The railway age began in 1830 when the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, opened the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Between 1830 and 1842 numerous railway companies were formed and over 2,000 miles of track was laid. The mainline linking London and Birmingham with Liverpool and Manchester by passed the Potteries. When asked to run the line through Stoke, civil engineers employed by the North Western Railway said there was no way that a rail link could be constructed from Crewe to the Potteries because it was impossible to drive a tunnel under Harecastle Hill between Chatterley and Kidsgrove. Hardly anyone believed them. The Trent and Mersey Canal Company had already built two tunnels there to take the canal through the hill.
In 1845, pottery manufacturer John Ridgway, who owned Cauldon Pottery, and the district’s two Members of Parliament, William Copeland and John Lewis Ricardo, decided to form the North Staffordshire Railway Company.
Ricardo was made company chairman and civil engineer George Parker Bidder was employed to survey routes for the lines it hoped to build.
On Wednesday, September 23rd, 1846 the company’s shareholders held their first meeting in Stoke town hall. The company’s secretary, John Samuda, told them that Parliament had given it permission to build three lines:
- The Potteries Line – from Macclesfield to Colwich running through Congleton, Stoke and Stone which had branches to Newcastle-under-Lyme and Norton Bridge.
- The Churnet Valley Line – from North Rode to Burton-on-Trent and Derby which ran through Leek and had a branch from Uttoxeter to Crewe via Stoke.
- The Harecastle and Sandbach Line – from Kidsgrove to Sandbach.
Civil engineering contractors Mackenzie, Brassey and Stephenson were employed to build the Potteries Line and its branches. The contract to construct the lines from Kidsgrove to Crewe and Sandbach was given to Grisell and Peto. Tredwells were given the contract to build the Churnet Valley Line and Prices were employed to construct the link between Uttoxeter and Stoke.
When the meeting ended the shareholders had lunch. Afterwards they marched in procession along streets decorated with garlands and bunting to Cliffe Vale where Ricardo cut the first sod. In the evening there was a ball at the town hall and a firework display in Winton’s Wood where Stoke station (pictured) was erected.
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