Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway

Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway
Manchester,Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Ltd
Former type Private
Industry Railway
Fate Name Change
Predecessor Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway
Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway
Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway (Merged)
Successor Great Central Railway
Founded 1847
Defunct 1897 (Name change)
Headquarters Manchester, England
Key people James Joseph Allport
Edward Watkin
Products Rail Transport

The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR) was formed by amalgamation in 1847. The MS&LR changed its name to the Great Central Railway in 1897 in anticipation of the opening in 1899 of its London Extension.



The MS&LR was formed by the amalgamation of the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway with two proposed lines – the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway and the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway, with its headquarters at Manchester London Road. The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway had opened between Manchester and Sheffield in 1845, but as early as 1844 the promoters of the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction had approached the SA&MR with a view to the latter leasing it. The Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction had been promoted by the Grimsby Docks Company, actually the oldest company of the three. Until reaching south with its "Derbyshire Lines", the MS&LR was essentially an east-to-west Trans-Pennine line.

Before the formation of the MS&LR, the SA&MR had already absorbed a number of existing and proposed lines. Another important part of its operation was the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway, promoted as its link to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and which it owned and operated jointly with the Manchester and Birmingham Railway; although both the MSJ&AR, the M&BR and the L&MR subsequently became part of the London and North Western Railway.


The first board meeting of the amalgamated company took place on 6 January 1847. At this time only the SA&MR was open and running. During 1848, the GG&SJR succeeded in opening between Grimsby and New Holland and, later in the year, connecting to Market Rasen and Lincoln. Despite severe financial problems the whole line was completed during the next year, with the final link from Woodhouse Junction, near Sheffield, to Gainsborough being completed in 1849. On 16 July, a special train carried the directors from Liverpool to Grimsby.

Attention then turned towards a second bore for the Woodhead Tunnel and further expansion. The MS&LR also owned three important canals, the Ashton Canal, the Macclesfield Canal and the Peak Forest Canal, along with the Peak Forest Tramway. Approval was granted for an extension of the Whaley Bridge branch of the Peak Forest Canal from Bugsworth to the tramway, with the eventual aim of reaching Buxton, although it was not proceeded with. In 1849 the first part of the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway opened.

The M&SL had a good working relationship with the Great Northern. The GG&SR's first line from Grimsby to New Holland and the latter's ferries had opened the same day as the GNR's first line, that from Grimsby to Louth. There was also a close association where the GNR crossed near Retford, with the two sharing the station and the GNR granted running powers on S&LJR tracks into Sheffield. This gave the GNR access to Manchester and Liverpool, while it gave the MS&LR access to London. The MS&LR also a connection with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway at Stalybridge with which it shared the station.


The experience of other lines, notably the Midland and the LNWR was showing that a dedicated and competent manager was essential, and the MS&LR appointed James Allport who joined it on 1 January 1850. Among his other duties, he was charged with improving relations with the Midland and the LNWR. Thus the MS&LR became a partner in what was popularly known as the Euston Square Confederacy. However, while it gave a monopoly over the L&Y and Midland for traffic to Hull it prohibited co-operation with the Great Northern, with whom relations became increasingly bitter.

In 1851 through carriages were introduced from Sheffield to London via the Midland and LNWR. In the same year the electric telegraph which had been used in the Woodhead Tunnel was extended across the network – and a contract was signed by "Messres. Smith and Son of London" to sell books at the principal stations. In September, the new station at Sheffield was opened, and the Great Exhibition in London ensured a successful year.

The second bore of the Woodhead Tunnel finally opened at the beginning of 1852.

The Company's main source of income lay with freight, especially coal. and a number of new short lines were built, along with a start on the long-awaited Barnsley branch which, however, was not completed until 1855. However, Allport, possibly frustrated by the behaviour of some of the directors, accepted the post of General Manager of the Midland, and resigned in September.


Edward Watkin took over in his place in 1854. He had been the assistant of Huish at the LNWR and he revealed that the latter, in spite of the Euston Square agreement, had been negotiating with the GNR for a territorial division between the two companies, to the detriment of the MS&LR – and the Midland. Relations between the MS&LR and the GNR improved as the restrictions placed on the latter's operations over the MS&LR lines were removed, and MS&LR became somewhat wary of the LNWR. In particular a number of new small lines were being built. Some would give the MS&LR an alternative path into Liverpool, while the proposed Stockport, Disley and Whaley Bridge Railway, supported by the LNWR, would supplant its own plans for a line to Peak Forest and Buxton, which it had not been able to pursue. The LNWR still felt threatened however and placated the MS&LR by a series of mutual agreements.

However in 1855 there was another meeting at Euston Square. The Stockport to Whaley Bridge line was virtually complete and the possibility of extending it to Buxton or Rowsley was discussed. Both the MS&LR and the Midland proposed that no one of the three companies should proceed alone with any scheme, but the meeting ended with them more than a little suspicious of the LNWR. At this point legal action was taken against a common purse agreement which existed between the LNWR and the Midland. When it succeeded, the confederacy was virtually at an end, particularly when Huish renewed his territorial offer to the Great Northern. This the GNR refused, strengthening instead its ties with the MS&LR with its route into Manchester.

The MS&LR also cut all its ties with the LNWR, and the relationship became increasingly bitter, which came to a head in the matter of Manchester station. Previously the MS&LR, perennially short of money, had vacated their offices and booking facilities, the LNWR having agreed to operate them. Now the MS&LR wanted to return. Of the first two booking clerks to arrive, one was refused entry and the other ejected. For a while the LNWR were arresting MS&LR passengers as they arrived. By 1858, a price war was raging for both passengers and freight, that was alarming other railway companies. When, however, the co-operative agreement between the MS&LR and the GNR was ratified by Parliament, while it declared past private agreements with the LNWR as void, the stage was set for the peacemakers. At a meeting of nineteen different railway companies at the Railway Clearing House most, if not all, of the disagreements were overcome. A meeting at Euston Square saw agreement between the GNR, the MS&LR and the LNWR on the matter of fares and handling of traffic, with disputes settled by arbitration. While the first two became closer however, they remained wary of the LNWR's intentions.

Nevertheless the MS&LR was still able to work with its aggressive neighbour, as with the construction of the Oldham, Ashton and Guide Bridge Railway which was leased jointly with the LNWR in 1862. Meanwhile, in 1858, the MS&LR had opened a branch from Newton to Hyde and in 1859 an extension was proposed, the Marple, New Mills and Hayfield Railway. To prevent repercussions it was promoted as a private venture. In time it would prove to be an important part of Midland Railway history. At the same time, private investors had floated the Cheshire Midland Railway and the Stockport and Woodley Junction Railway. In spite of opposition from the LNWR, Watkin and his directors gave support and in 1860 another line was proposed – the Stockport, Timperley and Altrincham Junction Railway. The GNR, taking an interest, suggested resurrecting an earlier scheme for a line between Garston and Liverpool, and became a partner in the last two, plus the West Cheshire, when they gained Parliamentary approval in 1861. This group of lines would become the Cheshire Lines Committee.

Watkin resigns and returns

Watkin had interests in railways outside the MS&LR and, being granted three months leave of absence to recover his health, agreed to examine the affairs of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. The MS&LR was on a verge of an association with the GNR and, possibly the LNWR, that would solve its financial problems. However an event during his absence put an end to his plans. The Midland Railway were determined to find a path into Manchester. It was already building an extension to Buxton from Rowsley but the LNWR was proceeding into Buxton from the other direction. One day, it is said, some directors of the MS&LR met James Allport and others, while the latter were prospecing an alternative route. The upshot was that the MS&LR agreed to share their line from New Mills with the Midland, the latter extending their line to meet it. This, which was later approved as the Sheffield and Midland Railway Companies' Committee, threatened to cause a schism with the GNR. Clearly the MS&LR could not countenance another major line in their territory, but Watkin was incensed, and tendered his resignation.

Watkin remained a major shareholder and retained a seat on the board, taking an active role in many of the MS&LR's projects, such as the Cheshire Lines Committee. He had grand ambitions for the company: he had plans to transform it from a provincial middle-of-the-road railway company into a major national player.

In 1864 he resumed control when he was elected Chairman and was at once involved in proposing new lines and opposing others in the complex interactions of the railway companies of that time. In particular, both the MS&LR and the GNR were threatened for a while by the Great Eastern Northern Junction. This was supported at various times by the GER and L&Y and threatened to produce a competing main line to London. However among the advances were the lease of the South Yorkshire Railway and progress with the Cheshire lines. In 1865, the Midland joined as a third partner. In 1866 the Midland began running from Rowsley through New Mills into Manchester London Road, and had at long last gained its path to London.

By 1870, Watkin had relinquished his position on the boards of the GWR and the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. However he had joined the board of the GER and was Chairman of the South Eastern Railway He was knighted in 1868 and made a baronet in 1880.

Continued growth

Watkin was a visionary who wanted to build a new railway line that would not only link his network to London, but which one day would be expanded and link to a future Channel Tunnel. This latter ambition was never fulfilled completely. However, when Watkin became Chairman of the South Eastern Railway in the 1880s he was involved in the earliest attempt to construct it.

Demand for coal was rising dramatically through the latter half of the nineteenth century, and competition between the different railways was keen. The MS&L had access to the Yorkshire coalfields, but was dependent on the Great Northern to ship it to London. The latter was dependent on other lines for the traffic. The Midland had the advantage of both lines into the Derbyshire coalfields and its own path to London. In spite of attempts to arrange more favourable price agreements, the Yorkshire coal owners felt aggrieved and proposed the Coalowners' Associated (London) Railway, with the help of the MS&L and the Great Eastern. The bill was rejected, partly because it was not intended to carry passengers. Watkin was relieved, because, secretly, he hoped to negotiate running powers into London over the Great Northern's lines. In 1875 he became Chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, having already relinquished his post on the Great Eastern. With his association with the South Eastern, it gave him a firm foothold in the capital.

However, in the short term, the demand for the MS&L's services had risen to the point where it was paralysed by the density of traffic and attention had be given to improving the existing infrastructure. The company as forced to invest heavily in extra sidings, relief tracks and station improvements. Throughout its history the MS&L had been the subject of merger proposals with other railways. In 1875, the LNWR and the Midland planned to absorb the North Staffordshire Railway, and Watkin suggested to the Great Northern that their two companies might make a counter-offer. Both schemes fell through. However, in 1877, the Great Northern suggested that it, the Midland and the MS&LR should merge, the scheme foundering, to the annoyance of the MS&LR directors, on the conditions stiplulated by Watkin.

The Cheshire Lines Committee, too had been growing steadily and in 1874, it opened Liverpool Central station involving a tunnel, 1,320 yards (1,207 m) long, and with a single arched trainshed 65 feet (20 m) high. In 1877 a temporary station was built at Manchester Central, approached by a mile and a quarter long viaduct. The permanent station was opened in 1880, another single arch trainshed, built by Andrew Handyside of Derby and the Midland transferred to it, at first approaching via Stockport Tiviot Dale, then later building a direct line from Chinley.

Watkin became associated with the Submarine Continental Railway Company, an attempt to build a tunnel under the English Channel, but in 1882, the Board of Trade ordered it to cease work. His attention turned to the Humber. Trial borings were made by the MS&L at South Ferriby, while the North Eastern Railway had done the same at North Ferriby. Permission was secured to investigate the Humber itself in 1883, and an estimate prepared. However, the imminent construction of the Hull and Barnsley Railway made the project unlikely to be profitable.

Expansion of the network continued and in 1889 permission was granted for a line from Beighton, where the MS&LR crossed the Midland, to Annesley. This was the first step on the road to London.

Access to the coalfields of North Wales had been sought since 1861 by various lines, and in 1884, Watkin proposed the Chester & Connah's Quay Railway. The major obstacle was the crossing of the River Dee for which a swing bridge at Hawarden was designed by Francis Fox. This allowed the MS&LR and the Wrexham, Mold and Connah's Quay Railway to jointly launch the Welsh Railways Union Bill.

Towards London

By the 1890s construction of the company's so-called "Derbyshire Lines" had continued, including a station at Chesterfield, and trains via Annesley running into the GNR's Nottingham London Road. In 1889, Watkin wrote to the Great Northern soliciting its support for a line from Nottingham to the Metropolitan which, by that time, had extended to Aylesbury, in co-operation, if need be, with the Midland and the LNWR. The following year the GNR declined and, in spite of its somewhat shaky finances, the MS&LR submitted the Bill for the extension in 1891. Watkin and his co-directors set out to gather support which came from a number of influential businessmen and councillors in the area it would serve.

Not surprisingly there was strong opposition from the Midland and the LNWR. Unexpected however, was the vociferous opposition of the artists in St. John's Wood and the cricketers of Lords, all extremely influential in the public arena. An arrangement was agreed with the cricketers, but little would placate the artists who foresaw "a line for the conveyance not only of passengers, but of coal, manure, fish and other abominations." The opposition was led by the GNR and the Bill failed at its first stage.

The MS&LR came to various agreements with the GNR and support was gained, not only from the Metropolitan and the South Eastern, but various Sheffield manufacturers. Some of the London objectors was removed by the expedient of buying their houses. The following year the Bill was submitted again, and had reached the Lords when an election was called, thus Royal Assent was not obtained until March 1893.

In 1892 the Metropolitan had extended to Aylesbury, joining the Aylesbury and Buckingham line. The plan was to join the latter at Quainton Road. The line would leave the Metropolitan at St. John's Wood and proceed by a cut and cover tunnel under Lords Cricket Ground – hence the opposition from those quarters – to the new station at Marylebone.

Watkin was now seventy four and, having virtually achieved his dream, succumbed to his deteriorating health and retired to his home in North Wales in 1894, resigning the chairmanship of his various companies.

At the time many people questioned the wisdom of building the line, as all the significant population centres which the line traversed were already served by other railway companies' lines.

When it was opened in 1897, the Company changed its name to the Great Central Railway. At the same time the headquarters of the Railway was moved from Manchester to London (Marylebone).

The MS&LR constituent railways

The system gradually built up over the years, as shown (including dates of opening):

Founding members in 1847
 :Including the Grimsby Docks Company
Including the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Extension Railway (1846) and the
Manchester and Lincoln Union Railway (and Chesterfield & Gainsborough Canal Co) (1845)
Co-owned by the SA&ML with the LNWR
Later railways becoming part of the MS&LR

The MS&LR, also had part ownership of the Cheshire Lines Committee with the GNR and MidR and had direct access to Liverpool, Chester and Warrington.

On 1 August 1897 the MS&LR assumed the title of the Great Central Railway.

Locomotive Works

The locomotive works was situated at Gorton, Manchester, opened in 1849. They were known as "The Tank". On the opposite side of the main line was the works of Beyer-Peacock, and many of its locomotives were built there.

Locomotive Engineers

MS&LR locomotives

  • Class D5 4-4-0 1894–1897 six of the class were built
  • Class D7 4-4-0 1887–1894 operated the MS&LR express trains, Manchester to London (Kings' Cross, via Retford and G.N.R. line)
  • Class D8 4-4-0 1888
  • Class E2 2-4-0 1888 3 built for the Manchester-Grantham expresses
  • Class F1 2-4-2T 1889–1893 39 built
  • Class F2 2-4-2T 10 built
  • Class J8 0-6-0
  • Class J9 0-6-0
  • Class J10 0-6-0
  • Class J62 0-6-0ST 1897

Principal railway stations


Grimsby docks, in later days named "the largest fishing port in the world" (but also with a large trade in timber) became part of the Railway at its inception. It was opened in 1801, using the natural harbour. Once it became railway property, the MS&LR increased the facilities by starting to construct a New Dock covering 25 acres (10ha) in 1846; it was opened on 18 April 1852. Over the years more docks were added. At Hull the MS&L had a goods depot on Kingston Street, west of the southern end of the Humber Dock (now the Marina) and north of Albert Dock. Recently some of this area has been developed as an office complex, Humber 1 and 2

Woodhead Tunnels

At the opening of the line the first tunnel was incomplete and trains ran to stations either side, Dunford Bridge and Woodhead, with a stagecoach connection between. The two bores were driven through the Pennines, a length of 3 miles 13.5 yards (4.81 km). The first tunnel boring began in the spring of 1839: it was opened for traffic 22 December 1845 and the stagecoach service terminated; the second began construction in the spring of 1847: and opened 2 February 1852. Its construction was originally deemed practically impossible, because of the engineering difficulties. See Woodhead Tunnel and Woodhead Line.

See also


  • Dow, G., (1959) Great Central, Volume One: The Progenitors (1813–1863) , Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd.
  • Dow, G., (1962) Great Central, Volume Two: Dominion of Watkin (1864–1899) , Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd.
  • Dow, G., (1962) Great Central, Volume Three: Fay Sets The Pace (1900–1922) , Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd.
  • Franks, D.L., (1971)The South Yorkshire Railway, Turntable Enterprises. ISBN 0-902844-04-0

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