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A Brief History of the Great Central Railway at Quorn

The photograph below was taken on Quorn Station in 1959.
The engine standing in the station is Director class 62661 Gerard Powys Dewhurst - a Great Central engine D11/1 class by Robinson 1920. It was sister locomotive to the preserved 62660 Butler-Henderson, which ran during the early years of the preservation, but is now, sadly, no longer in steaming condition.

BEGINNINGS OF THE GREAT CENTRAL RAILWAY
The founder of the Great Central Railway was Edward Watkin. Edward was born in September 1819, the son of a wealthy cotton maker from Salford in Lancashire. He became involved in railways during his early 20s, and at the age of 35 in 1854, he became the General Manager of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, This was a small provincial railway, but Edward had big plans, and today we may have said that he was ‘ahead of his time’.
His aim was to provide a rail link between the industrial centres of Manchester & Sheffield and Europe. He proposed to build a Channel Tunnel, and although this sounds extremely ambitious, he was in a unique position as he became the Chairman of the South Eastern Railway and also the Metropolitan Railway. As part of this plan, he tried to negotiate with the existing railway companies to provide the link between Sheffield and London. As he could get no cooperation, he decided to build his own rail link. This must have been a massive decision. In 1897 the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway changed its name to the Great Central Railway. The line to London (the 'London Extension'), which was to provide Quorn with its own station, was not opened until 1899 - this was very late in railway terms.
Sadly Edward had to retire due to ill health and died in 1901. The cost of construction had gone way over budget, and due to financial constraints and the lack of Edward’s presence, his dream was never fulfilled, but despite these set-backs the Great Central Railway was renowned for its ‘luxury’ and ‘handsome locomotives and trains’.

THE IMPACT OF THE RAILWAY ON QUORN
Prior to the GCR, Quorn’s closest station had been at Barrow. The new railway resulted immediately in the building of the Manor Hotel and the development of housing on Chaveney Road. These new prestigious dwellings were close to the station and provided a fast and practical link with Leicester and other towns and cities. Most of the new property was not bought by local residents, but attracted successful businessmen and their families, mainly from Leicester.
Thomas Dexter in his account of Quorn, written in the 1930’s, looking back to the turn of the century, comments about “a group of local gentry and business people, who got together and formed the Quorn Land Syndicate”, who were responsible for the development of Chaveney Road. Apparently locals were known to refer to them as the "forty thieves", as they made a considerable amount of money! At their helm was a well-known figure, George White. He was an influential person in the village, besides being a solicitor, Clerk to Quorndon Urban District Council and a property developer. He lived in Rose Cottage on Loughborough Road, next to where the large Chinese restaurant is today.
The building of the railway not only brought employment to Quorn whilst it was being constructed, but also with the subsequent housing development, the Manor Hotel and the station/railway itself. In addition, it enabled people to take advantage of jobs further afield, providing them with an easy and reliable journey to Leicester, Nottingham etc.

THE MIDDLE YEARS
From the outset, the GCR had to compete with other established railways for traffic on its London line, but the management of the railway was very progressive and in the early 1900s it was doing very well. During WW1 all railways were taken into government control and this was not released until 1921. In the same year the government produced the Railways Act, which grouped the numerous railways into four large companies. This resulted in 1923, in the GCR becoming part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER). Although the LNER benefitted from the Great Central’s fine stock of modern locomotives and rolling stock, and sound engineering construction, the economic downturns of the 1920’s and 1930’s affected the LNER particularly badly, as a considerable proportion of its revenue was derived from the areas of heavy industry which were most affected.
With the beginning of WW2, the railways were again subjected to government control and many of the express passenger services were withdrawn to enable more freight trains to be run. To help with this, loops alongside the main lines were constructed at both Swithland and Loughborough, amongst other places. By the end of the war the railways were generally run down, and the incoming Labour government made railway nationalisation a priority. In 1948 British Railways succeeded the four main line companies. Initially the former Great Central London line was all included in the Eastern Region, but in 1950 the line was divided up unequally between the Western, Eastern, and London Midland Regions, with the largest share going to the latter. After this fragmentation, overall interest in its development ceased and the line received little or no investment. As evidence, it is interesting that Quorn & Woodhouse, and other former GCR stations, still had their original gas lighting right up until they closed.
After the 1950 division, services continued to be operated by the Eastern Region, but in 1958 the line was transferred, almost in its entirety, to the London Midland Region. From this point the old GCR London line began to be regarded as a ‘duplicate main line’ – and this marked the beginning of a painful closure period.

CLOSURE
Quorn station closed for goods traffic on 4th November 1962 and then on 4th March 1963, it closed completely, along with many other local stations on the line. The remaining GCR fast services from Sheffield Victoria and Nottingham Victoria to London Marylebone and the South Coast, remained, but were run down over the next few years. The line was severed and fully closed South of Rugby after 4th Sept 1966 when the through services ended, although a patchy commuter/local service continued to run between Nottingham & Rugby. At this time Leicester Central was the largest unstaffed halt in the country. On 2nd September 1967 Nottingham Victoria closed prior to redevelopment, and the trains terminated at the re-opened Nottingham Arkwright Street. These lingered on until final closure on 3rd May 1969.
The closure of Quorn and Woodhouse Station and the GCR, together with its associated services and railway connections, was not only the end of an era, but it also seemed like the complete end of a railway in this area.

PRESERVATION OF THE GREAT CENTRAL RAILWAY
In 1969, a group of enthusiasts got together and decided that the Great Central Railway needed to be preserved, so that future generations could experience the magic and nostalgia of the great British age of steam. From these small beginnings, the Great Central Railway is now one of the region's top tourist attractions. It provides an amazing experience. Visitors can step back in time and lose themselves in steam travel as it once was. Quorn & Woodhouse Station recreates the 1940's, Loughborough Central Station reflects the 1960's and Rothley Station represents the Edwardian period.

The Great Central Railway now runs from Loughborough to Birstall (Leicester North), it has over 20 steam locomotives, working signal boxes from which train movements are controlled and an extensive selection of rolling stock, passenger carriages, wagons, first class dining cars and kitchen/buffet vehicles. Guest locomotives also visit the line on a regular basis.

The GCR today not only offers a regular service on many days (see http://www.gcrailway.co.uk/timetables.aspx), but also offers nostalgic meals on the trains with excellent food, and has many special events throughout the year. These vary from their now famous 1940s weekends (usually in June), to themed children’s days including Thomas the Tank Engine. See their main web site http://www.gcrailway.co.uk .


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 missing information Missing information: Can you add any detail to this history?
Please email us at: team2018@quornmuseum.com
 Submitted on: 2012-01-30
 Submitted by: Sue Templeman, image supplied by Don Wix, additional information supplied by the GCR, David Bodicoat and Jon Dean
 Artefact ID: 1525
 Print: View artefact in printer-friendly page or just on its own.

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