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Great Northern Railway Company


Records of the Great Northern Railway Company: records relating to the Nottingham and Grantham canals 1892-1986 and the Witham Navigation 1892-1895.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

The Great Northern Railway (GNR) was formed by a merging of the Direct Northern Railway and the London & York Railway. The London & York Railway was a combination of two abortive 1836 schemes to construct railways between London and York via Lincoln or Peterborough. It was first proposed as the Cambridge & York Railway, being a line from the Eastern Counties Railway Company's station at Cambridge to York but later the promoters decided to bypass Cambridge and go directly to London, changing the name of the scheme to the London and York Railway. In 1844 a trunk route plan was revived by the London & York Railway, supported by Edmund Denison, MP for the West Riding of Yorkshire and William Cubitt as engineer. A bill was deposited in parliament for the 1846 session but was prevented from passing through the House of Lords after George Hudson (a promoter of rival schemes) found errors in the London & York Railway's subscription contract. The Direct Northern Railway would have constructed a railway between London and York via Lincoln and Thorne, its bill was also deposited in 1846 and this too was thrown out. The two schemes were united under the resurrected name of the Great Northern Railway (the name of one of the two 1836 schemes) and received Royal Assent on 26 June 1846 as the Great Northern Railway Act 1846. In 1847 Edmund Denison was appointed chairman and William Cubitt became engineer. In 1847, the Great Northern Railway bought the remainder of the lease on the Louth Navigation, Lincolnshire. The lease expired in 1876 but the railway did not apply for renewal because they were not concerned about any competition that the Louth Navigation might offer. In 1848, the railway leased the Witham and Fossdyke navigations, the same year that the Lincoln-Boston railway was completed along the Witham bank. However, steam passenger packets survived on the navigation until 1863 when the railway put on fourth-class coaches to undercut the navigation. The railway company seems to have kept up maintenance on the navigation until nationalisation. The Great Northern Railway Act authorised the construction of the Main Line from Kings Cross to a junction with the Great North of England Railway near York Station; a loop line from Marham (near Peterborough) to Bawtry via Boston, Lincoln and Gainsborough; and various branches. The loop was first opened in 1848 (Peterborough to Lincoln), with Lincoln to Gainsborough and the northern part ending at Doncaster (instead of Bawtry) opening in 1849. The Main Line from Doncaster to Retford was also opened in 1849. In 1850 the line was opened to Peterborough from a temporary station at Maiden Lane, London and Doncaster-York via Askern. By 1852 the main line from London-Doncaster (where it met the North Eastern Railway) was open, as was the new London terminus of Kings Cross. The Great Northern Railway works were completed at Doncaster in 1853, completing the southern section of what is now known as the East Coast Main Line. The Peterborough-Grantham-Retford direct route was opened in 1853 and by purchasing other railways or obtaining running powers, the Great Northern Railway gained access to Bradford, Cambridge, Halifax, Leicester and Nottingham. By 1857, a working arrangement was made with the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR), which enabled the Great Northern Railway to run London-Sheffield-Manchester express services. In 1858, the Midland Railway (MR) used the Great Northern Railway line into London from Hitchin. These developments helped to undermine the Euston Square Confederacy established by the London & North Western Railway. In 1861, the Great Northern Railway took over control of the Grantham and Nottingham canals, as part of the takeover of the Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston & Eastern Junction Railway. The Great Northern Railway did nothing to keep traffic alive. As the years went by, the canal declined and boats became fewer and fewer. By 1860, the Great Northern Railway had access to all the important West Yorkshire towns. The transport of coal from this area to London provided the Great Northern Railway with substantial revenues. Access to West Yorkshire was improved in 1866 by the joint purchase with the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway of the West Riding & Grimsby line, Doncaster-Wakefield. Established in 1879, the Great Northern and Great Eastern from Huntingdon into Lincolnshire, joined together by new construction, thwarted the ambitions of the Great Northern Railway. However, the Great Northern Railway pursued territorial interests outside its original areas of interest by jointly promoting a Manchester-Liverpool route with the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway in 1865. This expanded into Cheshire and Lancashire via the railway's involvement with the Cheshire Lines Committee, in concert with the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway and Midland Railway. Edmund Denison retired as chairman in 1864 (and general manager Seymour Clarke in 1870) and was replaced by Henry Oakley. F P Cockshott was appointed as superintendent, and under him the railway gained a good reputation as a service provider. By the 1870s, the Great Northern Railway was running more express trains than either of its main rivals, the London & North Western Railway and Midland Railway. Hauled by Patrick Stirling's single driving-wheel locomotives, they were some of the fastest in the world. The Great Northern Railway was at its most profitable in 1873. However, in 1875, the increase in revenue was out-paced by investment, and the railway risked over-extending itself by marginally profitable extensions. Access was gained to the Norfolk coast by a joint acquisition with the Midland Railway of the Eastern & Midlands Railway from 1889, the system being known as the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway. The Great Northern Railway'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 Great Northern, North Eastern and North British railways. The main express trains were the 10am departures from Kings Cross and Edinburgh Waverley which began running in June 1862. By the 1870s they were known as the Flying Scotsman. The Great Northern Railway's trains were improved and expanded from the late 1870s. Long-distance excursion traffic was developed to Skegness, the Norfolk coast and the St Ledger race meetings at Doncaster. Suburban development in North London brought a rapid increase in season ticket traffic. The City was catered for by trains running to Broad Street, following reciprocal arrangements with the North London Railway set up in 1875. Widening of the London end of the main line was completed in the 1890s. The main revenue of the Great Northern Railway was derived from freight, mainly coal, for which major marshalling yards were built at Doncaster, Colwick (Nottingham), New England (Peterborough) and Ferme Park (London). The Great Northern Railway obtained further acts of parliament, which both extended its system and enabled it to absorb other railway and canal companies. On January 1923, the Great Northern Railway became part of the London and North Eastern Railway Company by the North Eastern, Eastern and East Scottish Group Amalgamation Scheme, 1922. Under the 1923 grouping, it became part of the London & North Eastern Railway. For further information on the Great Northern Railway see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations', Rail UK at http://www.railuk.co.uk/ and The National Archives catalogue (Series details: RAIL 236 Great Northern Railway Company: Records 1844-1966) at http://www.catalogue.nationalarchives.gov.uk/default.asp.

System of arrangement

The original structure of record-keeping has been difficult to ascertain from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has been arranged into three series: Nottingham Canal, Grantham Canal and Witham Navigation; Nottingham Canal; Grantham Canal. The series fall like this as the railway company appeared to keep most of the plans for each canal separate, whilst amalgamating most of the documents. The records have been arranged chronologically within each series.

Associated material

[See also: BW30, BW53 and BW63 for records of the Nottingham and Grantham canals and Witham Navigation during other periods of ownership]