The Age of Steam

A horse-drawn precursor to the Railway (1765)

The railway network in Britain is the oldest in the world. As early as 1671, railed roads were being used in Durham to convey coal by horse drawn wagons and many places began to develop horse drawn tramways for transporting goods and people. By the early 1800s companies were experimenting with steam powered engines which could move heavy loads faster and further than any horse. In 1825 the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, led by pioneering Engineer George Stevenson, marked the first locomotive hauled public railway in the world. This was quickly followed by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, the country’s first inter-city line.

George Stephenson (1781-1848)

Many of the first public railways were built as local rail links operated by small private railway companies. With increasing rapidity, more and more lines were built, often with scant regard for their potential for traffic. The 1840s were by far the biggest decade for railway growth, during which a virtually complete network had been laid down and the vast majority of towns and villages had a rail connection.

Bridge Street Station, Illustrated London News (1847)

The railways initially bypassed Northampton to avoid the steep gradients of the Nene Valley. The town’s first railway came in 1845 when a line was built to join Peterborough and Northampton to the London to Birmingham Railway at Blisworth. The line, which included a station later known as Bridge Street, was operated by the London and North Western Railway.

OS Map of Bridge Street (1901)

The track followed the course of the river on raised embankments to prevent flooding. Here at Nunn Mills the rails ran across the meadows just to the south of the Engine Shed. You can still see what is left of the line behind the fence that marks the boundary of the campus.