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Victoria Station, Manchester

Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway




FROM some sequestered village in the wilds of Yorkshire to Manchester may seem a far cry. But even a wayside station has interest and attractiveness closely akin to that of a great metropolitan station. To village people, the station is the centre of importance, because through its means they may touch at least the fringes of the wider and busier life which lies beyond their ordinary sphere. Slight though it be there is a thrill in that touch. It may be felt only by the message boys, the artisans, the farm labourers, and others who frequent a wayside station of an evening when the last train arrives from the junction. Even to them the station and the arrival of the trains speak of worlds of life beyond, yet whose sounds they cannot hear. If the spirit of ambition or adventure lurks in their blood, it is to the railway station they go, as the place where the life they would know seems to come in to them in the eddy of its stream. There the bustle, the news, the travellers, and the trains carry suggestions to their imaginations and spur their laggard minds to think. They watch the “tail-lights” of the departing train disappear, and their thoughts leap ahead into the distant world. They feel that there their life would be freer of restraint, their faculties have fuller play, and their horizon be wider than that which is formed by the hills around their quiet village. The day comes when they too take their places in the train in the grey light of morning, and ere night-fall find themselves set down amid the glare, the noise, and the bewilderment of a city railway station.

As everyone should know, the headquarters of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway are at Manchester and its principal station there is Victoria. It is situated near the centre of the City, within a quarter of a mile of the Exchange, and is thus easily accessible. It is purely a passenger station, the goods traffic of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway being conducted through Oldham Road and Salford stations chiefly. As one approaches the main entrance of the station from Corporation Street, one is confronted by a handsome block of buildings, the property of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and devoted principally to its offices. In front of these buildings there is a broad carriage-way leading into the station, and the inner end of the way is roofed over, with the name of the station emblazoned on it in large letters which none can mistake. Entering from this side, one finds one’s self on the spacious esplanade skirting the ends of the platforms and bays (some ten in number) which are allotted to the working of local trains. From these bays trains start for such places as Beacup, Heywood, Bury, the East Lancashire District, Middleton, Oldham, Ashton, etc.

Each platform is duly numbered and marked, so that there is no confusion. With an efficient staff, the station arrangements are conducted with order and method to a degree. Ready answers are given to enquirers regarding trains, but the public are made independent of such help by there being provided in a conspicuous place a permanent indicator giving details as to hours of departure and platforms for all trains. The general appearance of the station is bright and airy. With its high glass roofs, it is well lighted and ventilated. It is compact without being congested; and roomy without being scattered. From side to side of the station there is carried overhead a narrow iron bridge reserved for the transportation of passengers’ luggage and fitted with hoists at various points. By its means, masses of luggage can be expeditiously handled, without the platforms being blocked or in any way interfered with.

In passing, it may be mentioned how well worth a visit is the new Dining Hall, which forms part of the main station buildings. In the roof is a beautiful glass dome, richly decorated, and the whole appearance of the Hall is inviting, being equipped in a manner equal to any first class Hotel or Club.



To the right of the bays for local trains, but partitioned off from them, is a Fish Dock which is used for dealing with the early morning fish trains. Fish carts come alongside the platform here, and in the shortest possible time wagon-loads of fish are delivered, and by means of these carts are hurried away to the market. Beyond the bays for local trains lies that portion of the station where all the “main line” trains are worked. It comprises seven platforms (No.11-17), and to them passengers must go for trains to Liverpool, Southport, London, Rochdale, Bradford, Leeds, Harrogate, York, Newcastle, Bolton, Preston, Blackburn, Blackpool, Fleetwood, and Scotland. These platforms may be conveniently reached from street entrances nearer them than the front entrance to the station, and from the “local” platforms by a subway. This subway provides a convenient and unobstructed passage, and has proved itself a necessity not only at Victoria, but at many of the other great stations in the United Kingdom. The subway at Victoria is clean and lined throughout its entire length with glazed tiles, and has much to commend it. In place of troublesome flights of steps, broad paved inclines provide entrances to the subway. The main entrance is flanked by numerous attractive pictures of holiday resorts and notices of excursions.

But subways are dungeons at best! Cheerless and gloomy, they oppress the feelings. Only here and there do stray beams of light find their way in, and the sudden rumbling of passing trains overhead sends tremors to the heart. People approaching at some distance in a subway seem ghostly, and passing us appear unlike themselves. The walls reverberating with the sounds of our voices seem also to have ears.

If, however we nerve ourselves to traverse the whole length of the subway at Victoria Station, we come out at the platform and the lines which extend westward for nearly a quarter of a mile into the Exchange Station of the London and North Western Railway. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and the London and North Western Railway are on the most friendly and intimate terms, and run various trains through their respective stations into the station of the other Company. The London and North Western Railway also avails itself of running powers on the Lancashire and Yorkshire system through Victoria Station as far as Stalybridge in running its own trains to Leeds, York and the North-Eastern District generally.



At the west end of the station is situated the Parcel Office, one of the busiest departments of the station. In dealing with parcels traffic two requisites are mainly necessary, viz. quick transit, with as little handling as possible. When large numbers of parcels of varying bulk have to be handled one after the other by various officials, first on delivery being taken, then on being “sorted”, and again on being conveyed to the parcel vans on different trains, it is evident that much time and labour is lost. There is also more risk of parcels being injured or lost, and their transit is delayed. At the Manchester Victoria Station there is an ingenious device called a Parcel Carrier in use for dealing with parcels traffic, by which the above requisites of quick transit and little handling are obtained. It is an electric overhead trolley, running on a double rail of very narrow gauge, half-a-mile.in circuit, and traversing the whole breadth of the station. The wheels of the trolley run upon the rails, but (by an inversion of the usual custom) the machinery and hauling apparatus are suspended beneath the rails. The contrivance is the same in principle as an electric tramcar. The small electric engine (whose “power” is supplied from Manchester Corporation Electrical Works) is manipulated by a boy who rides seated behind it with his legs stretched out on either side of the engine and supported by rests. Beneath the engine a huge rectangular-shaped basket for carrying the parcels is suspended by chains. The terminus of this miniature railway is at the Parcel Office. On a basket being filled from the Parcel Office with parcels, which are booked for a certain town and district, the chains from the trolley engine are attached to it, the engine hoists the basket, and then the trolley is driven off under the boy’s charge along the rails until it reaches the train, opposite the parcels van for which the contents of the basket are intended, and here the basket is lowered to the platform, The engine can attain a maximum speed of twelve miles an hour, but there are numerous curves to be negotiated, and the average speed is six miles an hour, the complete circuit of the “railway” taking three minutes. There are no “cross-over” rails. Three trolleys are employed, and one “spare” trolley is kept in reserve. The contrivance is the invention of the General Manager of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, Mr. John A. F. Aspinall.

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway - although one of the lesser railway systems of the United Kingdom in respect of continuous mileage - yet occupies a position of outstanding importance in respect of the great centres of industry which it links together and serves. Its main line runs from Liverpool, through Wigan, Bolton, Rochdale and Wakefield to Normanton; Manchester is connected with Leeds by way of Rochdale and Halifax; branches are thrown off from the main line in every direction.

The Railway crosses more or less at right angles all the North and South lines, and therefore affords an excellent means of communication with other parts of the Kingdom.

Its main line runs from Liverpool on the west coast through Wigan, Bolton, Rochdale and Wakefield to Goole and Hull on the east coast.



It serves the following important towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire:- Accrington, Ashton, Barnsley, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Bradford, Burnley, Bury, Dewsbury, Fleetwood, Goole, Halifax, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Middleton, Nelson, Oldham, Preston, Rochdale, Southport, Stalybridge, Wakefield, Wigan, etc., etc.

But a station cannot be known or its importance truly estimated from its platforms alone. It is necessary to be acquainted with its environs and its exits and approaches by rail. Out of the station proceed myriads of railway lines, curving, intersecting, intermingling, diverging and converging, like the veins in a man’s hand.

Following them out a short distance one passes the water columns from which engines are supplied; two turntables and pits on which engines may be turned and overhauled; and a gasometer from which the tanks below the railway carriages may be supplied.

A few hundred yards beyond the outer extremities of the various platforms at Victoria, of which mention has been made, there are erected at short intervals three galleries of signals stretching right across the network of rails. Signals of varying height, size, and denomination, they stand like sentinels on guard.

They are controlled from three large signal cabins, one being reserved for the local or “home” lines; the second for “through” or main lines; and the third controlling both local and main line traffic proceeding in the direction of Miles Platting.

The “arms” now outstretched in warning, with unmistakable sternness, forbidding entrance to incoming trains on certain lines at their peril, or now lowered in sanction for the arrival or departure of trains, as if bowing stiffly in grave assent. Each has its own line of rails to guard, yet not without inter-relation to the signals guarding other lines. Some signals stand high, as if eagerly willing to beckon at the earliest moment to drivers of trains approaching on their own particular lines of rails. Others, although diminutive, look confidential and familiar, for their duties are domestic and near. How symbolic these signals are - they all but speak! They seem to think and see and know. How faithful and uncompromising; how unrelenting where advance would be dangerous; how cautious and anxious even when nodding approval. In sunlight or dark, in fair weather or foul, there they stand, constant, eager, and unfailing. At night or in fog they keep the same vigil, penetrating the darkness with their discs of lurid red or milder green. Obey them unquestioningly, and all is well; but parley not with them or over-step their sanction. They may be trusted, for there are reasoning busy minds at work in the men who control them. It is through the signals that the knowledge, caution, and patience of the men in the signal cabins find expression.

TRAIN DESTINATION INDICATOR AT VICTORIA STATION MANCHESTERIn admiring them, let us not forget also the inventive genius and skill of the engineers who planned and laid down so elaborate and complete a system of signalling.


Standing near the first of these galleries of signals, one can grasp the whole conception and scheme of the station. Near this point there converge two distinct groups of lines, sweeping round in full curves until they reach the “base”, from which they run parallel into the station. There are here as many as twenty-five “roads”, and they serve seventeen platforms in the station. From the left side there come in at the “base” two main double lines, being the main lines from Yorkshire carrying trains from Leeds, Bradford, York, Hull, etc., to Manchester and Liverpool. From the right side there come in also main lines carrying trains from more local places, such as Oldham, Ashton, Bury, Heywood, Middleton, and London and North Western trains from the Yorkshire and North-Eastern Districts.

As two of these lines enter the station they run in what is called a “double-single” line, i.e. constructed of three lines instead of four, and this double-single line is found to be of great service in working the traffic by allowing trains to arrive and depart over one set of rails.

To give some idea of the number of trains dealt with at this place, which is known as East Junction, it may be stated that the number of trains using the Junction averages 1,300 per day, this figure including ordinary, special, and empty carriage trains, also engines, goods trains and shunting engines. In times of fog a staff of no fewer than 170 fogmen may be required at and about Victoria Station.



Let us stand on one of the wooden “ islands” in the middle of the network of rails at this “base” (where none but level-headed men may stand), and watch for some time the traffic at this important junction. We see the trains approach - now from one angle of the “fork”, now from the other; now an express on the “ fast” line is rounding the curve at speed with a fearless swing; now a “goods” on the “slow” line is creeping almost stealthily in before one is aware; now a “double-headed” express for the North “road” is leaving the station, its speed increasing with every stroke of the piston rod, and an evident determination in its progress which nothing could daunt; now a heavily-laden excursion train bound for the races at Pontefract emerges from No. 1 platform; a local train has meantime approached until it stands just beyond the “home” signals, and being “held up” till the line is clear its engine is whistling impatiently at the delay; and amidst and along with all that there are engines shunting, trains are being marshalled, empty vehicles are being taken out of the station docks; and so on ad infinitum. That is what goes on all day and far into the night at a busy station like Victoria at Manchester. Ceaseless activity, urgency in every move, punctuality to a minute, and compliance with strict regulations in every manoeuvre. Little wonder is it that one with some understanding and heart admires and is fascinated by it all! One remembers with appreciation the severe “thinking-out” processes which have been done by the Passenger Superintendent and his staff in arranging such minutiae with so much exactness in the regulation of this mass of traffic. One considers the splendid co-operation that exists amongst signalmen, shunters, inspectors, drivers of trains, and many others in actually carrying out the regulation of the traffic on the spot. Perhaps one may be pardoned for lingering beside the Main Line Inspector. He has seen many years of railway service, and for a quarter of a century has been stationed at East junction!

Inspectors of traffic have most responsible work. Not only must the Inspector know all the minutiae of the traffic regulations connected with the station; not only has he to rely in a particular manner on the co-operation of the other officials concerned; but it is he who superintends and directs the actual execution of the work. He becomes the personal embodiment of the written regulations, and they find expression in the orders and signals which he gives. He is essential to the smooth working of the traffic, and he must consult, and wisely advise, and instantly decide upon its endless intricacies. Let him stand there in our admiration.

But it is dusk, and we retrace our steps into the station. Its lights are lit, and it suggests the thought which has come to the hearts of many - its friendliness. Times there are when a great railway station seems nothing more than a hurly-burly of bustle and din. At times its animation spells only hostility and isolation to us, and we are glad to leave its precincts. But more often we view it differently. We make our way thither of an evening as into the house of a friend.

CLEANING RAILWAY CARRIAGES AT VICTORIA STATION MANCHESTERIts shelter, its brightness, and its interest are inviting. Our eyes may greet even some railway carriages like old acquaintances. So may even inanimate things like these cheer human hearts, perhaps awaking memories of the distant and the past, but making the present hour kindly and fragrant with content.


You can read more on “The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway”, “The Manchester “Club” Trains” and “The Story of the LMS” on this website.