Great Northern Railway (Great Britain)

Great Northern Railway (Great Britain)

The Great Northern Railway (GNR) was a British railway company established by the London & York Railway Act of 1846.

The main line ran from London via Hitchin, Peterborough, and Grantham, to York, with a loop line from Peterborough to Bawtry (south of Doncaster) via Boston and Lincoln, and branch lines to Sheffield and Wakefield.

The main line became part of the East Coast Main Line.


The first section of line opened in 1848 between Louth and Grimsby, followed in 1849 by Peterborough to Doncaster via Lincoln. In 1850 the line opened to Peterborough from a temporary station at Maiden Lane in London, and from Doncaster to York via Askern. The contract for the first 75½ miles of the line was awarded to Thomas Brassey who worked with J. Cubitt as the engineer [Helps, Arthur "The Life and Works of Mr Brassey", 1872 republished Nonsuch, 2006, p. 108. ISBN 1845880110] . By 1852 the main line from London to Doncaster was open, as was the new London terminus of King's Cross. Doncaster locomotive works was built in 1853.

The Peterborough-Grantham-Retford direct route was opened in 1853, and by either purchasing other railways or obtaining running powers over them the GNR gained access to Bradford, Cambridge, Halifax, Leicester and Nottingham. By 1857, a working arrangement was made with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR), which enabled the GNR to run London-Sheffield-Manchester express services. From 1858 the GNR line into London from Hitchin was also used by the Midland Railway. Both these developments helped to undermine the "Euston Square Confederacy" established by the London and North Western Railway.

By the late 1850s the GNR had access to all the important West Riding towns. The profits gained from the coal traffic from this area to London prompted the Great Eastern and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways to promote a bill for a trunk line from Doncaster through Lincolnshire, but this was rejected by Parliament in both 1865 and 1871. The GNR pursued territorial interests outside its original areas of interest by jointly promoting a Manchester-Liverpool route with the MSLR in 1865. This grew with further expansion into Cheshire and Lancashire via its involvement with the Cheshire Lines Committee, in concert with MSLR and MR.

Expanding rapidly through the 1860s, the GNR was most profitable in 1873, running a more intensive service of express trains than either the LNWR or the MR. Hauled by Patrick Stirling's single-driving-wheel locomotives, its trains were some of the fastest in the world.

However, in 1875, the increase in revenue was out-paced by investment, which included items such as block signalling systems and interlocking, and improvements to stations and goods sidings. The railway risked over-extending itself by marginally profitable extensions to the CLC network and construction of lines in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire jointly with the LNWR. Access was gained to the Norfolk coast by acquisition with the MR of the Eastern and Midlands Railway in 1889, the system being known as the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway.

The GNR's role in the establishment of an Anglo-Scottish East Coast route was confirmed by establishment of the East Coast Joint Stock in 1860, whereby a common pool of passenger vehicles was operated by the GNR, North Eastern and North British Railways. The main express trains were the 10am departures from King's Cross and Edinburgh Waverley, which began running in June 1862. By the 1870s they were known as the "Flying Scotsman". The GNR's trains were improved and expanded from the late 1870s, notably with the introduction of the first regular restaurant car service in 1879 and the fitting of continuous vacuum braking by 1881.

Suburban development in North London brought a rapid increase in season ticket traffic. In 1867 the Great Northern purchased a private venture, the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway, originally to stifle competition. The line ran from Finsbury Park via Finchley to Edgware, and in 1872 a line opened to High Barnet. The City was catered for by trains running to Broad Street, following reciprocal arrangements with the North London Railway set up in 1875. Widening of the London end of the main line was completed in the 1890s.

The main revenue of the GNR was derived from freight, mainly coal, for which major marshalling yards were built at Doncaster, Colwick (Nottingham), New England (Peterborough) and Ferme Park (London). For merchandise traffic, the GNR was a pioneer of the fully-braked goods train.

Under the 1923 Grouping, it became part of the London and North Eastern Railway.

Leicester spur

A spur led from Marefield Junction on the main line, between John O'Gaunt and Tilton at Tilton on the Hill, to Leicester to the west. This had the following stations:

*Thurnby & Scraptoft
*Leicester Belgrave Rd, north of the city centre

Between Humberstone and Belgrave Road the railway crossed the Midland Main Line, but there was no interchange. Regular services from Belgrave Road ceased in 1957 and occasional ones in 1962. []

t Albans branch

In 1865 a branch line opened from Hatfield to St Albans Abbey via St Albans (London Road). It closed to passengers in 1951 [cite web |url= |title=Subterranea Britannica: SB-Sites: St. Albans London Road |accessdate=2007-02-28 |format=HTML |date=2006-03-23] and to freight in 1969. [cite web |url= |title=The Alban Way |accessdate=2007-02-28 |format=PDF |work= |publisher=St Albans Cycle Campaign |date=2005-07-21 |pages=p. 1] The track was subsequently removed and the route turned into a 6.5 mile long cycle path called the Alban Way. Public transport links between Hatfield and St Albans are now provided by local bus operators such as Arriva Shires & Essex and Uno.

Stations on the branch were:
*St Albans Abbey
*St Albans (London Road) (1865-1964)
*Salvation Army Halt (1897 - 1951)
*Hill End (1899-1964)
*Smallford (1866-1969)
*Nast Hyde Halt (1910-1951)
*Lemsford Road Halt (1942-1951)

Remnants of many of the closed stations still exist alongside the Alban Way.


ee also

* Locomotives of the Great Northern Railway
* GNR Derbyshire and Staffordshire Extension

Further reading


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