[Source: Paul Wright]

The Bolton & Leigh Railway (B&L) company was formed in 1824 by a group of influential Bolton businessmen who wanted to improve the links between their important manufacturing town and south-west Lancashire. Access to Liverpool was particularly important to them. At a distance of 7½ miles south-west of Bolton at Leigh the Bridgewater Canal Leigh branch (opened in 1795) had an end-on connection with the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Leigh Branch (opened in 1821). The original idea of the B&L was to create a railway to link Bolton with the canal at Leigh and it obtained an Act to do so on 31 March 1825.

George Stephenson was appointed as the engineer and he laid out a line that included two inclined planes for an estimated cost of £49,343. The line was actually laid out and constructed by Robert Daglish Senior (1777 – 1865) assisted by George Stephenson’s older brother, Robert.

George Stephenson inspected the works on 8 January 1827 and he was critical of some aspects of it. In a report to the B&L directors he mentioned the terminus at Leigh being a deviation from what had been authorised in the 1825 Act and awkwardly situated for a future extension of the line to link up with the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&M) then under construction. This was an interesting comment as it shows that even before the line had opened an extension was being considered. The L&M had been authorised on 5 May 1826 and its route passed through Kenyon 2½ miles south-west of Leigh.

The B&L was complete by July 1828. It was a single-track line 7½ miles long. Three kinds of rail were used, fish bellied weighing 35lb per yard, T-section rail weighing 63lb per yard and bridge-section rail weighing 43lb per yard. The rails were laid on stone block sleepers ballasted with small coal. Notable features included the inclines at Chequerbent and at Daubhill. Daubhill was the highest point of the line at 119ft. That height was reached in only 1 mile 600yards from Bolton and the incline had gradients of between 1 in 48 and 1 in 54. Both inclined planes were worked by stationary steam engines.

An opening ceremony was held on 1 August 1828. At 12.15 a new 0-4-0 locomotive supplied to the company by the Robert Stephenson Company departed from Pendlebury Fold at the top of the Chequerbent incline with a train of 13 wagons and a coach. On board were railway directors, dignitaries and the Bolton Old Band. The train ran to Daubhill where the engine was detached. It went to a nearby colliery and returned with a train of coal. The engine was then named Lancashire Witch by a Mrs Hulton wife of one of the B&L’s major shareholders. Demonstrations of the engine’s capability were then made including a run at 12mph. The special train of dignitaries was then lowered down the Daubhill Incline by the stationary engine and it proceeded to Bolton where celebrations ended at the Commercial Inn.

After the opening ceremony day-to-day operations began and additional locomotives were purchased.

To create the link to the L&M a separate company was formed called the Kenyon & Leigh Junction Railway Company (K&LJR). It obtained an Act to build a 2½ mile line from Leigh to Kenyon on 14 May 1829 at which time the L&M was at an advanced stage in its construction. The K&LJR opened to goods services on 1 January 1831, the L&M having opened on 15 September 1830. The opening of the K&LJR created the world’s first junction between two separate railway companies.

The L&M had been designed to carry passengers from the start and it proved to be very successful in that aspect. The B&L saw the value in passenger services and started them on its own line on 13 July 1831. Direct trains were run to Liverpool and passengers could change at Kenyon Junction for services to Manchester. To serve the passengers a basic station consisting of a booking office and a shed was opened at Bolton Great Moor Street. Similar primitive facilities were created at Kenyon Junction and at Leigh. Extensive goods facilities were also laid out at Bolton Cook Street.

On 20 May 1836 an Act was passed which allowed the B&L to take out a 25-year lease on the K&LJR with powers to purchase the line for £44,750. In the same year the B&L arranged for the working of the lines to be taken over by John Hargreaves Junior (1800 – 1874) who was already an established carrier. He made a success of the enterprise and quickly took responsibility for all traffic movements, locomotives and rolling stock. By 1838 there were 14 locomotives working on the B&L. On 1 July 1845 the B&L, K&LJR and the L&M were amalgamated into the Grand Junction Railway and a year later on 16 July 1846 that company became part of the London & North Western Railway (LNWR).

In the LNWR years other lines were opened that connected to the B&L route and improvements were made, notably the doubling of the line between 1880 and 1885, the easing of the inclined planes through the building of deviations in 1885 and a complete reconstruction of Bolton Great Moor Street station between 1881 and 1885.

Lancashire’s first public railway died in stages under the ownership of British Railways. Regular passenger services ended on 29 March 1954 (excursions and holiday trains continued to run until 1959). The line closed as a through route on 17 June 1963 when the section between Pennington South Junction and Howe Bridge North Junction closed completely. Bolton Cook Street Goods Station closed to public goods services on 25 April 1965 and completely on 16 October 1967. The last section of the B&L to survive was between Howe Green North Junction and Hultons Sidings and it closed on 6 January 1969. A section of the K&LJR (between Kenyon Junction and Pennington) survived until Saturday 3 May 1969 as part of the Tyldesley Loop.

After closure many sections of the B&L route were lost under road and building developments.

To see the stations of the line click on the links:
Bolton Great Moor Street, Bolton Deansgate Goods, Bolton Crook Street Goods, Daubhill, Chequerbent 1st and West Leigh




[Source: Paul Wright]

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