Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,469 pages of information and 245,911 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Great Northern Railway

From Graces Guide
1850. Timetable.
Great Northern Railway in 1852.
1866. Built by the Yorkshire Engine Co.
1868. Express Passenger Locomotive.
1868. Express Passenger Locomotive.
1868. Express Passenger Locomotive.
1872. Goods Locomotive.
1872. Goods Locomotive.
1872. Goods Locomotive.
1880. London to York speed trials.
1888. Timetable
1888. Timetable
The Great Northern mail train. Image published in 1894.
Timetable. Picture published in 1894.
Latest express engine. Picture published in 1894.
Engine. Picture published in 1894.
1898. No. 990. Atlantic.
1900. London Road Station, Nottingham.
1900. New line at Nottingham.
1900. New line at Nottingham.
1900. New line Nottingham.
1900. New line at Nottingham.
1900. New line at Nottingham. Cave dwellings at Nottingham.
1900. New line at Nottingham.
1900. New line at Nottingham.
1900. New line at Nottingham.
1903. By Mr H. A. Ivatt.
1903. Four-Coupled Four-Cylinder Locomotive.
1904. By Mr H. A. Ivatt.
1905. No. 2 built at the Doncaster Works.


Compound Express Locomotive. 1906.
1910. Enfield and Stevenage new loop line. Windmill Hill Road Bridge and Chase Green Avenue Bridge.
1910. Enfield and Stevenage new loop line. Lavender Hill Bridge and Cattlegate Road Bridge.
1910. Enfield and Stevenage new loop line. Rendlesham Viaduct and Soper's Farm Viaduct.
August 1911.
September 1913. No. 546.
1913. Power house at Doncaster.
1913. Three-bogie twin carriages.
1913. The Royal saloon.
1913. Third-class dining car.
1913. Power plant at Doncaster Works.
September 1913.


Model of GNR Trains. September 1914.
1917. Conversion of engine 1300.
Old Photos.
Old Photos.
Old Photos.
1913. Map of GNR network.
December 1917.
January 1918.
1957. H. A. Ivatt.
Express Engine for the Great Northern Railway, 1866.
Locomotives 1847-1877.
Locomotives 1868-1902
1875. Class 901. Built at Gateshead. Exhibit at the Shildon Locomotion Museum.
1908. Full Passenger Brake Coach No. 109. Built at Doncaster. Exhibit at the Shildon Locomotion Museum.


December 1957. From the Railway Magazine.
c1848. Railway Crane and Match Truck built at Doncaster exhibit at the Shildon Locomotion Museum.

of Kings Cross Station, London and of Wellington Street, Leeds.

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

The Great Northern was the youngest of the dozen or so principal British railways. Whilst a communication between London and York via Cambridge was discussed in 1835, it was not until 1844 that a more direct route was seriously considered and not until 1846 that powers were obtained.[1]

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

1844 April 17th. First announcement of the revived project made in The Times: "From London to York, through Hitchin, Biggleswade, Huntingdon, Stamford, Grantham, Newark, Gainsborough and Doncaster; joining the Leeds and Selby and York and North Midland Railways near South Milford, with branch lines to Bedford and Lincoln, and a junction with the Manchester and Sheffield Railway" [2]

1844 May 3rd. The first prospectus of the Great Northern Railway (initially called the London and York Railway) was issued.

1844 May 23rd. James Walker who had undertaken several previous surveys of the route resigned [3]

1844 Joseph Locke accepted the position of Engineer to replace Walker.

1844 August 22. Following the revised survey by Locke the published route said that the London terminus would be "at King's Cross, near the New Road" and that the route would pass by "Crouch End, Hornsey, Colney Hatch, between Whetstone and East Barnet, near to Potter's Bar, west of Hatfield Park to Hatfield, by Welwyn, Hitchin, Henlow, Biggleswade, Sandy, with a branch to Bedford, by Tempsford, St. Neots, on the west side of Huntingdon, by Peterborough, east of Stamford, by Grantham and Stubton to Beckenham with a branch 4.5 miles to Newark, by Doddington with a branch of 4.5 miles to the city of Lincoln, by the village of Lea to Gainsborough, by Misson, Tinningley and Cantley to Doncaster, thence on to York."

1844 September 20th. Locke resigned as Engineer. The following day William Cubitt was appointed to that position

1844 Plans were deposited in that year's parliamentary session for the following lines:

  • Main line London to York of 186 miles
    • Loop from Peterborough to Bawtry via Boston and Lincoln of 86 miles.
    • Branch from Bawtry to Sheffield of 20.75 miles.
    • Branch from Doncaster to Wakefield of 20.25 miles.
    • Branch to Bedford.
    • Branch from Stamford to Spalding.

The total proposed mileage was 327.5 miles with 14.5 million cubic yards of earthworks, 14 tunnels, 420 bridges, a viaduct at Welwyn of 1,490 feet in length and 89 feet at its highest point, and 42 stations including King's Cross on a 59 acre site.

1844 The line passed its second reading in the Commons despite fierce opposition from the London and Birmingham Railway and the newly formed Midland Railway and the proposed Direct Northern Railway, who at that time had a monopoly of the London to Leeds and York traffic, and despite an adverse report from the Board of Trade.

1845 In this Parliamentary session, the sheer number of railway projects (246) plus opposition from established companies and from rival projects meant that the London and York bill, although not defeated, failed by running out of time. The main opposition was lead by the actions of George Hudson with the support of Robert Stephenson to benefit their Eastern Counties Railway proposal.

1845 Benjamin Cubitt was appointed Superintendent Engineer of the Locomotive Department of the Great Northern Railway.

1846 An amalgamation contract was signed with the proposed Direct Northern Railway where it was agreed their funds would be combined to complete the London and York line.

1846 June 26. The London and York bill finally received Royal assent. The bill granted powers to construct the main line and loop lines.

1846 July 25th. First General Meeting of the company held. William Astell is Chairman.

1846 The company was incorporated. [4]

The Great Northern began construction first on the Peterborough to Gainsborough section of the loop line, as the ease of construction over the flat fens promised an earlier return on investment.

The contract for the first 75.5 miles of the line was awarded to Thomas Brassey who worked with J. Cubitt as the engineer.

On 30 June 1847, the GNR obtained running powers over the LYR from Askern to Wakefield via Knottingley, and also from Knottingley to Methley on the Midland, and on 16 October the Midland agreed to allow the GNR to run from Methley to Leeds.

1848 Because a proposed branch from Bawtry to Sheffield had been rejected by Parliament, it was thought better for the loop line to rejoin the towns line at Rossington instead, so no work was done on the loop north of Gainsborough. The GNR suffered a setback in 1848 when this deviation was rejected, but arrangements were soon made to use the MS&LR's authorized line from Sykes Junction (on the loop line north of Lincoln) to Retford and then via their own main line, and contracts for both of these lines were quickly let.

1848 The first section of line was opened on 1 March 1848 and was the Louth to Grimsby section of the East Lincolnshire Railway, which although nominally independent, was leased to the GNR from the start.

1848 On the 17 October, the loop line opened between Werrington Junction and Lincoln, with GNR trains using the Midland line from Werrington Junction to Peterborough.

The first section of GNR proper to be opened was the 3 miles from Doncaster to Askern Junction, where an end on connection was made with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway line from Knottingley.

1849 The GNR and MS&LR lines allowing through running from Lincoln to Doncaster via Retford opened on 4 September 1849

1850 On 23 February 1849, the York and North Midland Railway agreed in principle to give the GNR running powers from Burton Salmon to York, and also over a new line to be built from Knottingley to Burton Salmon. This new line was opened in June 1850, at which time the agreement was formalised and in return the GNR agreed not to proceed with its own main line from Askern to York via Selby.

During 1846-1849 George Turnbull was the resident engineer under William Cubitt for the London District of the Great Northern Railway. Turnbull oversaw the construction of the first 20 miles of line out of London, including bridges, multiple cuttings and the Copenhagen, Tottenham, South Barnet, North Barnet and South Mimms tunnels (he was particularly proud of the alignment of the tunnels). In December 1848 he was busy with the plans for King's Cross station and passing the line under the Regent's Canal. On 2 February 1849 the last capstone on Holloway Bridge was set in place. On 27 March the first brick for Copenhagen Tunnel was laid by Edward Purser. The first brick of the East Barnet tunnel was laid on 23 April. There was much trouble with the cement in Tottenham and South Mimms tunnels: Turnbull stopped the use of cement — blue lias was substituted (this was made by burning the blue clay from the tunnels and grinding it).

1850 The branch from Hitchin to Royston and on to Shepreth was opened in March 1850 and worked by the GNR. This line was meant to connect with a previously authorized GER line at Shepreth. The GER had not built this line but opposed GNR powers to extend from Shepreth to Cambridge themselves. An agreement was reached for the GER to build the Shepreth to Cambridge section and then work the whole line from Hitchin to Cambridge for 14 years, with the GER taking over the expensive guarantee that the GNR had given to the Hitchin & Royston company.

1850 The Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston and Eastern Junction Railway (ANB&EJR) opened from Colwick, near Nottingham, to Grantham in July 1850 (using a temporary station in Grantham pending completion of the town's line).

On 7 August 1850, the main line opened from a temporary station at Maiden Lane, London, to Peterborough.

1852 Edmund Denison was Chairman of the company

1852 The remaining section between Peterborough and Retford opened in 1852, as did the new London terminus at King's Cross, designed and built by the architect Lewis Cubitt.

May 1852 the GNR agreed to work the ANB&EJR line, but the agreement was opposed by the Midland, and it was not until 1861 that the GNR got formal possession. Midland obstruction of GNR through traffic in Nottingham led to the ANB&EJR seeking powers to build a parallel line from Colwick to its own station in Nottingham at London Road.

1853 Doncaster locomotive works opened in 1853, replacing temporary facilities at Boston.

On 1 August 1854, the Leeds, Bradford and Halifax Junction Railway opened between Leeds and Bowling Junction near Bradford. By running powers over this line and a section of the LYR, the GNR obtained access to Bradford and Halifax.

In 1857, the West Yorkshire Railway opened their direct line from Wakefield to Leeds via Ardsley. The GNR had running powers over this line and immediately began using it instead of the Midland line via Methley.

1857 The LB&HJR opened a direct line from Ardsley to Laisterdyke, near Bradford. In 1851, by agreement with the MS&LR, the GNR began a London to Manchester via Retford service, and from 1859 GNR trans also ran to Huddersfield via Penistone.

By the end of the 1850s, the GNR had gained access to most of West Yorkshire, although without at this time owning any lines beyond Askern Junction, a few miles north of Doncaster. The profits gained from the coal traffic from this area to London prompted the Great Eastern Railway and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway to promote a bill for a trunk line from Doncaster through Lincolnshire, but this was rejected by Parliament in both 1865 and 1871.

1857 East of Grantham, the Boston, Sleaford and Midland Counties Railway opened from near Grantham to Sleaford in June 1857 and on to Boston in April 1859. Independent companies also built branches from Essendine to Stamford and Bourne and from Welwyn to Hertford and to Dunstable via Luton, all of which were worked by the GNR.

From 1858 the GNR line into London from Hitchin was also used by the Midland. This and the agreements with the MS&LR helped to undermine the "Euston Square Confederacy" established by the London and North Western Railway.

GNR agreements with the MS&LR also led to the GNR investing in lines between Manchester and Liverpool. The Midland also became involved, and an extensive joint line grew which became known as the Cheshire Lines Committee.

1861 The Welwyn & Hertford Railway opened in March 1858, and in 1860 it opened another line to Luton and Dunstable. In 1861, now called the Hertford, Luton & Dunstable, it was absorbed by the GNR.

1861 Also acquired in 1861 was the ANB&EJR line from Nottingham to Grantham.

1862 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, the North Eastern and the North British. The main express trains were the 10am departures from King's Cross and Edinburgh, which began running in June 1862. By the 1870s they were known as the Flying Scotsman.

On 1 October 1863, the GNR began a shuttle service from King's Cross to Farringdon Street via the city widened lines, but through suburban services did not use this line until 1 March 1868, and then were extended to Moorgate Street on 1 June 1869.

1864 The GNR was authorised to complete a loop at Gainsborough to rejoin the main line at Doncaster in order to avoid having to reverse into Gainsborough station. This opened on 15 July 1867.

1864 The GNR acquired BS&MCR (Boston to Sleaford) and the Bourn and Essendine lines, leased the West Yorkshire (Wakefield to Leeds with branches to Batley and Ossett) and took a one third share in the Methley Joint (Castleford to Lofthouse & Outwood).

1865 a branch line opened from Hatfield to St Albans Abbey via St Albans (London Road). It closed to passengers in 1951 and to freight in 1969.

1865 Acquired the Leeds, Bradford & Halifax and the West Yorkshire.

1866 At the end of the 14 year agreement with the GER, the GNR resumed working the Hitchin and Shepreth line and began running through to Cambridge.

1 August 1866, the GNR made an agreement with the Midland to jointly work the Eastern and Midland Railway, comprising a line from Bourne to King's Lynn via Spalding. The GNR gave the Midland running powers from Stamford to Bourne via Essendine in return for the Midland dropping a proposed line from Saxby to Bourne.

1866 North of Doncaster, the GNR opened the West Riding and Grimsby Railway in February 1866, a joint venture with the MS&LR, giving the GNR a new direct express line to Wakefield and the West Yorkshire Railway's onward lines to Leeds, Bradford and Halifax, which it had bought out the previous year.

1867 Three new lines opened were March to Spalding on 1 April, Honington to Lincoln on 15 April and Gainsborough to Doncaster on 15 July. These lines were partly tactical, with a view to blocking repeated GER and LYR proposals for a new north-south line through the area.

Also opened in 1867, on 22 August, was the Edgware & Highgate Railway from Severn Sisters Road to Edgware, which had been acquired by the GNR in June 1866.

1868 Consulting Engineer is James Cubitt; Engineer is Richard Johnson.[5]

1868 Seven Sisters Road station, a few miles north of King's Cross, which had been opened on 1 July 1861, was renamed Finsbury Park when a new public park of that name opened nearby in August 1868.

1873 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.

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.

A number of branch lines were opened in the 1870s, including

  • 1870 Opened the Bourne to Sleaford line
  • 1871 Opened the Wood Green to Enfield line
  • 1872 Opened the Finchley to High Barnet line
  • 1873 Opened the Highgate to Alexandra Palace and Wainfleet to Skegness lines
  • 1874 Opened the Ossett to Dewsbury line
  • 1875 See 1875 Number of Locomotives where they are ranked 5th of the major lines with 533 locomotives.
  • 1875 Opened the Bradford to Shipley and Sedgebrook to Barkston lines
  • 1878 Opened the Newark to Bottesford and the Pudsey Greenside branch lines
  • 1879 Opened the Queensbury to Ovenden line. This completed a new route from Bradford to Halifax.

The increasing London suburban traffic caused problems in the King's Cross area, as there were only 2 tracks through the various tunnels, and also goods trains entering King's Cross goods yard had to cross the down line on the level. Pending doubling of the tunnels, a connection was made between Finsbury Park and the North London Railway at Canonbury, and some suburban traffic then ran into Broad Street. The Broad Street trains were operated by the NLR as the LNWR, part owners of Broad Street, blocked GNR attempts to gain access.

Also in the 1870s, the GNR participating in various extensions to the CLC network in Lancashire, thereby risking overextending itself on marginally profitable lines well outside its natural territory.

Much more promising was the development of the Derbyshire and Staffordshire extension, which promised good returns by tapping the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields. The Erewash valley line was in use for coal trains by 1875, and complete opening from Nottingham to Egginton Junction via Gedling, Daybrook and Derby Friargate came in April 1878. But in order to overcome local opposition, the GNR had had to agree to LNWR running powers from Burton-on-Trent, which somewhat diminished the value of the investment.

1876 Accident - On January 21st, as a consequence of a heavy fall of snow, the signals at two boxes north of Abbots Ripton on the Great Northern failed to go from "clear" to "danger" after the passage of a coal train, and whilst that train was being shunted into the up refuge siding to allow for the passage of the up Scotch express it was run into by the latter. There were no fatalities as a result of that collision, but before the express for Leeds could be stopped it ran into the vehicles of the Scotch train that had fouled the down line and thereby thirteen passengers were killed.[6]

1879 The LNWR had even better access from December 1879 with the opening of the GN&LNWR joint line from Melton Mowbray to Market Harborough, the northern section having already opened on 30 June.

The early 1880s began badly for the GNR for a number of reasons: Coal strikes and poor harvests reduced income from goods traffic. Floods forced the complete closure of the Spalding to Bourn line from 9 October 1880 until 1 February 1881, this was a Midland & Eastern line worked by the GNR, and the GNR found themselves paying the lease on a line they could derive no revenue from.

1881 Sutton Bridge Docks opened on 14 May 1881, into which the GNR had invested £55,000, but within a few days the docks began to subside due to being built on unstable ground. The engineers could find no remedy and the investment was written off.

Better news was the excellent returns from the coal traffic over the Derbyshire extension line. To consolidate this, in the 1880 session the GNR introduced a bill for a branch from Bulwell to Newstead, and this opened for coal traffic in July 1881 and for passengers on 2 October 1882.

1881 the GNR bought out the Stafford and Uttoxeter Railway, reached from the Derbyshire extension by running powers over the North Staffordshire Railway.

1882 The Spalding to Lincoln direct line opened from Spalding via Sleaford to Ruskington on 6 March 1882 and on the Lincoln on 1 August, on which date the Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint Railway came into being comprising in addition to the new Spalding - Lincoln line, the former GNR March to Spalding and Lincoln to Doncaster lines and the former GER Huntingdon to March line plus the Ramsey branch from Somersham. To the GER this was the line to the Yorkshire coal fields they had long been seeking, to the GNR it provided a new alternative line for freight from Huntingdon to Doncaster to relieve pressure on the main line. In the first five months of the joint line, the GNR lost £50,000 due to diverted traffic, but according to Lord Colville, chairman of the GNR, it was better to have half the receipts of a joint line than to have to compete with a new entirely foreign through line.

1883 The Leicester branch from the GN&LNWR joint line at Marefield Junction opened on 1 January 1883

1884 Opened the Thornton to Denholme line on 1 January 1884 and on to Keighley on 1 November.

1888 See Locomotive Stock June 1888 where they are listed 6th with 795 locomotives.

1888 The Midland & Eastern Railway obtained powers to build a new connection to the Midland from Bourn to Saxby, citing the difficulty of operating through traffic from Bourn to Stamford via Essendine. The act also gave the Midland powers to absorb the Bourn and Lynn and the Peterborough, Wisbeach and Sutton Bridge. This posed a menace to GNR interests, and as a result the GNR made an agreement with the Midland to jointly acquire the western section of the Eastern & Midland.

1889 Consulting Engineer is John Fowler. Engineer is Richard Johnson. Assistant Engineer is T. W. Horn. Loco Engineer is Patrick Stirling.[7]

Widening of the London end of the main line was completed in the 1890s.

1896 Alexander Ross was appointed chief engineer

1908 The company owns in all, including its proportion of joint lines, 974 miles of road. [8]

1911 Alexander Ross retired from his position as Chief Engineer[9] and was succeeded by Charles John Brown.

1913 28th November. Supplement to The Engineer with much detail on the railway and its engines.

WWI: various economies were made beginning on 22 February 1915 with a general reduction of train services. Trains tended to become fewer, but longer. An agreement was also reached with the Great Central Railway and Great Eastern Railway regarding the common use of wagons. Further economies were made in 1916 when the Nottingham to Daybrook and Peterborough to Leicester services were withdrawn, never to be reinstated.

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

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1924/11/14
  2. The Times, Wednesday, Apr 17, 1844
  3. The Times, Thursday, May 23, 1844
  4. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  5. 1868 Bradshaw's Railway Manual
  6. The Engineer 1924/12/05
  7. 1889 Bradshaw's Railway Manual
  8. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  9. The Engineer 1911/09/29, p 342.