The history of the Great Northern Railway can arguably be traced back to 1827 when a propasal was made to construct a railway line between London and York. Nothing came of the plan and it took until 1844 for the idea to be revived by the London and York Railway.
The London and York Railway proposed the construction of a main line from London via Hitchin, Peterborough and Grantham, a loop line from Peterborough to Bawtry south of Doncaster via Boston and Lincoln, and branch lines to Sheffield and Wakefield. The proposal had the support of Edmund Denison, the MP for the West Riding of Yorkshire, and William Cubitt, railway engineer.
In 1846 the proposal received Royal Assent and Edmund Denison became Chair in 1847. The history of the Great Northern Railway had begun.
A line leased between Louth and Grimsby in 1848 was the first section of the route to open, followed in 1849 by the section between Peterborough and Doncaster going via Lincoln. In 1850 the line from Peterborough to London had been completed although it terminated at a temporary station in Maida Vale, north London. At the same time the route from Doncaster had reached York via Askern.
With the new terminus constructed at Kings Cross in 1852 the main line from London to Doncaster, via Lincoln, was complete. In 1853 the railway works at Doncaster opened and the direct mainline from Peterborough to Donaster via Grantham as well. Through the purchase of other railways or obtaining running powers the Great Northern Railway also gained access to Bradford, Cambridge, Halifax, Leicester and Nottingham in the same year.
In conjunction with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway the GNR began operating direct express services between London and Manchester via Sheffield in 1857. The following year the Great Northern Railway allowed the Midland Railway to run its trains over GNR rails from Hitchin into the terminus at Kings Cross. This followed a dispute between the Midland Railway and the London and North Western Railway which stopped its use of their London terminus at Euston. Access to Manchester and the Midland Railways move to Kings Cross all acted to strengthen the hand of the Great Northern over its rival the London and North Western and undermine what was known as the Euston Square Confederacy.
By the end of the 1850’s the Great Northern Railway had access to all of the major West Yorkshire towns and hence considerable income from the transport of coal from the area to the south. In 1865 and again in 1871 the Great Eastern and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways porposed the construction of a second railway line between Doncaster and London via Lincolnshire. Their proposal was rejected on both occasions maintaining the dominance of the Great Northern.
With the North Eastern and North British Railways the Great Northern entered into the agreement for East Coast Joint Stock establishing its dominance of the East Coast Anglo-Scottish route. The Joint Stock agreement created a common pool of passenger carrying vehicles for use on the route promoting the through running of express trains. In June 1862 the 10am express services from London Kings Cross and Edinburgh Waverley commenced which in the 1870’s became known as the Flying Scotsman.
In 1864 Edmund Denison retired as Chair and was suceeded by Henry Oakley.
At the northern end of their network the Great Northern worked with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1865 to promote a route between Manchester and Liverpool. In conjunction with the Cheshire Lines Committee and the Midland Railway, they further expanded into Lancashire and Cheshire extending ther network into new territory. Access to West Yorkshire was further improved when the GNR entered into the joint purchase of the West Riding and Grimsby line between Doncaster and Wakefield with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1866.
In 1869 the efforts of the Great Northern to expand in the east were being twarted by an agreement with the Great Eastern to run joint lines from Huntingdon through March to Lincolnshire across existing and newly constructed lines.
After its period of expansion in the 1860s the Great Northern was running a more intensive service of express trains than either the London and North Western or the Midland Railways. Hauled by Patrick Stirling’s single driving-wheel locomotives, they were some of the fastest in the world and enabled the GNR to reach it most profitable state in 1873.
By 1875 though the increase in revenue was out paced by the need for investment in block signalling systems and interlocking, and improvements to stations and goods sidings. Through further expansion of the Cheshire Lines Committee network and the construction of lines in Nottignhamshire and Leicestershire under jooint control with the London and North Western Railway the GNR risked over extending itself.
Dining cars were introduced on express services in 1879 and continuous vacuum braking by 1881. At the same time the services were expanded and improved generally.
Expansion east moved forwards again in 1889 when, in partnership with the Midland Railway, the Great Northern acquired the lines of the Eastern and Midlands Railway which became the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway. This provided access as far as the Norfolk coast.
During the mid-1890s, the main line was relaid with heavier rails to accommodate larger and faster trains and more powerful locomotives designed by H.A. Ivatt. These worked sets of clerestoried carriages built for East Coast expresses and West Riding dining car trains. Elliptical roofed stock was designed by H.N. Gresley for the Great Northern Railway and East Coast joint Stock from 1905, of which some were articulated.
The Great Northern continued to grow generating its main revenue from from freight, mainly coal, for which major marshalling yards were built at Doncaster, Colwick (Nottingham), New England (Peterborough) and Ferme Park (London). For merchandise traffic, the GNR was a pioneer of the fully braked goods train. On the passenger front the GNR developed long-distance excursion traffic to Skegness, the Norfolk coast and the St. Ledger race meetings at Doncaster.
In the 1923 grouping the Great Northern Railway became part of the London and North Eastern Railway.
Added : 27/11/05 : Last Updated : 03/02/11 : MG