Early Days on the Ambergate Railway

Extracts from a book by Robin Leleux (1984)

By Neil Fortey

Bottesford Station before Dr Beeching.
Bottesford Station before Dr Beeching.

During an idle moment browsing the shelves in Bingham library, I came across “A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. Volume 9, The East Midlands” by Robin Leleux, published by David St. John Thomas David & Charles, 1984 (2nd edition, ISBN 0-946537-06-2). This is a comprehensive, well-written book that gives some fascinating details about the early days of the Ambergate Railway from Nottingham to Grantham. The line was originally built by the independent Ambergate, Nottingham & Boston & Eastern Junction Railway Company, with plans to connect Ambergate in Derbyshire, via the Erewash Valley and Nottingham, to Grantham and on to Boston. However, this company, and its new line, were soon swallowed up by the Great Northern Railway and became embroiled in the GNR’s struggle with its rival, the Midland Railway, marked by the remarkable, you might say farcical, kidnapping of an Ambergate Railway train in 1852.

Robin Leleux describes the building of the railway. The Ambergate Railway company was formed in 1845, and the line was opened “with large crowds” on July 15th 1850. However, to reduce construction costs, the extension to Boston was not built at this stage, and at its western end the line terminated outside Nottingham itself at Colwick, where it joined the line from Nottingham to Lincoln already built by the Midland Railway.

The spartacus schoolnet website adds that the railway was built under the direction of the engineer John Rastrick (1780-1856), who had earlier built lines from London to Brighton, Portsmouth to Hastings, Bolton to Preston, and Gravesend to Rochester in his prolific career. Presumably he was under contract to the Ambergate Company.

In 1852, the Ambergate company was taken over by the Great Northern Railway, following an unsuccessful attempt by the Midland Railway to take it over during 1851. This gave the GNR a route into the East Midlands, bringing the prospect of a direct service from Kings Cross to Nottingham via Grantham, challenging the Midland’s monopoly of the region. However, the Midland took legal action to contest the GNR’s right to use the line. Feelings ran high.

In August 1852 the GNR ran its first train into the Midland railway’s Carrington Street station in Nottingham. The Midland responded by blocking the GNR train in with two of their engines. The GNR driver “made a sporting charge at his captors”, but was forced out off his engine, which was then locked in a shed. The Midland even removed the GNR’s rails, and the engine remained impounded for seven months.

There was then a prolonged dispute during which the Ambergate could convey freight no further into Nottingham than Colwick Junction, travelling the rest of the way by horse and cart. Eventually, a new GNR station was opened in 1857 at London Road, Nottingham, reached via a new track parallel with the Midland’s track. This remained in use until it was absorbed into the LNER in 1923, by which time most GNR passenger services ran into the Great Central Railway’s Nottingham Victoria station rather than London Road.

Competition between the GNR and the Midland railways remained intense throughout the latter part of the 19th Century, as the GNR developed its network. Colwick locomotive yards and Netherfield Station opened in 1878, followed soon after by the Bottesford-Newark line and the lines southwards to Melton. The link from Allington to Barkston East opened in 1875. The ironstone line to Denton opened in 1883.

I also came across an internet reproduction of The Illustrated Handbook to Nottingham, edited by Lemon Lingwood (1906) [click to read more], which includes the following information regarding the London Road Station during the Edwardian era:

The London and North Western Station is in Station Street, a thoroughfare running alongside the Midland Station. This is smaller than the two first described [the Midland and Victoria stations], and being some fifty years old, cannot be said to be up-to-date. Opposite stands the new London Road High Level Station, belonging to the Great Northern. It is used by passengers for this part of the town and by others changing carriages. These railway stations and the Midland are connected with the town by a frequent tram service. So also indeed is the Victoria, but the distance between it and the Market Place is only a five minutes’ walk. The line passes below the suburb of Sneinton, occupying the hill on the right, then the London Road Station, and climbs on a series of arches of gradual ascent to the Victoria Station. This Company [the GNR] possesses running powers over the Great Central, north of Nottingham as far as Manchester, but its own line … turns west at Kimberley and ultimately reaches Derby, Burton, and Stafford.

Finally, Leleux reports that during the 1920s, services on the Grantham line were “pruned” to fourteen each way, including direct services to Kings Cross and a Harwich-Manchester boat train. During the interwar years the popular return excursion fare from Nottingham to Skegness was 2s 6d (12.5p).

This page was added on 11/10/2007.

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