A new station for Birmingham: New Street Station, 1854

As Birmingham welcomes the stunning make-over of New Street Station, I thought it might be nice to take a look at how the original station was welcomed when it was very first opened on June 1st, 1854.  Using the British Newspaper Archives online, I found the following article from the London Daily News of June 2nd, 1854. Some of the descriptions are a bit long winded, but they certainly give a feel of the sheer scale of the roof and the immense work involved in putting it all together. The article reassures that there were no accidents during the construction of the building, and it seems that this was as a result of using a specially designed moveable platform. Towards the end of the article is a description of purpose built coffee room – clearly coffee has always been a vital part of travelling by train!


Opening of the Central Station of the London and North-Western
Company at Birmingham

The central station of the London and North-Western Railway Company, for the accommodation of the traffic poured from all the narrow gauge lines into this town was opened for public use this morning. The act of parliament authorising the erection of this station was obtained six or seven years since, but so many difficulties presented themselves at the outset in planning the structure, and in obtaining so large an area of space in so large a town, that it was not until about three years since that the work was really begun. 

The most remarkable thing to notice in connexion with this work is the semi-circular roof which covers the station. It is constructed entirely of glass and iron, a quarter of a mile in length, 80 feet in height, and 212 feet in width. This enormous web-work of iron, light, elegant and singularly beautiful in appearance, is entirely unsupported, except by forty-five massive cast-iron pillars on either side, is the greatest span in the world, and must be regarded one of the greatest achievements of science in our time. 

The principals or arches of iron, with the covering, consumed twelve hundred tons of that metal, the columns and girders 212 tons and no less than 115 tons of glass has been used. And as an extension of the monster fabric is already in progress, there will be a still further consumption of crystal. The length of glass on each side of the roof averages fifty feet; each pane is six feet in length and fifteen inches in width. For the purposes of ventilation, a crystal lantern crests and runs nearly the entire length of the roof. 

The above will convey a general idea only of this remarkable roof, but it merits a more particular description. As now seen, it consists of thirty-six principals, or arches of iron, each weighing twenty-five tons: the largest principal has a span of  192 feet. The upper bar, or rib, is curved in the segment of a circle, each end resting upon a pillar; between the rib and the pillar an ingenious system of rollers is introduced, so as to allow of either expansion or contraction by atmospheric causes. From each rib depend at regular intervals twelve “struts” which are laced together by diagonal bars; the lower end of the struts are attached together by a bar of iron, called the tie-rod, which corresponds in curvature with the rib; and one peculiarity of the roof, besides its immense span, is the great rise in the curve of the tie-bar, it being equal in the centre to half the height if the roof be measured from the springing line of the arches. The principals are placed at a distance of 24 feet apart; each rib is composed of five distinct pieces riveted together. These ponderous metal bars were raised by means of a travelling stage, not a single accident occurring during the whole time the work was in course of construction.  But it was in executing this part of the fabric that the chief difficulty arose, for, in consequence of the varying breadths of the piece of ground to be covered, every one of the 36 ribs contracts in dimensions, there being a difference of more than 20 feet between the largest and the smallest. 

The pillars upon which rests this immense piece of roofing are each 33 feet in height from the level of the rails and weigh five tons each. The entire space covered in comprises ten lines of rails, intersected by four platforms and bounded on the off-side by a broad carriageway. An elegant iron bridge crosses the station at its centre from which flights of winding steps enable the passengers to reach the various platforms. Both ends of the station are screened off with glass, so that it presents the appearance of a huge glasshouse; and large as the place is, it has been reared within 20 months by Messrs. Fox, Henderson & Co. under the superintendence of Mr. Phillips, C. E., the glass being of course manufactured by Messrs. Chance at Spon Lane. 

The station and hotel, built in the Italian style from designs by Mr. Levick of London, fronts New-Street. It is a handsome building, 312 feet in length, consisting of a centre with right and left wings. The centre, which projects about twenty feet from the wings, is 120 feet long and four storeys high. The lower storey is composed of an arcade, divided by Doric pilasters into ten arches, and deriving richness of effect from each pilaster being by piers of rusticated masonry. Altogether, it is a very handsome building; the hotel alone contains nearly a hundred apartments, including a coffee room fifty-two feet long by forty broad. The portion of structure fronting the rails is 504 feet long and 92 feet high. Messrs. Branson and Gwyther were the contractors for this part of the work. 

Now that the old station is closed, travellers to Birmingham will no longer find themselves put down in the dark regions to which they have for many years been so accustomed, but in the centre of the town, and within a few minutes walk of the broad gauge lines. 


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