Isaac Solly Railway Entrepreneur

A Talk by Bob Solly

This article was published in the December 2015 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

Ed: At our Annual Gathering fitting in with our theme of railways Bob Solly described how Isaac Solly (an ancestor of our new Chairman George Solly) was director of the London & Birmingham Railway Company. Below is an edited version of his talk.
Preamble to An Act for making a Railway from London to Birmingham, 6th May 1833:
WHEREAS the making of Railway, with proper Works and Conveniences connected therewith, for the Carriage of Passengers, Goods, and Merchandize from London to Birmingham, will prove of great public Advantage, by opening an additional, cheap, and expeditious Communication between the Metropolis, the Port of London, and the large manufacturing Town and Neighbourhood of Birmingham aforesaid, and will at the same Time facilitate the Means of Transit and Traffic for Passengers, Goods, and Merchandize between those Places and the adjacent Districts, and the several intermediate Towns and Places…
The London & Birmingham Railway Company appointed Robert Stephenson as chief engineer in 1833. Stephenson was paid £1,500 a year, to build what was the first railway into London. Many people living on the proposed route were bitterly opposed to the railway. For example, the landowners of Northampton forced Stephenson to make the line pass some distance from their town. As a result of this change, Stephenson now had to build a 2,400 yard tunnel at Kilsby. Another major engineering problem the faced Stephenson was the Blisworth Cutting.
The 112 mile long London to Birmingham line took 20,000 men nearly five years to build. The total cost of building the railway was £5,500,000 (£50,000 a mile). The railway was opened in stages and finally completed on 17 September 1838. The line started at Birmingham’s Curzon Street Station and finished at Euston Station in London. As the Grand Junction Railway had been finished in July 1837, the four major cities in England, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool were now linked together.
The 8:00am train stopped at all stations and arrived in Birmingham at 2pm, a journey time of six hours. The fastest trains with limited stops still took five and a half hours. The trains all stopped at Wolverton for a ten minute refreshment break. Fares for the total journey ranged from 32s 6d to 20s for a one-way fare. No smoking was allowed in the carriages or the stations.
There were directors appointed in both Birmingham and in London. One of the London directors was Isaac Solly. He was at the time also head of the firm Isaac Solly & Sons, Chairman of London Dock Company for 20 years, Chairman of the British & American Steam Navigation Co. and Governor of the Royal Exchange Insurance Co. The company sent the first steamer across Atlantic built from his timber (being a Baltic Timber merchant). He was declared bankrupt in 1837 during a banking crisis. He was born 1769 and died February 1853.

The Blisworth Cutting during building. Courtesy of