Manchester Piccadilly: a visual history

Poster, British Railways (London Midland Region), Manchester's New Station, by Claude Buckle, 1960

Poster, British Railways (London Midland Region), Manchester’s New Station, by Claude Buckle, 1960

As a regular visitor passing through Manchester Piccadilly train station, I’ve been interested by some of the paintings and photographs in the collection which give a few insights into its history. I’ve selected some of my favourite images to show the story of the station’s fantastic transformation over the years.

Manchester London Road station and forecourt, 1913.

Manchester London Road station and forecourt, 1913

The station was originally built as Store Street Station by the Manchester and Birmingham Railway in 1842, before being renamed London Road Station in 1847.  It was shared by the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne & Manchester Railway and it has been rebuilt and added to a number of times, with two news spans added to the train shed roof in 1881 and island platforms added linking to Manchester Oxford Road in 1882 (replacing two old Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway platforms which were built next to the station).

Trains waiting at Manchester London Road station, 1913.

Trains waiting at Manchester London Road station, 1913

Manchester London Road station dining room, about 1956.

Manchester London Road station dining room, about 1956

In 1960, under nationalised control by British Railways, the London Road Station became Manchester Piccadilly and reopened in 1962. The painting below (and the poster it became, at the top of this blog post) shows the huge contrast with the old station buildings.

Painting, oil on canvas, Manchester's New Station, Piccadilly, by Claude Buckle, 1960

Painting, oil on canvas, Manchester’s New Station, Piccadilly, by Claude Buckle, 1960

In 1992, the vaults below the station, formerly a goods depot, were transformed to incorporate the MetroLink tram service. The station was once again modernised in the run up to the 2002 Commonwealth Games in the city, with dramatic results. I haven’t been able to find a photo of the current building among our collection, but here is one of the MetroLink instead.

Electric tram in Manchester City Centre heading for Bury, Greater Manchester, on the Manchester Metro, 1996.

You can now browse 1000s of photographs from our collection on the new photos section of our main website.

For more on the history of the station check out the Network Rail Archive, which has further details and plans of the buildings.

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8 Responses to Manchester Piccadilly: a visual history

  1. Jonathan Morton says:

    What, no mention of the 1500V DC electric system? It reached half of the terminus platforms from Sheffield (via Woodhead) and the island platforms from Altrincham – and the two systems never met, despite being compatible. The electrics were already in place by the time London Road was rebuilt into Piccadilly, and stayed there.

    The original 1500V gantries were largely retrofitted for 25kV power rather than being replaced entirely, particularly on the Hadfield line. They make a sharp contrast to both early (WCML) and later (ECML) installations of native 25kV power. Yet this puts the lie to one of the justifications for closing Woodhead, which was that upgrading to 25kV would be “too difficult”.

    This in turn ties in to the current plans for HS2. There used to be three distinct north-south main lines, and the two that remain are now congested beyond the limits of reliable and efficient service. The third was the Great Central line – whose northernmost section was Woodhead. The lesson here is that major infrastructure planning needs to look 50 years ahead, even if individual governments are only in power for a tenth of that time.

    • Terence Pickering says:

      Were not the termini for this line St Pancras and Manchester Central?

      • Richard Standing says:

        No, that was the Midland Line, of which a number of parts are also sadly “missing”. The Great Central line ran out of Marylebone via Aylesbury (the Chiltern route) then up to Sheffield and into London Road via Woodhead. As regards the cost of converting to 25kV AC, the “Flashover” distances are much further than for 500V DC so maybe the tunnels and bridges on the Woodhead line would have cost too much to rebuild to give the correct clearance (the remaining line to Hadfield has very few overbridges IIRC).

      • Jonathan Morton says:

        I admit, flashover to the tunnel roof may have been a factor. However, 25kV wires already go through some pretty tight clearances without trouble, and I doubt that the nearly-new tunnel – which was specifically designed to be electrified – would have been built to such tight tolerances as to forbid later upgrade. Indeed, in many cases it has proved sensible to add a few inches to the headroom of a tunnel or bridge by lowering the trackbed.

        There were originally small areas on the AC network wired at 6.25kV due to clearances – while still worked by ordinary AC traction – but improvements in insulator technology had eliminated those quirks long before Woodhead was seriously considered for closure. IIRC the later classic AC locos (86, 87) had already dropped 6.25kV compatibility measures (which would have applied to the auxiliary supplies rather than the traction circuit) by the time they were built. Retrofitting this back into them would probably have been possible, and the tunnel is on a less severe gradient than the rest of the line.

        If all else failed, they could have kept 1500V wiring and waited for dual-supply technology to mature to avoid the need to change locos en route. The 313 was already switching between overhead AC and third-rail DC at the time, and the Eurostar later spent some time dealing with four electric systems (750V, 25kV, 25kV double height, 1500V) on one journey. A major advantage of the 1500V DC system was that it made regenerative braking rather easy, which was very helpful for coal trains on 1:100 gradients.

        A potentially more serious problem was the mining subsidence which I hear was quite noticeable along the route. This mostly resulted in irregularities in the gradients, some parts being noticeably steeper than the theoretical ruling gradient. A thorough refurbishment of the route could have corrected the settling that had already occurred, although it would undoubtedly develop further and need to be corrected again – but only after *another* century of heavy use.

        The smoking gun, however, has to be found in the hands of the more southerly Manchester-Sheffield route, which is a much slower and more winding line, but happened to pass through a number of marginal constituencies and could therefore not be closed without much political fallout. Yet the idea of having *two* lines between two cities was considered a waste, so Woodhead had to go. So, as the practice was at that time, technical excuses were made up to create less silly-sounding justifications for closure.

  2. Ian Whitehead says:

    Hi Anybody,
    I am quite interested in the history of Piccadilly Station in Manchester, can anyone tell me what the small Stone Arch on the right was originally used for as you go under the Bridge from London road?
    Hope someone out there knows, Highest Regards Ian.

  3. Lorna Frost, Assistant Curator - Image Collections says:

    Hi Ian, The sign above the arch reads ‘London, Midland & Scottish Railway Co. / General Carriers’ so perhaps it was a warehouse or goods entrance?

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