"The end of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway meant the end of northern economic independence"

A map of the L&YR's network, on display at Manchester's Victoria station. Image: Mike Peel/Wikimedia Commons.

In this brief history, Dr Stephen Caunce describes how a railway company helped to make England's industrial north – and how its end presaged the region's economic decline.

The development of the internal transportation network within and between England's four main northern conurbations is, as usual, distinctive and misunderstood.

The mosaic map created by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company (L&YR), and on display in various stations, shows only a part of the overall system – but it does indicate its unfocussed, decentralised character. Uniquely among major English companies, this company never built a line to London. Adapting this system to modern needs has rarely worked out well over the last century, culminating in the never-ending west coast line upgrade saga, and its strange and controversial child, High Speed 2 (HS2).

The L&YR is especially interesting as the only powerful and long-lasting organisation which emerged spontaneously to co-ordinate activity across these conurbation boundaries. Its profits reflected regional economic performance, and it responded accordingly, always paying a dividend, and often a very healthy one.

Incorporated in 1847, the L&YR united several small existing companies. Significantly, its core was the Manchester & Leeds Railway Company, formed in 1839, and not the Liverpool & Manchester (1830). It flourished for over 70 years, until 1921, when parliament forcibly grouped most lines into four huge new entities. The western routes mostly went to the London, Midland & Scottish; the rest to the London & North Eastern. The usual guiding logic of regionality and operational efficiency was set aside. The London routes to the north, provided by other companies, were assumed to have primacy.

The end of the LY&R had both a symbolic and practical significance. It meant the end of northern economic independence, and the region’s re-orientation towards becoming a London satellite zone, a move which the Thatcher government pretty much completed. Both the plan for HS2, and the cancellation of the Manchester to Leeds electrification, seem to grow entirely from that vision.

A degree of duplication

Thus it was that, in the 20th century, the L&YR was deemed to have got its fundamental orientation wrong. Yet before 1850 it had played a crucial role, in turning a set of disconnected, short and clumsily constructed lines that mostly carried minerals, into a national network which carried almost all traffic (except the purely local).

The Pennine industrial economy had always adapted cheap and proven solutions to local needs: before the 1820s, costly experimentation had been limited to just two long canal tunnels under the central summits. Even with railways, the region actually borrowed existing technology, and developed it only where the overloading of current communications systems was severely constricting local business performance.

Some lines were literally initiated as extended sidings to particular industrial units

Rosy and justified prospects of profits unlocked ample local finance; routes were planned piecemeal by local entrepreneurs to serve particular needs, rarely citing any wider logic. The goal was a freight network linking a multitude of scattered production sites to Liverpool and Hull, and it produced probably the most complex, unfocussed system ever built. The network had a high degree of duplication of even minor routes; some lines were literally initiated as extended sidings to particular industrial units.

In his 1981 book Trans-Pennine Heritage: Hills, People and Transport, Keith Parry characterised the network as “hard-working, intensively-developed, a little grimy, innovative, yet allowing itself few indulgences and above-all commercially clear-headed to the point of boredom”. Its trademark route ran from Leeds via Bradford and Halifax over to Burnley, Accrington, Blackburn and Preston. Extensive sections had quadruple track, and substantial goods yards existed every few miles.  

Photographs of L&YR operations are rare and unglamorous, for “of all the major British railway companies, [it] was at once the most complex and least colourful”. The most commonly seen picture is of a “heavy coal train near Mytholmroyd”.

Prodigious quantities of relatively short-haul freight were hauled over an intricate system full of junctions, where no two stations were much more than five miles apart. The L&YR’s 1,650 plain black locomotives formed a higher total per mile than any other British company, making it the most intensively worked.

Even by the1850s, an unusual 60 per cent of wagons were iron framed; by 1900 it was building specialised, braked wagons for delicate cargoes, including cattle, as well as unusually large ones for continental freight coming in via Goole. The company was then intensely proud that it could collect yarn from a spinning mill, transport it across Lancashire for weaving, and deliver the finished cloth to a Manchester merchant, all in one day.

Over1,900 passenger services developed around this freight focus, often to increase revenue on lines which existed primarily to convey coal and manufactured goods. Its longest regular non-stop run was from Manchester to Wakefield, less than 50 miles. However, where demand was high it was taken seriously. “Slip” carriages – individual cars, uncoupled from express trains while in motion, to deliver passengers to minor stations – ran from 1889, and mill owners and other wealthy commuters could use luxurious club cars on some lines.  In 1904 it was the first mainline railway to start electrification, between Liverpool and Southport; the Manchester lines followed.   

The company's logo. Image: David Ingham/Wikimedia Commons.

The L&YR also ran steamship services from Liverpool to Drogheda, and Hull to Zeebrugge, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, and Hamburg. With 28 ships in 1914 it was the biggest shipowner among British railway companies; five more ships linked Fleetwood to Belfast and Derry in a joint operation with the LNWR.

The L&YR had then become the heart of a very integrated, intense and internationalised transport operation, filled out within the region by a host of short, private “mineral” lines and freight tramways, often narrow gauge and flimsily constructed. The corporations of towns of 50,000 people or above all also developed street tramways for passengers; smaller towns often got a service provided by bigger neighbours.

Some local passenger services outside the cities ceased running, but the resulting interurban service in industrial Lancashire was possibly the densest in the world. Even canals, by then mostly railway-owned, still moved bulky, low value freight within an extremely intricate “transportscape”. The problem for the future was the neglect of trunk roads and the lack of impetus to even consider underground railways except beneath the Mersey.

Sadly, railway grouping came just as unprecedented economic challenges developed. The LMS became the world's largest transport organisation; the largest commercial undertaking in the British Empire; the largest joint stock organisation in the world; and the United Kingdom's second largest employer, after the Post Office. It might seem to have offered the possibility of more rational planning.

But the region was just a part of its remit. Transpennine connections lost their significance, and an obsession developed instead with glamorous expresses linking London to Scotland, for no very obvious economic reason. One historian noted that, “the LMS did little to develop the former L&YR routes”; the same was true of the LNER in Yorkshire. Ironically, parliament had earlier twice refused to sanction such a merger, in 1853 and 1871.

The industrial Pennines thus emerged from the inter-war depression with transport links that were inappropriate and increasingly inadequate, probably for the first time in its history. The Beeching cuts of the 1960s came when the need for local rail services was heading rapidly downwards: they were severe, both in terms of pruning the network and in killing off rail-related industrial activity, which had been immensely important. We are living with the consequences of all this today.

Dr Stephen Caunce was formerly a senior lecturer in history at the University of Central Lancashire. He has published a range of books on oral history and the north of England. You can buy them here.

Alternatively, you can read his economic history of the region on CityMetric, beginning here.


Outdoor dining is a lifeline for restaurants, but cities don’t always make it easy

(Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

In downtown Toronto, café owners Toula and Peter Bekiaris were recently granted something to help them through the Covid-19 pandemic: a piece of the street outside their doors.

They got this space for their pastry and coffee shop, Filosophy, through a city-led initiative called CaféTO, created in response to the pandemic. The programme helps clusters of neighbouring restaurants want to set up outdoor patios on streets or sidewalks. As part of the initiative, Filosophy was able to expand from a two-seater bench out front to an eight-seat curbside patio, allowing it to welcome back patrons to a plot of the street separated from traffic by orange and black pylons.

“To have that little slice of pre-Covid feeling is rejuvenating for sure,” Toula Bekiaris says.

As the pandemic brings a generation of bars and restaurants to the brink of collapse, cities everywhere are seeing businesses spill out of their front doors and onto nearby sidewalks and streets. For many desperate small business owners, it’s their last best hope to claw back any business at all.

Bekiaris said the program brought her block back to life – but it also left her with a question. Toronto bylaws don’t normally make it easy for bars and restaurants to have sidewalk and curbside patios. She wondered, “My gosh, why are we not able to do this more regularly?”

Many cities have long had strict rules and steep fees that govern outdoor dining in public spaces. In places that were slow to adapt, or that haven’t adapted at all, this has caused tension for restaurant owners who are just trying to survive.

In Tel Aviv, for example, a schnitzel restaurant owner was filmed begging police to not issue him a ticket for having tables on the sidewalk outside of his shop. In New York City, businesses openly flouted rules that initially forbade outdoor eating and drinking. In the typically traffic-clogged Lima – the capital of Peru, one of the hardest-hit nations in the world for Covid – patios are scattered across sidewalks, but don’t have access to street space, which is still mainly centred around cars. “In the present-day context, the street has never been more important,” urban designer Mariana Alegre writes in a Peruvian newspaper.

As the terrasse aesthetic made famous by Paris and Montreal finds footing in cities that aren’t typically known for outdoor patronage, business owners and officials alike are finding that it’s not as simple as setting up some tables and chairs outside. The experiences of five different cities trying to embrace outdoor patios offer some useful lessons for understanding what can go wrong, and how it can be done right.


Vilnius was an early adopter of the outdoor dining trend. (Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images)

In April, the Lithuanian capital made global headlines for promising to allow bars and restaurants to use public space to set up a “giant outdoor café.”

“Plazas, squares, streets – nearby cafés will be allowed to set up outdoor tables free of charge this season,” Vilnius’s mayor Remigijus Šimašius said at the time.

There were good intentions behind the plan, but a report by nightlife consultancy VibeLab suggests the city didn’t quite pull it off. The Vilnius case study in the report says physical distancing was hard to maintain on narrow streets. There was a lack of government planning and communication. The city didn’t measure the economic impact of the initiative. Locals complained about street noise.

Mark Adam Harold, Vilnius’s night mayor and the founder of Vilnius Night Alliance, said in the VibeLab report that the “appearance of vibrancy in the streets of Vilnius led to a decrease in public support for the still-struggling hospitality sector, as people assumed the economic crisis was over.”

Still, the political will to do something radical – even if it meant mistakes were made in the process – can be a foreign concept in some places. Vilnius showed that change, often so slow in municipal politics, can happen fast in extenuating circumstances.

In July, Vilnius took it a step further, closing down some central streets to car traffic as a way to lure different kinds of people to the Old Town. “Cars cannot dominate the most sensitive and beautiful part of our city. Vilnius is choosing to be a city of the future now,” said Šimašius.  

New York City

New York City plans to bring back outdoor dining again in the spring of 2021. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

As soon as it was warm enough to eat and drink outside, New Yorkers were doing it. The empty streets and desolate sidewalks made it easy to claim a piece of pavement – prompting some to jump the gun on Phase 2 reopening. “I need every dollar I can get,” a Little Italy restaurant owner said, explaining his guerrilla patio to Eater back in June. “I’m hanging on by a shoestring here.”

Since those early pandemic days, New York City has moved to formalise outdoor dining, launching its Open Restaurants and Open Streets programmes. They allow establishments to set up sidewalk and curbside patios for patrons, and in some cases, even extend their restaurant’s real estate right across the street. The city says more than 9,000 businesses have signed up for Open Restaurants since June. It’s been such a success that the mayor’s office said it would do it again in the spring of 2021.

"In just two months, Open Restaurants has helped re-imagine our public spaces – bringing New Yorkers together to safely enjoy outdoor dining and helping to rescue a critical industry at the same time," said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in a news release announcing the 2021 extension.

Kristin Vincent is an owner of Sel Rrose, Home Sweet Home and Figure 19 in New York City, as well as a Sel Rrose location in Montauk. She says she already had a sidewalk patio permit for Sel Rrose in Manhattan’s Lower East Side prior to the pandemic, for which she pays approximately $25,000 annually, usually paid in three-month installments. When the last installment came due, the city waived payment.

Vincent says the city’s also been more lax about monitoring the sidewalk, which she has warmly welcomed. “They used to police outdoor seating – if you went an inch outside the zone of where you’re supposed to be, you’d get a ticket. If you stayed open for 10 minutes past when you were supposed to [close], you’d get a ticket. If neighbours were complaining that you’re outside, they’d pull your outdoor seating away. It was such an ‘honour’ to have outdoor seating,” she says.

Vincent sincerely hopes the city reconsiders its entire approach to outdoor seating even after the pandemic has ended – but she isn’t sure that’s realistic. While Home Sweet Home and Figure 19 have remained closed because of lack of outdoor space, she has had to manage a never-ending list of changing rules for the two Sel Rrose locations. Most recently, she’s had to contend with New York City’s ban on selling alcoholic drinks without food.

“Why can’t it just be drinks?” she asks. If the goal is to prevent the spread of Covid-19, she wonders why they’re still enforcing Prohibition-style rules on to-go drinks. Those little details add up, Vincent says, making it challenging for bars and restaurants to make money. Right now, the Lower East Side location is earning around 30% of the sales it made this time last year.

The nitpicking isn’t unique to New York City. At the Montauk location, she built an outdoor patio in preparation for opening only to be told it was in the wrong place. That said, that location is doing better (about 65% of sales) because the area is a phase ahead of the city, allowing for 50% indoor seating capacity.

She says allowing indoor seating will be critical to New York City bars and restaurants as summer turns to fall, and fall turns to winter. “We have to open inside – have to. We’ll even take 50%,” she says.


Montreal reduced its usual fee for terrasse permits. (Eric Thomas/AFP via Getty Images)

Sergio Da Silva’s Montreal bar and music venue, Turbo Haüs, has been skating by on the thinnest of margins. The Latin Quarter business was closed for months, finally reopening as a terrasse-only bar in the second week of July. 

In terms of Covid measures, Montreal has pedestrianised key streets including St-Denis, where Turbo Haüs is located (for what it’s worth, it normally pedestrianises St-Denis during the summer). It also reduced the terrasse permit fee, and in Turbo Haüs’s case waived the $3,000–$4,000 it would have owed the city as reimbursement for the three metered parking spaces taken over by its mega-terrasse. But Da Silva still paid $2,000 to comply with the rest of the permitting process, including the $500 in permit fees he paid prior to the Covid discount.

Anecdotally, he says, it seems the city’s invitation to businesses to set up terrasses hasn’t been met with the kind of speed some businesses were hoping for. His neighbour across the street applied for a permit, and was still waiting even after Turbo Haüs opened. “The entire process just seemed more difficult than it was before,” he says.

It’s been a frustrating summer. It was supposed to be the bar’s time to squirrel away money for the quieter winter season. Instead, Da Silva says, he’s mostly just making enough to stay open right now. “This would have been a really, really good summer for us. We had everything in place to put a giant dent in all our debts, and we were looking forward to actually paying ourselves a livable sum. And then this kind of thing happened,” he says. He predicts this winter is when the thread that so many bars and restaurants are holding onto will finally snap.

“You should wait to see what it looks like in the winter slow season,” he says. “That's when a lot of places are actually going to be shutting down.”

Assuming most bars and restaurants won’t be able to operate at 50% or greater capacity in the winter, a small business rent forgiveness programme that gives money to tenants (rather than directly to landlords) may be the only way governments can prevent mass closures.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv's approach to outdoor dining left many restaurants wondering if they would be able to survive. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

Tel Aviv’s outdoor patio story has emerged in fits and starts. In May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told people to “Go out and have a good time”.

In early July, The Times of Israel published the video of the schnitzel restaurateur pleading with police not to fine him for having a couple of tables and chairs out on the sidewalk. “Business owners give this city culture, entertainment. There’s no work and I’m even fined! I have three kids to feed, where will I get the money from?” he cried.

Three days later, the Israeli metropolis published a news release saying it was sacrificing road space for on-street dining platforms in its trendy restaurant district, on Chayim Vital Street. The city also pedestrianised 11 streets, placing chairs and umbrellas in the new car-free zones to encourage people to use their new public space. The following day, the city gave restaurants only a few hours’ warning about an open-ended closure order, which many restaurateurs vowed to disobey. They won, but within the same month, 34 restaurants were fined for serving unmasked patrons.

The backlash Tel Aviv has received from the bar and restaurant industry has been deserved. The lack of clear guidelines, ever-changing rules and unavailability of aid and support has left many businesses in the lurch, wondering if they’ll ever be able to come back from Covid.


In pre-Covid times, Harsh Chawla says his popular Indian restaurant Pukka would routinely turn around 250 seats on a normal Saturday. Now, in a summer without tourism, nor Toronto’s Summerlicious restaurant festival, nor indoor dining, his 24-seat curbside patio has been a saving grace. “I always say, anything better than zero is a win for us,” he says.

Chawla says he helped rally his neighbours around CaféTO’s proposal of shutting down on-street parking spaces in favor of dining nooks. He came up against worries that reduced parking would mean reduced business for them – a common concern that a growing body of research demonstrates is not actually true. Eventually his stretch of St. Clair Street West came to a compromise allowing for the conversion of some parking spots.

Trevor McIntyre, global director of placemaking at IBI Group, is a consultant on the CaféTO programme. He sees the lane and parking spot closures as big wins in a city that allocates an incredible amount of space to cars, even with mounting pedestrian and cyclist deaths. “We've slowed down traffic considerably – cars slow down, the whole pace slows down. You take away the on-street parking, and it encourages people to get out and walk. You start seeing higher volumes of people,” says McIntyre.

In this experiment, curbside patios and more heavily pedestrianised areas are driving more business to areas than parking does. Chawla likes the results.

“Hopefully we do this next year, and the year after, and the year after, because I think it gives us character to the street, it gives character to the neighbourhood,” says the restaurateur. “Our summers are so short-lived in Canada, in Toronto – so why not have more spaces outside so people can enjoy it?”

Tracey Lindeman is a freelance writer based in Ottawa.