Fishbelly Rails on stone sleepers- Original track on the Liverpool – Manchester & Bolton- Leigh railway of 1830.


The image shows the railway track of the Liverpool to Manchester railway in 1830 and it clearly shows that the rail was the ‘fish belly’ profile secured to stone sleFishrailsepers, by the spike and wood method.

This can also be confirmed by the picture of the carriage used on the  Liverpool Manchester railway at the time, which clearly shows the  carriage sitting on the fishbelly rails attached to stone sleepers.

The ‘fish belly’ rail was first seen about  1800, intending to correct a basic weakness of the bar type seen previously, which could easily break in the middle. The ‘fish belly’ rails were of a T section, with a bulge on the bottom edge, strengthening the vulnerable middle section without wasting iron at the naturally stronger ends and centre line.

Astley Green has in its possession a number of lengths of this type of track, which were found locally, but originally came  from a foundry in the North East. It could easily be the same track commissioned by George Stephenson for use on the Liverpool to Manchester railway and the Bolton to Leigh Railway which preceded the Liverpool to Manchester line.

The Bolton- Leigh railway opened two years before the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR). At first, the railway was freight only, but a passenger service started on 13 June 1831. The Liverpool to Manchester railway opened on the 15th September 1830 making it the first passenger carrying railway in the world.

2 of the fish belly rails held at Astley Green Colliery Museum

The first section of the Bolton to Leigh Line was opened on 1 August 1828 between Derby Street Bolton and William Hulton’s collieries at Pendlebury Fold near Chequerbent in Westhoughton. Fletchers sidings near Bag Lane provided a connection for Fletcher’s collieries at Howe Bridge in Atherton. The line was completed to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh by end of March 1830.

The railway operated from Bolton Great Moor Street to Leigh. In 1829, the 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long Kenyon and Leigh Junction Railway (K&LJ) was incorporated to link the Bolton & Leigh Railway with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, joining it at Kenyon Junction near Warrington.

The track profile was cast in iron and square granite sleepers were used. The method used to secure the fishplate to the sleepers consisted of  drilling two holes in the granite and plugging with wooden dowels. Spikes were then driven through the fishplate into the wood securing it to the granite block.

On of the fishplates with the spike still attached – Astley Green

The records of the Liverpool  to Manchester railway line show the track was laid using 15 feet (4.57 m) ‘fish-belly’ rails at 35 lb/yd (17.4 kg/m), laid either on stone blocks or, at Chat Moss, on wooden sleepers. Measurement of the track lengths held by the museum, show that they conform exactly to this specification, seeming to confirm the samples are contemporary to the track laid on the Liverpool – Manchester railway and the Bolton – Leigh Railway.


The wooden Peg holes for the fishplate spikes        Astley Green
Fish Belly rails in situ
fishbelly rail from bolton - leig railway.jpg
Original length of the Bolton-Leigh Railway line exhibited at Bolton Museum – Wayne Molyneux


2 thoughts on “Fishbelly Rails on stone sleepers- Original track on the Liverpool – Manchester & Bolton- Leigh railway of 1830.

  1. Am I right in thinking the Fishbelly Rails were found in the Delf House Quarry (Fairy Glen) in Parbold in 1989 (I think) where they had been reused to carry the stone down to the canal. They had been buried when the quarry was abandoned but re-exposed after a flash flood (which at the time filled the canal with debris).

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