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The Midland Railway (MR) was a railway company in the United Kingdommarker from 1844 to 1922, when it became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

Initially the MR's main line, now known as the Midland Main Line, connected the East Midlands to Londonmarker and to Leedsmarker. Eventually the Midland, with its head office in Derbymarker, had a large network of lines centred on the East Midlands, and main lines connecting the East Midlands to Birminghammarker and Bristolmarker, and to Manchestermarker. It was the only pre-grouping railway to own or share lines in Englandmarker, Scotlandmarker, Walesmarker and Irelandmarker.


The Midland Railway Consolidation Act was passed in 1844 authorising the merger of the Midland Counties Railway, the North Midland Railway, and the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway. These met at the Tri-Junct station at Derby, where the railway also established its locomotive and later its carriage and wagonmarker works.

Leading it were the dynamic but unscrupulous George Hudson from the North Midland, and John Ellis from the Midland Counties, a careful businessman of impeccable integrity. From the Birmingham line James Allport found a place elsewhere in Hudson's empire with the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway, though he later returned.

The line was in a commanding position having its Derby headquarters at the junctions of the two main routes from London to Scotland. This by virtue of its connections to the London and Birmingham Railway in the south, and, in the north, the lines from Yorkmarker, via the York and North Midland Railway.


Almost immediately it took over the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway and the Erewash Valley Line in 1845, the latter giving access to the Nottinghamshiremarker and Derbyshiremarker coalfields. It absorbed the Mansfield and Pinxton Railwaymarker in 1847, building a connection of the latter between Chesterfieldmarker and Trent Junctionmarker at Long Eatonmarker, finally completed to Chesterfield in 1862, the Erewash Valley Line, giving access to the coalfields that would become its major source of income. Passengers from Sheffieldmarker continued to use Masboroughmarker until a direct route was completed in 1870.

Meanwhile it extended its influence in the Leicestershiremarker coalfields, firstly by buying the Leicester and Swannington Railway in 1846, then extending it to Burton in 1849.

The South-West

After the merger, London trains were carried on the shorter Midland Counties route. The former B&DJR was left with the traffic to Birmingham and Bristolmarker, at that time still an important seaport. The original 1839 line from Derby had run to Hampton-in-Arden railway stationmarker, but the B&DJR had built a terminus at Lawley Streetmarker in 1842, then in 1851 the Midland started to run into Curzon Streetmarker.

The line south was the Birmingham and Bristol Railway, which reached Curzon Street via Camp Hillmarker. These two lines had been formed by the merger of the standard gauge Birmingham and Gloucester Railway and the broad gauge Bristol and Gloucester Railway.

They met at Gloucester via a short loop of the Cheltenham and Great Western Union Railway. The change of gauge at Gloucester meant that everything had to be transferred between trains, creating chaos. Morever, the C&GWU was owned by the Great Western Railway, which wished to extend its network by taking over the Bristol to Birmingham route. It is said that in 1845, while the two parties were bickering over the price, the Midland's John Ellis overheard two directors of the B&B on a London train discussing the business, and took it on himself to pledge that the Midland would match anything the Great Western would offer.

Since it would have brought broad gauge into Curzon Streetmarker, with the possibility of extending it to the Mersey, it was something that the other standard gauge lines wished to avoid, and they pledged to assist the Midland with any losses it might incur. In the event all that was necessary was for the later LNWR to share New Streetmarker with the Midland when it was opened in 1854. At this time Lawley Street became a goods depot.

Eastern competition

As has been noted, the Midland controlled all the traffic to the North East and Scotland from London. The LNWR was progressing slowly through the Lake District. Meanwhile there was pressure for a direct line from London to York. Permission had been gained for the Northern and Eastern Railway to run through Peterboroughmarker and Lincolnmarker but it had barely reached Cambridgemarker.

Two obvious extensions of the Midland Counties line were from Nottinghammarker to Lincoln and from Leicestermarker to Peterborough. They had not been proceeded with, but Hudson saw that that they would make ideal "stoppers." In other words, if the cities concerned were provided with a rail service, it would make it more difficult to justify another line. They were approved while the bill for the direct line was still before Parliament, forming the present day Lincoln Branch and the Syston to Peterborough Line.

The Leeds and Bradford Railway had been approved in 1844. By 1850 it was losing money but a number of railways offered to buy it out. Hudson made an offer more or less on his own account and the line gave the Midland an exit to the north which later became the start of the Settle and Carlisle line. In addition it gave the Midland a much more convenient station at Leeds Wellington.

Hudson's defection

In spite of the objections of Hudson, for the Midland, and others, the new "London and York Railway", (later the Great Northern Railway) led by Edmund Denison persisted, and the bill passed through Parliament in 1846.

Hudson changed his allegiance and promoted a short line to connect his York and North Midland Railway to Knottingley, ostensibly as a quarry line, that would give the Great Northern an easy entry into York.

His defection incensed the Midland's directors. Their rejection of him attracted the attention of others and questions began to be asked about other aspects of his financial affairs. Apart, perhaps, from the canals, until the beginning of the century there had simply been no companies with the size and capitalisation of the railways. Company law was still in its infancy, something which many took advantage of. There is no doubt that Hudson had greatly encouraged railway development, but his financial practices had often been dubious. In the end he was discredited and retired to Paris in poverty.

After Hudson's departure, the Midland was in financial difficulties. Opposition to the Great Northern bill had cost a fortune, a great deal of maintenance was overdue, and the Lincoln and Peterborough lines were still to be paid for. Added to this, the Great Northern was taking much of the traffic from the North-East, particularly as the Midland was dependent on the LNWR from Rugbymarker into London.

Thanks to the control that had been exercised by John Ellis, there was no impropriety in the company's accounts, and it was due to his business acumen that the Midland survived and prospered.

Rather than compete on the passenger front, he first set out to concentrate on the coal trade, for in this he had an advantage over both the GNR and the M&SLR. While a number of lines had access to the Yorkshire fields and resisted encroachment by others, the Midland had virtually sole access to the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire mines, which were thirty miles or more nearer London.

The Battle of Nottingham

In 1851 the Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston and Eastern Junction Railway completed its line from Granthammarker as far as Colwickmarker, from where a branch led to the Midland's Nottingham station. The Great Northern by then passed through Grantham and both railway companies paid court to the fledgling line. Meanwhile Nottingham had woken up to its branch line status and was keen to expand. The Midland made a takeover offer only to discover that a shareholder of the GN had already gathered a quantity of Ambergate shares. An attempt to amalgamate the line with the GN was foiled by Ellis who managed to obtain an Order in Chancery preventing the GN from running into Nottingham. However in 1851 it opened a new service to the north which, regardless of this, included Nottingham. The first of its trains to run into Nottingham in 1852 was preceded and followed by Midland locomotives which shepherded its loco into an old shed and the lines were pulled up.

The Euston Square Confederacy

The London and Birmingham Railway and its successor the London and North Western Railway had been under pressure from two directions. Firstly the Great Western Railway had been foiled in its attempt to enter Birmingham by the Midland, but it still had designs on Manchester. At the same time the LNWR was under threat from the Great Northern's attempts to enter Manchester by means of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway.

The LNWR was led by the brilliant but totally unscrupulous Captain Mark Huish. At first, observing the poor state of the Midland finances, he had proposed an amalgamation which Ellis opposed, seeking better terms. He then formed an alliance with the MS&LR and the Midland against the Great Northern, which became known as the Euston Square Confederacy.

An agreement was reached whereby passenger traffic was shared and the Midland would be compensated for passengers taken by the GN. Another problem which arose in 1851 coincided with the Great Exhibition. The GN had just opened and took most of the Midland's traffic. The Midland retaliated by cutting its fares, resulting in a price war in which journeys were virtually being given away. Gladstone, who was the minister responsible for railways at that time, imposed a traffic sharing scheme between the two lines for journeys from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. In time the Midland grew stronger and, when relationships were soured between Huish and the MS&LR, the Confederacy was virtually at an end.

To London

In 1850 the Midland, though much more secure, was still a provincial line. Ellis realised that if it were to fend off its competitors it must expand outwards. The first step was to appoint James Allport as Chief Engineer and the next was to shake off the dependence on the LNWR from Rugby into Eustonmarker.

Although a bill for running the line from Hitchinmarker into Kings Cross,marker jointly with the Great Northern Railway, was passed in 1847 it had not been proceeded with.

The bill was resubmitted in 1853 with the support of the people of Bedford, whose branch to the LNWR was slow and unreliable, and with the knowledge of the Northamptonshire iron deposits.

The new line ran from Wigstonmarker toward Market Harboroughmarker, through Desboroughmarker, Ketteringmarker, Wellingboroughmarker and Bedfordmarker, joining the GNR at Hitchinmarker to run into King's Cross.

While this took some of the pressure off the route through Rugby, the GN would not allow passengers into London on Midland trains. It insisted that they should alight at Hitchin, buying tickets in the short time available, to catch a GNR train to finish their journey. In the end Allport managed to arrange a seven-year deal with the GN to run into King's Cross for a guaranteed £20,000 a year

By 1860 Midland was in a much better position and was able to approach new ventures aggressively. Its carriage of coal and iron - and beer from Burton-on-Trentmarker - had increased by three times and passenger numbers were rising, as they were on the GN. Since the GN trains took precedence on its own lines, Midland passengers were becoming more and more delayed. Finally in 1862 the decision was taken for the line have its own terminus in the Capital as befitted a national railway.

The new line would deviate at Bedford and would pass through a gap in the Chiltern Hillsmarker at Lutonmarker reaching London by curving around Hampstead Heathmarker to a point between King's Cross and Euston.

The new station at St Pancrasmarker completed in 1868 has remained as a marvel of "Victorian Gothic" architecture, in the form of the enormous hotel by Gilbert Scott which faces Euston Road, and the massive wrought iron train shed designed by William Barlow. Its construction was not simple since it had to approach over an ancient abandoned graveyard. Below it was the Fleet Sewer, while a branch from the main line was to be built, running underground with a steep gradient beneath the station to join the Metropolitan Railway which ran parallel to what is now Euston Road.

To Manchester

From the 1820s proposals for lines from London and the East Midlands had been proposed, and they had considered using the Cromford and High Peak Railway to reach Manchester.(See Derby station) The ideas had never reached fruition since the practicality of using cable haulage for passenger trains was always in doubt.

Finally the Midland joined with the London and Birmingham Railway, which was also looking for its own access to Manchester, in a proposal for a line from Ambergatemarker. To be known as the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway, it received the Royal Assent in 1846, in spite of opposition from the Sheffield, Ashton-Under-Lyne and Manchester Railway. It was completed as far as Rowsleymarker a few miles north of Matlockmarker in 1849. However the London and Birmingham had become part of the LNWR in 1846, thus instead of being a partner it had an interest in thwarting the Midland.

In 1863 the Midland reached Buxton, just as the LNWR arrived from the other direction by means of the Stockport, Disley and Whaley Bridge Railway. In 1867 the Midland began an alternative line through Wirksworth (now known as the Ecclesbourne Valley Railwaymarker), to avoid the problem of the Ambergate line. The section from Wirksworth to Rowsley, which would have involved some tricky engineering, was not completed because the Midland gained control of the original line in 1871. Access to Manchester, however, was still blocked at Buxton. At length an agreement was made with the MS&LR to share lines, built from a branch at Millers Dalemarker and running almost alongside the LNWR, in what became known as the Sheffield and Midland Railway Companies' Committee.

Continuing friction with the LNWR caused the Midland to join the MS&LR and the GN in the Cheshire Lines Committee, which also gave scope for wider expansion into Lancashire and Cheshire, and finally a new station at Manchester Centralmarker.

In the meantime Sheffield had at last gained a main line station. Following representations by the council in 1867 the Midland promised to build a through line within two years. To the Midland's surprise, the Sheffield councillors then backed an improbable speculation called the Sheffield Chesterfield Bakewell Ashbourne Stafford and Uttoxeter Railway. This was unsurprisingly rejected by Parliament and the Midland built its "New Road" into a station at Pond Street. Loathed by all who used it, it was rebuilt in 1905 as the present Sheffield railway stationmarker.

Among the last of the major lines built by the Midland was a connection between Sheffield and Manchester, by means of a branch at Doremarker to Chinleymarker, opened in 1894, involving the construction of the Totley and Cowburnmarker Tunnels, now known as the Hope Valley Line.

Competition for coal

The Great Western Railway seemed oblivious to the massive expansion in coal and mineral production that was occurring in South Wales during the second half of the 19th century. The LNWR had already penetrated the area by taking over various small local lines. The Midland followed suit and in 1867 took over the Swansea Vale Railway, followed by the Hereford Hay and Brecon Railway in 1886.

Meanwhile in the East Midlands, dominance along the Erewash Valley was being challenged by the Great Northern and the Great Central. In 1878 the GNR's "Derbyshire Extension" line through Derby Friargatemarker opened. This cut directly through the coalfields north of the Midland line which ran along the Trent Valley, and in extending to Eggintonmarker, had access to Burton-on-Trentmarker and its lucrative beer traffic.

Thus the Midland retaliated with lines from Ambergate to Pye Bridge, from Basfordmarker to Bennerley Junction, and Radfordmarker to Trowellmarker. Later when mining became possible under the limestone to the east, more lines appeared around Mansfieldmarker

To Scotland

In the 1870s a dispute with the London and North Western Railway over access rights to the LNWR line to Scotland caused the MR to construct the Settle and Carlisle (S&C) line, the highest main line in England, in order to secure the company's access to Scotland; ironically the dispute with the LNWR was settled before the S&C was built, but Parliamentmarker refused to allow the MR to withdraw from the project, which was completed in 1876.

Later history

By 1870 the Midland straddled the country, lines from London and the South West meeting at Derby to travel to Scotland via the North West and the North-East. There were now four tracks from London as far as Trent Junction. In 1879 these were complemented by the Melton Line via Corbymarker, which also carried northern trains via Nottingham through Old Dalbymarker.

By the middle of the decade investment had been paid for, passenger travel was increasing with new comfortable trains, and goods traffic, the mainstay of the line, was increasing dramatically. In fact goods, particularly minerals, were its main business.

Allport retired in 1880, to be succeeded by John Noble and then by George Turner. By the new century the quantity of goods, particularly coal, was clogging the network. The Midland passenger service was acquiring a reputation for lateness. Lord Farrar reorganised, at least, the expresses but by 1905 the whole system was so overloaded that no one able to predict when many of the trains would reach their destinations and there were crews spending as much as a whole shift standing at a signal.

At this point Sir Guy Granet took over as General Manager. He introduced a centralised traffic control system, and the locomotive power classifications that became the model for those used by British Rail.

The Midland acquired a number of other lines, including the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway in 1903 and the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway in 1912. The Midland shared running rights on some lines, but it also developed lines in partnership with other railways, and was involved in more such 'Joint' lines than any other. In partnership with the Great Northern Railway it owned the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway to provide connections from the Midlands to East Anglia; the M&GN was the UK's biggest joint railway. The MR also provided motive power for the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway.


In 1914 all the railways in the country were taken under the control of the Railway Executive Committee and were paid an amount based on their receipts during 1913. All excursion traffic was cancelled. Passenger service and the steamers across the Irish Sea were limited in order to cater for munitions and troops trains, which at times overwhelmed the system. By the end of the war overcrowded trains were running at only half the prewar mileage. The overworked locomotives had not had the benefit of the prewar standard of maintenance, while many of the staff had never returned from the battlefront.

The Midland had not recovered from this when in 1921 the Government passed the Railways Act, with those uncomfortable bedfellows, the Midland and the LNWR, joining the Lancashire and Yorkshire, the Caledonian and the Glasgow and South Western Railway, along with such lines as the Furness and the North Staffordshire to form the London Midland and Scottish Railway.


The Midland pioneered the use of gas lighting for trains in Britain, put third-class carriages on all its trains in 1872, and abolished second class in 1875, giving third class passengers the level of comfort formerly afforded to second class passengers (elsewhere some third class passengers travelled in open wagons). This was an entirely pragmatic move - the second class seats were not well patronised - but controversial. Interestingly, there had been considerable resentment, on the part of the third class passengers, at the 'toffs' using it, at least for short journeys. Others saw it as promoting the working class above their social station. The railway also introduced the first British Pullman supplementary-fare cars.

The company was grouped into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) on 1 January 1923 and was the most influential of the companies that formed the LMS.

See also


  • Truman, P. and Hunt, D. (1989) Midland Railway Portrait, Sheffield : Platform 5, ISBN 0-906579-72-4

Further reading

  • Williams, Frederick Smeeton (1876) The Midland railway: its rise and progress, Strahan & Co.
  • Stretton, Clement Edwin (1901) The History of the Midland Railway available from Microsoft Live Search Books. (It should be noted that Stretton is not considered a reliable source. See [27790])
  • Barnes, E. G. (1966), The rise of the Midland Railway, 1844-1874, London: George Allen and Unwin
  • Barnes, E. G. (1969), The Midland main line, 1875-1922, London: George Allen and Unwin, ISBN 0-04-385049-9

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