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The Great Central Railway: What Really Happened

The Great Central Railway: What Really Happened

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The Great Central Railway: What Really Happened

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Lançado em:
Jan 30, 2021


For generations of railway enthusiasts and more lately for social historians, the life and times of the former Great Central Railway and in particular its extension towards London in the 1890s and closure seventy years later, have generated considerable interest and controversy.

Although many books have been written about the Railway, the majority in recent times have concentrated upon providing a photographic record and a nostalgic look in retrospect to what was generally perceived as happier times for the route.

None of the books have presented the outcome from thorough research into the business aspects of the Railway and its successive private (LNER) and public (BR) ownerships through war and peace, and times of industrial, social and political change, that influenced and shaped the demand for a railway service.

While retaining a strong railway theme throughout, the book identifies the role played by successive governments, the electricity and coal industries and the effect of social change that, together resulted in a case for closure.

The content of the book replaces much supposition with fact and places on record what really happened.

The final part of the book acknowledges the fine work over half a century of volunteers dedicated to saving a section of the line in Leicestershire.
Lançado em:
Jan 30, 2021

Sobre o autor

John Palmer was born into a railway family, who have served the industry for many generations, living near Derby and the Midland Main Line from St Pancras to Sheffield. He is a life-long railway enthusiast and professional railwayman. John spent thirty-three years in the industry and his work took him to nineteen different countries. Although the author has spent most of his working life with diesel and electric traction, his first love was always steam and the period on the Midland main lines, after the 1955 modernisation plan. Since his retirement, he has been involved in railway historical research and also as a director of the preservation group restoring BR Standard Class 5 4-6-0, 73156.

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No book about the Great Central Railway would be complete without an extensive reference to Sir Edward Watkin. The development of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (MS&L) – which later became known as the Great Central Railway (GC) – covered over forty years of his working life. A man who at the end of his days on earth attracted such diverse obituary notes as the following must surely be worth understanding:

‘He could not claim to be a financier or administrator.’

The Railway Times, 20 April 1901

‘As a railway financier he was unequalled.’

Finance, 20 April 1901

‘He was a great railway administrator’

The Sphere, 20 April 1901

‘Of the details of railway management, he had no mastery whatever.’

Engineering, 19 April 1901

‘His talent for reducing chaos to order … was little short of genius.’

Commerce, 17 April 1901

Watkin was far more than the man who was held as responsible for the building of the last main line railway in Britain – the GC. He held general management, director and chairman roles with several railways, he was inter alia also a Justice of the Peace, a Member of Parliament, an editor and a benefactor to causes he held dear throughout his life.

The limits of my research were to try to ‘find’ and understand the context of the time in which Watkin lived and worked, what ‘drove’ him and what, in particular, shaped his approach to the management of finance. To understand Watkin is to largely understand the Great Central.

Born in 1819 in Salford, Edward was the first of three sons of Absalom Watkin. Absalom was the owner of a textile business and, being the owner, it allowed time to devote himself to more pleasurable activities in supporting cultural and intellectual societies, facing up to social and political aspects of those turbulent years of industrialisation, poverty, unemployment and poor working conditions. He had been disturbed by the putting down by militia of the Peterloo protest of 1819 against conditions and civil indignity of the workforce of the developing industries and the imprisonment of a friend who had spoken out on behalf of the working classes. Edward and his brothers, as well as their older sister, were fortunate to be raised by parents who provided a safe, Christian environment for development, exploring the home library containing books on history, grammar, politics, travel, medicine, poetry, religion, science and philosophy. No doubt the young Edward would have had explained to him the significance of the Great Reform Act of 1832 and, as he grew, he was taken to large public gatherings to hear the visiting orators speak on politics, expansion of the British Empire and the benefits to all of free trade. That Edward became confident from an early age and was influenced by his father’s beliefs and approach to working hard to modestly and unobtrusively improve the lot of working people cannot be in any doubt. Edward attended grammar school and at age 14 started work in the warehouse of his father’s business.

The late 1820s and into the 1830s provided demonstrations of the power of steam locomotion and the proximity to his home of the continuing construction of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&M) – opened in 1830 – allowed Edward to witness the century’s then most revolutionary sign of change and became a formative part of his young life. The spread of railways in the North West of England to support the needs of the Industrial Revolution was close at hand; the Manchester & Leeds (M&L) was opened in difficult stages between 1835 and 1840, the Bolton & Preston in 1837 and the Preston & Wyre (Docks) in 1835-37.

As a boy, Edward Watkin was taken by his father to see the newly constructed railway between Liverpool and Manchester which linked the dock city of the former with the cotton mills and industry of the latter. In 1992, the Museum of Science and Industry at Manchester had built a replica of one of the L&M locomotives, Planet. The locomotive and two replica carriages were taken to the Great Central Railway at Loughborough for trial running and are seen here near Woodthorpe.

Edward continued to work for his father’s business and whilst doing so was willingly drawn into the political and public activities, acting as a check clerk at a by-election in Manchester in 1835 and becoming committed to helping organise large scale events for the Anti Corn Law Association; an ability to conceive ideas and organise in pursuit of his convictions was developing naturally. In 1835, Absalom had helped found the Manchester Athenaeum for the encouragement of discussion on the arts, sciences and technology and in 1843, Edward appeared recorded in the Minutes as a Director, acting as Secretary to a sub-committee to organise events involving leading orators of that time: Richard Cobden and Benjamin Disraeli.

In 1845, Edward married Mary Mellor, the daughter of Jonathan Mellor, a cotton manufacturer, a man of high integrity as a Justice of the Peace and High Constable. At the end of August 1845, Edward had consulted his father about an offer he had received to become Secretary of the newly authorised Trent Valley Railway Company (TV). The prospectus for the proposed Company included men prominent in the Manchester cotton trade and members of the Athenaeum. Edward was advised to accept the offer and did so.

As with many of the new railways at that time, the passing by parliament of the Bill on 21 July 1845 had been preceded by years of arguments and opposition; the latter in this case from the London and Birmingham Railway (L&B) who could see that the proposed TV company represented a threat in providing a more direct route between Stone/Stafford and Rugby, where the Manchester and Birmingham Railway (which would use the TV route) would make a connection for onward travel directly to London. The Act as passed in 1845 for the TV provided that the Company could lease itself to the L&B, the Grand Junction Railway and to the M&B Railway (which three Companies formed the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) from July 1846). The TV was not to last long as a separate entity and was purchased in Spring 1846 by the L&B Railway; and purchased at a surprisingly high price negotiated on behalf of the TV by Edward Watkin. As Secretary, he was responsible for the winding up of the Company business, balancing the books and paying off the grateful shareholders. The TV route opened on 1 December 1847, from which date the LNWR announced that its trains would use the route (rather than the longer option via Birmingham) between London and Preston; at that time the busiest commercial corridor in the country for which all station clocks and timetables were in accordance with Greenwich time (Manchester being ten minutes after Greenwich time, Liverpool twelve and Birmingham seven). The TV route now forms part of the Network Rail West Coast Main Line.

The early locomotives of industry displayed the ingenuity of their designers. Replica locomotives have been built of two of the pioneers: Locomotion No 1 (built 1975) and Puffing Billy (built 2006). Both are based at Beamish Museum.

The early transportation of coal from the mines was in caldrons, as depicted here at Beamish Museum.

Edward and his wife (now with a son, Alfred, born in 1846) moved to London in mid-1848. His meticulous approach to the winding up of the TV – plus his negotiating skills – had been noted at the headquarters of the LNWR and in early 1849 he was taken into employment with that railway. He was to be Secretary of Committees, reporting directly to the Board of Directors. The multiple committees covered all aspects of the running of the company and, as such, represented a rare opportunity to see, hear and learn how to best manage a railway company. In his duties, he would have met the (first) chairman George Carr Glyn (later Lord Wolverton) and the General Manager (Captain) Mark Huish. Having a railway system that was more linear than the then more usual regional, the Chairman and General Manager had little option but to fight off competition by the pursuit of policies of alliances and at times aggressive acquisition. In 1851/52, proposals to amalgamate with the Midland Railway (MR) and the much smaller North Staffordshire Railway (NSR) were abortive and they were equally unsuccessful in preventing the broad gauge Great Western Railway (GWR) from reaching (via Oxford) Birmingham, Shrewsbury and Birkenhead (for Liverpool across the Mersey). As a widely travelling Secretary, Watkin found himself as a protégé of Glyn and Huish, taking up additional responsibilities and becoming a member (reporting to the Board of the LNWR) of the committees of the Coventry Nuneaton Birmingham and Leicester Railway, the Buckinghamshire, the Warwick to Stratford upon Avon, the Worcester and Hereford, the Oxford Worcester and Wolverhampton, the Shrewsbury and Crewe railways.

For Edward Watkin, work was demanding and family life was demanding (a second child, a daughter, having been born in 1850). He had to develop new skills of survival in a fiercely competitive world. Huish meantime was at the foremost in railway diplomacy and finding how best things could be done for the benefit of the LNWR. He developed traffic cartels and divided receipts between participating companies. Parallels with the later approach of Watkin have not been lost on some historians.

In 1851 Edward needed a spell of recuperation from overwork and spent time on a visit to North America.

Towards the end of 1853, Edward was contemplating leaving the LNWR; his wife and children were spending increasing time in Lancashire. He was unsettled and if he did decide to leave, several railway companies would be eager to offer him employment.

As part of understanding the context of the time through which Watkin worked, it is worth reflecting upon the general development of railways in the UK between 1844 and 1852. In 1844, eighteen new railway companies were set up and in 1846 a Commission recommended that in future, all such companies should build to a standard track gauge already adopted by most, though not the Great Western Railway (GWR) which persisted with a broad gauge until 1892. By 1852, there were 6,628 route miles (up from 2,236 in 1844) and within a decade that figure would increase by 40 per cent. The increase in route mileage between 1844 and 1852 was significantly less than that envisaged in aggregate in roundly 600 schemes put forward in 1845, the majority of which never reached the parliamentary consideration for approval stage. 1846 saw parliament inundated with Bills, 219 Acts being passed. In 1847 a further 112 Acts, but increasing financial stringency in terms of the bank rate for borrowing, crop failures at home and a need to import grain, and high cotton imports needed ‘spare’ capital which may otherwise have been used to purchase speculative shares in support of company prospectuses. The market settled somewhat in 1848 and in that year and the next, a total of only 53 Acts for new lines (totalling some 400 miles) were passed. The time lag from Act to physical railway meant that in 1848 alone the operational scope of the railway system was extended by nearly a third. The same time lag effect meant that by 1852, the construction phase of the railway mania of 1844-48 had virtually worked its way out. The next stage was the workings of the balance of power between the 214 companies and between them and parliament. Amalgamations such as that which formed the LNWR as already mentioned became commonplace (twenty in 1846) and the Lancashire & Yorkshire (LYR) was formed from six companies. Of relevance to this book is the formation of four companies into the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR). Also of later relevance was the ability of a resolute company such as the South Eastern Railway (SER) to buy or lease by 1853 its way across seven adjoining railway companies’ lines, thus enabling it to extend its operations quickly and relatively cheaply without the need for Acts of Parliament.

In the maelstrom of railway life, the MS&LR was a conglomerate of three companies: the Sheffield and Manchester Railway (S&MR), the (prospected) Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway (S&LJR), the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway and the Grimsby Docks Company (GDC). This gave, from 1 January 1847, a continuous line from Manchester to the North Sea, later (August 1849) connected to the L&M to enable Liverpool to be reached. The conglomerate was referred to as ‘The Sheffield Company’, though its headquarters were in Manchester. The line S&MR had to traverse the Pennine ridge and included the building of the then longest railway tunnel to its summit at Woodhead – a six year effort throughout which time passengers were taken by coach and horses to ‘bridge’ the gap in the railway. Opened in 1849, the single bore tunnel was unable to cater for all the traffic and a second bore was driven parallel to the original, opened in 1852. As a sign of the technological times, the electric telegraph wire was installed along the route and as a measure of success of the route, a new dock was opened at Grimsby in 1852. From January 1850, the General Manager of the MS&LR was James Allport and he felt that he had to enter a commercial agreement put forward by Huish of the LNWR, a move that upset the rapidly developing GNR and its aims to have running rights towards the North West of England. Allport resigned in July 1853 to join the MR. Watkin was offered the post of General Manager of the MS&LR, which he took up from 1 January 1854 and moved to Timperley, Cheshire. An early task was to start to disentangle the Huish agreement (which was both secret and illegal) which had sought to maximise profits by minimising the competition from the GNR and the GWR. Huish then turned unsuccessfully to the GNR with a view to dividing traffic. The GNR did not trust Huish and furthermore advised Watkin of the approach that had been made. In July 1857, the GNR and MS&LR entered an agreement providing a basis for common usage of stations at Lincoln (GNR), Sheffield, Retford, Gainsborough and Grimsby (MS&LR). A route from Manchester to London to rival that of the LNWR was thus formed and led to a King’s Cross to Manchester (via Retford) passenger service. The LNWR was not impressed by the moves of a former assistant manager by the name of Watkin.

As early enclosed railway carriage bodies were wooden and built in workshops that also built road vehicles of the stagecoach type, the resemblance between the types is unsurprising. From the 1840s the Midlands of England became the centre for railway carriage building. Depicted here are preserved examples of early types as used by the Midland Railway (4), Lancashire Derbyshire and East Coast Railway (5), North Eastern Railway (6) and South Eastern and Chatham Railway (7). Photos 4 and 5 at the Midland Railway Centre, 6 at Beamish and 7 at the Bluebell Railway. Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway carriage 946 has also been restored and is usually at the Great Central Railway, Ruddington.

In steam days the 37 miles between Sheffield (Victoria) and Manchester (London Road) via Woodhead included challenging gradients in both directions. The illustration shows the gradient profile for the line.

Relationship difficulties between railway companies and their General Managers were commonplace and during his initial tenure, Watkin had to find ways to resolve a succession of matters. Examples were the poor state of some of the sections of infrastructure shared with the L&YR, the operational arrangements for conflicting traffic flows with the MR at Lincoln and with the GNR for goods traffic in West Yorkshire.

Watkin became drained by the parliamentary processes and constantly demanding interpersonal requirements of dealing with his peer group also seeking the best deal, but he had proven to his Board of Directors and shareholders his considerable value as a General Manager. He had also come to realise his personal strengths built upon the basic principles and moral compass from his founding years and that he would resolve matters in his own way. When his Board of Directors approached him with a view to extending his contract of employment beyond 1858, he was sufficiently confident in his position to state the condition upon which he would be willing to continue for periods up to seven years (i.e. to the end of 1865). The Board accepted on the basis that Watkin would be responsible for the proper conduct and management of the MS&LR, but not required to give his whole time to the Company. What a contract to have negotiated! By 1861, Watkin had become auditor to the Oldham Ashton-under-Lyne and Guide Bridge Railway (OAGBR), was representative of the MS&LR on three railways and a Director of four others – the West Midland, formerly Oxford Worcester and Wolverhampton; the Hereford, Hay and Brecon; the Boston, Sleaford and Midland Counties; and the GTR. In June 1861, the MS&LR granted Watkin a period of leave of absence to enable him to recover his strength.

As a town Lincoln owes much to the arrival of the railways and much of its later road traffic congestion also to the railway level crossings. The map shows how four railways routed their competing traffic.

The previous year or so had been demanding also upon Watkin’s personal life. In 1860 a close friend – Herbert Ingram, founder of the Illustrated London News – drowned and his widow, Ann, requested his support. He placed the fortunes of the paper and her whole estate on a firm basis and took a role in editing the paper. During that time, he published an article he wrote entitled ‘A British railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific’ … across Canada. He had visited Canada in 1851 and, following his return, had written and had published his thoughts about the future of that part of the British Colonial Empire. Sadly, 1861 also saw the death of his father.

In 1854, Watkin had been asked by his then Chairman at the LNWR – Glyn – to visit Canada and attempt to sort out the unsatisfactory state of affairs with the GTR. Glyn, with fellow banker Sir Thomas Baring, were financiers to that Railway and rightly had concerns about the investment. However, at that time the request was wrong for Watkin but clearly he had a personal interest in following developments in Canada and in 1858 had written to Samuel Cunard (born in Halifax, Nova Scotia) commending a projected new railway from Quebec to the Atlantic port of Halifax.

For various reasons the building and development of the GTR had proved difficult. The railway had been projected in 1852 and as such represented the first big business opportunity for Canadians. The advantage to them from furthering trade to bring increased prosperity were clear, but risk capital investment without early returns proved to be a barrier. Not having railway constructional skills, the Premier of Nova Scotia turned to Morton Peto (builder of several railways in England and France) to explore the possibilities for a line between Riviere du Loup and Port Huron. He joined up with three other railway contractors, including Thomas Brassey, and in 1853 a prospectus had been issued. Their choice of track gauge (5ft 6in rather than the generally applicable in England and the USA of 4ft 8½in) was based upon smoothness of ride, greater capacity of rolling stock vehicles, more powerful locomotives and prevention of military use by others with standard gauge rolling stock were sound, but commercially weak in terms of the transhipment of goods to/from other operations. The railway as constructed had engineering weaknesses in terms of track component design and integrity, drainage, alignment of curves and track laying, leading to endless trouble with operations. Glyn and Baring were correct to be concerned; they had not fully appreciated the lengthy sections of sparsely populated country over which trains moved slowly and conveyed goods of low value between centres having little industry. Over the first five years of operation (1855-59), the ratio of outlays to receipts averaged an alarming 89.8 per cent, the railway was close to bankruptcy and with the provincial government not intent on supporting it, Baring and Glyn came to its rescue in 1860. Meetings of shareholders in 1861 resulted in a recommendation that ‘a man of great skill, experience and energy should proceed … to take over the entire supervision of the Company and negotiate with the Government’. The response was that Edward Watkin was invited to undertake the considerable responsibility. As it turned out, the problem of the then longest railway in the world was not the limiting horizon for Watkin. He was far from convinced about the prospects of early success for the GTR and, although he was confident about his skills to improve the efficiency of the railway (via scheduling, management of physical and human assets, negotiations with the stake holders), he thought that early returns for investors and the strengthening of the role of the Railway would prove difficult unless … The way to do both of those he felt would be through an extension right across Canada to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Possibly recalling his earlier visit to a Paris Exhibition, where he had studied a map of Europe and realised the potential for growth of trade and transportation by railways, the same potential surely existed in Canada. Such breadth of vision was a characteristic of Watkin which he was to retain for later projects involving a link between England and mainland Europe.

First, though, he had to turn around the fortunes of the GTR and gradually did so; by early 1864, the fleet of freight wagons and locomotives had become totally inadequate for the traffic on offer. By the end of 1865, the Company felt that its credit had been re-established. Traffic had risen by over 50 per cent in less than three years, the operating ratio improved by ten points and by 1873 the track gauge allowed ease of trans-shipment with other operators (initially via a third rail).

One of the factors over which no railway General Manager can exert influence is fluctuations in economic activity. 1866 was particularly difficult for the GTR, with the reduction in trade between Canada and the US, a stock market crisis in the UK together with suspicions of speculation in GTR shares. Although the operating ratio had by then been reduced to 55 per cent, its nearest geographical rival was at 41 per cent. 1867 proved to be no better (in terms of the ratio) and in fact deteriorated to a point where new capital was needed. The shareholders were critical, having little regard for the scale of challenges Watkin as President (since 1862 when he replaced Thomas Baring) faced in trying to increase the net earning power of the Company. Having crossed the Atlantic a dozen times and improving the Railway physically, he had exhausted himself in a futile effort to put the Company on its feet financially. He lacked good health and a willingness to serve any longer than 1869 when his term of office was due to expire.

In parallel with his duties for the GTR, Watkin was also heavily involved with the development of an Atlantic to Pacific railway, the Intercolonial Railway. The work involved him in meetings with the Duke of Newcastle, Hudson’s Bay Company, the British North American Association, the International Finance Society (IFS), which later agreed the transfer to parties represented by Mr Edward Watkin of the whole interests in land of the Hudson’s Bay Company. As such it was probably the greatest single transfer of a territory ever accomplished unheralded by war. The IFS then set up a subsidiary company to build a telegraph line to the Pacific. Although Watkin had no further direct involvement, it provides an example of his vision and drive. For his role in progressing the development of the Canadian Dominion, Watkin was offered a knighthood in 1867. He declined on the basis that certain enabling legislation was not yet in place but accepted when again offered a year later. A baronetcy followed in 1880, linked to his work for Grimsby.

Watkin’s time (from summer 1861) and exposure to business and political pressures in the frequently hostile Canada quickly made him stronger, more assertive and hardened his resolve to maintain any position upon which he was sure he was right. Upon his return in November 1861 he was incensed to find that some of his MS&LR colleagues had agreed to an agreement with the MR which had upset the management of the GNR with whom Watkin had worked to put in place a post-Huish commercial agreement that was to last half a century. Watkin resigned over the matter, but after criss-crossing the Atlantic a few times he was invited back onto the Board in March 1863. In his development years, Watkin had been a protégé of his Chairman – John Chapman – but found himself in 1863 dissatisfied with aspects of the direction the MS&LR seemed to be taken in by the Chairman and his Deputy. Chapman – not in the best of health and with parliamentary duties as MP for Grimsby – recognised that the younger man had matured and become impatient for an opportunity to lead and exert control.

In January 1864, Watkin (still with responsibilities in Canada) was elected Chairman, a seat he was to occupy for thirty years. He was to need all of the attributes mentioned previously and as someone who found delegation of authority difficult merged many of the duties of Chairman with those of a General Manager to become what we would now refer to as a Chief Executive or Chief Executive Officer. Life as the demoted General Manager – Robert Underdown to 1885 and then William Pollitt, previously the Accountant – must have been challenging in the extreme.

As evidence of Watkin’s stamina and ambition here is a summary of his business and political involvements 1864-94:

Chairman, MS&LR 1864-94

President, Grand Trunk Railway Canada, to 1869

Member of Parliament, 1864-68 and 1874-95

Chairman, South Eastern Railway (SER), 1864-94

Director, Great Eastern Railway (GER) 1868-72 and 1876-77

Chairman, Metropolitan Railway (Met R) 1872-94

Chairman, North London Railway (NLR) 1870s-93

Chairman, East London Railway (ELR) 1878-93

Chairman, Trustees of the New York, Lake Erie and West Railway USA

Director, Great Western Railway (GWR) 1863-67

Director, Black Sea and Danube Railway 1860s

Director, Belgian Congo Railway

Director, Athens - Piraeus Railway 1877

Director, Brazilian Electric Telegraph Co.

Director, Manchester Fire Assurance Co.

Director, Humber Iron Works, 1860s

Promoter, The Submarine Continental Railway Co. 1881 (renamed The Channel Tunnel Co. 1887)

Adviser on Indian railways, 1888

Knighted, 1868

Baronetcy, 1880

Freedom of the Borough of Hythe 1885, Grimsby 1891

Although from time to time Watkin faced challenges and difficulties with factions of shareholders – often because he was spreading his time too thinly across many interests – the key to understanding this lengthy list is that he earned and retained the support of his colleagues, proprietors, shareholders, constituents who invited him, nominated or elected him. He may have been very willing, or perhaps let it be known that he would be willing, to stand for election for the railway companies that particularly suited his vision (the SER, MetR, ELR, NLR) or even let prominent stakeholders chase him until he caught them!

Throughout the thirty year tenure of the MS&LR financial considerations formed a unifying thread and whilst these are developed in detail later (in chapter 3) it is worthy of note here that Watkin had earned and retained the support of wealthy backers in Lancashire who had played a leading role in the funding for railways in the 1830s/40s. Whilst the MS&LR had many holders of Ordinary shares (which performed poorly in terms of dividends), a majority of the capital was in the hands of a relatively small group of holders of Debenture shares bearing a fixed rate of interest – holders of Debenture shares did not enjoy voting rights but could hold meetings, thus creating opportunities for Watkin to seek to address them with his plans and to then encourage their development as an informed influential pressure group. This may explain references in books to proprietors as distinct from ‘shareholders’ and ‘half yearly meetings of shareholders’. Having a group of say 20 per cent of the total number of holders of equity who owned 80 per cent of the cost of the equity would have given Watkin and his Board knowledge of the fixed interest burden year on year and the net income required to support that ‘first’ charge on profit. Prevailing economic conditions (in terms of inflation, minimum lending rates and alternative markets attracting investment monies) would have allowed Watkin and his Board to set the fixed rate of interest in line with confidence in business expectations and what contemporary railway companies were offering. The risks of downturns and uncontrollable variables were present then, just as today, but continuity of support was present within the Board of the MS&LR.

In the short term of his early years as Chairman, Watkin had to grapple with the demands of a fast growing economy and population, planning for the profitable expansion of the MS&LR, protecting lines and rights enjoyed as a monopoly or shared by trading running rights of others (e.g. with the GNR), joining forces with other companies to mutual advantage and/or repel the intended advances of competitor companies. In such a competitive environment and his standing within a peer group of similar dominant personalities, Watkin would much rather be a man who would lead through acquisitions or mergers and not be the chairman of a company acquired by another, or be seen to fail. At times, Watkin would have been content to work with the GNR and MR (perhaps to repel the GER, the LYR and, or, LNWR/GWR) whilst at other times quite the opposite would apply. The way it worked was via the parliamentary process whereby each railway put forward proposals or Bills, preceded or followed by correspondence between chairmen or in some cases delegated. Many were the (gentlemanly) clashes between Watkin and his contemporaries and, of course, the GNR wanted the same things, access to coalfields in the Midlands in particular, with which the MR was most unhappy; the MR wanted its own line into London to rid itself of a dependence south of Hitchin along the congested GNR and South of Rugby on the congested LNWR; the fledgling GER wanted access to Yorkshire; the LYR just wanted to be left alone until it made up its mind and the GWR wanted a route into Liverpool.

As examples, the LNWR prospected a line between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Sheffield; that spurred the MS&LR to complete its Marple, New Mills and Hayfield Junction Railway. The LNWR countered by withdrawing running rights, enjoyed by the MS&LR through parts of Manchester. Watkin responded by proposing to build a new railway which, though passed by the House of Commons, was rejected in the House of Lords in the parliamentary session 1864. The MS&LR sought powers relating to steamship service, to construct a line to Macclesfield, to lease the South Yorkshire Railway, to work jointly with the MR and/or North Staffordshire Railway, to join with the GNR in a line in Liverpool; and amongst the proposals it was opposing was a proposed GER Great Eastern Northern Junction (railway) and the GNR joined forces in that opposition as success would potentially allow access to coalfields.

Out of the complex mix came initiatives that were successful to varying degrees over differing periods of time. The MS&LR was successful in its attempt to lease the South Yorkshire Railway, essentially five separate lines: the Sheffield extension connection; the West Riding & Grimsby Railway giving access to Wakefield; the Trent, Ancholme & Grimsby Railway enabling a route crossing the River Trent and into the ironstone deposits; the Barnsley Coal Railway; and projected route improvements. A strategically valuable initial lease of 76 miles of a largely profitable railway received assent in June 1864. The MS&LR took over operations, loaned rolling stock and after ten years proposed a takeover which was agreed and enacted, providing the MS&LR not only with the railway, but also 60 miles of canals. The Tinsley-Mexborough eight mile line effectively knitted together the former South Yorkshire Railway by allowing a direct route between Sheffield and Doncaster via Mexborough, but it was very expensive and a drain on an otherwise worthy investment. The sale of the canal in 1894 brought in cash of £600,000 and fully paid ordinary shares of £540,000.

An initiative which brought the GNR and MS&LR together was for the Great Eastern Northern Junction Railway; 108 miles of easily graded trunk railway for coal from near Cambridge to Askern, where there would be routes to the West Riding and to Grimsby. The recently formed GER would provide half the capital with the aim of tapping the coalfields of South Yorkshire. Well thought out, it proposed connections with the MS&LR at Doncaster, Gainsborough and Lincoln and, commercially, sought to sway the parliamentarians with an offer to carry ‘train load’ coal at one farthing per mile. After 25 sittings, the Committee rejected it and that would have been the end of the matter except that the LYR – finally into action as a result of GNR influence increasing in the West Riding – decided to support the GENJ, though with an amended route North of Sleaford to Lincoln, thence to Askern for junctions with the LYR, the NER and the West Riding & Grimsby. The proposal was re-submitted in 1865 and prompted Watkin to propose a 25 mile ‘blocking’ line between Althorpe-on-Trent and Lincoln at a cost of £250,000. Watkin’s proposal won the day, but the railway was never built. The output from the process was that agreements over running rights were entered by the MS&LR, GWR and GER with the latter being able to reach Wakefield.

A vexed question between the MS&LR and the MR relating to access to Mansfield was also resolved in 1865; the MS&LR having running rights from Shireoaks and the MR gained a similar right between Shireoaks and Retford.

Watkin judged the time right (1864/5) to expand in Lancashire and Cheshire by means of jointly owned lines with invited partners and at the expense of the LNWR upon whose patch they would be encroaching. The MS&LR could not hope to fund on its own such an expensive project involving four railways at different stages of development. They were the Cheshire Midland, already in operation and part owned with the GNR; the Stockport and Woodley Junction Railway and the Stockport, Timperley and Woodley Junction Railway which were both nearing completion; and the Garston and Liverpool Railway which opened on 1 June 1864.

A new line would be built from Old Trafford to Cressington and from Glazebrook to Timperley, thus negating any need for running powers over the LNWR between Timperley and Garston. The Cheshire Lines Transfer Act 1865 legalised the arrangement involving then the MS&LR and GNR; the MR joined as an equal partner by another Act (1866) and full independent status for the CLC was achieved in 1867, with additional mileage added for Godley to Woodford as part of sourcing lucrative contracts for transport of salt from the area around Northwich. All this represented a severe defeat for the LNWR and relationships were strained to say the least. Through the 1870s, the CLC took greater shape and in 1874, a new passenger service of 16 through trains between Manchester London Road and Liverpool Central, via Warrington Central (34 miles). CLC services to Chester were switched to Manchester Central in 1878 when the Old Trafford-Cornbrook link was completed.

The three partner railways shared costs, with the MS&LR being responsible for provision of motive power and the GNR/MR for rolling stock. The CLC was ‘driven through’ by one man: Watkin. Not content with the ‘basic’ CLC, Watkin’s expansionist drive identified three further opportunities, none of which proved to be inspired successes and cost the MS&LR dear.

At the Manchester end of the CLC, there was in 1874 a perceived opportunity for local industrialists to promote an 11 mile line to access the coalfield of Platt Bridge, Bickershaw and West Leigh near Wigan. With neither the GNR or MR being keen on this, but with support of the MS&LR alone, in 1876 the first sod was cut of the Wigan Junction Railways. Progress was difficult and in 1877, the promoters sought from the MS&LR an assurance that the MS&LR would work the line when it was completed. Watkin felt obliged to protect the interests of his Company (and to prevent it falling into the hands of the LYR/LNWR) but provided financial support to the promoters. The contract proved costly for the MS&LR and it was not until autumn 1879 that the line opened to coal traffic.

A junction with the Wigan Junction Railways near Lowton St Mary was one end of the 1885 St Helens & Wigan Junction Railway later named the Liverpool, St Helens & South Lancashire Railway which, without substantial financial backing by the MS&LR, would never have been built. As it was, the line was built in part between 1885-95, traversed a coalfield and enabled access at high land purchase cost to the glass production facilities being developed by the Pilkington brothers. The line did not extend beyond St Helens and was an expensive 8 ⅜ miles of railway.

The 44 salt works in Cheshire needed coal for their production process. Adequate for that purpose was the slack coal available in the coalfields of North Wales. The Western (Chester) end of the CLC enabled access to the coal via a new railway from Chester to Hawarden. That railway became known as the Chester & Connahs Quay, having been enacted in 1884, and following construction of a bridge across the River Dee at Hawarden was opened in early 1890 by William Gladstone who lived locally and was a good friend of Watkin. Useful though it was, it was insufficient for Watkin, who wished to use it as a ‘stepping stone’ further South into Wales (via the Cambrian Railways) and also North from Hawarden to the

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