3 SEPTEMBER 1898, Page 18


back, it will be seen, more than fifty years. But the title of "Great Northern Railway" is at least ten years older, for in 1835 an engineer, Joseph Gibbs by name, projected a line which was to be so called, and was to run from Whitechapel, via Dunmow, Cambridge, Sleaford, and Lincoln, to York. The scheme came to nothing, and a slack time of railway enterprise succeeded to the zeal 'of earlier days. In 1840-41 only one scheme was submitted to Parliament. Then came another change with cheap money and much bullion at the Bank (£13,500,000 was then an abnormally large sum), and the famous "railway mania" fairly set in. Mr. Gibbs's scheme (Mr. Gibbs himself being • ' left out in the cold ") came to the fore again, with some important modifications of route, for the line was now to run through Hitchin, Biggleswade, Huntingdon, Stamford, Grantham, Newark, Gainaborough, and Doncaster, sub- stantially the present route, though this passes to the east of Stamford and west of Gainsborough. But before the project could be translated into fact a hard battle was to be fought. The eminent engineeer who had supplanted Gibbs deserted -the Company at a critical time. But Mr. Edmund Denison, father of the present Lord Grimthorpe, was equal to the occa- sion. He secured the services of Mr. William Cubitt, rousing that gentleman from his bed to make him the offer, and the plans were put in hand. As to these, the great difficulty was how to get out of London at a moderate expense. The ter- minus was to be at King's Cross, where Mr. Cubitt engaged to build a station for between £50,000 and £60,000 (the arch at Euston, a mere ornament, had cost more). Then the Northern heights had to be penetrated. There were very few houses in the way, but "the first twenty-three miles showed • The Ntstory of the Great Northern Railway, 1846-95. By Charles H. Grinling. London: Methuen and Co. Ma. 68.] an almost unbroken series of tunnels, cuttings, and embank- ments." Enemies, led by Hudson, the "Railway King," then at the height of his power, dwelt on these difficulties, Hudson himself declaring that if the line were constructed, a train could not reach York at all " on a thick, foggy day when the rails were greasy,"—and yet 1 in 100 was the steepest gradient ! The Board of Trade Commissioners— "the five Kings" they were popularly called—reported against the scheme. The promoters, however, were not dismayed. Their Bill had been read in the House of Commons a second time, and they resolved to meet its antagonists in Committee. They scored the first success. One rival, the Direct Northern, was put out of court. Serious errors were discovered in the engineers' sections, and it was not allowed to proceed. The Committee met on April 28th, the Great Northern (then styled London and York) being represented by five counsel, Mr. Serjeant Wrangham leading, Serjeant Kinglake, Mr. E. B. Denison (Lord Grimthorpe), and two others being with him. The crowd of interested spectators was immense; indeed the smell of that Committee-room. made an impression on the Com- mittee Clerk of the House which he never forgot. The first evidence offered was about the probable traffic. Some curious things came out. At Barnet, for instance, coal cost 45s. per ton, whereas the Company promised to carry it from the South Yorkshire pits for less than 10s. Then came the engineering evidence and that of the contractors, all of it being subjected to a most minute cross-examination from the hostile party. It was rather on time, however, than on argu- ment that the enemy relied. For nearly three months the struggle went on. It was not till July 23rd that the Chair- man of the Committee (Lord Coartenay, afterwards twelfth Earl of Devon) announced its decision "that the preamble of the London and York Bill was proved." The Railway King, addressing a Midland meeting two days afterwards, said that this conclusion had been reached "with breathless haste." Bat the " resources of civilisation " were not yet exhausted. The enemy attacked the " subscription contract." Were the sub- scribers of the capital genuine and solvent persons P A list of names alleged to be either fictitious or belonging to im- pecunious persons was drawn up. In some cases the charge was proved. One subscriber was an inmate of the Charter- house—" the great railway proprietor of the Charterhouse " he was afterwards called—who had obtained an allotment of scrip (which he had promptly sold) by using a wealthy brother's address. In the end £73,000 was found to have been subscribed by persons needy or non-existent, and the Bill was postponed. But in the next Session the Railway King offered £2,000,000 of Great Eastern stock if the London and York would give up its scheme. This was promptly rejected. Finally, not to go into more details, on June 8th, 1846, the Lords' Committee, presided over by Lord Lovelace (the first Earl), pronounced in favour of the Bill, which received the Royal Assent on June 26th, the same day, Mr. Grinling reminds us, as the Corn-Law Repeal Bill. The Company was estimated to have spent more than a quarter of a million before a single sod had been turned. What its rivals had spent we are not told, except in one instance. the Direct Northern, an undertaking which had been amal- gamated. Here the cost had been put at £89,945. Before the works were begun these estimates had to be revised, and it was found that the enormous total of £432,620 12s. ld. had been reached. Finance, indeed, was soon to become a serious trouble. The cheap money of 1843 had been succeeded by a different state of things. All securities fell. Consols, which had been above par, stood at 86. Great Northern shares suffered as much as anything, and with £8 paid they were worth only £3. Calls under these circumstances were not readily responded to. Still, the work went on. Various portions were opened in 1845, one running to Doncaster being among them. But profits were tardy and slow. The first profit actually realised was £10,000, which had accrued by the end of 1849. Verily the pioneers of railway needed plenty of patience ! In August, 1850, a train ran for the first time from London to Peterborough. One of the earliest passengers was the " Railway King " himself, now discrowned. In August, 1851, the first dividend (El 10s. per cent.) was paid on the original stock.

By this time the era of war, fought out by the cutting of rates, had commenced. So fierce was the struggle that

passengers were carried to towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire and back for five shillings. The fare might have been lowered still more had not the Great Northern manager declared that whatever rival Companies might charge, the Great Northern would charge sixpence less. In the fury of combat the Great Northern took passengers to Sheffield and back for five shillings, forgetting that it paid more for the use of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincoln line, and so made an absolute loss on every ticket. In August, however, a reference, previously agreed upon, to the arbitration of Mr. Gladstone was actually made, and on the 26th of that month the award was given, and a not very satisfactory peace followed. If the Companies had been on better terms, the splendid scheme of Mr. Pearson for a great central station, in Holborn or the Haymarket, might have been realised. But it was not to be, to the permanent loss of the public,—de/irant reges, plectuntur Achivi.

In 1856 war broke out again. It was fought, as before, by low rates, in the newspapers, where the public had the pleasure of enjoying the trenchant epistolary style which is hereditary in the Denisons, and, almost vi et arias, in the stations. The North. Western authorities actually arrested passengers who alighted at the Manchester station from Sheffield trains. (In the earlier campaign the hostile Companies had actually captured and imprisoned a Great Northern locomotive, which they kept in a shed, with the approaching rails torn up, for seven months.) Rates were made lower than ever, excursionists being carried to Manchester and back for five shillings. By the end of 1858 peace was once more restored.

Meanwhile, the Company had been suffering from the misdeeds of one of its own servants. It was discovered that dividends had been paid in excess of the sum due on the Company's stock, and after various inquiries, which were delayed, if not baffled, by the culprit, it was found that Leopold Redpath had created fictitious stock for more than £200,000. Various expenses raised the Company's loss to nearly a quarter of a million. Redpath was convicted, and sentenced to transportation for life. He richly deserved the punishment, but one cannot help feeling that his crime was very little different from the familiar process of " watering " stock by which gigantic fortunes have been made on the other side of the Atlantic.

For the first twelve years of its working the Great Northern was remarkably free from accidents to passengers. Then (in 1860) Mr. Francis Pym, of Biggleswade, was killed, and the Company had to pay £9,000 in damages and £2,000 in costs. Thirteen years afterwards came a disastrous collision at net- ford, and in 1876 another still more fatal at Abbott's Ripton, in which thirteen were killed and fifty-three injured. Both were costly, though Mr. Grinling does not, and probably could not, give figures. Perhaps a third disaster, that which occurred in the Canonbury tunnel in December, 1881, was the most expensive of all. In this five passengers were killed, ten seriously injured, and one hundred and seventeen bruised and shaken. This was caused by the mistake of an experi- enced signalman, certified to be competent, sober, and not long come on duty. "He had simply put a wrong interpreta- tion on a telegraphic signal which he received." The last events of historic importance in the Company's annals are the race to Edinburgh of 1886-88, and the race to Aberdeen of 1890.95. In the first, the speed of 55i miles per hoar was attained between London and York, the minimum time for York being 3 hours 30 min., and for the whole distance to Edinburgh 7 hours 32 min.; in the second, York was reached in 3 hours 1 min., the 105j• miles to Grantham being run in a hundred and one minutes. Bat on this occasion the West Coast lines held their own, perhaps even more than held it. On August 22nd-23rd the West Coast accomplished the 539 miles to Aberdeen in 8 hours 32 min., showing a speed of 631 miles per hour.

Mr. Grinling's book can hardly fail to take its place as the standard history of the Great Northern Railway. But might not he publish a popular history for readers whose time is scanty ? Why not, now that every month sees a new series, a series of "The Great Railways " ?