Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway

Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway
Dates of operation 18411847
Successor Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)

The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway was an early British railway company which opened in stages between 1841 and 1845 between Sheffield and Manchester via Ashton-under-Lyne. In conjunction with the proposed Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway and Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway, it was renamed the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1847.[1]:84


At the end of the eighteenth century the need for improved transport links between Manchester and Sheffield was increasing. The canal route involved a long northwards detour through the Pennines, a journey taking eight days; the more arduous direct route by horse and cart took two days.

By the 1820s a number of proposals had been made for canals, and cable railway had been proposed costing upwards of £500,000, but all these ideas had come to nought. Then the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the authorisation of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, both in 1825, caught the interest of a land surveyor in Sheffield, Henry Sanderson. In 1826 he published a comparative account of the previous proposals, with one of his own for a line via Edale to meet the Peak Forest Tramway. He was initially ignored; but the building of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway attracted greater interest locally, and with the support of some Liverpool financiers, a prospectus of the line – to be called the "Sheffield and Manchester Railway" – was issued in August 1830, with George Stephenson appointed to be the engineer.

Sanderson became concerned at the severity of the proposed route via Whaley Bridge and over Rushup Edge into the Hope Valley. He suggested another, via Penistone, that would involve less tunnelling, and have gentler gradients which could be worked by adhesion locomotives. After much indecision the project was abandoned, and the Sheffield and Manchester company was wound up.

However, in 1835 Charles Vignoles was asked to examine another route, this time via Woodhead and Penistone; and a new company, the "Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway" was formed. The new line could be worked by adhesion, and required only a two-mile tunnel. Vignoles and Joseph Locke were asked to make independent surveys, and in October met to reconcile any differences, at which time they decided that a longer tunnel would reduce the gradients involved.

After Parliamentary expenses of £18,000 (equivalent to £1,480,000 in 2015),[2] the line obtained its Act of Incorporation in Parliament on 5 May 1837,[1]:22 the only opposition coming from the Manchester and Birmingham Railway, with whom it was agreed that the line from Ardwick would be shared as it passed into a joint station in Manchester.


Wardsend Viaduct, Herries Road, Sheffield, built by Joseph Locke in 1845

Vignoles set to work on the tunnel arranging for it to be marked over the ridge and for the boring of a series of vertical shafts followed by a horizontal driftway along the line of the first bore. Enough land was purchased for two tunnels but only one would be built initially.

For the line itself, the first ground was ceremonially cut near the western end of the tunnel on 1 October 1838.[1]:25 The following year the line had been marked out, land purchase was proceeding well, and construction had begun with Thomas Brassey as contractor. However a number of shareholders were defaulting on their payments. Moreover, the relationship between the Board and its engineer were becoming increasingly strained. Vignoles resigned and Joseph Locke was asked if he would take over. Locke replied that he was already well occupied with two other railways and that he would act in a consultative capacity if the Board would appoint resident engineers for the day to day supervision of the work.

In 1841 Locke reported that the tunnel would probably cost £207,000 (equivalent to £16,980,000 in 2015),[2] about twice the original estimate, because the amount of water encountered required the purchase of more powerful pumps. However, the line as far as Godley Toll Bar was ready for use and was opened on 11 November 1841[3] using a temporary terminus at Travis Street in Manchester.

Manchester Store Street (now Piccadilly) was brought into use in 1842, with Gorton and Ardwick shortly after. The line then comprised Ardwick, Gorton, Fairfield, Ashton, Dukinfield, Newton & Hyde, Broadbottom and Glossop.

The line was opened as far as Woodhead in 1844, with stations at Hadfield and Woodhead. Meanwhile, sufficiently powerful pumps had been installed to make good progress in the tunnel, and work on the track to the eastern end from Sheffield was proceeding. This part of the line finally opened on 14 June 1845 with stations at Dunford Bridge, Penistone, Wortley, Deepcar, Oughty Bridge, Wadsley Bridge and Bridgehouses in Sheffield.

Finally in December of that year the tunnel was ready for the Inspector of Railways. Meanwhile, tests were carried out on the Ashton Viaduct which had collapsed during construction, killing seventeen workers. The formal opening of the completed line took place on 22 December 1845[4] including the tunnel which was then the longest in the country. Two extra stations were added at the site of previous coal sidings at Oxspring and Thurgoland.

Besides Woodhead, there were short tunnels at Audenshaw Road, Hattersley (two), Thurgoland and Bridgehouses. Among the bridges the two most notable were the Etherow Viaduct and the Dinting Viaduct, the latter with five central and eleven approach arches. The line initially terminated at a temporary station at Bridgehouses until Sheffield Victoria station was built in 1851.


Even while the line was being built, the directors were looking at ways to extend the system. The original Sheffield and Manchester plan had been to connect to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; the SA&MR approached the L&M with the idea of making a connection, but were rebuffed. However, another approach in partnership with the London and Birmingham Railway was accepted, and in 1845 the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway was put before Parliament, although it would be some years before it was completed.

In 1844 representatives of the proposed Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway (to run from the SA&MR at Sheffield to Gainsborough) met with the board, who agreed to lease and operate the S&LJR once constructed. Plans were also afoot for a Barnsley Junction Railway to connect Oxspring with Royston on the North Midland Railway. The Ashton to Stalybridge branch, which had been part of the original plan but deferred due to lack of finances, was completed in 1845. In the same year a branch was built to Glossop, which needed no Act, since it was financed by the Duke of Norfolk and ran over his land; the original Glossop station being renamed Dinting.

At about that time the Manchester and Birmingham Railway made tentative offers to lease the SA&MR line, in conjunction with the Midland Railway. Despite the Manchester and Leeds Railway making a counter offer, the directors agreed to take the proposal to Parliament. However, the Manchester and Birmingham was becoming closely associated with the London and Birmingham, and after an energetic intervention by one Dr. Holland, who suggested that the Midland had no real interest in the SA&MR's welfare, the Bill was cancelled.

It was obvious, however, to the SA&MR's directors that the way forward was to expand by amalgamating with other lines, after the pattern being set by the Midland under George Hudson. In 1845 they gained the shareholders approval for the MSJ&AR, the S&LJR, and the proposed Barnsley Junction Railway. They would also lease the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company. Also contemplated was a line from Dukinfield to New Mills connecting with the Manchester and Birmingham, and an extension of the Barnsley Junction to Pontefract joining the Wakefield, Pontefract and Goole Railway. Another proposed line was the Huddersfield and Sheffield Junction Railway.

At a meeting at Normanton in September 1845, agreement was reached for the SA&MR to amalgamate with the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction, and the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction.[5] To this would be added the Grimsby Docks Company and the East Lincolnshire Railway, which was planned to run between Grimsby and Lincoln, although in the end the latter would be taken over by the Great Northern. The merger received the Royal Assent in July 1846, and the company became the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway on 1 January 1847.

Chief Officers


Deputy Chairman



Resident Engineer


  1. 1 2 3 4 Dow, George (2004). Great Central. Volume The Progenitors, 1813–1863. Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 071101468X.
  2. 1 2 UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  3. "Public Opening of the Sheffield, Ashton-Under-Lyne, and Manchester Railway". Manchester Times. British Newspaper Archive. 20 November 1841. Retrieved 6 August 2016 via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)).
  4. "Opening of the Sheffield, Ashton-Under-Lyne, and Manchester Railway". The Ipswich Journal. British Newspaper Archive. 27 December 1845. Retrieved 6 August 2016 via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)).
  5. "Manchester and Sheffield Railway". Manchester Times. British Newspaper Archive. 27 September 1845. Retrieved 6 August 2016 via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)).
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