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North Midland Railway

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Title: North Midland Railway  
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Subject: Manchester and Leeds Railway, Derby, Car turntable, Railway Clearing House, Kitson and Company
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North Midland Railway

The North Midland Railway was a British railway company, which opened its line from Derby to Rotherham (Masbrough) and Leeds in 1840.

At Derby it connected with the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway and the Midland Counties Railway at what became known as the Tri Junct Station. In 1844, the three companies merged to form the Midland Railway.


The East Midlands had for some years been at the centre of plans to link the major cities throughout the country.

In York and North Midland Railway, a proposed line from York towards the industrial markets of Manchester and Liverpool. The new line would connect it, and the Manchester and Leeds Railway as part of a trunk route from the South and London to Yorkshire and the North East of England. Meanwhile financiers in Birmingham, were looking to expand their system northwards.

Normanton, and also the projected Manchester and Leeds Railway. It received Parliamentary Assent in 1836, and was completed to Masborough on 11 May 1840, and to Leeds on 1 July.


He decided the line would follow the river valleys from Derby to Leeds, with minimal gradients and large radii curves. It therefore bypassed Sheffield, but met the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway at Masborough.

Stephenson's method of working was to follow river valleys as far as possible, with branches into major towns along the way. The Sheffield people, in lobbying for the line to enter their city, engaged Joseph Locke, who believed lines should pass through towns, proceeding along hills, if necessary, with bridges, embankments and cuttings. These were the two opposing schools of thought at the time and, in this case, Stephenson had his way.

An additional advantage was that his customers would, in most cases, be transporting their goods downhill from the mines and quarries to the railhead. It should be said, however, that the North Midland was among the first of the new breed of railway conceived as a means of improved passenger travel between the great cities, particularly London, rather than, like the Midland Counties and earlier lines, an adjunct to coal mines and quarries. Indeed the rise in the coal trade, which was to become so important to the railways, had barely begun and, even a few years later, directors of the Midland Railway were questioning whether the revenue made it a worthwhile market to pursue.

In later years the Midland Railway built a diversion through Dronfield and Sheffield, which became known to railwaymen as the "New Road", as opposed to the "Old Road". It followed a route which, in 1840, would have been uneconomic to build and difficult to work.

Nevertheless, the terrain was more difficult than for the other two railways to Derby, requiring 200 bridges and seven tunnels, and an aqueduct for the railway to pass underneath the Cromford Canal. By that time, Stephenson, who was wishing to concentrate in exploiting the coal around Ashby-de-la-Zouch, delegated the responsibility for almost the entire work of its design and construction to his engineer Frederick Swanwick.[1]

The major bridges were at Oakenshaw, over the Barnsley Canal, and the Calder and Chevet Viaducts. In addition there were massive stone retaining walls for the cutting through Belper and the embankment north of Ambergate. Although the general radius of curves was a mile, gradients were as steep as 1 in 264 and practically the whole length was embanked or in cuttings, when not proceeding through a tunnel. The number of men employed was 8600, with eighteen pumping engines providing drainage. It was tough work and a number of lives were lost, particularly in the boring of the Clay Cross Tunnel. It must be said, however, that some of them were due to carelessness with blasting powder.

The track was 4 foot 8½ inch gauge either single or double parallel (see Rail track), the former 56 pounds per yard (28 kg/m), the latter 65 lb/yd (32 kg/m). A mixture of stone blocks and timber sleepers were used.[2]

Sketchmap of North Midland Railway and associated lines

Not all the stations shown above were open at the beginning. The original intermediate stations were Belper, Amber Gate, Wingfield, Chesterfield, Eckington, Beighton, Masborough, Swinton, Darfield, Barnsley, Oakenshaw, Normanton and Woodlesford. All were designed by Francis Thompson. Although praising their design, Whishaw was somewhat critical, we cannot but deplore the growing evil of expending large sums of money on railway appendages. Instead of cottage buildings, which, for the traffic of most of the intermediate stopping places on this line, would have been amply sufficient, we find the railway literally ornamented with so many beautiful villas, any one of which would grace the sloping lawn of some domain by nature highly favoured.[2]

Trains in those days, of course, had no toilets, so passengers had to use facilities at the stations while the train paused. On the North Midland at Wingfield and elsewhere, they were built under the engine house, with its water column, by which they could be flushed. Whishaw commented that it was a much better arrangement than in common use on other main lines. However, he added The doorways . . .. are in so exposed a situation as naturally to shock the female portion of travellers, who, while the trains are stopping, cannot fail to observe the constant bustle about these buildings. [2]


From the start, there was intense competition between the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway and the Midland Counties Railway for traffic into London.

Though this did not directly affect the North Midland, it had financial problems of its own. With so many earthworks it had been extremely expensive to build, and its station and other buildings were arguably extravagant. Moreover, by the time it opened, the country had entered an economic depression. In the first two years, dividends were as low as 3.5%, compared with 10% for the London and Birmingham. Economies were put in place but in 1842 the dividend was a mere 1% and the Lancashire and Yorkshire shareholders called for a Committee of Enquiry.

This included George Hudson, and after a tour of the complete network, he insisted on drastic measures. Against the wishes of the Derby directors, Hudson and the others insisted on halving expenditure. At a meeting in Leeds, the shareholders had their way, moreover six of them, including Hudson, forced their way onto the board. One of their first acts was to close Beighton, Killamarsh and Kilnhurst stations. Boys, instead of men, would work points at junctions, services were reduced and fares raised and a number of carriages were sold.

A quarter of the footplate staff were sacked. The remainder protested and were sacked as well, on Christmas Eve and without pay in lieu of notice. He employed in their place, enginemen he described as "skilled replacements" who included in their number a platelayer, a fireman, a stonemason, two had been sacked for drunkenness and one who had been sacked for overturning a train of wagons.

The result was chaos, with trains running late or erratically, and the remainder of the workforce demoralised. Finally a luggage train, with an elderly driver of only three weeks experience, collided with the rear of a stationary train at Cudworth in fog. The inquest criticised the cutbacks and there was wide publicity about the trial of the driver for manslaughter. The jury acquitted him and censured the directors. Meanwhile the Board of Trade was also extremely critical and the directors made somewhat grudging improvements to working practices.

Meanwhile the situation between the Birmingham & Derby and the Midland Counties was becoming steadily worse. Hudson's first approach was to the Midland Counties in 1843. He then negotiated a secret amalgamation with the Birmingham and Derby which would remove all the Midland Counties' trade and, in August, returned to the latter with an ultimatum. Finally, in September, its shareholders overruled their chairman and the triple merger was agreed.

The Midland Railway Consolidation Bill was placed before Parliament and was passed in 1844 and from May of that year the Midland Railway came into being.

Accidents and incidents

Present day

Derby - Chesterfield

This section of the North Midland is part of the Midland Main Line used by East Midland Trains London St Pancras-Leicester-Derby-Sheffield and CrossCountry South West-Birmingham-North East-Scotland (sometimes known as the Cross Country Route) express services. In addition, the section from Derby to Ambergate, where the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway diverged, has local services as part of the Derwent Valley Line, whilst the section north from Clay Cross is served by other East Midland Trains services on the Nottingham-Sheffield corridor.

Chesterfield - Rotherham

All passenger services north from Chesterfield now serve Sheffield. The section north from Beighton Junction to Rotherham Masborough (the "Old Road") has been freight only since July 1954, although it is very occasionally used as a diversionary route and by excursions not calling at Sheffield. It serves as a bypass line which keeps freight trains away from the congested lines through central Sheffield. In 2013 a handful of passenger trains go the "long way round" between Chesterfield and Sheffield, travelling northbound via the Old Road to Beighton Junction then turning left (west) to pass through Woodhouse and Darnall then left again to enter Sheffield station from the north. Southbound trains reverse the process.[5] The main aim of this exercise is to preserve staff route knowledge for times when diversions are necessary.

Rotherham - Swinton

This section has been subject to several changes as a result of integration with the parallel former Great Central Railway line between Sheffield and Mexborough. From 1966, Sheffield - Doncaster services were switched from Sheffield Victoria to Sheffield (Midland) station, and thus ran over the North Midland line through Rotherham Masborough as far north as Aldwarke Junction (south of Kilnhurst). In 1987, the opening of a new connecting line between Holmes Junction and Rotherham Central on the former Great Central line allowed local trains to serve a reopened Rotherham Central station, with Masbrough station closing following year. In 1990 the former freight connecting curve between Swinton Town and Mexborough was reopened, allowing passenger trains for Doncaster to use the North Midland line between Aldwarke Junction and the reopened Swinton station.

Current (2012) passenger services are CrossCountry long distance express services, and Northern Rail stopping services from Sheffield to Leeds (via Wakefield Westgate), and to Adwick or Scunthorpe (via Doncaster), along with infrequent East Midland Trains express services from London to Leeds, and Northern Rail stopping trains to York via Pontefract. The stopping trains run via Rotherham Central and only use the North Midland line north of Aldwarke Junction.

Swinton - Normanton

Stopping passenger trains between Sheffield and Leeds via Cudworth were withdrawn in January 1968, with all of the remaining stations between Rotherham Masborough and Normanton closing at that time. The section between Swinton (Wath Road Junction) and Cudworth had been plagued by mining subsidence for years, and so in October 1968 the decision was taken for safety reasons to divert all remaining passenger traffic onto the Swinton and Knottingley Railway via Moorthorpe, and thence Wakefield Westgate. This entailed the closure to passengers of the complete section from Swinton (Wath Road Junction) to Normanton (Goose Hill Junction), although it was still heavily used by freight. By May 1972 however the Swinton and Knottingley line was experiencing subsidence of its own, resulting in the reopening of the North Midland section to passengers. The early 1980s saw the Swinton and Knottingley line back in favour, and finally in 1988 this section of the North Midland section was closed to all through traffic, including freight.

Today the section from Swinton (Wath Road Junction) to Cudworth North Junction has been lifted; the entire length of well over a mile between Wath Road Junction and the site of Wath North station itself has been eradicated by a large new area of light industry and commerce called Brookfield Park, one of the largest developments of its kind in the country and part of the Dearne Valley Enterprise Zone (much of this area being the former site of Manvers Main Colliery and several others), while about three quarters of a mile of the route north of Darfield is now a road (the A6195). Cudworth North Junction to Oakenshaw survives, mostly as a single line, to serve the Ardagh Glass works on the Monk Bretton spur, but Oakenshaw to Normanton (Goose Hill Junction) is all gone.

Normanton - Leeds

This section is used by stopping and semi-fast passenger services from Sheffield to Leeds (via Barnsley), and north of Methley Junction also by Knottingley to Leeds services. The line is also an important freight corridor north from Healey Mills yard, on the former Lancashire and Yorkshire line west of Wakefield.

See also


  1. ^ Smith, J.F., (1888) Frederick Swanwick: A Sketch, Printed for private circulation
  2. ^ a b c  
  3. ^ a b Hall, Stanley (1990). The Railway Detectives. London: Ian Allan. pp. 20, 23.  
  4. ^ Hewison, Christian H. (1983). Locomotive Boiler Explosions. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. p. 30.  
  5. ^ Passenger Services Over Unusual Lines 2013, corroborated by observation and the WTT
  • Allen, R. (1842), The North Midland Railway Guide, Nottingham: R. Allen
  • Pixton, B., (2000) North Midland: Portrait of a Famous Route, Cheltenham: Runpast Publishing
  • Naylor,P. (Ed) (2000) An Illustrated History of Belper and its Environs, Belper: M.G.Morris
  • Williams, R., (1988) The Midland Railway: A New History, Newton Abbot: David and Charles
  • Williams, F.S., (1876) The Midland Railway: Its Rise and Progress Derby: Bemrose and Son
  • Billson, P., (1996) Derby and the Midland Railway Derby: Breedon Books

External links

  • Topographic map of the Sheffield area, making clear why the North Midland avoided the city
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