Ardwick to Ordsall Lane – 1865

The Ardwick to Ordsall Lane railway line in Manchester:

A line with civil engineering challenges now & operational problems 150 years ago.

This webpage considers the section of railway line from Ardwick to Ordsall Lane via Manchester Piccadilly (formerly London Road), Oxford Road, and Deansgate (formerly Knott Mill) stations. img240The route skirts around the southern edge of Manchester city centre, and from Piccadilly to Ordsall Lane runs on a 1.5 mile viaduct. The line was opened in 1849 to provide a communication between the London Road terminus to the east of the city centre, and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway to the west. As the railway network developed further it also provided a link with lines to the south west of the city, including those to Warrington and Altrincham. This is nicely shown on the Railway Clearing House map of Manchester from the early twentieth century; see the dark blue route on the diagram.

The line was originally built by the img242Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway but was later taken into the joint ownership of the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) and the Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR). The latter became the Great Central Railway. There were frequent disagreements between the two Companies over the working of the line, particularly for goods traffic, and this is borne out in MS&LR correspondence from 1865 which is transcribed below.

Explanation of operations, circa 1865.

The following explanation can most easily be understood by reference to the coloured plan above, and the larger version at the bottom of this page.

The MS&LR had a need to transport goods, especially coal from collieries in the South Yorkshire area, to markets west of Manchester; or to locations that required transit across Manchester. These goods trains could reach Ardwick via MS&LR’s own lines; see the pink route to the right of the map above. They would then have to use and traverse the L&NWR’s tracks (red on the map), for the short section to London Road, in order to gain access to the westward route to Deansgate (Knott Mill); dark blue line on the map. From there, via Castlefield Junction, trains could access lines to the south west (e.g. Altrincham), or to the Liverpool line via Ordsall Lane. The MS&LR were very dependent on the cooperation of the L&NWR for the movement of their goods trains between Ardwick and Ordsall Lane. It seems that most of the work force controlling this section were L&NWR men. The MS&LR complained of delays and their trains being shunting into sidings for unacceptably long periods. The solution was shared, or joint, piloting of trains over this section. This could mean the provision of an additional locomotive to the front of the train, or a replacement engine just to move the train between Ardwick and Ordsall Lane.

Some examples of MS&LR coal trains routed over the “South Junction” line:

– Tankerley Colliery to Liverpool (Edge Hill).

– Tankersley Colliery to Windermere.

– Thorncliffe Colliery to Shrewsbury.

– Darfield Main Colliery to Altrincham.

Each of the above named collieries were near Barnsley. Contemporary records showing the breakdown of the train journey of these four workings can be viewed at the bottom of this page. The L&NWR Toll for the Ardwick to London Road section is specifically documented.

Today this section of line is vital to the “Northern Hub” rail development. This is a central government funded targeted upgrade to the railway infrastructure in the North of England scheduled for completion in 2019. One of its aims is to improve rail communications between a number of northern cities and their access, by rail, to Manchester airport. The hope is that it will stimulate economic growth in this part of the country. Key to the project is the construction of a new short curve of line (termed the Ordsall Chord) at Ordsall Lane. Nothern Hub central manchester mapThis will allow direct running of trains between Manchester Victoria and Deansgate. This is controversial because it will cut across the rail access into the former Liverpool Road station; now part of the Museum of Science and Industry. This is one of the most historic railway locations in the UK. It was the Manchester terminus of George Stephenson’s Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830 and the world’s first passenger railway. The Ordsall Chord will also run immediately adjacent to Stephenson’s bridge over the River Irwell which is a grade I listed structure. The re-development of Oxford Road Station (not the first time) and additional platforms on the line at Piccadilly are very challenging because of space restrictions.

So it’s a problematic bit of railway line. . .  but this isn’t the first time . . . . 150 years ago it was too!


Internal correspondence from the MS&LR which ultimately lead to a Joint Piloting arrangement with the L&NWR for their goods trains between Ardwick and Ordsall Lane:Ardwick correspondence (1)

Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway.

Engineers’s Office, Manchester Oct 31’st 1865

[To Mr R.G. Underdown, General Manager MS&LR, from Charles Sacre, Engineer and Superintendent of the Locomotive and Stores Department, MS&LR]

My Dear Sir

I have now carefully weighed over the subject of Mr Cawkwell’s letter of the 25’st inst. The proposition made by the LNW Co is that we should run the Goods between Ardwick & Liverpool Road direct, the Engines returning empty. Our proposition is that the LNW Co should do the work we paying our share of the Engine power. The LNW Co’s proposition is to the effect that in place of our encountering one block viz London Road we must encounter three viz London Road, Oxford Road & Liverpool Road. Providing our suggestion is adopted any detentions which may arise will fall entirely upon the LNW Co who have practically the control of all the Lines between these points, and in the event of the Engine power being lost we have but to pay them, as you suggested the other day, a sum in proportion to the number of wagons moved between these places. I can only strengthen this opinion by handing you a letter which I have received from Mr Linsley. This will clearly shew you that it will be impossible with the present number of Engines we possess to carry out the suggestion proposed by the LNW Co. Take a further view of Mr Kay’s suggestion that the Engine should return empty and the block is as heavy on one journey as on the other and I have no hesitation in saying that we would have six or seven Engines per day entirely sacrificed. The best way therefore to upset Mr Cawkwell’s letter is now at once to demand that the two new Lines between Ardwick and London Road should be opened forthwith for through Traffic and that all Goods trains from Ardwick to Manchester, as the roads are now connected, should run direct into the Goods Station and not interfere at all with the passenger trains, and that all Liverpool Goods, or Goods beyond Ardwick shall be left marshaled in the Siding for the LNW to take direct through upon the return journey with their Engines. In the first place they cannot by any possibility give up the Lines and if therefore you will strongly impress upon them the necessity of this step being adopted and insist upon it and lay the whole blame of the block upon the want of these Lines, which were certainly constructed to relieve the old Lines. I do not see that Mr Cawkwell’s letter is worth the paper it is written upon. It is all very well Mr Cawkwell making suggestions but because their people may make a suggestion are we to be compelled to fall in with their views. They first of all make two additional Lines to relieve the Traffic, and then they convert them into shunting sidings in no way to our benefit. They next want us to put on a supply of Engines which would practically stop us on the ground that we are an obstruction to them. Yesterday an Engine came into Manchester with grain and remained from 9.0 am to 4.0 pm without turning a wheel. It is all very well Mr Sutton making representations as he does to Euston but I think that if we were to carefully send in once a week a statement of the detentions to our Engines and trains, but Engines in particular standing doing nothing whatever I am sure Mr Cawkwell would then have an opportunity of seeing the worth of the suggestion contained in his letter.

In conclusion I must say that you cannot, and dare not, agree to this proposition without shutting us up completely and if further proof is necessary I beg to recommend that the Shunters, Drivers and all persons concerned in this work be examined next Sunday morning when they can all be got at and everything that I have told you from the beginning in connection with this business will I think be more than borne out.

Yours very truly

(Signed) Charles Sacre


Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway.

Engineers’s Office, Manchester Nov 3’rd 1865

[To Mr R.G. Underdown, General Manager MS&LR, from Charles Sacre, Engineer and Superintendent of the Locomotive and Stores Department, MS&LR]

Dear Sir

Working of Traffic between Ardwick and Ordsall Lane.

I am in receipt of your letters of the 1’st and 2’nd inst in reference to the meeting you had with Mr Cawkwell.

Any Engines which have to be found to do this work should be done by the LNW Co as unless this is the case it will be the means of completely stopping our Line. I wish you to distinctly understand this. Of course, if you consent to the working taking place, and also to guarantee the supply of Engines in Manchester at the same time as fast as the Engines will serve it it shall be done but I must repeat that this will get us into such a position as will, I think, be regretted by all parties concerned only give you my views on the subject and I am surprised that Mr Bradley and Mr Smith (both MSLR men) should have for one moment listened to Mr Sutton’s (LNWR man) proposition when they must have known the difficulties that have existed between these points for years. At present we have not a single Engine on the Line to turn upon and some of the regular trains had to stand last night there being no Engines in the place.

You say that any arrangement come to must be mutual. There will be difficulty in realising this when the power is entirely in the hands of the LNW Co.

I write you this letter so that you may thoroughly understand your psoition.

Yours faithfully

Signed) Charles Sacre


Notes of a meeting held in Mr Bradley’s Office., London Road Station on Monday November 6’th 1865.


Mr J Kay LNW Co

Mr W Sutton LNW Co

Mr C H Smith MSL

Mr Bradley MSL

The question of the undercharge of Traffic between the LNW Co & MSL Co was again discussed and the following propositions submitted.

1’st That each Company deliver the Traffic for the other Engines returning empty.

2’nd That the above proposal be adopted except that instead of the Engines returning empty they should return loaded and the Traffic of the Companies mutually worked.

3’rd That the North Western put on one Engine for the day and the MS&L one for the night to work the Traffic of the two Companies direct between Ordsall Lane and Ardwick night and day duty to be taken alternatively by the respective Companies.

4’th The the LNW Company provide power. The MSL agreeing to pay their proportion of the cost and it was further suggested that one engine should be put on by the LNW to work direct between the two points as an experiment or two say 1. night and 1 during the day.


Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway.

Office of Superintendent for the Line, Manchester Nov 8’th 1865

[To Mr R G Underdown, General Manager MS&LR, Euston Hotel, London, from Mr Bradley, MS&LR]

My Dear Sir

Mr C H Smith and I met Mr Kay and Mr Sutton on Monday and we fully discussed the propositions made by the LNW Co for the working of Traffic between Ordsall Lane and Ardwick:-

I annex a copy of the propositions which were submitted for consideration:-

I distinctly pointed out various objections to Nos 1, 2 & 3 propositions and I think I ultimately convinced both Mr Sutton and Mr Kay that as they have practically the control by having their own servants between the two points it would be far more likely to result in the successful carrying out of the system of working proposed by them if they provided the Loco power and if they seriously desired to adopt the plan of working through between the two points I could not see on what ground they should refuse when we agree to pay our proportion which would be about half of the expense incurred. I would suggest that we do not agree to even that except as an experiment for a month.

I may add the statement of facts as related in Mr Cawkwell’s letter with reference to the postponement of the first meeting is certainly incorrect for when I state that I went myself first to Mr Sutton’s Office at about half past twelve on receipt of the letter addressed by Mr Cawkwell to you after speaking about several other matters this was named by me and Mr Sutton stated that he had to leave for Longsight at one. He did so and promised to meet me again at my office at half past two – He came accompanied by Mr Kay at three, several matters were discussed and I should think there would perhaps be about half an hour’s discussion on this when Mr Sutton said that he had to leave again for London so that how several hours discussion could have taken place I think it would be difficult to see and it was suggested by him (Mr Sutton) that as there was not then time to fully discuss the matter we should meet on Thursday. It is merely then a question as to whether he should have said he suggested the meeting on Thursday or the subject  was postponed at his request. I merely mention this so a record that the above is a correct statement of what transpired:-

Yours faithfully

(Signed) Mr Bradley


Memo Re: Working between Ardwick and Ordsall Lane.

Previous to 1865 traffic was exchanged between the MS&L and L&NW at London Road, but in October of that year it was suggested by the L&NW Co that the traffic should be exchanged at Ardwick and Ordsall Lane, but Mr Sacre strongly objected to this, contending that our Engines would be much delayed, as the working of the Line would be under the control of the L&NW Co the whole of the way. He suggested that the North Western Co should provide all the Engine power, we paying a share:-

A meeting in reference to the matter took place on the 6’th Nov 1865, in the Superintendent’s Office, the MS&L Goods Manager, Superintendent, and Mr Kay & Mr Sutton on behalf of the L&NW Co being present – various propositions were made one of which was that each Company put on an Engine for the day and night in turns.

The papers in the General Manager’s possession pads No 1175 & 2131 do not shew the general settlement but there is a letter from Mr Sacre dated the 29’th Nov 1871 to Mr Underdown stating that we provide an Engine for the day working one week and for the night the next, the L&NW Co doing likewise, complaining of the delay to our Engines on the Line between Ardwick and Ordsall Lane and stating further that we used to be paid so much per wagon for hauling between these points and suggesting that this practice be again reverted to.

The agreement for the alternate working has been continued ever since and at the present time we charge the North Western Co 3/6 per hour for the time occupied by our Engines, this being half the agreed amount – viz 7/0. The L&NW Co in turn debit us with half the cost of the time their Engines are working the traffic, each Company paying the other in cash.

Particulars are given below of the times the Engines commence and leave work and also the traffic which is hauled by them.

One week:-

MS&L Engine works from 6 a.m to 7 p.m.

L&NW Engine works from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The following week this working is reversed – the L&NW Engine working in the day, and the MS&L at night and early morning – and so on.

The Midland & GN Companies pay monthly to the L&NW Co an amount for “Haulage” of coal traffic, the L&NW crediting us with one half of this as our proportion of the earnings of the Pilots working this traffic.

The Joint Pilots do not haul any traffic passing between L&NW Local Stations.

Coal from MS&L Collieries and beyond to Oxford Road and Regent Road and to L&NW Stations and beyond via Liverpool Road.

Coal from L&NW Stations and beyond to MS&L Stations and beyond.

Coal from Midland and GN Collieries to Oxford Road and Regent Road via London Road.

Coke from Oxford Road to MS&L Stations and beyond.

Goods from MS&L Stations and beyond to L&NW Stations and beyond via Liverpool Road and London Road.








Railway Clearing House map of Manchester, early 1900's.
Railway Clearing House map of Manchester, early 1900’s.

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