Gladstone's silver shovel used to start Wirral railway is up for auction

A silver-mounted wheel barrow and shovel, presented in 1892 to four-times Prime Minister William Gladstone to mark the start of work on the Wirral to Hawarden Bridge railway, is coming up for auction in London.

The items, valued at between £20,000 to £25,000, will be auctioned at the annual Gentleman's Library Sale at Bonhams in New Bond Street on January 19.

The wheelbarrow is specially inscribed to mark Gladstone's visit to cut the first sod of the railway on October 21 1892.

Although chiefly remembered as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister, Gladstone also had a srtrong association with the railways.

In 1844, as presendent of the Board of Trade, he introduced a Railway Regulation Act in an attempt to make rail travel safer and more comfortable.

This was in response to the growing numbers of working men and women who were using trains to get to work Ė mainly in dangerous and unpleasant third class carriages.

The Act was largely ineffective as rail operators complied with the letter of the law by running one service per day with decent third class facilities, usually at an anti-social time and stopping at every station - making the journey unattractively slow.

These trains became known as "Parliamentary Trains" - a term still used today to refer to services which run simply to comply with legal requirements governing the use of track and stations thus avoiding the expense and complexity of applying to Parliament to close them.