editions of the Northampton Mercury.
Opening of the Northampton and Peterborough Railway
The newly-constructed Branch Railway connecting Peterborough with the main London and Birmingham Railway at Blisworth was opened to the public on Monday last. A party of the Directors, accompanied by the Mayor, the body corporate, and a large number of inhabitants, to whom, through the Mayor, invitations had very liberally been conveyed by the Company, had previously visited Peterborough on Saturday.
The newspaper reported that the train consisted of fifteen first-class carriages. It left the Northampton Station at approximately 12:15 pm and it arrived at Peterborough at 2:20 pm.
It was quite a spectacle and must have been a frightening sight to many. The paper records that “Every station along the line was crowded with gazers, and at frequent intervals in the vicinity of a village, the fence was clustered with old and young, gentle and simple, looking with wondering eyes upon the imposing novelty. Peterborough Bridge was literally a solid mass of spectators.
After about an hour in Peterborough, the train left at about 3:30 pm, and arrived at the Northampton Station before 6 pm. It took nearly 2½ hours to complete the 47 1/4 miles journey, although over 50 minutes of this time was lost in stoppages.
Was the new railway a success? The newspaper goes on to report:
“Since the opening the trains have been so unexpectedly heavy, that considerable delays have occurred. In the early part of the week it was utterly impossible to accommodate the hundreds who thronged the intermediate stations. Every booking office had its expectant passengers. It would seem too, that along this new line the population, men, women, and children, do not yet stand sufficiently in awe of the terrific monster steam. They have the hardihood to gather directly in his path, as if his dashing among them would not, before you could say Jack Robinson, crush every bone in the skins of rash hundreds. This circumstance has been a serious hindrance.”
Thankfully no one was injured. It would seem that the locomotive drivers soon learnt to be cautious but that also meant that the speeds were kept low.
 Modern Railways (Ian Allan Ltd) Vol. XIX No. 190 (July 1964)
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