The Great Central Railway in England was formed when the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway changed its name in 1897, anticipating the opening in 1899 of its London Extension. On 1 January 1923, the company was grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway.
|Dates of operation||1897–1922|
|Predecessor||Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway|
|Successor||London and North Eastern Railway|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
On assuming its new title, the Great Central Railway had a main line from Manchester London Road Station via Penistone, Sheffield Victoria, Brigg and Grimsby to Cleethorpes. A second line left the line at Penistone and served Barnsley, Doncaster and Scunthorpe, before rejoining the Grimsby line at Barnetby. Other lines linked Sheffield to Barnsley (via Chapeltown) and Doncaster (via Rotherham) and also Lincoln and Wrawby Junction. Branch lines in north Lincolnshire ran to Barton-upon-Humber and New Holland and served ironstone quarries in the Scunthorpe area. In the Manchester area, lines ran to Stalybridge and Glossop.
In the 1890s, the MS&LR began constructing its Derbyshire lines,: 128 the first part of its push southwards. Leaving its east–west main line at Woodhouse Junction, some 5½ miles south-east of Sheffield, the line headed towards Nottingham, a golden opportunity to tap into colliery traffic in the north of the county before reaching the city. A loop line was built to serve its station in Chesterfield.: 152
Argent on a cross gules voided of the field between two wings in chief sable and as many daggers erect, in base of the second, in the fesse point a morion winged of the third, on a chief also of the second a pale of the first thereon eight arrows saltirewise banded also of the third, between on the dexter side three bendlets enhanced and on the sinister a fleur de lis or. And for the Crest on a Wreath of the Colours A representation of the front of a locomotive engine between two wings Or as the same are in the margin hereof more plainly depicted to be borne and used for ever hereafter by the said Corporation of the Great Central Railway Company on seals, shields, banners or otherwise according to the Laws of Arms.
The design included elements representing Manchester (gules ... three bendlets enhanced ... or); Sheffield (eight arrows saltirewise banded); Lincoln (gules ... a fleur de lis or); Leicester (two wings); and London (Argent ... a cross gules ... daggers erect). Also represented was Mercury (a morion winged [sable]). It was used on locomotives and coaches.
The Great Central Railway (1976) Company Limited applied to the College of Arms as the successors to British Transport Commission (Loughborough to Birstall Light Railway) for permission to utilise the Coat of Arms of the GCR. A new design incorporating the same armorial components, updated in the modern style was proposed, but was rejected in favour of the original.
The MS&LR obtained Parliamentary approval in 1893 for its extension to London.: 32 On 1 August 1897, the railway's name was changed to Great Central Railway. Building work started in 1895, and the new line, 92 miles (147 km) in length, opened for coal traffic on 25 July 1898, for passenger traffic on 15 March 1899,: 132 and for goods traffic on 11 April 1899. It was designed for high-speed running throughout.
It is a commonly held myth that the nomenclature for the direction of travel on the new line was the opposite of standard UK railway practice, in that trains travelling to London were referred to as "down" trains, and those travelling away from the capital as "up" trains. It is supposed that it was a result of the GCR's headquarters at the time being in Manchester. The mileposts on the Great Central did start at zero at Manchester London Road and increase down the main line via Woodhead, Sheffield Victoria, Woodhouse, and then down the London Extension to Marylebone, 205 route miles from Manchester.
However, official documents dated 21 July 1898, detailing the method of working of mineral trains on the London Extension (used to help consolidate the new earthworks before passenger traffic began in March 1899), clearly show that the direction of travel on the new line was conventional - up to London, down to Annesley. Furthermore, contemporary descriptions in newspapers of the trains running on the new line are explicit that up trains ran to London and down trains away from it. That made the Great Central unusual amongst British railways in that its down trains went towards its "milepost zero" and up trains went away from it, but the convention of up and down trains in relation to London was retained.
The new line was built from Annesley in Nottinghamshire to join the Metropolitan Railway (MetR) extension to Quainton Road, where the line became joint MetR/GCR owned (after 1903), and returned to GCR tracks at Canfield Place, near Finchley Road, for the final section to Marylebone. In 1903, new rails were laid parallel to the Metropolitan Railway from Harrow to the junction north of Finchley Road, enabling more traffic to use Marylebone.
In 1902, the company introduced an express service from Bournemouth and Southampton to York and Newcastle upon Tyne. A year later, it began a through running express from Dover and Folkestone to Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Huddersfield, Halifax, Bradford and Manchester, avoiding London and opening up the South Coast to the Midlands and the North. The route from Banbury to Reading was over Great Western track and from there it traversed South Eastern Railway track via Aldershot and Guildford to Redhill and on to Folkestone and Dover.
At the same time, the Great Central was gaining a reputation for fast services to and from London. In May 1903, the company promoted its services as Rapid Travel in Luxury, and Sheffield without a stop, adopted on 1 July 1903, became a trademark for the company, with 163.75 miles (263.53 km) run in three hours, an average of nearly 55 miles per hour (89 km/h). Slip coaches were provided for passengers for Leicester and Nottingham.
On 2 April 1906, an "alternative main line" route from Grendon Underwood Junction near Aylesbury to Neasden in north-west London opened.: 33 The line was joint GCR/GWR between Ashendon Junction and Northolt Junction. It was built to increase traffic on the GCR by overcoming capacity constraints on the Metropolitan extension and as a result of disagreements between the MetR and GCR after the resignation of Sir Edward Watkin due to poor health. By the time the line was built, the companies had settled their differences.
The GCR line was the last complete mainline railway to be built in Britain until section one of High Speed 1 opened in 2003 and was also one of the shortest-lived intercity railway lines. Yet in its early years, its steam-hauled Sheffield expresses were the fastest in the country.
The express services from London to destinations beyond Nottingham were withdrawn in 1960.: 34 The line was closed to passenger trains between Aylesbury and Rugby on 3 September 1966.: 34 A diesel multiple-unit service ran between Rugby Central and Nottingham Arkwright Street until withdrawal on 3 May 1969.
Since 1996, Chiltern Railways has used the Great Central lines south of Aylesbury for local services into London, including the alternative route south of Haddenham and widened lines south of Neasden for its intercity main line from Birmingham to London. In 2008, in a scheme partly funded by the Department for Transport, about three miles of line north of Aylesbury as far as Aylesbury Vale Parkway was brought back into passenger use. None of these lines are currently electrified.
Work started in 2019 on developing East West Rail, which will extend passenger services north of Aylesbury Vale Parkway through Quainton Road to meet a renewed Bicester Village to Bletchley section of the old 'Varsity Line' just beyond the site of the former Great Central station at Calvert. Services are expected to start in the mid-2020s.
Apart from the three branches in the Liverpool area, the GCR lines in the north of England were all east of Manchester but GCR trains could run from coast to coast by means of joint working with other railways. The largest of those utilized in this way were those under the Cheshire Lines Committee: the other participants were the Midland Railway and the Great Northern Railway, taking in both Liverpool and Southport. Other joint undertakings were (west to east):
There were also joint lines in the south:
For those in position before 1899, dates are as served for the MS&LR.
These could generally be divided into those intended for passenger work, especially those used on the London Extension and those for the heavy freight work.
Taken over from the MS&LR, mainly of class F2, 2-4-2 tank locomotives, and also classes D5 and D6 4-4-0 locomotives.
During Robinson's regime, many of the larger express passenger engines came into being:
Only 2 GCR locomotives are preserved:
|Railway||Number and name||Type or Class||Builder||Works
|GCR||63601 (BR)[a]||8K Class
|GCR||506 Butler Henderson[b]||11F Class
|GCR Gorton||1919||4-4-0||Barrow Hill||1978–7030|
The following GCR coaches are preserved.
|Number & Name||Description||History & Current Status||Livery||Owner(s)||Date||Photograph|
|No. 946||MSLR six-wheel 5 compartment Third||Fully restored after a very long restoration. Usually on display in the Mountsorrel Museum.||GCR Chocolate and Cream||GCR Rolling Stock Trust||1888||~|
|No. 373||MSLR six-wheel Third||Awaiting extensive restoration, the body has been dismantled and flatpacked.||N/A||GCR Rolling Stock Trust||1889||~|
|No. 1076||6-wheel third||Built by MSLR for MSJAR. Operational, restored as an open saloon.||GCR chocolate & cream.||Buckinghamshire Railway Centre||1890|
|No. 1663||Robinson Clerestory lavatory brake composite||Only the body survives though being the oldest surviving Great Central carriage this is unsurprising. The body is mounted on the underframe of an ex. LMS BG, which has now become its permanent rolling chassis.||N/A.||GCR Rolling Stock Trust.||1903||
|No. 5~~||Robinson Suburban brake third||Body survives in good hands but it will require a new underframe and serious restoration work to return to service.||N/A.||GCR Rolling Stock Trust.||1905|
|No. 793||Robinson Suburban third||At present the only Great Central coach on the south section. In store at Swithland Sidings with a cosmetically restored body, which should prevent further deterioration.||GCR chocolate & cream.||Great Central Railway Plc.||1905||~|
|No. 799||Robinson Suburban third||Awaiting major restoration which will require a lot of new bodywork to be manufactured.||N/A.||GCR Rolling Stock Trust.||1905||~|
|No. 228||'Barnum' open third||Undergoing restoration at Ruddington. It will be converted into a first class bar car in due course.||N/A.||GCR Rolling Stock Trust.||1910|
|No. 664||'Barnum' open third||Will be restored when more accommodation has been built. It is intended to convert it into a dining car.||Varnished teak.||GCR Rolling Stock Trust.||1910|
|No. 666||'Barnum' open third||Sheeted up as protection from the elements. It will be restored when more accommodation has been built and 664 has been completed. It is intended to convert it into a dining car.||N/A.||National Railway Museum.||1910|
|No. 695||'Barnum' open brake third||Awaiting restoration, which is planned to incorporate a kitchen where the brake end used to be, so it will complement the rest of the Barnum set.||N/A.||GCR Rolling Stock Trust.||1911|
|No. 652||Suburban Brake Third||Built in 1916. Arrived at Quainton in 1997. Restoration started while on display inside museum, doors are inside the carriage with GCR numbering and lettering.||N/A.||Buckinghamshire Railway Centre||1916|
|M&GCJR||1||4-wheel Hand Crane||Built in 1914. Only M&GCJR-owned rail vehicle. Being restored. The original match wagon is not usable right now[when?], so an LMS wagon underframe is in its place.||Buckinghamshire Railway Centre|
Grimsby, dubbed the "largest fishing port in the world" in the early 20th century, owed its prosperity to the ownership by the GCR and its forebear, the MS&LR. Coal and timber were among its biggest cargoes. The port had two main docks: the Alexandra Dock (named for Queen Alexandra) and the Royal Dock which was completed in 1852, linked by the Union Dock. The total area of docks was 104.25 acres (42 ha).
Completed in 1912, this dock covered 71 acres (29 ha) and was mainly concerned with the movement of coal. And on 22 July 2012 the docks held an open day to celebrate 100 years of the port.
The Great Central Railway operated a number of ships.
|Notes and references|
|SS Accrington||1910||1,629||Built in 1910 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull. Sold to Clayton and Davie Limited.|
|SS Ashton||1884||1,007||Built in 1884 by E. Withy and Company, Hartlepool for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Sold to Cadeby Steam Ship Company in 1916.|
|SS Barton||1891||123||A tug built in 1891 by Hepple and Company for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Based at Grimsby Docks. Scrapped in 1936.|
|SS Blackburn||1910||1,634||Built in 1910 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull. Sank in a collision with Rook off the Norfolk coast in December 1910.|
|PS Brocklesby||1912||508||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull for the New Holland to Hull ferry service. Sold in 1935 to the Redcliffe Shipping Company and renamed Highland Queen. Scrapped in 1936.|
|SS Bury||1911||1,634||Built in 1910 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull. Scrapped in 1958.|
|SS Chester||1884||1,010||Built in 1884 by E. Withy and Company, Hartlepool for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Sunk in the River Elbe in September 1910.|
|SS Chesterfield||1913||1,013||Built in 1913 by Swan Hunter. Lost in 1918.|
|PS Cleethorpes||1903||302||Built by Gourlay Brothers of Dundee for the New Holland to Hull ferry service. Sold around 1934 to the Redcliffe Shipping Company and renamed Cruising Queen. Scrapped shortly afterwards.|
|SS City of Bradford||1903||1,341||With City of Leeds, these were the first new ships ordered by the Great Central Railway. Built by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull. Passed to the LNER in 1923 and Associated Humber Lines in 1935. but found to be surplus to requirements. Sold in 1936 to the Near East Shipping Co, London and renamed Hanne. The vessel was bombed and sunk off Malta in February 1942.|
|SS City of Leeds||1903||1,341||With City of Bradford, these were the first new ships ordered by the Great Central Railway. Built by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull. Passed to the LNER in 1923 and Associated Humber Lines in 1935. Scrapped in 1937|
|SS Dewsbury||1910||1,631||Built in 1910 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull. Scrapped in 1959.|
|PS Grimsby||1888||351||Built in 1888 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Commissioned for the New Holland to Hull ferry service. Scrapped in 1923.|
|SS Huddersfield||1872||221||Built in 1872 by J Elder of Fairfield. Wrecked in 1903.|
|SS Immingham||1906||2,009||Built in 1906 by Swan Hunter in Newcastle. Sunk on war service in 1916.|
|PS Killingholme||1912||508||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull for the New Holland to Hull ferry service. Withdrawn in 1934.|
|SS Leicester||1891||1,002||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull. A war loss in 1916.|
|SS Lincoln||1883||1,075||Built in 1883 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Sold in 1914 to Greek owners and renamed Elikon. Sunk on 2 February 1917.|
|SS Lutterworth||1891||1,002||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Entered service from Grimsby to Hamburg. Acquired by LNER in 1923. Served until 1932 when she sold to British and Irish Steam Packet Company and was scrapped the following year.|
|SS Macclesfield||1914||1,018||Built in 1914 by Swan Hunter. Transferred into Associated Humber Lines. Scrapped in 1958.|
|PS Manchester||1876||221||Built in 1876 by the Goole Engineering and Shipbuilding Company for the Humber Ferry Service. Scrapped in 1914.|
|SS Marple||1888||104||Built in 1888 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Used as a tug and tender in Grimsby and Immingham. Transferred to the LNER in 1923. Sold to the Tees Towing Company in 1947.|
|SS Marylebone||1906||2,074||Built in 1906 by Cammell Laird, Birkenhead. Sold in 1932 to the Tramp Shipping Development Company. Renamed Velos, Arafat, and Velos. Scrapped in Italy in 1938.|
|SS Northenden||1886||843||Built in 1886 by Swan Hunter in Newcastle for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Sold to Progress Company of West Hartlepool in 1909.|
|SS Nottingham||1891||1,033||Built by Swan Hunter for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Entered service when delivered with her sisters Lutterworth and Staveley on the Grimsby - Hamburg route, but transferred to Grimsby - Rotterdam in 1897. The vessel served as a naval supply vessel between 1915 and 1918 and changed her name to HMS Notts. Following refurbishment in 1919 she re-entered commercial service returning to her original name of Nottingham. Acquired by LNER in 1923 and served until scrapped in 1935.|
|SS Oldham||1888||846||Launched in 1888 and delivered in 1889 by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Used for the Grimsby to Esbjerg service. Sold to Greek owners in 1913 and renamed Eleftheria.|
|SS Retford||1883||951||Built in 1883 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Sold in 1910.|
|SS Sheffield||1877||644||Built in 1877 by J. Elder for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Sold in 1910 to Turkish owners and renamed Seyyar.|
|SS Staveley||1891||1,034||Built by Swan Hunter at Newcastle upon Tyne for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Entered service with her sisters Nottingham and Lutterworth on the Grimsby - Hamburg route. Acquired by LNER in 1923 and continued in service until sold to the British and Irish Steam Packet Company in 1932. She was scrapped a year later by Thos.W.Ward at Preston.|
|SS Stockport||1911||1,637||Built in 1910 by Earle's Shipbuilding in Hull. Sunk in February 1943.|
|SS Warrington||1886||840||Built in 1886 by Swan Hunter in Newcastle for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Ran aground on South Hasborough Sands in December 1903 and lost.|
|SS Wrexham||1902||1,414||Built in 1902 as Nord II, she was acquired by the Great Central Railway in 1905. Sunk on war service in 1919.|
Immingham museum, which portrays the role of the Great Central Railway in the building of the docks and construction of the local rail network is home to the Great Central Railway Society archive. The museum is located in the Civic Centre, Pelham Road, Immingham and is open from 1pm to 4pm, Wednesday to Saturday from March through to November.