The Chester to Birkenhead Railway through Upton-by-Chester


The railway may not have come to Upton if the promoters based in Birkenhead had had their way. They proposed an 18-mile route passing through Willaston, Brimstage Thornton and Ledsham. Simultaneously promoters in Chester secured the services of George Stephenson who proposed the 15-mile route, which was eventually selected. As well as being shorter Stephenson’s route also had fewer and gentler gradients.

The Chester & Birkenhead Railway Company was incorporated in 1837. It quickly placed a Bill before Parliament. Despite eleven days of Committee hearings in April and May 1837 the Bill was rejected. A second Bill, placed later that year, was passed, but not without a struggle. The difficulties almost certainly arose as different railway companies sought to control of access to the Mersey ports. The cost of getting the Act exceeded £10,500. The estimated cost of the line was given as £250,000.

 Construction commenced, in May 1838. The works were divided into four sections and allocated to three different contractors. The Southern Section, from Moston to Chester, measured 5 mile 37 chains  [8.74 km]. The terrain made the works relatively simple. In the Upton area the major task would have been the construction of the viaduct over the canal, at Moston. As the pace of work increased so did the workforce, which would have had to be accommodated locally. By April 1839, 447 men and 32 horses were employed on the Southern Section, increasing to 900 men and 40 horses by October. The final cost of the railway was about £513 000, i.e. over twice the original estimate.

An influx of navvies always concerned local residents and this concern must have been heightened when workers at Sutton, near Ellesmere Port, became violent after the disappearance of a wages clerk, with their wages. The argument degenerated into an English – Irish fight which required the use of 200 soldiers to restore order.

 The Official Opening of the line in September 1840 saw the locomotive “The Wirral” leave Grange Lane Station (later Grange Rd), Birkenhead, on the 50-minute journey to Brook Street, Chester, where cottages had been pressed into services as a station. Use of these cottages continued until Chester General Station opened in 1848.  Initially the line was single track, but by 1847 much of the route had been doubled, whilst in 1902 traffic growth required the provision of four tracks, but not at Upton. Only basic facilities were provided at intermediate stations. Amongst these was a cottage at the station, in Station Road, Mollington, which served Upton. (The Chester - Crewe Line also opened in September 1840) Upton obtained its own station when a halt was opened close to the Frog public house, in 1938. This location may have been selected, as it was close to new housing, the hospital and perhaps more importantly The Dale Army Camp.

The site was certainly cramped and in January 1984 a new station at the Bache replaced it. The land used by the new station, and the adjoining supermarket, was formally a local goods yard which appears to have had three sidings and been opened sometime after 1882.

Inter company politics abounded in the early days of railways. Much manoeuvring led to the line coming under the joint control of the Great Western Railway and London & North Western Railway. on 20th November 1860. This arrangement lasted until 1922 when the London, Midland & Scottish Railway took over the LNWR. Nationalisation in 1948 saw the LMS Region running the line, although the Western Region (the old GWR) retained responsibility for the line from Hooton to Hoylake. Since the break-up of British Railways in nineteen nineties passenger services have been operated as part of the Mersey Rail system.


Today we tend to think of the railway as a passenger service, and indeed express passenger services operated from Birkenhead to Birmingham, from 1857 and to London Paddington from October 1861. The Irish Mail also used the line prior to the opening of the Chester – Holyhead route. Post 1850, however, freight produced more revenue. Within one month of opening 10,000 passengers had travelled on the line. In the 1841/42 year 317,739 passengers are recorded, a figure which appears to have increased gradually year on year. By 1885 about 22 passenger trains, ran from Chester to Birkenhead each day. Passenger trains were divided in four classes. In 1840 Chester to Birkenhead fares were 1st Class 3/6-, 2nd 2/6-, 3rd 2/-, 4th 1/- (17.5p, 12.5p, 10p and 5p respectively). By 1847 an annual season ticket could be obtained for £15 (£20 after 1859). 1st Class carriages would have been unheated until at least 1856 and 2nd Class to at least 1870.

There were, however, almost twice as many goods trains. By 1890 about 27, coal trains, consisting of 20-25 eight-ton wagons, passed through Upton, each day. Other goods trains would be carrying manufactured fertiliser, grain, flour and even Canadian iron ore, from Birkenhead, with building materials and manufactured goods going the other way. Most of the GWR coal traffic originated in South Wales. In the 1890s much of this traffic was lost to coastal ships. The loss of this trade made the carriage of more parochial goods of greater significance and led to the construction of small goods yards, such as at the Bache. These sidings probably fell out of use in the 1960s.The local goods yard would have “imported”, as well as domestic coal, building materials and field tiles, for drainage. It is perhaps this aspect of the early railway, which would have had the greatest impact on Upton. Local sources and materials would have been displaced by more cheaply manufactured substitutes. Improved drainage of farmland would also have affected they way the land was farmed. The yard may also have “exported” farm produce to the cities and animals to more distant markets.


Village life would no doubt have been affected in other ways. Stagecoach services would have ended. Indeed in 1840 there was a race between a coach and a train, from Tranmere to Chester, despite being given a one-hour start the coach lost. Other more long lasting impacts included, the arrival of newspapers on the day of publication and by 1850 most villages had a small post office and received a daily mail collection and deliveries. The presence of the railway and particularly after 1938 the existence of a station, no doubt encouraged the speculative building of houses for commuters.        Along with the national rail system freight on the line declined. Steam was replaced by diesel in 1966, which were in turn replaced by electric trains in the early nineteen nineties. This development meant that it was possible to travel right into Liverpool City Centre without changing trains at an intermediate station. In 2003 there are 37 passenger trains, to Birkenhead stopping at Upton each day, with a journey time of 33 minutes, from the Bache to Hamilton Square. 

This note has been complied by Tony Barratt from several published sources

and will hopefully be expanded by further research in the future.