[Source: Nick Catford]

Date opened: 15.3.1899
Location: South side of station road
Company on opening: Great Central Railway
Date closed to passengers: 4.3.1963
Date closed completely: 4.3.1963
Company on closing: British Railways (London Midland Region)
Present state:

Demolished the only evidence of the station is the bricked up entrance archway in Station Road and the bricked up lamp rooms beneath the road bridge.

County: Leicestershire
OS Grid Ref: SK587084
Date of visit: August 1990 & 21.5.2008

Notes: Belgrave and Birstall station was sited in a deep cutting in the northern outskirts of Leicester, a nearby golf course was one of the reasons for its opening, there were no sidings or goods facilities. The station was built to the standard Great Central design with a single island platform located below a road overbridge from the centre of which a staircase led down to the platform; the centre piers of the bridge were left hollow to provide lamp rooms. The booking office was located on the platform at the bottom of the stairs. The station closed on 4th March 1963 along with most other local stations on the London Extension.

A group of local enthusiasts formed the Belgrave and Birstall Action Group (B-BAG) in the late 1960's with the aim of restoring the station. When the Main Line Preservation Group (MLPG) formed in 1968 with the aim of preserving a section of the London Extension for the use of steam trains, the B-BAG effectively merged to become a small sub-group of the MLPG.

Vandalism was an ever-present problem for the B-BAG. By summer 1971 police had been summoned on a number of occasions to the station, which was reported to be in a 'very sad state'. As late as spring 1972 the action group was not yet allowed access to the site to repair vandalism and buildings were in a dangerous condition which would require substantial rebuilding.

Restoration work at the station began in June 1972 and considerable efforts were made in making some of the buildings safe. Other buildings required more substantive work.

Due to increasing financial pressures placed upon the Main Line Steam Trust (as the MLPG had
become) by British Rail, in 1973, one of the two tracks between Belgrave and Birstall and Rothley was lifted, leaving only a single track in place. In 1976 the remaining track was also lifted, leaving no rail access to Belgrave and Birstall station.

Ever present vandalism continued to leave the station buildings in a dangerous state and the B-BAG reluctantly decided to demolish three of the station buildings; the gentleman's toilets, station master's Office and ladies' room and general waiting room. These buildings were removed on 18 and 19 June 1977. The booking Office, stairs and lamp rooms beneath the bridge were bricked up for later use. These remaining structures were removed in 1985, leaving only the platform and bricked up road-level entrance archway which remains to this day.

Following the restoration of heritage train services between Loughborough Central and Rothley by the MLST the Great Central Railway (1976) Ltd was formed. This company obtained a Light Railway Order to allow the heritage line to operate its own trains without British Rail supervision. The powers granted by the order allowed for the preservation of the line as far as Birstall allowing the GCR1976 to lay new track from its Rothley rail-head to the platform at Birstall. By summer 1984 it was felt that the railway's finances were now viable enough to allow what was to become known as The Birstall Extension.

Work on the extension started by clearing vegetation that had grown on the track bed. More
serious problems to be handled were the encroachment of road improvements. To the immediate
south of the station, a new road from Mowmacre Hill to Redhill roundabout would cut through
the railway's embankment. Leicester City Council agreed to build an access road to the railway from this new road, later to be known as the Leicester Western Distributor road. A mile to the north of the station, the new Leicester by-pass was planned to be built crossing the line. This effectively set a deadline of 1986 to build the first mile of track, since the new bridge was to add greatly to the cost of the by-pass. It was suggested to the railway that if there was no railway line to cross by 1986, it would be cheaper to have the LRO to Birstall rescinded on the grounds that the company had no plans to go there.

By Spring 1985, discussion on the design of the new station to replace Belgrave and Birstall had begun. The appeal to fund the Birstall Extension was officially launched on 8 June 1985. Design ideas for the new station at Birstall all incorporated the original platform and bridge as part of the scheme, although schemes where the platform would be extended to the north of the road bridge were formally scrapped. By late 1987, however, it seemed that through co-funding via Leicester City, who planned to build a museum 'Industrial village' adjacent to the site, a wholly new station to the south of Belgrave and Birstall would be built, requiring the removal of the existing platform.

The Birstall Extension finally arrived at the bare platform of Belgrave and Birstall station during spring 1988. Only sufficient track was laid against the existing platform to enable its demolition. Delays in completing the road from the new Leicester Western Distributor Road caused further delays by preventing the delivery of ballast for packing. Feasibility studies for the industrial museum were put on hold, which in turn required the renention of the island platform for longer than planned. In early 1989, plans were submitted for extending track from the limit of the existing LRO into the land under jurisdiction of Leicester City Council. The eventual outcome was that Charnwood Borough Council (the GCR's landlord up to Birstall) and Leicester City Council came to an arrangement for a slight extension of the railway into Leicester and a new LRO was submitted before Parliament for a new Leicester North Station.

Ballast was brought in and deposited on the Belgrave and Birstall platform for loading into rail ballast wagons, which then ferried the material along the extension to enable the new track to be correctly packed and aligned so that it would be fit for passenger traffic. All this allowed the Birstall Extension to be officially opened on Thursday 15 November 1990. GCR locomotive No.506 'Butler Henderson' hauled a train of MLST directors and local civic dignitaries from Loughborough Central to Rothley, where they changed to a specially fitted push-pull train for the return ride to Belgrave and Birstall. Regular passenger services, push-pull operated, soon resumed to a point just short of the old platform.

Work commenced on removing the old platform and building the new Leicester North station to the south. Source: Wikipedia

The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MS & L) was formed in 1846 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; the SA & M had opened between Manchester and Sheffield Bridgehouses in
1845. The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway ran between Manchester London Road
(now Piccadilly) via Penistone to Sheffield (the Woodhead route) and on to Brigg, Grimsby and Cleethorpes. A second line left the main line at Penistone and served Barnsley, Doncaster and Scunthorpe before rejoining the Grimsby line at Barnetby. The MS & LR opened a line from Sheffield Bridgehouses to Beighton for passengers on the 12th February 1849. Passengers going south and to London changed on to the ‘Midland’ line at Eckington. On 15th September 1851 a new station called Sheffield Victoria was opened a short distance to the south west of the Bridgehouses terminus which was retained as a goods depot.

In 1854, Edward Watkin became General Manager and then in 1864 chairman of the Company. Watkin's ambition was to build a rail link between the industrial heartland of Manchester and Sheffield, south to London and through a tunnel beneath the channel to reach Paris and the expanding markets of Continental Europe.

In order to fulfil his ambitions, Watkin also became Chairman of the Metropolitan Railway who were in the process of extending their line northwards towards Rickmansworth and the South Eastern Railway connecting London with Dover. Initially, Watkin tried to convince other companies to build links with the MS & L allowing him to reach London but he was unable
to reach agreement and eventually was left with little option than to build his own line southward from Sheffield to reach the Metropolitan.

In the 1890's the MS&LR began construction of its 'Derbyshire Lines', in effect the first part of its push southwards. Leaving its east - west main line at Beighton Junction, some 5 1/2 miles east of Sheffield, the line headed south through the Nottingham coal field with a branch line serving its new Central Station in Chesterfield. In July 1890 the MS&LR obtained another act to extend from Chesterfield to Heath creating a loop line. Work started on this new section, of some 4¾ miles, before construction on the original line was finished and opened in July 1893.

In 1893 the MS&LR obtained Parliamentary approval to extend this line to London (known as the ‘London Extension’. Construction of the 92 mile route started in 1895 and on 1st August 1897 the company changed its name to the Great Central Railway; it was the last 'main line' to be built until the Channel Tunnel rail link in 2003.

Due to its late construction, the company was able to take advantage of the latest technology including steam excavators. It was heavily engineered with viaducts and wide cuttings with a maximum gradient of 1 in 128; there were no sharp curves or level crossings which would ensure a fast service for both passengers and freight. Most of the stations on the ‘London extension’ were built to a standard design consisting of an island platform with the booking office located on the platform. All the stations were built on an embankment or in a cutting adjacent to a road bridge, with access via stairs from the middle of the bridge; only the larger intermediate stations like Rugby and Loughborough had street level buildings.  Because Edward Watkin also expected his trains to reach Europe through a channel tunnel, the line was also built to a larger continental (Berne) loading gauge. The Great Central opened for coal traffic on 25 July 1898, for passenger traffic to a new terminus at Marylebone on 15 March 1899 and for general goods traffic on 11 April 1899.

The new line was built from Annesley in Nottinghamshire to join the existing Metropolitan Railway which had now reached Quainton Road in Buckinghamshire, where the line became joint Met/GCR owned (after 1903), it returned to GCR metals near Finchley Road for the final section into Marylebone. In 1903, new rails were laid parallel to the Metropolitan Railway from Harrow to the junction north of Finchley Road, enabling more traffic to use Marylebone. Although the new line had now reached London, Edward Watkin was unable to fulfil his ambition as he was forced to retire through ill health.

From the outset, the line had to compete with established north – south routes and the first train only carried a disappointing four passengers so the company had to work hard to win passengers from its rivals; with  a well managed Advertising campaign and the introduction of a fast and efficient train service the companies fortunes slowly improved although it was never a match for its rival lines.

In the 1923 grouping, the Great Central became part of the London & North Eastern Railway which brought an increase in freight traffic from the south Midlands and south west England but the LNER's main north - south route was into London Kings Cross so the Great Central was always considered as a secondary route.

After nationalisation, the line became part of British Railways Eastern Region but was transferred to the London Midland Region in 1958. By this time the service was already in decline with the increasing popularity of the car and it was unable to compete with other north - south routes as the line passed through sparsely populated areas south of Rugby. Manchester to London express services were withdrawn on 2nd January 1960 leaving only three semi-fast trains a day and it came as little surprise when the line became the first main line to close in the Beeching era. Beeching considered that the Great Central was a duplicate route which could be sacrificed in favour of the Midland main line.

Many of the intermediate stations, including the Chesterfield loop closed on 4th March 1963 and long distance freight services were withdrawn shortly afterwards.  Annesley Motive Power Depot (between Nottingham and Sheffield) closed on 3rd January 1966 and Nottingham Victoria closed on 5th September 1966 along with the remaining stations south of Rugby. The track was lifted between Rugby and Calvert leaving a diesel multiple unit (DMU) shuttle service operating between Rugby and Arkwright Street and the southern section of the line between Aylesbury and London Marylebone which still carried considerable commuter traffic. The northern section of the line between Sheffield Victoria and Woodhouse also remained open as this also formed part of the Sheffield to Lincoln line. The line north of Nottingham remained in use until May 1968 serving the collieries at Annesley and Newstead and was eventually lifted in October/November 1969.

In 1968 the London Railway Preservation Society chose Quainton Road as its new base, the society being renamed as the Quainton Railway Society; this has now developed into the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre covering 25 acres. The Centre boasts one of the largest private railway collections in the country with numerous steam locomotives, many housed in the former listed trainshed from Oxford Rewley Road which was dismantled and rebuilt at Quainton Road in 1999/2000.

The shuttle service between Nottingham and Rugby lasted until 3rd May 1969. As closure approached a group of railway enthusiasts got together to discuss the possibility of buying a section of the track to operate preserved steam locomotives.  A steam service was reinstated between Loughborough and Quorn in 1973 and in 1976 Charnwood Borough Council agreed to

purchase the land from BR and lease it to the railway for 99 years. Despite a shaky start, the Great Central Railway PLC are now operating throughout the year between their headquarters at Loughborough Central and a new station called Leicester North just inside the city boundary. The remaining track between Leicester - Rugby was lifted in early 1970.

North of Loughborough, the line remained open for freight traffic after closure to passengers in 1969 serving the gypsum mine at East Leake and the Ruddington Ordnance Storage and Disposal Depot south of Nottingham. This traffic ceased in the 1980's and the track north of Loughborough was mothballed by BR. In the early 1990's a group of transport enthusiasts set up the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) Ltd with the aim of redeveloping the derelict Ruddington Ordnance depot as part of a country park project. The depot was turned into the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre (NTHC) and trains were run on a small length of line into the depot.

The NTHC's aim was to reinstate the remaining line into Loughborough where it joins the GCR
PLC thus forming a single 18 mile preserved line. In the 1990's NTHC obtained a loan to buy
the track from Railtrack. Gypsum traffic resumed in 2000 with up to two daily trains and
revenue from British Gypsum is used to pay off the loan. Rushcliffe Halt has now been
restored and in 2003 regular services were reinstated although passenger trains south of
Rushcliffe Halt are limited to the second Sunday of each month as there is no station at

It is now both groups aim to reinstate two bridges, one over the Midland main line north of Loughborough, rebuild 300 yards of embankment and relay little more than a quarter of a mile of track. As well a 'bridging the gap' between the two preserved lines further long term proposals would see the line extended southwards to Leicester Abbey and northwards from Ruddington to join up with the Nottingham tram network and on to Nottingham city centre.

Sheffield Victoria closed on 5th January 1970 with the closure of the Woodhead route and trains from Lincoln were diverted into Sheffield Midland. Although the southern section of the main line remained open, it too was proposed for partial closure in 1986. Aylesbury was to remain open but all services would run into Paddington via Princes Risborough. Marylebone Station was due to close on 12th May 1986 but the station was eventually reprieved and the closure proposals were rescinded. Following rail privatisation in the 1990's, Chiltern Railways took over the route and in 2006 two new platforms were built at Marylebone on the site of the old daytime carriage sidings. The new platforms and partial resignalling of the station throat now make it possible to run 20 trains per hour in and out of the station.

North of Aylesbury the track remains in place but is only used by waste freight trains to the landfill site at Calvert where a junction with the Oxford - Cambridge line remains in use. On selected days, usually bank holidays, special passenger services run to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton Road station. There are now proposals to extend the passenger services northwards to a new station called Aylesbury Vale Parkway at the point where the line crosses the A41 near Berryfields Farm. This area is to be known as the Berryfields Major Development Area and will include park and ride facilities for Aylesbury.

With our motorway network now working at capacity there have been a number of proposals to reopen other sections of the Great Central main line and in 2006 Central Railway was formed to look into the feasibility of building a new rail link from central England to the Channel Tunnel which would include rebuilding part of the Great Central route south of Rugby reviving a 1990’s government proposal to reopen that section of the line as part of a fast rail link from Scotland to the Channel Tunnel.

Preservation group web sites: The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, The Great Central Railway (steam service between Loughborough and Leicester North) & Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre (steam service between Ruddington and Loughborough)

Selected other web sites: The Transport Archive contains further detailed history of the Great Central plus a vast collection of 2344 'on line' photographs many ( the Newton Collection) taken during the construction of the London Extension. Chris Ward's Annesley Web site featuring numerous photographs of the Great Central around Nottingham and the Annesley Motive Power Depot. Great Central Railway through Leicester. Nigel Tout's web site with numerous photographs of the Great Central remains around Leicester and a series of archive photographs of the line. Bridging the Gap details ongoing work to reinstate the link between the two preserved lines. The Great Central Railway Society promotes an historical interest in the Great Central Railway.

Selected further reading: Great Central Memories by John MC Healey published 1987 by Baton Transport ISBN 0 85936 193 4 - heavily illustrated history of the London Extension. Great Central Then and Now by Mac Hawkins - published (2nd edition) by BCA 1992 ISBN 0 7153 9326 X , station by station photographic survey of the Great Central between Sheffield and London with numerous 'then and now' photographs. See also Sheepbridge & Brimington Station and construction of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway through Brimington by Philip Cousins. Published in St. Michael & All Saints, Brimington parish magazine. (Click here for full text). All tickets from Michael Stewart.

Too see other stations on the Great Central Railway between Sheffield Victoria and Aylesbury click on the station name: Aylesbury, Waddesdon, Quainton Road (1st site), Quainton Road (2nd site)**, Calvert, Finmere, Brackley Central, Helmdon, Culworth, Woodford Halse, Charwelton, Braunston & Willoughby, Rugby Central, Lutterworth, Ashby Magna, Whetstone, Leicester Central, Leicester North***, Rothley**, Swithland****, Quorn & Woodhouse**, Loughborough Central**, East Leake, Rushcliffe Halt**, Ruddington, Ruddington Factory Halt, Arkwright Street, Nottingham Victoria, Carrington, New Basford, Bulwell Common, Bulwell Hall Halt, Hucknall Central, Annesley South Junction Halt, Hollinwell & Annesley, Kirkby Bentinck, Tibshelf Town, Pilsley, Heath, Staveley Central, Renishaw Central, Killamarsh Central, Beighton (1st site), Beighton (2nd site), Woodhouse Junction, Woodhouse*, Darnall*, Sheffield Victoria & Sheffield Bridgehouses.
Chesterfield loop - Staveley Works, Brimington, Chesterfield Central & Grassmoor

* Station still open but included for completeness ** Station reopened by Great Central steam railway and Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre *** New station opened by Great Central steam railway
**** Station planned and partially built but not opened

Belgrave & Birstall Station under construction looking north in 1897
hoto by S W A Newton from Leicester & Rutland Record Office

Belgrave & Birstall Station under construction looking north in 1898
hoto by S W A Newton from Leicester & Rutland Record Office

Belgrave & Birstall Station looking south in September 1962
Photo by Ben Brooksbank
Belgrave & Birstall Station looking north in 1971
Photo by J E Connor

Belgrave & Birstall Station looking south in March 1980 after track lifting and demolition of some of the platform buildings
Photo by Ian Lauder

Belgrave & Birstall Station looking north in August 1990
Photo by Nick Catford

The site of Belgrave & Birstall Station looking north in February 1992, a year after Leicester North Station opened. The cameraman is standing on Leicester North platform.
Photo by Ian Baker

Looking south at the site of Belgrave & Birstall Station in May 2008
Photo by Nick Catford

Click here for more pictures of Belgrave & Birstall Station




[Source: Nick Catford]

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