Great Central Railway Co

The Great Central Railway (GCR) began its existence in 1837 as the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway authorised to build a railway between Manchester and Sheffield via Woodhead. In 1846 it took over the Manchester & Lincoln Union Railway, the Sheffield & Lincolnshire Junction Railway and the Sheffield & Lincolnshire Extension Railway and changed its name to the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway. It changed its name again in 1897 when it became known as the Great Central Railway Company.

Until the building of the London Extension in 1893 its area of operations was east from Manchester to Sheffield and the south Yorkshire coalfields, and North Lincolnshire. It expanded westwards as a member of the Cheshire Lines Committee. As a result of its rivalry with the Great Northern Railway, it became a member of the Euston Square Confederacy (an anti-competitive conspiracy of the LNWR, LYR, East Lancashire and MR) from 1851 to 1857, when it settled its differences with GNR.

The GCR expanded southwards into Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Its purpose was to collect coal traffic which was then forwarded to the GNR for delivery over the GNR’s system. However, the ambition of its chairman, Sir Edward Watkin, was to extend to London and beyond. The London Extension was completed in 1897. It ran from Annesley near Nottingham to Quainton Road, where it joined the Metropolitan Railway, and terminated in its new London terminus at Marylebone. The GCR subsequently built a new route jointly with the GWR via Aylesbury, Princes Risborough and High Wycombe to give it a second approach to Marylebone.

Its main works were at Gorton in Greater Manchester.

Sir Edward Watkin was appointed general manager in 1854 but resigned in 1862. He was chairman between 1864 to 1894. He was ambitious for the GCR and turned it from a provincial railway into a national one.

Sir Sam Fay became general manager in 1902. J G Robinson became chief mechanical engineer in 1900. His 2-8-0 became the Railway Operating Department’s locomotive during the Great War.

The GCR became part of the London & North Eastern Railway under Grouping in 1923. The London Extension and the lines through the Woodhead Tunnel have now been lifted.