Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The London and North Western Railway

The London and North Western Railway called itself 'The Premier Line' for some years. The railway could not be accused of false modesty! It was run for many years by Captain Mark Huish (1808 - 1867). Later, with Sir Richard Moon (1814 - 1899) as Chairman and with the towering, if controversial, figure of Francis William Webb (1836 - 1906) as the Chief Mechanical Engineer ruling his empire at Crewe with a rod of iron, the railway was bound to have a high opinion of itself. But in many ways, that opinion was justified. The railway was a joint stock company, owned by its shareholders, so the first measure of success was did its shareholders receive a good dividend? Yes, they did - consistently.

The railway boasted some of the finest permanent way in the country, made possible by the steelworks using the Bessemer process set up at Crewe so that the railway could manufacture its own rails, in longer lengths than otherwise available, reducing the number of rail joints and improving ride quality.

Webb believed that manufacturing in-house led to highest quality and lowest cost to the railway so Webb is also responsible, amongst other things, for the distinctive L.& N.W.R. signals and signal boxes. There's a little on L.& N.W.R. signalling here and on the 'Crewe' All Electric signalling system here. Steam Index has a wonderful Webb collection here.

1054 at the Battlefield Line in 1997 (Photo: John Fairclough).

But, of course, Webb is best known as a locomotive designer. The only Webb locomotive I've had an opportunity to drive is the preserved 'Coal Tank' number 1054, when she visited the Battlefield Line in 1997.