Capital House, Wharf and Malting.
To be LETT, to the Best Bidder, At the Ram Inn, in the Town of Northampton, on Thursday the 6th Day of November inst. at Five o'Clock in the Afternoon, subject to such Conditions as shall be then and there produced,
A Capital MESSUAGE or TENEMENT, in good Repair, with useful attached and detached Offices, situate in the South-Quarter, in the Town of NORTHAMPTON, now in the Occupation of Mrs. Alice Peach.
—Also, an extensive and convenient-' WHARF YARD, and an excellent MALTING, adjoining the said Messuage, with all requisite and convenient Buildings thereto belonging.
The above Premises are most eligibly situated by the navigable River Nine, very near the Grand Junction Wharf, from whence is a direct Communication, by the present RailWay to the Grand Junction Canal, and are capable of carrying on a very extensive Trade.
*** For further Particulars, apply to Mr. Theo. Jeyes, Solicitor, Northampton.
A CORRESPONDENT writes that recently he saw a map of Northampton, dated 1807, in which the terminus of a railway is shown not far from the South Bridge in Cotton End, and as the first railway in the world, that from Stockton to Darlington, was opened in 1825, he asks if there is an explanation.
It may be said at once that the map is correct. There are many references to the railway which ran from Blisworth to Northampton in the early years of last century. The Northampton Corporation objected to it. The Assembly in 1809 resolved :-
" That this Assembly has observed with regret a railway substituted for a canal by the Grand Junction Company, a mode of communication equally as injurious to this town and neighbourhood as to the Canal Company, experience having fully proved it to be inadequate for the purposes intended, inasmuch as the articles that are conveyed along it are unavoidably subject to great waste, breaking and pilferage, the communication is much more difficult and expensive than it would have been by water, and nearly all perishable articles of merchandise are prevented from passing along it."
Notwithstanding my categorical answer and this extract, an explanation is required.
In Elizabethan times the conveyance was by packhorse, which gave place, slowly, to carts, and then to heavy waggons. For persons, chaises and coaches succeeded. Roads generally were execrable, and were only slowly, very slowly, improved. Rivers were the best means of transport, but their direction was fixed: they could neither be augmented nor multiplied. Sydney Smith is credited with thanking the wisdom of providence in placing rivers near the large towns. In the first half of the eighteenth century the river Nene was navigable from the sea only as far as Peterborough.
In Yaxley Church, near Peterborough, there is a monument to Thomas Squire, who died in 1759, " merchant, native, and once inhabitant of this town." The inscription goes on to state that the deceased
" at his own expense undertook to make the river Nene navigable from the city of Peterborough to Islip, near Thrapston, in the county of Northampton, where he afterwards lived upwards of 20 years, to see it answer his own wishes as well as the expectation of the publick."
Cooke's history of Northamptonshire, several editions of which were published before 1820, says " after several ineffectual attempts to extend the navigation, it was at length accomplished in the year 1762, when boats laden with coal came up by Oundle, Thrapston, Higham Ferrers, and Wellingborough, to Northampton. The navigation is, however, still very defective and incomplete, but it is capable of being rendered highly serviceable to the town on its banks."
A little later we come to the canal era. The Grand Junction Canal runs through Northamptonshire, entering the county from Leicestershire at Welford, passing through Crick, Weedon, Blisworth to Cosgrove in the south, and thence into Buckinghamshire for London. At Welton, near Crick, there is an arm which joins the Oxford Canal at Braunston, and at Cosgrove a branch runs through Passenham and Wicken to Buckingham.
When this canal was in the making considerable difficulty was experienced in cutting the tunnel between Blisworth and Stoke Bruerne, and in carrying the canal on an embankment further south. The " Northampton Mercury," on the last day of August, 1805, printed the following
Grand Junction Canal.- We are happy to announce the completion of nearly all .the great works which were going on upon this important and extensive line of inland navigation, rendered peculiarly interesting to Englishmen by forming an immediate connection with the British capital, and the numerous canals which intersect and cross each other in all directions between our great manufacturing towns and works. On Monday morning last, the stupendous embankment between Wolverton and Cosgrove, near Stony Stratford, was opened for the use of trade. Boats navigating the Grand Junction Canal will now avoid the delay, labour, and danger, of passing eight locks.
Northampton, apparently, was anxious to have water communication with the Grand Junction Canal, and a branch was early projected joining the Nene, navigable to Northampton, with the canal at Blisworth. So impatient were the promoters that they determined on laying a rail-way (we should call it a tramway now, but that word had not then been popularised).
These rail-ways were no new things. They had long been used under-ground, and overground, by most collieries. At first they were of wood, afterwards of cast iron. They were also used for connecting works and industrial towns. In the long period in which the Blisworth canal tunnel was being constructed, a rail-way was laid overground from mouth to mouth for the conveyance of stores and even of merchandise. The motive power on these rail-way lines was provided by pit ponies, horses, and human beings.
The rail-way from Blisworth to Northampton was opened in October, 1805, and a great deal was expected from it. The resolution of the Corporation of Northampton shows that the expectations were not realised. The branch canal was finished in 1815, and the rail-way was dismantled. Some few of the rails were actually thrown into the canal, whether as the most economical way of disposing of them, or from sheer mischief, cannot now be said. The course of the rail-way was close to the present course of the canal, and terminated at Cotton End. A carrier's advertisement in 1805 ends
" George Osborne likewise informs his Friends and the Public, that he has on Sale, Wednesbury Coals, Coke, and Slates, at the Rail-Road Wharf, in Cotton End."
This account might very well end here but for the fact of the existence in Northamptonshire of an uncommon rail-way still in public use. One of the earliest of the modern steam railways in Great Britain was the line from London to Birmingham. It was begun at both ends, and the Northamptonshire part was the last portion made. The junction was long delayed owing to the difficulties experienced in the formation of Kilsby Tunnel, which is 2,423 yards long.
The line from London as far as Bletchley was opened in 1837, terminating about a mile north of the present station, just where the line now crosses Watling Street. Early pictures show us that there was no station platform, but there was a temporary hotel. The place was known as Denbigh Hall, so called because an Earl of Denbigh, snowed up when travelling, was glad of a night's shelter in the humble cottage of old Moll Norris.
The railway company had ten coaches to convey through passengers by road between Denbigh Hall and Rugby. Colonel Anstruther Thompson writes that the first time he rode in a railway train was when he journeyed to London from Nottingham to attend the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. He says :
" The North-Western line was open to Denby Hall, where there was no station, and they drove the coach up to the side of the rails in a grass field, shoved it on to a truck, and took it bodily up to London. The only refreshment-place was Wolverton, and the only refreshment hot elder wine and ' parliament ' ginger-bread."
The early railways expected gentlefolk who kept carriages to travel in them on the trains. In the early notices and time-tables the list of fares of all gave the charges for conveying private coaches. First-class passengers, without private coaches, had seats in open carriages; third-class travellers were provided with fixed forms or benches on mere platforms on wheels. As speed increased travellers were given protection from the weather and from the danger of falling. First-class passengers had coaches mounted on railway wheels. I well remember travelling by railway in a third-class carriage which had square openings for windows.
The road commissioners, whose income for the upkeep of the roads was derived from tolls, at first viewed with amusement the construction of the railways, soon turned to alarm. For many years, where the tolls were sufficient, improvements had been made as far as the money would go; the surface was improved, hills were lessened, valleys partly filled. " The distance from London to Towcester," quaintly says a writer in 1830, "for a long series of years had been 60 miles; but in consequence of the many alterations since 1817 on the Holy-head road is reduced to 59, as appears by the milestone, which, in the course of the present week, has been placed adjoining the bridge in Towcester."
Mr. George Savage, of Stoke Bruerne, who died in 1899, was a typical Northamptonshire man whom I remember well. I wrote at the time of his death :
" The stretch of the roadway known as Watling Street, or Street Road, between Towcester and Weedon, is not very familiar to Northamptonshire men and women, except those whose business takes them from the vicinity of either of these two places to the vicinity of the other. Whenever one first traverses this road he is sure to be struck with a strange, if not unique, arrangement of stones on some of the hill parts of the road. On two or three of the steepest hills, on the left-hand side going up, there are laid roughly-dressed granite blocks forming a pair of parallel channels an inch or so lower than the surface of the road. In times of rain the water pours down them in torrents. These channels arc very smooth, and being of the right width they are used by heavily-laden carts and wagons, which thus obtain considerable help up the hills.
" As a matter of fact they are stone tramways, and were laid expressly to facilitate the coaches in their journeys between London and Birmingham. The London and Birmingham Railway was being made by George Stephenson, and there was the alarm that as soon as it was completed the locomotive would do all the work of the stage coach. If the coaches ceased to run, and all the traffic were monopolised by the new-fangled railroads, turnpikes would no longer be profitable investments. The only way, then, to preserve the vested interests of those having shares in turnpike trusts was to accelerate the coaches and enable them, in the matter of speed, to outrun the railway trains. The turnpike commissioners for this stretch of road accordingly laid out a considerable sum in reducing the height of the hills, removing thousands of loads from the tops to the bottoms, and laying the tramways on which the coaches should run when going up.
" About 300 men were employed in the work of removing the earth and laying the granite tramways ; and they were all under the superintendence of Mr. Savage, who had the entire management of the whole work. How well the work was done an inspection would immediately show: it is as good now as the day it was finished, more than sixty years ago. Everyone knows now how futile was the attempt to pit horseflesh against the steam engine, but Mr. Savage was a grown man when the best men of Northamptonshire still had faith in the old methods of transit."