- This article is about Sir Edward Watkin, railway chairman (1819–1901), for other people of the same name see Edward Watkin
Sir Edward William Watkin, 1st Baronet (26 September 1819 – 13 April 1901) was a British Member of Parliament and railway entrepreneur. He was an ambitious visionary, and presided over large-scale railway engineering projects to fulfil his business aspirations, eventually rising to become chairman of nine different British railway companies.
Among his more notable projects were his expansion of the Metropolitan Railway (part of today's London Underground network); the construction of the Great Central Main Line, a purpose-built high-speed railway line; and a failed attempt to dig a channel tunnel under the English Channel to connect his railway empire to the French rail network.
He lived at Rose Hill, Northenden, a suburb of Manchester, in a house bought by his father in 1832. He is buried in St Wilfrid's churchyard in Northenden, where a memorial plaque commemorates his life.
Watkin began to show an interest in railways and at in 1845 he took on the secretaryship of the Trent Valley Railway, which was sold the following year to the London and North Western Railway (LNWR), for £438,000. He then became assistant to Captain Mark Huish, general manager of the LNWR. He visited USA and Canada and in 1852 he published a book about the railways in these countries. Back in Great Britain he was appointed secretary of the Worcester & Hereford Railway. He then left the LNWR and in 1853 became the general manager of the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR). He held this position to 1862, and was chairman of the company from 1864 to 1894. He was knighted in 1868 and made a baronet in 1880.
Abroad, he encouraged the uniting of the Canadian provinces by the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He also helped to build the railway between Athens and Piraeus, advised on the Indian railways and organised transport in the Belgian Congo.
Watkin was involved with other railway companies. In 1866 he became a director of the Great Western Railway and later the Great Eastern Railway. By 1881 he was a director of nine railways and trustee of a tenth. These included the Cheshire Lines, the East London, the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire, the Manchester, South Junction & Altrincham, the Metropolitan, the Oldham, Ashton & Guide Bridge, the Sheffield & Midland Joint, the South Eastern, the Wigan Junction and the New York, Lake Erie and Western railways.
For Watkin, opening an independent route to London was crucial for the long-term survival and development of the MS&LR, but it was also one part of a grander scheme: a line from Manchester to Paris. His chairmanships of the South Eastern Railway, the Metropolitan Railway, in addition to the MS&LR meant that he controlled railways from England's south coast ports, through London and (with the London Extension) through the Midlands to the industrial cities of the North; he was also on the board of the Chemin de Fer du Nord, a French railway company based in Calais. Watkin's ambitious plan was to develop a railway network which could run passenger trains directly from Liverpool and Manchester to Paris, crossing from Britain to France via a tunnel under the English Channel. As well as a high-speed specification, the Great Central Main Line was also built to an expanded continental loading gauge; unlike any other railway lines in Britain, Watkin's line would be able to accommodate larger-sized continental trains crossing from France.
Watkin started his tunnel works with the South Eastern Railway in 1880–81. Digging began at Shakespeare Cliff between Folkestone and Dover and reached a length of 2,020 yards (1,850 m). The project was highly controversial and fears grew of the tunnel being used as a route for a possible French invasion of Great Britain; notable opponents of the project were the War Office Scientific Committee, Lord Wolseley and Prince George, Duke of Cambridge; Queen Victoria reportedly found the tunnel scheme "objectionable". Watkin was skilled at public relations and attempted to garner political support for his project, inviting such high-profile guests as the Prince and Princess of Wales, Liberal Party Leader William Gladstone and the Archbishop of Canterbury to submarine champagne receptions in the tunnel. In spite of his attempts at winning support, his tunnel project was blocked by parliament and cancelled in the interests of national security. The original entrance to Watkin's tunnel works remains in the cliff face but is now closed for safety reasons.
Watkin's last and unsuccessful project was the construction of a large iron tower, called Watkin's Tower, in Wembley, north London. The 1,200-foot (370 m) tower was to be the centrepiece of a large public amusement park which was built to attract London passengers onto his Metropolitan Railway, and was intended to rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Watkin successfully opened the park in 1894 and built a new station at Wembley Park, but the tower ran into financial and structural difficulties. Watkin died before it was completed and the unfinished base structure was demolished in 1907.
Watkin was responsible for an abortive attempt in the 1880s to create a new south-coast resort and deep-water port at Dungeness in Kent.
Watkin married Mary Briggs in 1845; their son Alfred Mellor Watkin was locomotive superintendent of the South Eastern Railway in 1876 and Member of Parliament for Great Grimsby (UK Parliament constituency) in 1877. His nephew Edward Watkin was general manager of the Hull and Barnsley Railway.
- Goffin, Magdalen (2005). "4. The Watkin path". The Watkin path : an approach to belief. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. pp. 23–25. ISBN 9781845191283. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para. 1.
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para. 2.
- The Buildings of England: Lancashire-Manchester and the South-East
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para.3.
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para. 3.
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para.5.
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para.4, 10.
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para.6.
- Haywood, Russell (2012). Railways, Urban Development and Town Planning in Britain: 1948–2008. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 22. ISBN 9781409488255.
- Healy 1987, pp. 24–53.
- Hadfield-Amkhan, Amelia (2010). "4. The 1882 channel Tunnel Crisis". British foreign policy, national identity, and neoclassical realism. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 67–72. ISBN 9781442205468.[clarification needed]
- "Channel Tunnel – Yes Or No?". 1957. British Pathé. Retrieved 6 September 2013. Missing or empty
- Horsfall Turner, Olivia (2013). "Making Connections". Dreaming the Impossible: Unbuilt Britain. British Broadcasting Corporation. BBC Four.
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para.10.
- *Lynde, Fred. C. (1890). "Design No. 37". Descriptive Illustrated Catalogue of the Sixty-Eight Competitive Designs for the Great Tower for London. London: The Tower Company/Industries. pp. 82–83. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
- Rowley, Trevor (2006). The English landscape in the twentieth century. London [u.a.]: Hambledon Continuum. pp. 405–7. ISBN 9781852853884.
- Sutton & Bagwell 2004, para.11.
- Biographical details of managers, chairmen, etc
- Hartwell, Clare, Hyde, Matthew and Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Lancashire: Manchester and the South East (2004) Yale University Press
- Healy, John (1987). Echoes of the Great Central. Greenwich Editions. ISBN 0-86288-076-9.
- Dyckhoff, Nigel. Portrait of the Cheshire Lines Committee, Ian Allan, Shepperton, 1999 ISBN 978-0-7110-2521-9
- Sutton, C. W.; Bagwell, P. S. (2004), "Watkin, Sir Edward William, first baronet (1819–1901), railway promoter", The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press), doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36762
- David Hodgkins (2002), The Second Railway King – The Life and Times of Sir Edward Watkin 1819–1901, Merton Priory Press, ISBN 1-898937-49-4
- Kirsty Elleray (4 December 2002), "The nearly man of Northenden", menmedia.co.uk (The South Manchester Reporter)
- John Greaves (Summer 2007), "Sir Edward Watkin and the Liberal cause in the Nineteenth Century" (PDF), Journal of Liberal History (55): 25–27
- John Speller, "Sir Edward Watkin", spellerweb.net
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Edward Watkin.|
- Works by Edward Watkin at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Edward Watkin at Internet Archive
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Edward Watkin
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Charles Edmund Rumbold
Sir Edmund Lacon
|Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth
1857 – August 1857
With: William Torrens McCullagh
Adolphus William Young
John Benjamin Smith
|Member of Parliament for Stockport
With: John Benjamin Smith
John Benjamin Smith
Baron Amschel de Rothschild
|Member of Parliament for Hythe
Sir James Bevan Edwards
|Baronetage of the United Kingdom|
(of Rose Hill)
Alfred Mellor Watkin