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Sunday, 3 July 2011

‘Crabbed, morose and irritable’ - One Liverpool Man's Complaints Against the L&NWR in 1867

Complaining about the Britain’s railways is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, I have seen many complaints about many railways in my studies of the Victorian railway industry. However, never have I seen a catalogue of complaints as long as those presented by ‘A CONTRACTOR’ in the Liverpool Mercury in late 1867. Starting on the Monday October 21st and ending on Tuesday December 10th, this man levelled in six parts a sustained attack on the London and North Western Railway’s (L&NWR) services in and around Liverpool.

He had, some years previous to his letters, become a commuter travelling the ‘eight or nine miles’ between Huyton Quarry and Liverpool daily. He believed this would be a quicker and more comfortable way to travel than the omnibus. But it soon became the bane of his existence, stating, ‘I dread it with increasing and absorbing dread.’ He felt he was increasingly becoming ‘crabbed, morose and irritable’ and that he was ‘now thrown into a tremor by the slightest incident.’ He concluded that he attributed the change in his disposition to the ‘vexatious, annoying and nerve destroying influences to which I am daily subject in my travels to and from Liverpool.’ Indeed, he argued that the L&NWR ran the line as it had been done when it was opened by the Liverpool and Manchester railway in 1830.[1]

Naturally, I cannot go into all of the individuals’ complaints. However, I will touch on the main ones. The first, which brought on his nerves, was his fear of being killed. He stated that in his commute over the years ‘four persons have been mangled and mutilated to death by trains in which I have travelled.’ But furthermore, he stated that while directors allowed ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds to be found for shortening the distance to London by two or a dozen miles,’ narrow stations were left dark at night where ‘people [may] tumble off and be killed,’ and level crossings ‘on the line must be abolished’ as many an accident or ‘near-miss had occurred. Thus ‘neither decent accommodation is given to those who use the railway, nor proper protection to those who are obliged to cross it.’[2]

It was in the second letter, of October 29th, that our letter-writer began to attack the quality of the L&NWR’s stations. He started, with his home station of Huyton Quarry which he argued ‘might be a station in Chancery, so out-of-elbows does it look, or belong to some bankrupt company, who could not afford a few pounds to put in a tolerably descent condition.’ He complained that the station house could do with a spot of paint, but quickly moved onto its accommodation. He stated that at one end of it was ‘a dirty, dismal, low-pitched den which serves the double purpose of booking office and waiting room,’ and measured only 12ft by 8ft. One half was ‘appropriated by the officials, and the remainder is generously accorded to the public.’ The room was unpainted, there was a ‘fusty’ odour and there was a small ‘settle’ (fireplace) where in the winter months the room’s ‘occupants are ingeniously roasted by the fire on one side and exposed on the other to cold blasts.’

Outside station house was what he called ‘a semblance of a platform,’ that he asserted was never completed, becoming at one end ‘small by degrees and beautifully less’ until the level of the line is reached.’ Thus, when alighting the train at one of the platform he had the task of jumping down from the carriage. Lastly, the L&NWR had put up a ‘convenience in a position where it is overlooked without any pretence at concealment at all, by any person passing along one of the public roads,’ for which the drainage was no more than a ‘few wisps of straw.’[3] While complaining about Huyton Quarry Station at length, he also stated that he had heard of other deficient facilities elsewhere and frequently ‘compared notes with fellow travellers.’[4]While it won’t be related here, he related at length the dire facilities at Roby, Broadgreen, Edgehill [5] and Liverpool Lime Street Stations.

Indeed, at the Lime Street Station the ‘CONTRACTOR’ complained about how trains were brought out of the station because of the incline through the tunnel outside it. Firstly, a train was drawn by locomotive to the tunnel’s mouth. The locomotive would ‘go onto one line’ and proceed to the other end of the tunnel, while the carriages would remain on the original line. A rope was then attached to the front of the carriages and a steam engine at the Edgehill end of the tunnel would haul them up the incline to be reunited with the locomotive. Following on from this, he also detailed how trains were let down the incline. A break van was attached to the front of the train with the rope attached behind. The train was then allowed to freewheel down the incline with a breakman steadying its speed by judiciously applying the break. Overall, he argued that ‘is it not disgraceful that in these days of mechanical contrivances human life should be at the mercy of such primitive devices.’ Furthermore, with these procedures taking between ‘5 and 25 minutes,’ our author complained that no light penetrated the carriages and, thus, he was in a pitch-dark carriage with ‘persons whom you do not know and cannot see,’ a position which he felt perilous for all the obvious reasons.[6]

While I have not highlighted all of the author’s complaints, it is clear who he blamed for these deficient aspects of the L&NWR’s service: ‘the directors who rule the roost at Euston-square.’ Interestingly, the author framed his complaints in terms of the North-South divide, asserting on many occasions that services and facilities in the south were superior, and that directors could find money for improvements or railway empire-building when they required. Indeed, he stated, over the issue of level crossings that ‘I believe that the Liverpool members of the board have endeavoured to bring about some improvements, but that they are out-voted by the London interest,’ [7] and this comment is indicative of a feeling that runs through the correspondence. I cannot be certain whether his assertions as to the state of the line, with the exception of the practices at Lime Street, were strictly true. But it is certain that he felt the north-south divide and the distance of the L&NWR directors from Liverpool, affected how they implemented policy there.
[1] Liverpool Mercury, Monday, October 21, 1867; Issue 6156
[2] Liverpool Mercury, Monday, October 21, 1867; Issue 6156
[3] Liverpool Mercury, Tuesday, November 12, 1867; Issue 6175
[4] Liverpool Mercury, Thursday, November 21, 1867; Issue 6183
[5] Liverpool Mercury, Thursday, November 28, 1867; Issue 6189
[6] Liverpool Mercury, Thursday, November 28, 1867; Issue 6189
[7] Liverpool Mercury, Monday, October 21, 1867; Issue 6156

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