The Bolton and Leigh Railway (B&LR), Lancashire’s first public railway, was promoted as a mineral line in connection with William HultonWilliam Hulton was the magistrate who ordered the yeomanry to charge into the crowd at the Peterloo Massacre. ‘s coal pits to the west of his estate at Over Hulton. On 31 March 1825, the company obtained an Act of Parliament to build a railway line from Bolton to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh. George Stephenson was appointed the company’s chief engineer, and its construction was overseen by Robert DaglishRobert Daglish (1779–1865) was a colliery manager, mining, mechanical and civil engineer at the start of the railway era. , a mechanical engineer and colliery manager.
The first section of the single-track railway opened between Derby Street in Bolton and Hulton’s coal pit at Pendlebury Fold near Chequerbent on 1 August 1828. The railway was completed to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Leigh in March 1830. The line was operated by steam locomotives and its two rope-hauled inclined planes were equipped with stationary steam engines. The railway opened as a freight line but on 13 June 1831 the first passenger services were run. Stations started to be were closed to passengers in the early 1950s but freight traffic lingered into the mid 1960s. The line and its stations have been dismantled and few traces remain.
Schemes to link the canals in Bolton and Leigh by railway were proposed in the early 1820s. Bolton was on the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal and the Leigh arm of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which was connected end-on to the Bridgewater Canal at Leigh in 1820. Canal transport was slow, congested, and as demand for transportation increased so did the cost. William Hulton, owner of Hulton Park and several collieriesThe Hulton Colliery Company operated on the Lancashire Coalfield from the mid-19th century in Over Hulton and Westhoughton, Lancashire. on or near his estate, recognised that a railway would be the best way to transport his coal to markets in Bolton and access the Port of Liverpool via the canal in Leigh which would facilitate bringing in raw materials particularly cotton. By 1 October 1824, a committee of more than 60 businessmen had been formed to promote the scheme. On 31 March 1825, the company obtained an Act of Parliament to build the railway line from Bolton to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh.
Hulton was appointed company chairman and Stephenson was the railway’s chief engineer. Robert Daglish, an engineer and colliery manager who had built the Walking Horse locomotive The Walking Horse, Lancashire’s first steam locomotive, was built by Robert Daglish in 1812 at the Haigh Foundry for colliery owner, John Clarke and it entered service the following year. for Orrell Collieries, supervised the railway’s construction. Work started at the Bolton end to lay out the line to Chequerbent via Daubhill where a 50 horse power stationary steam engine was installed to work the rope-hauled incline. Three types of rail, fish-bellied weighing 35lb per yard, T-section at 63lb per yard and bridge-section at 43lb per yard were laid on stone block sleepers ballasted with small coal.
The line was continued to the west of Hulton Park towards Leigh where there was a second inclined plane between Chequerbent and Chowbent. In 1827 the company prepared a second Parliamentary Bill, which passed on 26 March 1828, to accommodate changes to the original plan. It authorised raising £25,000 and specifed the track gauge of 4 ft 8 1/2 in.
Official opening to Pendlebury Fold
On 1 August 1828, the section between Derby Street Bolton and William Hulton’s coal pits at Pendlebury Fold near Chequerbent in Westhoughton was opened. At 12.15 an 0-4-0 locomotive supplied by the Robert Stephenson Company departed from Pendlebury Fold with a train of 13 wagons and a coach carrying the railway directors, dignitaries and a band. At Daubhill the engine was detached and departed to nearby colliery and returned with a loaded coal train after which Mrs Hulton hung a garland of flowers on the chimney before declaring , “No one can observe without admiration this beautiful engine, I therefore beg leave to name it after an object universally attractive – The Lancashire Witch
The Lancashire Witch was built by Robert Stephenson and Company, and was a development of George Stephenson and Timothy Hackworth’s Locomotion No. 1. .”. The dignitaries’ train was then lowered down the Daubhill Incline before it proceeded to Bolton where celebrations continued at the Commercial Inn.
Chequerbent to the canal
After the official opening , work continued on the line past Hulton Park towards Leigh. A 20 hp stationary steam engine was installed on the second inclined plane between Chowbent and Chequerbent. In 1827 the company had prepared a second Parliamentary Bill, which passed on 26 March 1828, to accommodate changes to the original plan. It authorised raising £25,000 and specified the track gauge of 4 ft 8 1/2 in. The line was completed to the canal at Leigh by end of March 1830 and the line opened for freight traffic.
In 1829 the Kenyon and Leigh Junction Railway (K&LJR) was incorporated to link the B&LR to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at Kenyon Junction creating a through line to Liverpool. After the line had been extended to Kenyon, the company ran its first passenger service, a special train for “Gentlemen” from Bolton to Newton Races on 2 June 1831. Passenger trains began running the 28.5 miles (45.9 km) from Bolton to Liverpool on 13 June 1831. The journey took an hour and forty minutes  The K&LJR and B&LR worked closely as trains ran over both lines to access the Liverpool and Manchester line. When the service started, two passenger trains daily ran in each direction between Bolton and Liverpool one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, each train providing inside covered accommodation and outside wooden seats in open wagons.
In 1834 the B&LR leased operation of the railway to John Hargreaves, an established carrier in Bolton. He was granted running rights over the K&LJR and the L&MR using his own engines and rolling stock. By the mid-1830s Hargreaves had about 200 wagons.
On 8 August 1845 the railway lost its independence when together with the K&LJR and the L&MR, it was absorbed into the Grand Junction Railway (GJR) The GJR terminated Hargreaves’ leases on 31 December 1845. The GJR was amalgamated with others into the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) on 16 July 1846 .
The B&LR had stations at Bolton (renamed Bolton Great Moor Street), Bag Lane in Chowbent and Leigh (subsequently renamed Westleigh). They were very basic. Bolton station had a single platform protected by a shed. The company built a goods station to its south at Crook Street. Bag Lane station was a simple cottage-type structure on the east side of the single line where it crossed Bag Lane. It served the community around Fletcher’s Fletcher, Burrows & Company owned collieries and cotton mills in Atherton in northwest England. Gibfield, Howe Bridge and Chanters Collieries exploited the coal seams of the Middle Coal Measures in the Manchester Coalfield. pits. Gibfield Colliery was sunk nearby in 1829. Leigh station was a basic cottage-style building on the east side of the line north of Twiss Lane (A578). It was about a ¼ mile north of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal where goods were transhipped onto canal boats.  Stations were opened at Daubhill and Chequerbent, a halt for Hulton Park sometime before 1846.
In 1871 Bolton Great Moor Street station was closed by the LNWR for reconstruction, and a temporary station opened at Crook Street from 1 August 1871 to 28 September 1874 when the new station opened. Great Moor Street was rebuilt on its original site but on an embankment some twelve feet above its original level.
In the 1880s, the LNWR removed the inclines at Daubhill and Chequerbent. At Daubhill, a new alignment with a short tunnel and station were constructed. The original line was retained for freight at each end, but severed in the middle. The new Daubhill station opened on 2 February 1885 and was renamed Rumworth & Daubhill on 28 April. Chequerbent also required a new alignment and station but the original line remained to serve the Chequerbent Pits. Atherleigh station was opened by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway on 14 October 1935 to serve housing developments.
Daubhill and Chequerbent’s original stations were closed on 2 February 1885 when their replacements opened on the new alignments. Until 1939, passenger services between Atherton and Bolton ran half-hourly. After the Second World War just six trains being ran daily in each direction. Chequerbent and Rumworth & Daubhill closed to passengers on 3 March 1952.
All other stations closed to passengers on 29 March 1954, with Atherleigh, and West Leigh closing completely. Some rugby and holiday specials served Great Moor Street until 1958. Atherton Bag Lane closed to freight on 7 October 1963, Chequerbent closed to freight on 27 February 1965 and Rumworth & Daubhill closed to freight on 29 March 1965. The date of closure of Bolton Great Moor Street station to freight is not recorded, but the rails were lifted in 1969.
Robert Stephenson and Company in Newcastle built the railway’s first locomotive, a development of George Stephenson and Timothy Hackworth’s Locomotion No. 1 that they built for the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825. Originally destined for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and known as the Liverpool Travelling-engine, it was transferred to the B&LR, which was nearer completion. At the opening ceremony it was named the Lancashire Witch. Hackworth’s Sans Pareil which competed in the Rainhill Trials was used on the B&LR until 1844 when it was sold to Coppull Colliery for use as a stationary engine. In 1863 it was presented to the Patent Office Museum (Science Museum) by John Hick. By 1831 the railway owned three other locomotives: Union, built in 1830 by Rothwell, Hick and Rothwell of Bolton, and Salamander and Veteran, which were built by Crook and Dean in Bolton.