Heritage - 53: London & North Eastern Railway, Twenty-Four Years From Inception to Nationalisation
The Company, Its Remit And Its Leading Lights
From Inception, through the Depression to threat of Invasion... The LNER was there to serve
The London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) came into being in the aftermath of 'The Great War'. There were conflicting interests before and during its existence, not least between its chief officers.
For reasons best known to the Board after it came into being, the interests of the former Great Northern Railway became paramount and its Chief Mechanical Engineer, (Herbert) Nigel Gresley was thrust forward as the Senior Engineer of the new entity, a 'godlike' status to all but the Chairman. Perhaps because its southern terminus was in London, or perhaps because it was the most influential of the railways on the eastern side of mainland Britain, the Great Northern Railway (GNR) took on the mantel of senior partner of the new company. There were those who felt otherwise.
The equivalent of Chief Mechanical Engineer of the North Eastern Railway, Sir Vincent Litchfield Raven was its Locomotive Superintendent. His first assistant - and son-in-law - was Edward Thompson. Both had military practical and administrative experience from World War One and had held senior ranks with the Royal Engineers at Woolwich on the south-eastern outskirts of London. Yet Raven was close to retirement and even,with a string of innovative electric and steam locomotive designs to his name, his engineering credentials unquestioned, his age told against him. Edward Thompson may have felt his qualifications stood him in good stead, but despite his military experience that Gresley lacked, Gresley had already held the top position in the GNR and 'moulded' Doncaster Plant. The NER's income came from heavy industry based between Teesside (Middlesbrough, Hartlepool), Sunderland, Newcastle and their respective shipbuilding, steel, mining and chemical industries that sourced materials from as far south as the Selby coalfield to the coalfield and northward around Ashington near the coast north of Newcastle in Northumberland. Ironstone for steel and shipbuilding was sourced from around Cleveland in North Yorkshire, lead, lime and other materials for chemical processing came from between the rural Dales and the coast north of Whitby.
Another man, around Gresley's age, was Walter Chalmers who had succeeded William Paton Reid as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the burgeoning North British Railway (NBR), may also have had his eyes on the position Gresley held. He had been an apprentice at Cowlairs Locomotive Works on the edge of Glasgow until when in 1904 he became Chief Draughtsman. This post he held for sixteen years when Reid retired and Chalmers was given the reins in 1920. No less in size and importance than either the GNR or NER, the NBR was the chief company north of the border, spanned Scotland from east to west and in the Western Highlands, adjoining the Caledonian and Highland Railways to north, north-west and south. The NBR's wealth came - as with the NER - from the Central Fife coalfield, other minerals, steel making and shipbuilding.
Around the LNER system... Young and old observed at work, on or heading for the shed
Lesser partners in the company were - in England:
The Great Central Railway (GCR), formerly the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincoln Railway before its southward extension via Nottingham, Leicester and Aylesbury to Marylebone Station in north-west London. Its works were at Gorton near Manchester; the Great Eastern Railway (GER) had its works at Stratford, close to the River Lea on the eastern side of London. the industries on the east side of London were its lifeblood, although it stretched into rural Essex and East Anglia where much of its income was seasonal. One source of regular income was Newmarket in Suffolk, the eastern centre of racehorse breeding and racing; the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR) stretched west-east across the country from the West Midlands to Sheringham in Norfolk. Its works were at Melton Constable in deepest Norfolk. Nicknamed the 'Muddle & Go Nowhere Railway, its operations were almost exclusively rural;.
There were only four railway companies north of the Border, the largest of which was the North British Railway. Aside from this company the Great North of Scotland Railway (GNoSR) joined the LNER group of companies by default, being based in the north-east of the country at and around Aberdeen. Founded in the early mid-19th Century, the GNoSR had expanded westward and north-westward to Inverness, its rivals being the Caledonian Railway (CR) and Highland Railway (HR) which were drawn into the London, Midland & Scottish camp. What industry there was arose from fishing and shipbuilding. The large fishing fleets based around the north-east of Scotland brought with it a host of service industries, and there was of course tourism. Balmoral was one of Queen Victoria's favourite haunts, and her appreciation for the region drew the tourists from as far away as London and abroad..
Joint, associated, absorbed and managed companies
Prior to Grouping in 1923 the NER had absorbed the Hull & Barnsley Railway (H&BR, formerly the Hull, Barnsley & West Riding Junction Railway, an ambitious title as it proved, considering it didn't reach as far as Barnsley and stopped short at Cudworth), a company that like the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR) that had been a serious rival in the NER's early days. Its operating centre was in Hull, with several large dock complexes to its credit. However, as the NER reached Hull first it had the choicer routes and the H&BR was left with a series of level crossings around the edge of town before it reached the city and docks. Its only main locomotive shed in Hull was at Springhead, its locomotive fleet small at the time of absorption. Subsequently its allocation was a mix of ex-NER and LNER steam, ending in 1958 with a small allocation of War Department 2-8-0 locomotives for the coal traffic along with a number of K3 2-6-0 moved from Tyneside.
Joint companies were the Axholme Joint Railway east of Gainsborough in north-west Lincolnshire, the Great Western & Great Central Joint Railway in and around Buckinghamshire, and the Manchester South Junction & Alrincham Joint Railway.
Aside from the H&BR, other absorbed or managed companies numbered the Colne Valley & Halstead Railway in north-east Essex, the East & West Yorkshire Union Railway, the mid-Suffolk Light Railway and the North Sunderland Railway on Wearside in County Durham.
Constituent founder member railway companies of the NER were the Leeds Northern Railway based in Leeds, the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway and York & North Midland Railway both centred on York from the time of George Hudson.
Minor and associated companies numbered the Malton & Driffield Railway (east of York in the Yorkshire Wolds), the Aberford* Railway in Northumberland, the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway that had appealed to the NER for backing when the NBR began to encroach on its territory south of the Border, the Derwent Valley* Light Railway that ran north-south east of York and linked with the NER on the Scarborough line (Y&NMR) not far from the Rowntree chocolate factory at Huntington, and lastly the Easingwold* Light Railway that joined the ECML at Alne between York and Thirsk to run almost due east to the village of Easingwold for agricultural producers to send their goods to market in York for processing.
The companies' origins and regional requirements or output were divers, between the River Thames to the south and the north coast between Forres and Fraserburgh. The North Sea to the east all the way north provided food and trade. There were even more divers cultural differences, although the language was the same: business and pleasure. The geographical differences and obstacles were overcome with the help of able civil engineers.
* These were also connecting standard gauge railways that relied on the main railway to ease traffic and provide business.
Travellers and commuters
At its inception the Company inherited a vast stable of locomotives, passenger and freight rolling stock.
Some dated back to Victoria's reign. Standardisation would take most of two decades and in some cases locomotives and stock inherited from smaller constituent companies were in turn inherited by British Railways in 1948. .
Of course many locomotives built by these companies before WWI were still in good working order, as was the stock. Signalling and communications equipment would be overhauled and updated naturally, although the East Coast Main Line from King's Cross to Edinburgh was already largely uniform in standard. Trunk routes elsewhere had also been updated, such as from Liverpool Street (London) to Norwich, Harwich and Great Yarmouth in the east, Marylebone to Manchester and Lincoln in the North and Midlands, York to Leeds and Manchester, York to Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Carlisle over the Waverley route and Edinburgh to Aberdeen in Scotland.
Almost from the outset Gresley had introduced new locomotives and passenger stock for the premier routes, although pre-WWI East Coast Joint Stock carriages would continue in use for some years to come (some have been preserved, such as at the National Railway Museum in York).
New Pacific-type locomotives of Class A1 (later to be re-boilered and re-classified A3) appeared, starting with No. 2500 'Windsor Lad' and a little later 'Flying Scotsman' appeared, to become the 'darling' of the public, at times to haul the train of the same name non-stop to Edinburgh Waverley Station. In the 1930s a new class of express locomotive made its appearance, such as No. 4500 'Garganey' (in March, 1939 she was re-named 'Sir Ronald Matthews' after the current Chairman). Nicknamed 'Streaks', these were 'teamed up' with corridor tenders from the outset for crews to relieve their colleagues at the halfway mark near Durham. In 1935 a number were built for the 'Silver Jubilee' service to mark the King George V's 25th anniversary. No. 2509 'Silver Link' appeared first, followed by No. 2510 'Quicksilver', 2511 'Silver King' and 2512 'Silver Fox'. These locomotives were partnered with trains of silver-grey streamlined carriages, and both locomotives and carriages were fitted with chrome-plated numbers and door furnishings. The 'Race to the North' was undertaken with zeal by both the LMS and LNER. One-upmanship had a new face.
Of course Gresley also produced designs for normal expresses and lighter locomotives, Class B17 'Sandringham' for East Anglian express services as well as the Harwich boat trains from London, and Manchester (the 'Hook Continental') as well as semi-fast workings. Shorter side corridor carriages were built for these and suburban or local services. Some carriages were designed as 'lavatory composites', three first class compartments at one end and four third class at the other, with toilets separating them and side corridors to link the compartments for access to the lavatories. One compartment at either end spanned the width of the vehicle. In all carriages mirrors and panorama views of destinations on the system - as had been introduced by the pre-Grouping companies - and well upholstered seats meant passengers could travel long distances in comfort.
Two strong, long wheel-based class of locomotive were introduced, Class P1 and P2 2-8-2, and allocated on the long Edinburgh- Aberdeen expresses. Given names from Sir Walter Scott's novels, they proved unsuitable for the route, however, with its sharp curves. More on them later. .
A new fleet of locomotives began to be built even before the LNER was officially 'launched'
Shorter distance passenger services had not been ignored in the years before WWII.
A number of tank and tender locomotives was introduced on semi-fast, local and suburban services, and some pre-Grouping designs rebuilt or re-configured. One rebuild/reconfigured locomotive was Vincent Raven's Class H1 4-4-4 tank locomotive designed for Harrogate to Leeds or York trains, rebuilt to 4-6-2 Pacific specification and re-classified A8. These would augment the NER's Pacific tank stable, Classes A6 and A7. Class A6 itself was a rebuild of the 'Whitby Willie' 4-6-0 built for coastal passenger working between Middlesbrough-Whitby-Scarborough or Whitby-Malton. Class A7 had been built by the NER to work coal traffic in tightly laid-out mine exchange sidings where Class Q6 was unable to cope. Gresley Class V1 2-6-2 tank locomotives were introduced in the early 1930s to passenger traffic and was used on empty stock working to Heaton carriage sidings on Tyneside. Some Class V1 locomotives were fitted with higher pressure boilers and re-classified V3.
At around the same time tender locomotive Class D49 4-4-0 'Shires' were introduced on services in Yorkshire, the North East and eastern Scotland. The first, No. 234 'Yorkshire' was allocated to the Hull area. Some were rebuilt with Lentz rotary cam arrangement and named after fox hunting establishments, the first being No. 352 'Leicestershire' in June, 1932, re-classified D49/2 and renamed 'The Meynell'. The first of the class built as D49/2 was No. 201 'The Bramham Moor'. Class B17 4-6-0 were named after stately homes in the East Midlands and East Anglia. They were allocated to East Anglia and cross-country services from Manchester Victoria on the former GCR to Harwich on the 'Hook Continental' boat trains to connect with ferries across the North Sea to the Hook of Holland as well as Liverpool Street (London) to Harwich on account of their lower axle weight due to restrictions on East Anglian lines. A number were re-boilered in 1938. No. 2830 'Thoresby Park' .was renamed 'Tottenham Hotspur' and a number of others were likewise re-classified. Others again were renamed after East Anglian army regiments. Further B17s were re-named with royal themes to take the royal family to Kings Lynn in Norfolk for Sandringham House. One locomotive, No. 2870 was first named 'Manchester City', then for some reason in May 1937 re-named 'Tottenham Hotspur' and in September that year re-named again to 'City of London' for the Sandringham royal train.
Some locomotives were transferred out of their home region to Scotland or the North East and Yorkshire. A number of ex-GNR and ex-GCR freight locomotives as well as some passenger locomotives went to NBR territory under Gresley's 'Horses for courses' scheme. Class A5 Pacific tank locomotives were transferred to the North East to augment ageing NER classes, performing on the hilly coastal routes to Scarborough and inland from Whitby to Malton. It was their success on the sometimes slippery rails in this area that led to Gresley having Raven Class H1 rebuilt to A8. Because of their smaller wheels and therefore greater tractive power they were able to haul longer holiday trains on the route from Middlesbrough to Scarborough. .
LNER freight motive power
New freight vehicles were also brought out for the non-stop 'Green Arrow' fast goods service to Scotland...
An eponymous locomotive, Class V2 2-6-2 'Green Arrow' was unveiled in the mid-1930s as a 'flagship' representative of the Company's interests in the public eye. A smaller class, V4 'Bantam Cock' was introduced shortly before the outbreak of war and allocated to Scottish sheds. Only two were built before Gresley's sudden death 'in harness' in April, 1943. New freight and goods stock was built, older stock updated before it could be used on the new service. A new standard had to be maintained to secure the customers the Company sought in order to provide the revenue needed for its upkeep.
On the mineral front, new steel 20 ton capacity hoppers were built for the North Eastern and Eastern regions' coal and iron ore traffic. Lime was extracted in upland areas for processing in the steel-making process. There were bogie hopper wagons in existence from NER days, used on Tyneside for the export trade as well as shipment to power stations. The cycle could not be broken lest industry ground to a halt. A whole array of new freight vehicles was introduced to transport everything from bricks to horses, cattle and sheep.
These were updated where necessary to cope with new standards of safety. New streamlined brick and concrete signal boxes were introduced on main routes to replace elderly structures scheduled for demolition or enlargement. Light signalling had been introduced on the ECML before WWI to replace the gas operated system. Many trunk routes were still controlled by elderly semaphore systems and would not see light signalling until after Nationalisation - in places well after.
Wooden posts were being replaced by steel, wires between signal boxes and posts encased in square steel tubing to protect them from extreme temperatures.
Some had not had a face lift in the century almost since 'Locomotion' first ran in September, 1825. New concrete, steel and glass concourses replaced old brick or timber ones. Goods handling facilities had also not been updated since Victoria's reign, and would not be at some outlying sites that were out of the public gaze. Besides which their 'quaintness' was what drew tourists to countryside branch lines. Mechanical handling was needed, however, at goods depots for loading containers and large crates etc. Many older depots were still equipped with manually operated goods cranes, to be either demolished completely and/or replaced by new buildings and hydraulically operated cranes.were brought to bear on speeding up delivery schedules between goods depots and either factories or domestic customers. In many instances mail was stacked in bags on open trolleys, as well as newspaper bundles, to be replaced by mobile cages hauled by re-chargeable electric platform tractors.
Money would be in short supply, however, as the 1920s and 1930s wore on during the slump. Where not in the public eye things plodded on as it had done in the course of the previous century. Gresley's penchant for fast passenger locomotives and new carriage stock for the 'showcase' lines meant the Company had largely to rely on pre-Grouping locomotive stock, the bigger constituents (GCR, GNR, NBR and NER) being more fortunate in this respect. Smaller players such as the GNoSR, GER and M&GNJR had to put up with whatever came their way when their own stock failed. The Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC) who only had track, signalling and stations could not afford to be choosy about what the LNER deemed suitable for their purposes. The Easingwold Light Railway north of York was given a Class J72 0-6-0 tank locomotive, a few open wagons and a pigeon van to deal with their traffic. Fortunately, as with the DVLR, the terrain was no challenge and trains did not generally run faster than 20-25 mph. The DVLR's biggest traffic flow was in grain wagons for the Scottish whisky distillers, local or national bakeries and animal foodstuffs.
The likelihood of hostilities with Germany re-arising in the later 1930s saw preparations set in motion to deal with exigencies (see 'HERITAGE - 51-52)
Intensive building and storage of resources was resumed. Although a number of freight locomotive classes had been built to augment older pre-Grouping stock (J30 0-6-0, K3 and K4 2-6-0, and V2 2-6-2) the Company still relied heavily on the older engines. The GCR, GNR, NBR and NER had invested copiously in heavy goods, freight and mineral motive power, but some of these engines were by 1939 a little antiquated.
With the death 'in harness' of Sir Nigel Gresley in April, 1941, his successor Edward Thompson embarked on new mixed traffic locomotive building. The Class B1 4-6-0 emerged from various works. Nicknamed 'Bongos' - a number were named after African antelopes - these locomotives were reliable and built to a standardised design with easy access to the coupled wheelsets without having to resort to hoists. They were easily maintained - unlike many of Gresley's designs, that depended on pre-War manpower levels for care - and were allocated around the LNER network between the Thames in England and the Dee in Scotland.
Class L1 2-6-4 tank engines were also introduced for short-haul passenger and mixed traffic around the system, allocated on suburban and rural routes, although they did not perform as well as Class A6 and A8 4-6-2 tank locomotives on undulating coastal routes. They were also introduced on more level East Anglian services for which they were better suited.
A number of Pacific tender engines were created from rebuilding Gresley's class P1 and P2 2-8-2 and the last batch of Class V2 2-6-2. These were re-classified A2/1, A2/2 and A2/3. Class A1 4470 'Great Northern' was also rebuilt to class A1/1. The rebuilt locomotives were allocated to sheds along the ECML between 'Top Shed' (King's Cross, London) and York.
A rebuilt medium 2-6-0 tender locomotive from Class K4 , K1/1 3445 'MacCailin Mor' was put back in service on the West Highland line fish trains. She would be the prototype for Thompson's successor Arthur Peppercorn's Class K1, allocated around the former LNER area of British Railways (Eastern, North Eastern and Scottish).
Thompson's new classes K1, A1 and A2 were redesigned after his retirement by Arthur Peppercorn, whose year in office saw a number of modifications but no new engines or stock.
He also introduced steel bodied main line and suburban carriages to augment or replace older stock. With their smoother outline bodies and elliptical opaque end windows similar to the Pullman style, these were distinctive in their appearance. On the suburban and stopping trains the lavatory composite composites were also fitted with the opaque oval toilet windows halfway along the vehicle. A short 4 wheeled general purpose van design with the same end profile as the suburban carriages was added to the fleet, as well as full brakes for express baggage and parcels, to be attached to express passenger services. Some were later to be found in parcels train formations as new British Railways stock was introduced.
Edward Thompson locomotive builds and re-builds
Post-War services thrived into the 1950s, although the writing was on the wall...
With relaxed petrol rationing (Nasser and the Suez crisis in 1956 notwithstanding), increased car ownership and more frequent bus or coach journeys over longer distances, less travellers used the rail services. Country bus services ran into the heart of villages, whereas stations were often at least a couple of miles away.
Nevertheless there were still full trains on main and trunk lines, and when railway speed restrictions were lifted in the 1950s to shorten journey times some drifted back to take the train. It was after all more leisurely and on longer trips there were buffet cars to visit for a cuppa, a snack and a chat. Many still took the train from cities to seaside towns, such as at Scarborough and Whitby or Bridlington, where whole factories shut down in Bradford, Leeds, Halifax and Huddersfield or Sheffield. Trains were even routed from Glasgow via Edinburgh to Scarborough by way of a little known junction at Pilmoor between York and Thirsk. Even with a reversal over the bridge near Malton on the Driffield line, and forward onto the York-Scarborough line it was quicker than a coach or car.
Then came the late 1960s and package holidays by air to the Mediterranean, that signalled the end of seaside extravaganzas, ice cream, kiss-me-quick hats, toffee apples, candy floss, sticks of rock (rolled, brittle candy), saucy picture postcards and walks on the promenade... Although not forever, but that's another story.
Thompson passenger stock - corridor and non-corridor restoration
© 2018 Alan R Lancaster