Date: November 1829
Description: As well as the competition which new railways would bring to the canals, as an investor in the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company, the Marquis of Stafford faced competition from other railway companies who wished to build new lines and extend the railway network.
The letter featured above was written to James Loch by George Stephenson (1741-1848), the engineer of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company. George Stephenson was involved in the development of locomotive engines in the 1820s and was extremely influential in the expansion of the railways following the success of his locomotive Rocket at the Rainhill locomotive trials in October 1829. Professor Eric Richards writes that the success of the Rainhill trials created ‘infectious enthusiasm’ and a ‘flurry of activity and confidence’ in the development of the railways.
Owing to his success at Rainhill, Stephenson was consulted on a number of new railway developments, railway promoters keen to engage the services of this pioneering engineer. The letter featured above conveys the atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm for developing railways in the late 1820s. Stephenson refers to a project to construct ‘a line of railway’ between Manchester, Stockport and Whaley Bridge. Stephenson informs Loch that his ‘ideas’ had been ‘adopted by Subscribers’ to the project and that he had been ‘elected’ as the engineer ‘to give occasional assistance’.
However, as the engineer of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company, Stephenson appears to have been concerned about becoming involved with other schemes. His letter suggests an anxiety that his involvement with the new project would conflict with his role as ‘a servant of the Marquiss on the Liverpool Railway’. He asks Loch ‘do you imagine this line will interfere with the Marquiss of Stafford’s interest?'. He adds ‘if I judge rightly it will rather be a benefit than otherwise’. Stephenson also asks whether he should advise his son from withdrawing as engineer to the company planning ‘the Warrington and Newton Railway’ for the same reasons.
M. W. Kirby remarks on the significance of Stephenson’s involvement in the development of the railways and writes that ‘the true dawn of the “railway age” of the nineteenth century may be said to date from 15th September 1830’ when the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was opened.
For biographical information about Stephenson and his involvement in the Rainhill trials, see M. W. Kirby ‘Stephenson, George (1781-1848)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26397]
For in-depth contextual analysis of correspondence relating to the development of inland transport during this period, see Professor Eric Richards The Leviathan of Wealth: The Sutherland Fortune in the Industrial Revolution (Routledge, 1973) which has formed the absis for interpretation of the letters featured here.