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Sankey 'Nine Arches' Viaduct, St Helens


Designed by George Stephenson and opened in 1830 to carry the Liverpool & Manchester Railway over the Sankey valley and canal. The earliest major railway viaduct in the world.

Red Wheel Site:
Transport Mode(s):

Earlstown, St Helens, WA12 9AP

WA12 9PA
Visitor Centre:

About Sankey 'Nine Arches' Viaduct, St Helens

Built by George Stephenson as Chief Engineer for the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. The viaduct was designed specifically to allow the sails of Mersey Flat barges to pass underneath as demanded by the owners of the Sankey Brook Navigation Company. Stephenson also had to consider the steep incline that locomotives of that time had to negotiate. This he addressed with a 823 metre gentle slope on the west side work on which commenced in June 1827. Foundations of the viaduct were laid in April 1828 and it was officially opened on 15th September 1830 - though there had been pleasure rides over it during that summer for anyone who could afford 6d. Total cost of construction was £45,000. Historic England records the viaduct as a Grade 1 listed structure being the earliest railway viaduct in the world and describes it as follows: "Railway viaduct, 1830, by George Stephenson for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company. Yellow sandstone and red brick, of 9 round-arched spans on sharply-battered piers. Rusticated ashlar faces, stone-banded brick jambs. Plinths of 3 steps. One projecting band on each jamb. Plain, square imposts. Heavily moulded cornices carry stone parapets with plain square caps; a corbelled square pilaster on each pier carries the cornice. Battered, curved abutments of brick have stone quoins at inner ends. Listed Grade I as the earliest major railway viaduct in the world; in form and expression it presages the slightly later and hence more assured Dutton and Vale Royal viaducts by George Stephenson and Joseph Locke, carrying the former Grand Junction Railway over the Weaver valley." The Sankey Viaduct still functions today carrying both passenger and freight traffic and is known locally as the 'Nine Arches'.

The following Grand British Experimental Railway documentary was made by Granada TV in 1980 . It celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Liverpool-Manchester railway. Presenter Bob Greaves takes a trip on today's line and introduces a dramatised reconstructions of important facets of the railway's construction and history, including the Rainhill Trials, Edge Hill Station and the building of the Sankey viaduct.

This video shows Oakfield, one of the last surviviring Mersey Flat barges - it shows the state of the barge in December 2021 when restoration has not yet started.

It also explains the history of Mersey Flats and how theyr were the workhorses of the industrial revolution. It shows how the Sankey Viaduct was constructed to accomodate the tall masts and sails of these vessels.

Red Wheel Plaques erected during Covid pandemic on 19th January 2022. A formal unveiling ceremony took place on 11th April 2022.

Pictures by Jerry Swift and Barrie Pennington:

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Two Sankey Red Wheels unveiled by Lady McAlpine and the Mayor of St. Helens, Councillor Sue Murphy


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The unveiling party

Left to right:

John Tabern, Chair of St. Helens Town Deal Board

Gerald Leach, Railway and Canal Historical Society

Councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron, MBE, Deputy Leader of St. Helens Council

Conor McGinn, Member of Parliament for St. Helens North

Lady McAlpine

The Mayor of St. Helens, Councillor Sue Murphy

The Mayor’s husband, Mr. Mike Murphy

Dr. Barrie Pennington, National Transport Trust member

Mrs. Susan Pennington

Councillor Andy Bowden

Councillor Jeanette Banks

Councillor Anthony Burns

Councillor David Banks

 Lady McAlpine was presented with a commemorative glass plate by the Mayor

left to right: Dr Barrie Pennigton; Lady McAlpine, Mrs. Susan Pennington, The Mayor of St. Helens




Nearest railway station is Earlestown (Northern Rail).

By Road: Junction 23 of the M6 and take A59 for Newton-le-Willows. Turn right onto A572 then turn left onto Wharf Road after a mile. Viaduct is visible after half-a-mile on the right.


Biddle, Gordon, Britain's Historic Railway Buildings, Oxford University Press, ISBN-10: 0198662475 (2003)

Biddle, Gordon & Nock, O.S., The Railway Heritage of Britain : 150 years of railway architecture and engineering, Studio Editions, ISBN-10: 1851705953 (1990)

Biddle, Gordon and Simmons, J., The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, Oxford, ISBN 0 19 211697 5 (1997)

Bonavia, Michael, Historic Railway Sites in Britain, Hale, ISBN 0 7090 3156 4 (1987)

Bury, T. T., Coloured views on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, Hugh Broadbent, Aveyard, Broadbent & Co., ISBN: 0904848027 (1976)  

Carlson, R.E., The Liverpool & Manchester Railway Project 1821-1831, David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd., ISBN: 9780715346464 (1969)

Conolly, W. Philip, British Railways Pre-Grouping Atlas And Gazetteer, Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 0-7110-0320-3 (1958/97)

Davies, Hunter, George Stephenson: The Remarkable Life of the Founder of the Railway, The History Press, ISBN-10: 0750937955 (2004)

Ferneyhough, F., Liverpool & Manchester Railway 1830-1980, Robert Hale Ltd., ISBN:9780709181378 (1980)

Jowett, Alan, Jowett's Railway Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland, Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-8526-0086-1. (March 1989)

Garfield, S., The Last Journey of William Huskisson, Faber and Faber, ISBN: 9780571210480 (2002)

Morris, C., George and Robert Stephenson: Railway Pioneers, Tanners Yard Press, ISBN: 9780956435804 (2010)

Morgan, Bryan, Railways: Civil Engineering, Arrow, ISBN 0 09 908180 6 (1973)

Morgan, Bryan, Railway Relics, Ian Allan, ISBN 0 7110 0092 1 (1969)

Rolt, L.T.C., George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution, Amberley, ISBN: 9781848681644 (2009)

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Singleton, D., Liverpool and Manchester Railway: A mile by mile guide to the world's first "modern" railway, Dalesman Books, ISBN: 9780852062630 (1975)

Smith, Martin, British Railway Bridges and Viaducts, Ian Allan, ISBN 0 7110 2273 9 (1994)

Turnock, David, An Historical Geography of Railways, Ashgate, ISBN 1 85928 450 7 (1998)


Two interesting DVDs are available for purchase:

Steam Driver's Eye View: Liverpool and Manchester Railway, Oldham Video Productions, (£14.99 Amazon)  ASIN ‏ : ‎ B07HXVFWKT
Great British Railway Journeys (Michael Portillo), Series 1 Episode 1, BBC, (£14.22 Amazon)  ASIN‏ : ‎ B004GBB5TO
National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR