Manchester Victoria’s Telpher

Who knows what a Telpher is?

A small travelling car, usually driven by electricity, suspended from or moving on an overhead rail or cable. [3] The Dictionary of Civil Engineering [1] has this entry:

telfer, telpher, monorail: An electric hoist hanging from a wheeled cab moving on a single overhead rail, occasionally from a steel rope. It is used in factories, hung from roof girders and over dams being built. An overhead gantry may be built to carry the rail. The difference between an aerial ropeway and a rope-borne telfer is that telfers are driven by a motor in the cab, ropeways are pulled by a rope driven by a stationary engine.

A Meccano Telpher. [4]

Telpher are still used in modern factories. The image below shows a factory crane currently on sale. The green moving element is referred to as the Telpher. [7]

Manchester Victoria Railway Station had a Telpher!

At least that is the claim of an article in BackTrack Magazine. [2] The ‘telpher’ at Manchester Victoria Station did not quite comply with the definition given in the Dictionary of  Civil Engineering because it was made up of a dual rail system. Wells says: “It was erected in 1898/9 by Mather & Platt, Salford Iron Works. Two rails were suspended from the roof, comprising steel rails 4.5in by 0.75in with a gauge of 11.5in, on which a trolley machine ran on four wheels. It was designed to lift 15cwt, although the structure itself [could] withstand twice that load.”The telpher with its basket grounded on Platform 5 at Victoria Station in 1919. The signal controls the exit across the LNWR lines. This was the platform (later No. 11) which was extended to join the LNWR’s Exchange Station Platform 3 to create, on opening in 1929, what was claimed to be Europe’s longest platform. [5]

The Telpher was introduced by Sir John A. F. Aspinall, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s Chief Mechanical Engineer. It ran from the parcels office across the full width of the station. It was about 300 yards long. Over the course of an average week around 100 miles were covered moving something like 1000 baskets. [2] The rails for the Telpher can be seen in the featured image at the top of this post. [8]

The costs included 1s 6d per day in electricity and the pay of the various, usually young, operators.

It was used, primarily, to transfer parcels between the parcels office and the different platforms. At busy times parcels could also be transferred directly from one platform to another.

Three Telpher units were used. Two were in service or available to use at any one time. The third being kept as a spare in case of breakdown. Three young men were designated as operators in normal traffic conditions and the Telpher was kept active 24 hours a day. [2]

During the most busy periods, at Easter, Whitsun and Christmas, four young men were employed working 12 hour shifts and two Telpher units were kept operational throughout a 24 hour day.

After the grouping, the young men (teenagers) were supplied by the LMS Electrical Department and their wages were about 25 shillings a week (£1.25/week). [2]An excellent high level view. [9]

Fifty four baskets were provided, each measuring 5ft by 3ft by 2ft 9in. On the early shift (6.00am to 2.00pm) 30 loads were taken to various trains and the same number were returned to the Parcels Office on Platform 16. [2]

The later shifts saw, respectively, 25 loads out and 40 back, and 60 loads in both directions.

The Telpher units operated off a DC supply throughout the interwar years. In 1940, Manchester Corporation decided to change the electricity supply from DC to AC. The change would have resulted in conversion costs of around £4000. Discussions took place about the viability of the Telpher given the very high conversion costs. [2]

Over Christmas 1940, the matter was taken out of the hands of the LMS. The Blitz on the night of 23rd December 1940 destroyed the roof of the station and demolished the Telpher. It was not replaced. [6]

Another picture of the Telpher in operation. Noel Coates notes that it was an invention of Aspinwall, in 1899, to allow the rapid collection and distribution of parcels to waiting trains across the station. … At periodic intervals along its path, loading gauges were provided to allow the operator to judge if he would clear carriage roofs. (c) National Railway Museum. [10]

A sad addendum to the story of the Telpher

Alice Goulding, a 20-year-old globe cleaner for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (LYR), was killed by the telpher. Born on 12th October 1898, by age thirteen had lost her mother and her father (an engine driver). She joined the LYR as a temporary war worker in July 1918. On 27th February 1919, Alice was doing her usual daily duties. She climbed atop the roof of a carriage to clean the globes of the gas lamps, and whilst she  was walking along it, she was struck by the parcel basket and thrown onto the tracks. The telpher was being driven in reverse by a 17-year-old lad. After Miss Goulding’s death, the LYR had the telpher adjusted so that the driver always faced the direction of travel, and warned other ‘globers’ to keep a look out for the basket and to prostrate themselves flat on the carriage roof if they saw it motoring towards them. [11]


  1. Telfer/Telpher; John S Scott; Dictionary of Civil Engineering; 3rd Ed. 1980: p449.
  2. Jeffrey Wells; Manchester’s Victoria Station in Focus; BackTrack Magazine Volume 26, No. 4, April 2012; Pendragon Publishing, York: p248-252.
  3., accessed on 27th November 2018.
  4., accessed on 28th November 2018.
  5. Pendragon Collection: see [2] above.
  6. Tom Wray; Manchester Victoria Station; Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Society 2004: p72.
  7., accessed on 2nd December 2018.
  8., accessed on 9th December 2018.
  9., accessed on 9th December 2018.
  10. Noel Coates; Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Miscellany; Oxford Publishing Company, 1983, plate 5.
  11. This short sad addendum was provided for me by Helena Wojtczak and comes from her book. … H. Wojtczak; Railwaywomen; Hastings Press, 2005.

7 thoughts on “Manchester Victoria’s Telpher

  1. John Dobson

    Pity they couldn’t get John Aspinall’s name right…He was CME, later General Manager, of the L&YR

  2. lowdhamstation

    How amazing. Would love to make a working model of this, but I doubt I ever will. I wonder, did the power to the telfer come through the two rails, and was this the reason for having two, rather than one rail?

    1. rogerfarnworth Post author

      I am not sure of the answer about power supply. I think it is likely that the two rails made the whole system more stable carry both an operator and relatively large loads. Not a job that I would want!


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