STOKE-UPON-TRENT, WEDNESDAY.—During the fever of speculation in the memorable summer and autumn of 1845, the words “this great national undertaking” became a sort of cant term, from its indiscriminate application as a clap-trap phrase to every fresh production of Stag-alley, until at length the great world had become quite sceptical as to whether any railway could be so far esteemed beyond any other mere mercantile or speculative undertaking as to be worthy of such an ennobling title, or as likely to interest any one beyond mere scripholders and the lords of the land, whose pockets were to be benefited, or whose hereditary demesnes were to be vandyked and destroyed.

This day’s proceedings have answered the question in the affirmative. The occasion of turning the first sod of a railway through the Potteries district has been made one of general rejoicing. The whole country for miles has been in a state of ferment, and one would be inclined to imagine from the state of affairs, that even the humblest individual had not merely a stake in the projected undertaking, but was about to derive from its inauguration some positive acquisition of good fortune. Man, woman, and child seemed to consider that they had a status of some sort in the North Staffordshire Railway. All agree in thinking that the line will proselyte the district from a state of comparative into one of superlative prosperity.

The want of railway accommodation in this district has not only been long felt and acknowledged, but the most strenuous efforts have been used for two or three years past to obtain the leave of Parliament to supply it. The history of the struggle, and the biographies of the contending lines, form the all-engrossing topic of the district at present; but whilst admitting that the line is a national desideratum, the story of its rise and progress is too local to be interesting to the mass of readers. It will be sufficient to know that of somewhere about fourteen or fifteen projects, the one commenced this day has alone survived the various ordeals of the three last sessions of Parliament, and that it consists of three bills—No. 1, being called “The Potteries Line;” No. 2, “The Churnet Valley Line;” and No. 3, “The Harecastle and Sandbach Branch.” The total length of railway being about 124 miles.

To give eclat to the opening every nerve appears to have been willingly strained. The directors summoned the shareholders to the first general meeting under their act of incorporation, at the Town-hall. A district committee issued an invitation to a grand dejeuné, to be given to the directors at one o’clock at the same place. A procession was arranged to move from the Town-hall at half-past three, to the field in which the first sod was to be cut, and six bands were to be separated (in order to give proper effect to their music) by the mounted police, the fire brigades, the order of Rechabites, the United Gardeners, the Ancient Order of Foresters, the Odd Fellows, the directors of the company, the carriages of visitors of rank, and troops of horsemen; the rear to be brought up by footmen four-a-breast; whilst, to crown the day as one of general rejoicing, a ball, under the patronage of a brilliant committee of ladies, was advertised to take place in the evening—the room fitted up for the dejeuné to be cleared for the purpose. The day was proclaimed a holiday throughout the Potteries: shops and factories in Hanley, Burslem, Stoke, Newcastle, and the neighbourhood to be closed at twelve o’clock, and boys and girls to be emancipated from the trammels of school; and, as the great ballroom could be attainable only by the wealthier classes, there was a display of fire-works provided for the multitude, to be discharged at Winton’s wood in the evening; and booths in which they could enjoy some saltatory exercise, albeit timed to music less harmonious than that of the Duke of Sutherland’s quadrille band. Such were the general arrangements.

For the grand event of the day, two very important accessories were most carefully and elaborately prepared, viz., the spade and the wheelbarrow, both of which were got up after the fashion of those used on the celebrated occasion of the turning the first sod of the Trent Valley line by Sir Robert Peel. The spade being silver electro-plated of beautiful and highly decorated design; and the wheelbarrow of Spanish mahogany, elaborately carved and polished, with three shields of painted and enamelled porcelain let in; one in the front having the arms and title of the company, one on the right side bearing the arms and motto of the chairman (Mr. John L. Ricardo, M.P.), and the third, on the left, being charged with those of the deputy-chairman (Mr. Robert C. Sharp, of Bramall-hall).

The weather having, like the premiums upon railway shares last year, continued so steadily fine for months that the possibility of any change for the worse had never entered people’s heads, it was taken for granted that the day would be, like the past, a glorious one. But, alas! for the mutability of human affairs, the panic commenced at the close of yesterday. Drops of rain and rushes of wind were felt during the evening at intervals, and at nightfall showers came on which increased to torrents during the night, and continued during the early part of the morning. However the fears of the holiday makers were happily allayed by signs of a clearing up about ten o’clock, which was followed by sunshine and warmth before eleven, sufficient indications, nevertheless, remaining of occasional showers to be expected during the day. The joy bells, whose merry peals commenced at an early hour, were rung at intervals throughout the morning, and by eleven o’clock the whole town was in full attire—festoons, and wreaths of flowers, and evergreens being suspended across the streets, and flags and banners of all colours and devices displayed from every roof and window whose owners were fortunate enough to possess a bit of silk or bunting, or even humble calico; whilst the gas-fitters were to be seen here and there busily employed in completing the apparatus for illuminations in the evening, which their past occupation had prevented their finishing before: and the streets were thronged with gaping multitudes, assembled and assembling from the hundred cities of the Potteries, resolved to be interested in and pleased with everything they saw, as something towards the filling up of the long day of determined pleasure-making before them.

Morning Chronicle - Thursday 24 September 1846
Text reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive.