The opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway on September 15, 1830 was a grand affair attended by numerous notable people. It marked the beginning of a new era for transportation. Sadly, it also marked the end of William Huskisson’s life.
Huskisson, a British Member of Parliament, was riding in a special train as part of the railway’s grand opening. As the trains came to a halt at Parkside Station for the locomotives to take on water, Huskisson thought the stop would be a perfect opportunity to heal a long-standing rift between himself and the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington.
He left his carriage and made his way to the one containing the honorable guest. The duke warmly welcomed him, so Huskisson opened the carriage door to shake his hand. Unfortunately, at the same time, a locomotive called Rocket was approaching on the parallel track. Huskisson heard people shouting warnings to him and panicked.
Sadly, he was a notoriously clumsy man made even slower by a recent surgery. Huskisson slipped while attempting to scramble into the Prime Minister’s carriage as the door he was climbing on swung open in front of the train. His extended leg fell across the track and was run over by the oncoming locomotive. After the accident, Huskisson was taken to the vicarage at Eccles where he was attended by a surgeon, but alas, he died from his injuries. He was the first railway fatality in Great Britain.
Huskisson was laid to rest in Saint James Cemetery and a magnificent tomb, designed by John Foster, was erected after being paid for by public subscription. The mausoleum originally contained a marble statue of Huskisson that was carved by the Liverpool-born and nationally acclaimed sculptor, John Gibson, but it was removed in 1968 and rehoused in the Walker Art Gallery. There are several other copies of this statue and a number of stories relating to them.
The Liverpool to Manchester Railway was the first intercity passenger railway in the world and boasted several impressive engineering feats, one of which was the swamp crossing at Chat Moss, a huge area that was full of mossy peat.