The Last Journey of William Huskisson

Extract

This excerpt from the first part of The Last Journey of William Huskisson describes the build-up to the official opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Huskisson’s fatal accident was about two hours away.

The sky was brightening. For John Moss and the other directors assembled at the company offices in Crown Street it was already a day of triumph, whatever the ensuing hours might bring. They had received word that the Duke of Wellington, the Prime Minister, had arrived in Liverpool safely, and was on his way, though there appeared to be some delay. As they waited, they were encouraged by the huge crowds and the morning’s papers.
Liverpool enjoyed a prosperous newspaper trade, and in one week a resident might decide between the Courier, the Mercury, the Journal, the Albion and the Liverpool Times, and while there was little to divide them on subject matter, they each twisted a Whiggish or Tory knife. Advertisements and paid announcements anchored the front pages. Mr Gray, of the Royal College of Surgeons, announced his annual trip from London to Liverpool to fit clients with false teeth, which were fixed “by capillary attraction and the pressure of the atmosphere, thereby avoiding pinning to stumps, tieing, twisting wires...” Courses improving handwriting were popular, as were new treatments for bile, nervous debility and slow fevers. The Siamese twins at the King’s Arms Hotel were proving such a draw that they were remaining in Liverpool until Saturday 25th, when, according to their promoter Captain Coffin, “they must positively leave”. The day’s papers carried news of a special medal to commemorate the opening of the railway, “a beautiful and highly-finished production that leaves its competitors far behind”. A copy in gold had already been sent to the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel and Mr Huskisson.

Crime and misadventure featured prominently. Accidents were invariably Melancholy. In the week of the railway opening, the papers had news of a melancholy event in Oxford Street, London, to a young man named James Rogers, a porter employed by Mr Benson, a grocer in Tottenham Court Road. “The unfortunate young man was crossing Oxford-street, carrying a heavy load, when he was suddenly knocked down by a large carriage dog that ran with great force between his legs, and most unfortunately at the same instant a cart was passing loaded with bricks, the wheel of which passed over his leg and thigh, which were fractured in a most shocking manner before the car-man had any power of stopping his horse.” There was so much sudden blood that another dog stopped to drink it. Assistance was immediately rendered to Rogers, and he was conveyed in a most deplorable condition to the hospital, where his family met him with long faces.

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