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North Eastern Railway


Records of the North Eastern Railway: plans and conveyances concerning the rivers Ure and Derwent, Market Weighton Canal and Pocklington Canal 1901.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

The North Eastern Railway was formed after the amalgamation of the important York & North Midland, the Leeds Northern and the York, Newcastle & Berwick railway companies. That year, 1854, it also bought the smaller Malton & Driffield Junction, and Blythe & Tyne railways. The 700 miles of railway were administered from headquarters at York. Between 1862 and 1865 the North Eastern Railway took over three other railway companies: South Durham & Lancashire, Stockton & Darlington and West Hartlepool. These were the most ambitious and posed the biggest sources of competition. In 1868 the North Eastern Railway embarked on building 26 miles of track from Durham to Gateshead and from Doncaster to York. Almost as soon as that was completed in 1871, work began on an imposing new station, York, that was finished in 1877. Difficult negotiations, rapid expansion and the semi-assimilation of the different companies brought problems. Four serious accidents took place on the North Eastern Railway in 1870, and the resulting investigation blamed poor integration of management styles between the separate companies, general mismanagement and the lack of safety measures that were commonplace on other railways. On reading the report, the North Eastern Railway sacked their general manager William O'Brien, and appointed Henry Tennant. The reforms he planned were expensive and extensive, but the North Eastern Railway acknowledged their necessity and had the means to carry them out. The 50th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway came about in 1875. As the company had been absorbed by the North Eastern Railway, they organised a lavish and expensive celebration. Throughout the 1870s the annual dividend paid was never less than eight per cent, despite the decline in the traffic of raw materials on which the railway depended, so the North Eastern Railway had good cause to be in a festive mood. Despite its successes, there were serious weaknesses in the way the North Eastern Railway was run. It held a virtual monopoly in its region and therefore rarely bothered communicating with other railway companies. The North Eastern Railway allowed local concerns to influence, occasionally dominate, their business practices in ways that were not always to the North Eastern Railway's benefit. For example, ironmasters in the northeast convinced the North Eastern Railway to continue using iron rails until 1877, long after every other large railway company had changed to steel. Staff were extremely set in their ways. They were competent and experienced, but reluctant to modernise. When, in the 1880s, locomotive superintendent Alexander McDonnell introduced some very sensible changes, such was the outrage amongst enginemen that McDonnell was forced to resign. Around the same time, passenger superintendent Alexander Christison refused to send a representative to a Railway Clearing House meeting on revising railway companies' telegraphic codes. His reasoning was that the North Eastern Railway were not going to change and if other companies did it was no concern of the North Eastern Railway's. the North Eastern Railway was begrudged in many places. Hull, for instance, resented the agreements regarding the pooling of freight receipts and the absorption of West Hartlepool Railway. Further frustration was caused by the Hull Dock Company's inability to deal with shipping problems. The Hull Barnsley & West Riding Junction Railway, authorised in 1880, was to be an independent rival railway to the North Eastern Railway, linking southern and western coalfields to a large new dock. Both railway and dock were finished in 1885, but the North Eastern Railway were easily able to out-compete the new company, which went into receivership just two years after it opened. It refused to consider amalgamating with the North Eastern Railway but the two companies did at least make terms. In 1914, they co-operated to build the deep-water King George V Dock. Henry Tennant was replaced as general manager in 1891 by G S Gibb. Gibb was of the opinion that the company was stagnating because the senior management resisted innovation. Gradually he was able to replace them with men who shared his ideas. Other companies regarded many of his traffic and management reforms with amusement or dismay. The North Eastern was the first railway that negotiated directly with trade unions on wages and working hours. It was also one of the first to begin electrifying its lines, in 1902, but had not completed them all before World War One halted their plans. By the time G S Gibb left in 1906, the benefits of his practices were apparent and the North Eastern Railway was regarded as one of the most progressive railway companies. Fortunately for the company, Gibb's successor A Kaye Butterworth continued his style of management. The Hull & Barnsley Railway did amalgamate with the North Eastern Railway in April 1922 and the next year the North Eastern Railway merged to form a new company, the London & North Eastern Railway.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The records have, therefore, been throughlisted in chronological order.