LAST Laugh of the Railway King – Edward Watkin Speaker: Geoff Scargill Sir Edward Watkin – A name we should all recognise but as our audience proved nobody did, a forgotten hero of the industrial revolution. This ignorance also included Geoff Scargill who stumbled upon Edward Watkin and has made it his business to address this omission.

Sir Edward was born in Salford in 1819, the son of Absalom Watkin, a prosperous cotton merchant, Absalom is also noteworthy as a diarist who recorded life in Victorian Manchester. In 1832 Absalom bought Rose Hill in Langley Lane, Northenden at that time a Cheshire village in the heart of farmland.

Sir Edward made his fortune managing four British railway companies during the great railway expansion. In 1881/85 he developed the Canadian Pacific Railway.

He also developed the Athens Piraeus Railway, and was significant in the expansion of Indian railways and those of the Belgium Congo.

However there were magnificent failures. He founded the first channel tunnel in 1875 which failed because the government withdrew support after public outcry that the French would use it to invade.

Another failure was an attempt to build a larger Eiffel tower than the French version. This took shape in the North London district of Wembley, it also envisaged an amusement park and railway station called Wembley Park which was completed but not Watkins Tower as Sir Edward died before completion.Wembley Stadium now sits on the site.

There was a lovely codicil to his story, in 1861 the American artist Frederick Edwin Church painted a picture named The ICEBERGS which Sir Edwin purchased for £500.

It continued to hang in Rose Hill after the death of Sir Edward and beyond when Rose Hill came into the ownership of Manchester City Council and was used as a remand home.

The matron Mair Baulch wishing to raise some cash started to research the painting which alerted American Art Experts who had been trying to trace it. It sold at auction for $2.5m benefitting the council but not Matron Baulch. It now hangs in The Dallas Museum of Art. Geoff showed a slide of the restored painting and it is stunning. Sir Edward was a man of taste.

Our next meeting is our Christmas celebration for members on December 17. The next public meeting will be January 21 when the speaker will be Prof. Peter Gaunt talking about Civil War in Cheshire – A Unique Experience.