Chester and Holyhead Railway – 1838

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George Stephenson was a civil and mechanical engineer famous for building the first public stream locomotive in the world.  He worked closely with his son Robert Stephenson.  Here is an excerpt on the Chester and Holyhead Railway from the book The Lives of the Engineers Volume 3 by Samuel Smiles 1862, a popular book in our library.

Chester and Holyhead Railway

George StephensonWE have lastly to describe briefly another great undertaking, begun by George Stephenson, and taken up and completed by his son, in the course of which the latter carried out some of his greatest works we mean the Chester and Holyhead Railway, completing the railway connection with Dublin, as the Newcastle and Berwick line completed the connection with Edinburgh. It will thus be seen how closely Telford was followed by the Stephensons in perfecting the highways of their respective epochs; the former by means of turnpike roads, and the latter by means of railways.

George Stephenson surveyed a line from Chester to Holyhead in [1838], and at the same time reported on the line through North Wales to Port Dynllaen, proposed by the Irish Railway Commissioners. His advice was strongly in favour of adopting the line to Holyhead, as less costly and presenting better gradients. A public meeting was held at Chester, in January, [1839], in support of the latter measure, at which the Marquis of Westminster, Mr. Wilbraham, and other influential gentlemen, were present. Mr. Uniacke, the Mayor, in opening the proceedings, observed, that it clearly appeared that the rival line through Shrewsbury was quite impracticable. Mr. Stephenson, he added, was present in the room, ready to answer any questions which might be put to him on the subject; and “it would be better that he should be asked questions than required to make a speech; for, though a very good engineer, he was a bad speaker.” One of the questions then put to Mr. Stephenson related to the mode by which he proposed to haul the passenger carriages over the Menai Suspension Bridge by horse power; and he was asked whether he knew the pressure the bridge was capable of sustaining. His answer was, that “he had not yet made any calculations; but he proposed getting data which would enable him to arrive at an accurate calculation of the actual strain upon the bridge during the late gale. He had, however, no hesitation in saying that it was more than twenty times as much as the strain of a train of carriages and a locomotive engine. The only reason why he proposed to convey the carriages over by horses, was in order that he might, by distributing the weight, not increase the wavy motion. All the train would be on at once; but distributed. This he thought better than passing them linked together, by a locomotive engine.” It will thus be observed that the practicability of throwing a rigid railway bridge across the Straits had not yet been contemplated.

The Dublin Chamber of Commerce passed resolutions in favour of Stephenson’s line, after hearing his explanations of its essential features. The project, after undergoing much discussion, was at length embodied in an Act passed in [1844]; and the work was brought to a successful completion by his son, with several important modifications, including the grand original feature of the tubular bridges across the Menai Straits and the estuary of the Conway. Excepting these great works, the construction of this line presented no unusual features; though the remarkable terrace cut for the accommodation of the railway under the steep slope of Penmaen Mawr is worthy of a passing notice.

Excerpt from The Lives of the Engineers Volume 3 by Samuel Smiles 1862


Further Reading and External Links

Chester and Holyhead Railway