Cut off from the rail network being built to link London, Liverpool and Manchester, industry in North Staffordshire faced an uncertain future.
Despite pressure from local people, the Grand Junction Railway refused to run its main line from Crewe to Stafford via Stoke.
Engineers said it was impossible to build a tunnel under Harecastle Hill between Kidsgrove and Chatterley. Nobody believed them. There were already two canal tunnels which took the Trent and Mersey Canal through the hill. The Grand Junction Railway did not have the money to build a tunnel. Its mainline by passed the Potteries although a station was built at Whitmore, a village near Newcastle.
Led by pottery manufacturer John Ridgway, leading industrialists and colliery owners wanted the region to have its own railways and in 1846 they formed the North Staffordshire Railway Company.
Parliament gave the company permission to build three lines:
- The Potteries Line from Macclesfield to Colwich with branches to Crewe, Newcastle and Norton Bridge,
- The Churnet Valley Line from North Rode to Burton-on-Trent, via Leek and Uttoxeter, with a branch line to Derby, and
- The Stoke to Uttoxeter Line, via Longton and Blyth Bridge.
Work started on September 23rd, 1846 when the company’s chairman John Lewis Ricardo cut the first sod at Cliffe Vale.
Railway contractor, Thomas Brassey was employed to construct the Potteries Line and its branches to Newcastle and Norton Bridge. Starting from a temporary station at Wheildon Grove, Fenton the line to Norton Bridge was opened in April, 1848 and on August 7th the first passenger trains ran along the Stoke to Uttoxeter Line.
Men worked to complete the Potteries Line. Viaducts were constructed at North Rode and Congleton to carry it over the River Dane and the Dane in Shaw brook. Track was laid between Stoke and Congleton and Elizabethan style stations, designed by London architect Henry Hunt, were erected.
At Kidsgrove where the Crewe branch joined the Potteries Line over 1,500 men spent two years building a tunnel to take the railway under Harecastle Hill. Approached through an arched roofed cutting and two open cuttings separated by a short tunnel 183 yards long, the main tunnel is 1,768 yards long, 25 feet wide and 22 feet high. More than 15 million bricks were used in its construction, Both tunnels remained in use until 1966 when the line was electrified and diverted through Bathpool Park.
In Stoke workmen were laying out Winton Square where houses for senior staff and the North Stafford Hotel were being built. Stoke station, a Jacobean style building faced the square. Designed by Henry Hunt the station which cost £30,000 had two platforms with their own entrance halls, booking offices, waiting rooms and restaurants. It opened on October 9th, 1848 when passenger trains started running from Stoke to Crewe and Congleton.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2010
Photograph of Stoke Station © Copyright Row17 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.