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This is about the 19th century railway company. For the 21st century train operating company, see London Midland.
London & Birmingham Railway
London & Birmingham Railway Coat of Arms.jpg
London & Birmingham Railway coat of arms on the original Euston station gates displayed at the National Railway Museum in York
Dates of operation 1833–1836
Successor London and North Western Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)

The London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) was an early railway company in the United Kingdom from 1833 to 1846 when it became part of the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR).

The 112-mile (180 km) railway line which the company opened in 1838 between London and Birmingham was an early intercity line, and one of the first lines to be built from London. It is now the southern section of the West Coast Main Line.

The line was engineered by Robert Stephenson. It started at Euston Station in London, went north-north-west to Rugby, where it turned west to Coventry and on to Birmingham. It terminated at Curzon Street Station, which it shared with the Grand Junction Railway (GJR), whose adjacent platforms gave a link to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), and allowed through rail travel from London to those cities.

Curzon Street Station. The Birmingham terminus of the line




Early plans

The railway engineer John Rennie proposed a railway line from London to Birmingham in 1823 and formed a company to build it by a route through Oxford and Banbury, a route later taken by the Great Western Railway.

Soon afterwards a rival company was formed by Francis Giles whose line would have been through the Watford Gap and Coventry. Neither company obtained backing for its scheme, and in late 1830 the two companies decided to merge.

The new company appointed Robert Stephenson chief engineer, and he chose the route through Coventry, largely to avoid possible flooding from the River Thames at Oxford.

The L&BR

The Camden Town stationary steam engine chimneys and locomotive workshops in 1838.[1]

The prospectus for the London and Birmingham Railway offered the following inducements to potential investors:

First, the opening of new and distant sources of supply of provisions to the metropolis; Second, Easy, cheap and expeditious travelling; Third; The rapid and economical interchange of the great articles of consumption and of commerce, both internal and external; and Lastly, the connexion by railways, of London with Liverpool, the rich pastures of the centre of England, and the greatest manufacturing districts; and, through the port of Liverpool, to afford a most expeditious communication with Ireland.
The Avon Viaduct in 1838.[2]

The company was created with an initial capitalisation of £5,500,000.[3] Much of the subscribed funds came from Lancashire, where great profits were being made in the cotton industries.[4]

The Company's first application for an Act of Parliament to construct the line was rejected in 1832, due to pressure from landowners and road and canal interests. However in May 1833 a second act was approved and the line received the royal assent. Construction began in November of that year.


The line had been planned to open at the same time as the Grand Junction Railway which entered Birmingham from the north. However great difficulty in constructing the Kilsby Tunnel in Northamptonshire delayed the opening.

Plaque at Curzon Street Station commemorating the arrival of the first train from London to Birmingham

The first part of the line between Euston Station and Boxmoor (Hemel Hempstead) opened on 20 July 1837. The line was not finished in time for the coronation of Queen Victoria on 28 June 1838, but aware of the lucrative traffic the event would generate, the company opened the north end of the line, between Birmingham and Rugby, and the south end from London to Bletchley with a stagecoach shuttle service linking the two parts to allowing through journeys to London. The line was officially fully opened on 17 September 1838.

It has often been claimed that initially, owing to the lack of power available to early locomotives,[5] trains from Euston were cable-hauled up the relatively steep incline to Camden by a stationary steam engine. This however was denied by Peter Lecount, one of the L&BR engineers, who wrote in his 'History of the Railway connecting London and Birmingham' (1839), page 48: "It is not because locomotives cannot draw a train of carriages up this incline that a fixed engine and endless rope are used, for they can and have done so, but because the Company are restricted, by their Act of Parliament, from running locomotive engines nearer London than Camden Town." The railway opened from Euston on 20 July 1837; the stationary engines and rope haulage did not commence until 27 September, and handled all trains from 14 October 1837. Until then, and whenever the rope system was stopped for repairs, locomotives hauled the trains up the incline. From November 1843 some expresses were worked without recourse to the rope, and from 15 July 1844 the rope working ceased permanently.

The locomotive workshops were established in 1838 at Wolverton, roughly half-way between the two termini at London and Birmingham. These workshops remained in use as a manufacturing facility up until the 1980s; today just a few parts of the original Wolverton railway works are used solely for rolling stock maintenance and repair.

From 1840, when the Midland Counties Railway made a junction to its line at Rugby, the L&BR also provided through connections from London to the East Midlands and the North East. It also made connections to the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway at Hampton-in-Arden between Coventry and Birmingham.

Acquisitions and Mergers

The first branch from the main line was the Aylesbury Railway, seven miles of single track, which opened in 1839 and was leased to the L&BR until purchased outright by the LNWR in 1846. The Warwick and Leamington Union Railway, a branch of almost nine miles between Coventry and Leamington, was purchased by the L&BR in 1843 and opened in 1844.

In 1845, the Northampton and Peterborough Railway, a 47-mile branch from the main line, was opened from Blisworth. Also in 1845 branch lines, from Bletchley to Bedford and from Leighton to Dunstable, were leased; they opened in 1846 and 1848. In 1846 the L&BR leased the West London Railway (jointly with the GWR) which opened in 1844 between Willesden Jct and the canal basin at Kensington.

The L&BR purchased the Trent Valley Railway in 1846 on behalf of the LNWR; this fifty-mile line connected Rugby on the L&BR with Stafford on the Grand Junction Railway thus creating a more direct line from London to Liverpool and Manchester by avoiding the original route through Birmingham. The Rugby and Stamford Railway, a further branch into the Eastern Counties was approved in 1846.

In 1846 the L&BR merged with the Grand Junction Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway to form the London and North Western Railway, which in turn was later absorbed into the London Midland and Scottish Railway, before finally passing into the hands of the nationalised British Rail in 1948 to become part of the West Coast Main Line as it is known today. The major change to the line during this period was electrification, which was carried out during the mid 1960s as part of BR's Modernisation Plan.

Neither of the L&BR's original termini, both designed by Philip Hardwick, has survived in its original form. Curzon Street station in Birmingham closed to passenger traffic in 1854 (the original entrance building remains) when it was replaced by New Street station and the original Euston station in London was demolished in 1962 to make way for the present structure which opened in 1968.

Construction parallels

Berkhampstead railway station in 1838 with the Grand Junction Canal to the right.[6]

Peter Lecount, an assistant engineer of the London Birmingham railway, produced a number of - possibly hyperbolic - comparisons in an effort to demonstrate that the London and Birmingham Railway was "the greatest public work ever executed either in ancient or modern times"[7]. In particular, he suggested that the effort to build the Great Pyramid of Giza amounted to the lifting of 15,733,000,000 cubic feet (445,508,947.4 m3) of stone by 1 foot (445,508,947.4 m³ by 0.305 m). The railway, excluding a long string of tasks - drainage, ballasting &c - involved the lifting of 25,000,000,000 cubic feet (707,921,164.8 m3) of material reduced to the weight of stone used in the pyramid. The pyramid involved, he says, the effort ot 300,000 men (according to Diodorus Siculus) or 100,000 (according to Herodotus) for twenty years. The railway involved 20,000 men for five years. In passing, he also noted that the cost of the railway in penny pieces, was enough to more than form a belt of pennies around the equator; and the amount of material moved would be enough to build a wall 1 foot (305 mm) high by one foot wide, more than three times around the equator.

London and Birmingham railway gallery for 1838

Locomotives of the L&BR

See also


  • The History of the Railway connecting London and Birmingham by Peter Lecount (1839)
  • Locomotives of the LNWR Southern Division, London & Birmingham Railway & Wolverton Locomotive Works by Harry Jack (2001) ISBN 0-901115-89-4
  • Rugby's Railway Heritage by Peter H Elliot (1985) ISBN 0-907917-06-2
  • The London & Birmingham Railway 150 Years on, by David Gould (1987) ISBN 0-7153-8968-8
  • Our Iron Roads: Their History, Construction and Social Influences, by Frederick S. Williams (1852), pp128-129. Available from Google Book Search
  1. ^ Roscoe, Thomas (1839). The London and Birmingham Railway; with the .... etc., Pub. Charles Lilt. London. Facing p. 44.
  2. ^ Roscoe, Thomas (1839). The London and Birmingham Railway; with the .... etc., Pub. Charles Lilt. London. Facing p. 117.
  3. ^ John Francis (1851). A History of the English Railway. pp. 23.  
  4. ^ Thomas Tooke (1838). A History of Prices, and of the State of the Circulation, from 1793 to 1837.  
  5. ^ Michael Ball, David Sunderland (2001). An Economic History of London, 1800-1914. Routledge. pp. 212. ISBN 0415246911. "the slope had been engineered too steeply for the weak steam locomotives"  
  6. ^ Roscoe, Thomas (1839). The London and Birmingham Railway; with the .... etc., Pub. Charles Lilt. London. Facing P. 64.
  7. ^ [1]


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