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William Huskisson, Liverpool MP and first ever railway fatality







One of Liverpool's more beloved MPs, Huskisson played quite a part in the process of winning parliamentary hearts and minds over to the idea of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. So it was fitting that he was a guest of honour at the opening of the railway in 1930. And tragic that he should become that day the world's first railway accident fatality.

He was hit by the famous Rocket, built by Robert Stephenson, who was the son of George Stephenson, the man who masterminded the whole railway project.

Here is a good account of the opening, the accident and the whole project. There is also an excellent book which tells the whole story of both the railway and Huskisson, The Last Journey of William Huskisson by Simon Garfield.

This was the most momentous accident in the life of a ridiculously accident-prone man. He was always falling off things and breaking bones; or things fell on him - a horse, on one occasion.

Liverpool was shocked by his death, and 50,000 attended his funeral. Several memorials were built for him, but it seems the accidents were not going to stop with his death.

He was interred in a specially built classical mausoleum (left) in St. James's Cemetery, next to the Anglican Cathedral. Inside the mausoleum, was placed a marble standing statue of Huskisson wearing a Roman toga. But many considered this position was too hidden away for such an important statue.

Huskisson's widow, who wanted the sculpture to stay in place above her husband's remains, commissioned a second sculpture in marble from which a bronze version was cast. The marble version went to Pimlico, London, and the bronze version was placed in front of the Liverpool Customs House in Canning Place.

Then the Customs House was destroyed during air raids in the Second World War.

The bronze sculpture found a new home at the head of the Princes Road/Princes Avenue boulevard, near the synagogue. There it was pulled from its plinth in 1982 because people thought Huskisson had been a slave trader. He wasn't, of course. But anyway, the local community felt he was an irrelevant figure to be celebrated in modern-day Toxteth. See comments about the political aspects of this and other Liverpool statues in Nerve magazine.

For a while this battered bronze sculpture lay unceremoniously in a council car park until in 1984 it was housed in the Oratory in St James's Mount Gardens. In 2004 it came into the sculpture studios at the National Conservation Centre. The Conservation Centre's website gives fascinating detailed information about the cleaning and renovation of this statue. It is now located in a new housing development off Duke Street in the city centre.

Huskisson Memorial

William Huskisson memorial at the point which he was hit by Stephenson's Rocket

A memorial built at the scene of the accident at Parkside has also seen rough times, being vandalised and left to crumble for some years until recent renovation. It is situated facing the tracks, and suffers from the fact that no-one can actually read the inscription on it except by binoculars if the train happens, for some reason, to draw to a halt in just the right place.

More details about Huskisson, his life and politics can be found here.


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