Picture of the week: Liverpool 1881

We’re continuing to celebrate the launch of our new railway photos section. We added 500 new photos last week, so we’re up to over 4000 Creative Commons-licensed images from our collection that you can browse at leisure.

It’s my turn to pick a Picture of the Week, and I’ve chosen this vertigo-inducing shot of the widening of a railway cutting in Liverpool in 1881. The supervisor playing dare with the edge of that precipitous drop – bashed out of the limestone years before by an army of navvies – helps convey the incredible scale that Victorian engineers were working at. The picture is from the Crewe Works collection, which has plenty more like it – photos that demonstrate the dizzying contrast between us tiny, vulnerable-looking humans and the enormous and imposing things we’ve built. (Click for a closer look.)

Building a railway cutting in Liverpool, 1881

By the way, this is the railway from Liverpool Lime Street to Edge Hill (below), and the photo is taken at one of the points where the line dives into a tunnel – can anyone from the area work out exactly where?

Liverpool Lime Street to Edge Hill

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About Mark Green, Web Producer, National Railway Museum

Mark Green is Web Producer for the National Railway Museum, and former Web Content Coordinator for the National Media Museum.
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3 Responses to Picture of the week: Liverpool 1881

  1. Chromatix says:

    This appears to be right at the eastern end of the section, with the camera on or near what is now Tunnel Road, which contains the access ramp to Edge Hill station. Most of the buildings visible in the fog have disappeared over the intervening century, and there is now a housing estate in the vicinity.

    A clue to this lies in another photo of the same scene at the same time from the reverse angle, which shows a single bore tunnel portal on the left side of the excavation zone. The Tunnel Road Tunnels are the only place on the modern railway where this occurs, except for the Lime Street Tunnels which have their left-hand portals too close to other tunnels (only one chain) to produce the scene shown.Additionally, a website dedicated to the tunnels’ history shows the outer single bores of the Tunnel Road tunnels to have been built at this time.

    However, this also means that the double bore tunnel visible has also been opened out in the interim. There is now a long 11-chain gap before the next tunnel which is quad-bore, interspersed with a number of high bridges. The points visible in the tunnel mouth also no longer exist, although it is likely that they were temporary in any case.

  2. Great stuff, thank you! Do you have a link to the website you mentioned?

  3. Chromatix says:

    This one: http://www.liverpoolwiki.org/Liverpool's_Historic_Rail_Tunnels

    Having had more time to think about it, it seems clear that the 1836 tunnel must have remained in use while the new lines were dug out and laid either side of it. The new lines would have then been used for traffic while the tunnel was opened out. This certainly explains the cleanliness of the stone facing over the tunnel mouth.

    Alternatively, it may be that the running lines were protected from falling rocks by a lining in the original tunnel, while the single new line was used only to extract spoil until the excavations were complete. The present day cutting only just accommodates four tracks, and those points were configured as a runaway trap.

    So the foremen in the photo are practically standing on top of the lines still in use! Here’s a corroborating photo from later in the process:
    http://www.ingenious.org.uk/media/4.0_SAC/webimages/1996/_731/6_CR/_MC/1996_7316_CR_MC_43_2.jpg

    I no longer live in the area, but it should be quite easy for someone who does to take a modern photo over the parapet. Unfortunately the Google street view camera isn’t quite tall enough…

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