From the archive: stunning historic railway plans revealed

From the archive: stunning historic railway plans revealed

Published 21 October 2021 | Average read time
4 min read
Stories From the archive Industry-leading

Stunning original drawings of one of Britain’s earliest railways have re-emerged in our archive.

The archive, in York, has just rediscovered engineer Thomas Longridge Gooch’s plans for the Manchester and Leeds Railway, which opened in 1839.

The original contract drawings for this line, which date from about 1836, are rare examples of highly artistic railway plans:

The world’s earliest railways

The Manchester and Leeds Railway linked Manchester with Leeds via the North Midland Railway and was among our very first lines.

It followed the Stockton and Darlington Railway – considered the world’s first passenger railway to use locomotives when it opened in 1825, and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway – the world’s first steam-powered and timetabled inter-city passenger railway, which opened in 1830.

The drawings have re-emerged thanks to a project to reorganise our civil engineering plans at our National Records Centre, which houses our archive of millions of title deeds, legal documents and historic plans.

John Page, records controller at our archive, said: “The majority of the archive collection currently focuses on the GWR [from London Paddington to South-West England and Wales], but my focus has been to look at the North of England and see what we have in terms of the earliest drawings. The M&L collection seems to be the most complete so far.”

John added: “The superintendent was George Stephenson and the engineer and surveyor was Thomas Longridge Gooch, brother of the [Great Western Railways’] Daniel Gooch.

“[Thomas Longridge Gooch] had worked on the Liverpool and Manchester under George Stephenson as well as the Newcastle and Carlisle and the Bolton and Leigh Railway – so some crucial early railway projects.”

As a result, Gooch’s Manchester and Leeds Railway drawings are particularly impressive, including details such as mile stones, early level crossings and even trees and bushes alongside the tracks and bridges.

Original archive drawing of trees and fencing on the Manchester and Leeds Railway

John said: “They are quite artistic, which makes sense as TLG was the draughtsman for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. I think these early contracts were done in this way to impress and inspire the people that viewed them.

“It was still the early days of the widespread adoption this new and revolutionary technology, and there was still a lot of hesitancy about it, especially with the M&L as it directly threatened the Aire and Calder Navigation Company and their interests in canal and river navigation.”

Original archive drawing of a bridge in Huddersfield for the Manchester and Leeds Railway
Original archive drawing for a bridge on the Manchester and Leeds Railway
Original archive drawing of track for the Manchester and Leeds Railway

Transpennine Route Upgrade

The drawings have re-emerged as we’re working on the multi-billion-pound Transpennine Route Upgrade to improve your journeys in the North of England.

The 76-mile Transpennine railway stretches between York and Manchester, via Leeds and Huddersfield, and serves 23 stations.

The huge upgrade will turn this line into a high-performing, reliable railway for you, with greater punctuality, more trains and improved journey times.

Original archive drawing of milestones for the Manchester and Leeds Railway
Original archive drawing of banks and a level crossing for the Manchester and Leeds railway
Original archive drawings of permanent sidings for the Manchester and Leeds railway

Read more:

Film: discover the Network Rail archive

From the archive: our oldest items

Incredible Stephenson railway history rediscovered

Read the George Stephenson notebook online

Step back in time… and inside Britain’s busiest signal box

Our history

The Architecture the Railways Built – Bramhope Tunnel

The Architecture the Railways Built – Newcastle

The Architecture the Railways Built – interview with presenter Tim Dunn