Birkenhead Railway

  (Redirected from Birkenhead Joint Railway)

The Birkenhead Railway was a railway company in England. It was incorporated as the Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Junction Railway (BL&CJR) in 1846 to build a line connecting Chester and the manufacturing districts of Lancashire by making a junction near Warrington with the Grand Junction Railway. The BL&CJR took over the Chester and Birkenhead Railway in 1847, keeping its own name for the combined company until it shortened its name to The Birkenhead Railway in 1859.[1] It was taken over jointly, on 1 January 1860, by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) and the Great Western Railway (GWR).[2] It remained a Joint Railway until Nationalisation of the railways in 1948.[1]

Birkenhead Railway
SuccessorBritish Railways
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Route map
Chester & Birk 1886.png
Birkenhead Joint Railway
Cathcart Street Goods
Morpeth Dock Goods
Birkenhead Monks Ferry
Birkenhead Woodside
Birkenhead Town
West Kirby
Kirby Park
Rock Ferry
Port Sunlight
Neston South
Hadlow Road
Little Sutton
Ellesmere Port
Chester General
Stanlow and Thornton
Mickle Trafford
Ince & Elton
Dunham Hill
Sutton Tunnel
Warrington Bank Quay

Apart from the Hooton–West Kirby line which closed in 1962 almost the whole BL&CJR network is still in main line use. Part of the railway is now used by the Chester branch of the Wirral Line, one of the two urban electric commuter rail services operated by Merseyrail on Merseyside.[3]


Early historyEdit

Interests in the Birkenhead docks were aware that they needed a railway connection to wards Manchester and the Lancashire manufacturing districts, to enable them to compete with Liverpool. The Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Junction Railway was incorporated on 26 June 1846 with capital of £1.5 million, to build a line from Chester to Walton Junction, near Warrington, where it would connect with the Grand Junction Railway, leading to Manchester. The London and North Western Railway was formed by merging the GJR, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and others, on 16 July 1846. This left the BL&CJR out on its own, and its attempts to negotiate for access at Warrington and beyond were frustrated for some time.[4][5]

Acquisition of the Chester and Birkenhead RailwayEdit

In late 1846 negotiations for a merger of the Chester and Birkenhead Railway and the Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Junction Railway were finalising. A Parliamentary Bill authorising the merger was submitted, and it was passed on 22 July 1847, but provisions for leasing by other companies, chiefly the LNWR, were removed because of concerns about interests other than development of the docks. Nevertheless the BL&CJR now controlled the Birkenhead line.[4][6]


A 1903 Railway Clearing House map showing railways in Chester

A joint station was opened at Chester on 1 August 1848; it cost £55,000 and was to be jointly operated and accessible to the LNWR, Chester and Holyhead Railway, Shrewsbury and Chester Railway (S&CR), and Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Junction Railway.[7][8]

The Shrewsbury and Chester Railway had emerged from the North Wales Mineral Railway, and brought considerable volumes of minerals, chiefly coal, to Birkenhead; there was a triangle of lines at Chester station, enabling these trains to avoid the station. The LNWR felt threatened by this traffic, which it considered should come to it. Moreover the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway was aligning itself with the Great Western Railway as a possible through route to London. The LNWR started upon hostile acts towards the Birkenhead line and the Shrewsbury and Chester line, and these escalated in aggression and illegality.

The BL&CJR directors were supine in the face of these acts until a Shareholders' Meeting on 23 October 1850, when shareholder dissatisfaction motivated the Board to take a firmer line with the LNWR. The Shrewsbury and Chester (Birkenhead Station) Act of 1851 gave the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway running powers to Birkenhead greatly increasing the traffic.[7][9][10]

On 30 April 1851 the Sutton Tunnel railway accident took place near Frodsham on the line to Warrington. Nine persons died. The collision was caused by a loosely managed time-interval system which was in operation; the directors were heavily criticised for their lax management of the line.[11][12][13]

In January 1854 there was renewed hostility against the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway, and the matter went to arbitration; the arbitrator found in favour of the S&CR and awarded them running powers which gave them access to Manchester and Liverpool, as well as other important benefits.

Joint railway of GWR and LNWREdit

In 1851 negotiations for a lease of the BL&CJR to the Great Western Railway were started,[10] but the idea fell through. Soon the rival LNWR attempted a lease of the BL&CJR, but the Birkenhead Town and Dock Commissioners successfully objected, because of the LNWR commitment to Liverpool.

From 1 September 1854 the GWR and the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway amalgamated, and the GWR was given running powers to Birkenhead, and was able to take advantage of the Manchester and Liverpool powers.[14][15]

The hostility between the companies waned a little and in 1858 the BL&CJR suggested joint ownership by the LNWR and GWR of their company. By Act of 1 August 1859 the BL&CJR company changed its name to the Birkenhead Railway, and the transfer of ownership took effect on 1 January 1860.[note 1][16][6][17][18]


The LNWR opened the direct line over the Mersey at Runcorn on 1 February 1868. In 1873 this was followed by their opening of the Halton Curve between Frodsham Junction and Helsby Junction. This considerably shortened the transit between Chester and Liverpool and abstracted nearly all of the passenger traffic that had gone via Birkenhead.[19]

On 20 January 1886 the Mersey Railway opened between Liverpool and Green Lane Junction, Birkenhead, where it entered on the Chester–Birkenhead line. The Mersey Railway was steam operated through steeply graded tunnels. The section of the Joint Line at Green Lane Junction was already very congested, and it was agreed to make an interchange station at Rock Ferry, about one mile south of the junction, with the Mersey Railway providing its own separate tracks to get there. The Mersey Railway extension to Rock Ferry opened on 15 June 1891.[20][21]

For a short time there was a through service from Liverpool Central to Paddington, via the Mersey Railway, starting in 1898.[21]

After GroupingEdit

In 1923 most of the railway companies of Great Britain were formed into one or other of four large new companies, in a process called the "grouping", following the Railways Act 1921. The Great Western Railway was largely unchanged in the area under consideration; the LNWR joined the Midland Railway and others to form the new London Midland and Scottish Railway, the LMS. The Joint Railway continued to be joint, now between the GWR and the LMS.[17]

Road competition, especially for local passenger journeys, increased in intensity at this period, chiefly because of the roundabout nature of railway journeys from branch line settlements and the inconvenient location of many stations.

During World War II Liverpool suffered from heavy enemy bombing, but although the railway suffered damage, there was no strategic disruption. Birkenhead docks was heavily used for military purposes. A connection was laid in at Mickle Trafford between the Joint Line and the Cheshire Lines Committee route there, so as to divert goods traffic via Bidston, avoiding Chester LNWR.[22]


At the beginning of 1948 British Railways was established as a state-owned organisation. Little initiative was taken to rationalise the formerly competing facilities, such as the wasteful multiple goods depots. Much continued as before, but the transfer of bulk goods to containers, and the increasing use of road transport abstracted from the railway, which declined, as did passenger business.


Chester–Birkenhead lineEdit

The Chester and Birkenhead Railway was authorised on 12 July 1837, with capital of £250,000. It was to be a single line; no intermediate stations had been planned at this stage. George Stephenson was the engineer.[23][6][24] It opened in 1840.

Chester–Warrington lineEdit

The Chester–Warrington line opened in 1850 and runs from Chester to a junction with the West Coast Main Line south of Warrington.

Hooton–Helsby lineEdit

As much of the goods and mineral traffic to and from Birkenhead had Manchester as its terminal, the Joint companies decided to build the Helsby branch, a straight route of nearly 9 miles. It intersected the Shropshire Union Canal at Ellesmere Port, then a very busy dock, but no railway connection was made there. The branch opened on 1 July 1863, shortening the transit to Manchester by 11 miles.[25][6]

Hooton–West Kirby lineEdit

A branch from Hooton to Parkgate was planned, chiefly to access collieries at Neston, and potentially to develop a residential district. It opened on 1 October 1866 as a single line, with provision for later doubling and extension beyond Parkgate.[26][27]

In 1881 the Joint Line directors decided to extend the railway from Parkgate to West Kirby, along a developing residential strip. This was authorised by an Act of 12 July 1882. It was hoped to agree a joint station with the Seacombe, Hoylake and Deeside Railway,[note 2] proprietors of the existing West Kirby station, fed from the Birkenhead end via Hoylake, but this proved impossible and a separate station was built. The line opened on 19 April 1886, and the passenger train service ran from Birkenhead Woodside to West Kirby via Hooton. In fact the two stations at West Kirby were combined in 1896.[28][29]

The Hooton–West Kirby line had never realised its potential, and it was closed to passengers on 17 September 1956, and to freight traffic in May 1962.[29] The track bed of this route is now the Wirral Way, a footpath forming part of the Wirral Country Park.


  • Hooton; opened October or November 1840; still open;
  • Hadlow Road; opened 1 October 1886; closed 17 September 1956;
  • Neston South; opened 1 October 1866; renamed Neston South 1952; closed 17 September 1956;
  • Parkgate; opened 1 October 1866; closed 17 September 1956;
  • Heswall Hills; opened 19 April 1886; closed 17 September 1956;
  • Thurstaston; opened 19 April 1886; closed 1 February 1954;
  • Caldy; opened 1 May 1909; closed 1 February 1954;
  • Kirby Park; opened 1 October 1894; closed 5 July 1954; schools use continued until 17 September 1956;
  • West Kirby; opened 19 April 1886; closed 17 September 1956; use transferred to Hoylake line station.


  1. ^ As a working arrangement; it was ratified by Parliament and formalised effective from 20 November 1860.
  2. ^ At this stage the Seacombe, Hoylake and Deeside Railway was isolated in the North Wirral; much of its business was passenger travel from Liverpool arriving at Seacombe by ferry. Opening of the Mersey Railway and subsequent developments connected the little company's line to the network in 1888.


  1. ^ a b Casserley 1968, pp. 140–142
  2. ^ Hendry & Hendry 1992, p. 8
  3. ^ "Merseyrail: A Brief History" (PDF). Merseytravel. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 August 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
  4. ^ a b Maund 2000, pp. 18–20
  5. ^ Grant, pages 43 and 44
  6. ^ a b c d Geoffrey O Holt, revised Gordon Biddle, A Regional History of the Railway of Great Britain: volume 10: the North West, David & Charles Publishers, Newton Abbott, 1986, SBN 0 946537 34 8, pages 44 to 50
  7. ^ a b Maund 2000, pp. 21–23
  8. ^ MacDermont, p. 346
  9. ^ MacDermot, pages 356 to 359
  10. ^ a b MacDermot, pages 370 to 372
  11. ^ Maund 2000, p. 22
  12. ^ Captain Laffan, Report to the Commissioners of Railways into the Fatal Collision in the Sutton Tunnel on 30th April 1851, published by the House of Commons, 29 May 1851, accessible at
  13. ^ "Cheshire Magazine". Retrieved 27 August 2008.
  14. ^ Maund 2000, pp. 22–27
  15. ^ MacDermot, pages 382 to 390
  16. ^ Maund 2000, p. 27
  17. ^ a b Grant, page 44
  18. ^ MacDermot, pages 4266 and 427
  19. ^ Maund 2000, p. 34
  20. ^ Maund 2000, pp. 44–45
  21. ^ a b Holt, page 50
  22. ^ Maund 2000, pp. 51–57
  23. ^ Maund 2000, p. 5
  24. ^ Donald J Grant, Directory of the Railway Companies of Great Britain, Matador Publishers, Kibworth Beauchamp, 2017, ISBN 978 1785893 537, page 110
  25. ^ Maund 2000, pp. 32–33
  26. ^ Maund 2000, pp. 33–34
  27. ^ Holt, page 52
  28. ^ Maund 2000, pp. 42–44
  29. ^ a b Holt, page 53


  • Hendry, R. Preston; Hendry, R. Powell (1992). Paddington to the Mersey. Oxford Publishing Company. ISBN 9780860934424. OCLC 877729237.
  • MacDermot, E. T. (1927). History of the Great Western Railway: volume I: 1833 – 1863. London: Great Western Railway.
  • Maund, T. B. (2000). The Birkenhead Railway (LMS and GW Joint). Sawtry: Railway Correspondence and Travel Society. ISBN 090 1115 878.

Further readingEdit

  • Maund, T.B. (2001). The Birkenhead Railway: LMS & GW Joint. Railway Correspondence & Travel Society. ISBN 0-901115-87-8.
  • Merseyside Railway History Group (1982). The Hooton to West Kirby Branch Line and the Wirral Way. Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. ISBN 0-904582-04-3.
  • Vinter, Jeff (1990). Railway Walks: LMS. Stroud: Alan Sutton. ISBN 0-86299-734-8.

External linksEdit