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Great Central Railway

For the related main line see Great Central Main Line; for the heritage railway see Great Central Railway (preserved); for other uses see Great Central
Great Central Railway
Industry Railway
Fate Merged
Predecessor Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway
Successor London and North Eastern Railway
Founded 1897
Defunct 1922
Headquarters Manchester, England
Key people
Sir William Pollitt
General manager
Products Rail transport

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). On 1 January 1923, it was grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway. Today, small sections of the main line in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire are preserved; see Great Central Railway (preserved). Several other sections of GCR lines are still in public operation, including the southern end of the line from Marylebone Station in London into the Chiltern region. The main line route south of Nottinghamshire was closed down on the recommendation of Richard Beeching in the 1960s. In the 21st century there are a growing number of voices (notably the Economic Research Council) calling for restoration and electrification of the GCR route to modern standards. It would then create a cost-efficient and geographically advantageous dedicated high-speed passenger railway between London and the major northern cities of Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds - in preference to the HS2 greenfield project.[1]


  • History 1
    • The new GCR 1.1
    • The "London Extension" 1.2
  • Other new lines 2
  • Joint working 3
  • Key officers 4
    • General Managers 4.1
    • Locomotive Engineer 4.2
    • Chief Mechanical Engineer 4.3
  • GCR locomotives 5
    • Pollitt's locomotives 5.1
    • Robinson locomotives 5.2
  • Major stations 6
  • Wath marshalling yard 7
  • Accidents and incidents 8
  • Docks 9
    • Grimsby docks 9.1
    • Immingham Dock 9.2
  • Coat of arms 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


The new GCR

Upon assuming its new title, the GCR main line ran from Manchester London Road Station via Penistone, Sheffield Victoria, 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 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 5½ miles southeast of Sheffield, the line headed towards Nottingham, a golden opportunity to tap into the collieries in the north of the county before reaching that city. A loop line was built to serve its new station in Chesterfield.

The "London Extension"

The MS&LR had obtained Parliamentary approval in 1893 for its extension to London. On 1 August 1897, the original name of the railway was changed to Great Central Railway. Building work started in 1895: the new line, some 92 miles (147 km) in length, opened for coal traffic on 25 July 1898; for passenger traffic on 15 March 1899, and for goods traffic on 11 April 1899. It was designed for high-speed running throughout. As a Sheffield company, it retained its nomenclature when the London extension opened. Trains to London were still "Down" trains, the opposite of standard practice on every other main line to the capital.

Marylebone station frontage

The new line had been 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 tracks 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 to use Marylebone. On 2 April 1906, an "Alternative Route" or "alternative main line", running from Grendon Underwood Junction to Neasden was opened. The line was joint GCR/GWR between Ashendon Junction and Northolt Junction. The line was built to increase traffic on the GCR by overcoming 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 Watkin from both companies. He resigned due to poor health. Ironically, by the time the new line was built, the two companies had settled their differences.

The GCR network in 1903, showing the 'London Extension' and the proposed 'Alternative Main Line'. The red lines show GCR lines and lines owned/operated jointly by the GCR and other companies. The thin black lines are other companies' lines.

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. Yet in its early years its steam-hauled Sheffield expresses were the fastest trains in the country.[2] Unlike the British trunk lines built fifty years earlier such as the Great Northern Railway and the Midland, and most difficult of all the LNWR over Shap, the GCR was designed from the outset for high-speed passenger services. Despite that its express services from London to destinations beyond Nottingham were withdrawn in 1960, and the line was completely closed to passenger trains between Aylesbury and Rugby on 3 September 1966, leaving important places such as Brackley and Woodford Halse without a railway service of any kind. A diesel multiple unit service ran between Rugby Central and Nottingham (Arkwright Street) until it was also withdrawn on 5 May 1969.

Since 1996 Chiltern Railways has used the lines south of Aylesbury for local services into London, and has used 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. In 2008, as part of a scheme partly funded by the Department for Transport, about three miles of the line north of Aylesbury as far as the new Aylesbury Vale Parkway station were brought back into passenger use.

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):

There were also joint lines in the south:

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: 2-6-4T
  • Classes O4/5: 2-8-0, heavy freight locos, including ROD engines
  • Class Q4: 0-8-0 heavy freight locomotive
  • GCR Class 8H (LNER 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.

Accidents and incidents

  • On 30 March 1889, an excursion train was derailed at Penistone, Yorkshire due to a failure of an axle on the locomotive hauling it. A mail train ran into the wreckage at low speed. One person was killed and 61 were injured.[3]
  • On 23 December 1904, an express passenger train was derailed at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire due to excessive speed on a curve. Another express passenger train ran into the wreckage at low speed. Four people were killed.[4]
  • On 2 February 1908, the driver of a freight train sneezed, his head collided with that of his fireman, knocking both of them out. Due to excessive speed, a van in the train derailed approaching Notton and Royston station, Yorkshire and the train overran signals there. It derailed completely at Ryhill.[5]
  • On 13 December 1911, a freight train ran away and was derailed at Wombwell Central station, Yorkshire. Both locomotive crew were killed.[5]
  • Circa 1913, a coal train was derailed at Torside, Derbyshire. The crew of the locomotive may have been overcome by fumes in the Woodhead Tunnel.[6]


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 (42 ha). These docks were linked by the Union Dock.

Immingham Dock

This dock—completed in 1912—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.

Coat of arms

The GCR Coat of Arms borne by the preserved Class 11F locomotive no. 506 Butler–Henderson

The Great Central Railway was the first railway to be officially granted a coat of arms. This was granted on 25 February 1898 by the Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy Kings of Arms as:

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 both locomotives and coaches.[7]

The London and North Eastern Railway and the British Transport Commission, the legal successors of the GCR, were each granted Arms of their own; both of these incorporated the GCR motto Forward.[7]

The Great Central Railway (1976) Company Limited was able to apply 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.


  1. ^ the ERC's quarterly journal B&O on the subject, published in Summer 2014.
  2. ^ The Trains We Loved by C Hamilton Ellis
  3. ^ Earnshaw, Alan (1991). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 7. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 7.  
  4. ^ Trevena, Arthur (1981). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 2. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 22.  
  5. ^ a b Earnshaw, Alan (1993). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 8. Penryn: Atlantic Books. pp. 5–6.  
  6. ^ Trevena, Arthur (1980). Trains in Trouble. Vol. 1. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 25.  
  7. ^ a b  

External links

  • Lists of LNER locomotives, including those of the GCR taken over at grouping
  • Homepage of the Great Central Railway Society
  • Homepage of the Great Central Railway (Leicestershire)
  • Homepage of the Great Central Railway (Nottingham)
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