Great Central Railway

The Great Central Railway (GCR) was a railway company in England which came into being when the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway changed its name in 1897 in anticipation of the opening in 1899 of its London Extension (See Great Central Main Line). In 1922 it was grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway. Today, a small section of the main line line in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire is preserved, see Great Central Railway (preserved). Several other sections of GCR lines are still in public operation.


The new GCR

Upon assuming its new title, the GCR main line ran from Manchester London Road Station via Penistone, Sheffield, Brigg and Grimsby to Cleethorpes. A second line left the aforementioned 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 a line linking 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 construction of its "Derbyshire Lines", in effect the first part of its push southwards. Leaving its east - west main line at Woodhouse Junction, some 5 1/2 miles southeast of Sheffield, the line headed towards Nottingham, a golden opportunity to tap into the collieries in the north of county before reaching that city. A loop line was built to serve its new Central Station in Chesterfield.

The "London Extension"

The MS&LR had obtained Parliamentary approval in 1893 for its so-called Extension to London. On 1 August 1897 the original name of the railway was changed to become the Great Central Railway. Building work started in 1895: the new line, some 92 miles (147km) in length, opened for coal traffic on 25 July1898; for passenger traffic on 15 March 1899, and for goods traffic on 11 April 1899.

The new line was built from Annesley in Nottinghamshire to join the existing Metropolitan Railway (MetR) Extension at Quainton Road, where the line became joint MetR/GCR owned (after 1903), to return to GCR metals at near Finchley Road for the final section to Marylebone. In 1903, the new rails were laid down parallel to the Metropolitan Railway from Harrow to the junction north of Finchley Road, enabling more traffic entering/leaving Marylebone. On 2 April1906 an "Alternative Route" or "alternative main line", running from Grendon Underwood Junction to Neasden was opened. The line was joint GCR/GWR between Ashenden Junction and Northolt Junction. The line was built to increase traffic on the GCR due to capacity constraints on the Metropolitan Extension. It was also built due to various disagreements between the MetR and GCR after the resignation of Sir Edward Watkins from both companies. He resigned due to poor health. Ironically by the time the new line was built, the two companies sorted out their differences.

It was the last complete mainline railway to be built in Britain until section one of High Speed 1 opened in 2003. It was also one of the shortest-lived intercity railway lines, Expresses from London to destinations beyond Nottingham were withdrawn in 1960, and the line was completely closed to passenger trains between Aylesbury and Rugby Central in 1966, leaving villages such as Woodford Halse without a railway. A Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) shuttle service ran between Rugby Central and Nottingham (Arkwright Street) until it was also withdrawn in 1969.

Currently Chiltern Railways uses the lines south of Aylesbury for local services into London, and uses the Alternative Route south of Haddenham and the widened lines south of Neasden as the southern part of its intercity main line from Birmingham to London.

Other new lines

Joint working

Apart from the three branches in the Liverpool area noted above, the GCR lines proper in the north of England were all east of Manchester. Nevertheless, 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):

Key Officers

For those in position prior to 1899, dates are as served for the MS&LR.

General Managers

Locomotive Engineer

Chief Mechanical Engineer

GCR locomotives

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.

Pollitt's locomotives

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.

Robinson locomotives

During Robinson's regime, many of the larger express passenger engines came into being:

  • Classes B1-B9: 4-6-0 tender locomotives
  • Classes C4/5: 4-4-2 tender locomotives
  • Classes D9-11: 4-4-0 tender locomotives
  • Class J13: 0-6-0T
  • Classes L1/L3: 2-6-2T
  • Classes O4/5: 2-8-0, heavy freight locos, including ROD engines
  • Class Q4: 0-8-0 heavy shunting locomotive
  • GCR Class S1 0-8-4T used at Wath marshalling yard

Major stations

Wath marshalling yard

The new marshalling yard at Wath-upon-Dearne was opened in November 1907. It was designed to cope with coal trains, full and empty; it was worked with electro-pneumatic signalling.


Grimsby docks

Grimsby was dubbed the "largest fishing port in the world" in the early 20th century; it owed its prosperity to the ownership by the GCR and its forebear, the MS&LR. Coal and timber were also among its biggest cargoes. There were two main docks: the Alexandra Dock (named for Queen Alexandra) and the Royal Dock, the latter completed in 1852. The total area of docks was 104.25 acres (42ha). These docks were linked by the Union Dock.

Immingham Dock

This dock [71 acres (29ha)] was mainly concerned with the movement of coal, and was completed in 1912.

External links

Historical Study Group

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