Station Name: LEICESTER                          CENTRAL

[Source: Nick Catford]

Date opened: 15.3.1899
Location: West side of Great Central Street
Company on opening: Great Central Railway
Date closed to passengers: 5.6.1969
Date closed completely: 1980's (goods yard)
Company on closing: British Rail (London Midland Region)
Present state:

The street level buildings comprising the parcels office, booking hall and covered forecourt and taxi waiting area with original lights and a glass roof are largely intact and there are plans to restore the buildings as part of the regeneration of the waterside area the arches will be made in to shops. The booking office still has its ticket windows and old timetables and signs are still to be seen on the wall. There is a sign above the entrance to the parcels office. Although the platform has been largely demolished two sections of the north end of the platform incorporating the two bays survive as part of the bridge over All Saints Road. The bridge has been retained to provide access to the industrial units at the north of the station site. Within the goods yard the electricity generator and hydraulic power house has been renovated as the Quay pub and the repair shop is now in industrial use, all other buildings, including the loco shed have been demolished and the area redeveloped.

County: Leicestershire
OS Grid Ref: SK582047
Date of visit: 21.5.2008

Notes: The railway crossed built-up Leicester on a 190ft wide Staffordshire blue brick viaduct,
incorporating a series of fine girder bridges. In a detail typical of the high standards to which the London Extension was built, the abutments of the girder bridges that crossed public roads were lined in white-glazed tiles to increase the level of light under the bridges. In total the viaduct was in excess of a mile and a half in length and it was upon this that Leicester Central station would be constructed. At the time of construction, the station was the largest single building to be erected in Leicester.

1st ticket from Leicester Central click for details
The viaduct's construction required a large area of land to be acquired by compulsory purchase with the GCR agreeing to re-house at its own expense the inhabitants of around 300 houses which had to be demolished; the area principally affected by the works was the working class Blackfriars district (near modern day Frog Island), where the slums in Sycamore Lane, Charlotte Street and Friars Road were entirely swept from the
map, to be replaced by Great Central Street. Around 250 houses were constructed in Newfoundpool to the west of Leicester.

The station was built within a south-west facing rectangle, bordered on the one side by Blackfriars Street and Jarvis Street and on the other side by the new Great Central Street. The tracks ran north-east to south-west, crossing the A50 Northgate Street on a 'bowstring' girder bridge before splaying out on either side of a large 1,245ft H-shaped island-style platform upon which the station was built. Six running lines flanked either side of the station; the 'up' lines on one side and the 'down' lines on the other, with bays at either end to accommodate local workings to Nottingham and Rugby. A parcels office and stabling point for locomotives were also incorporated into the site.

Ticket from opening day
The Great Central also built extensive goods and traffic facilities in the city. These included a goods yard with a warehouse and a power house to run the hydraulic capstans used for shunting wagons; a locomotive shed with coaling stage and turntable; a carriage shed with associated gas works and a wagon repair shop. The goods yard (divided into North and South) was a short distance south of Leicester Central. The two halves
were divided by the Upperton Road viaduct which ran east/west across the site. The northern half housed the bulk of the goods yard infrastructure and the carriage shed, the southern half had the locomotive shed and associated buildings

Under the main section of the platform on the south-side of the station part of a Roman pavement was discovered and encased in a glass panel which could be viewed from above. A local shopkeeper was entrusted with the key to the chamber and would provide access to the public upon request. The main station entrance was on Great Central Street where a large ornate terracota-lined archway crowned by an ornate clocktower led through to the entrance hall and cab waiting area; the station frontage itself had a red brick and terracota facade, to the left of which was the entrance to the parcels office. A second entrance was in Jarvis Street where a subway 20ft below the platforms led through to the main booking hall, a light and airy space topped by a glazed roof. Stairs led up to the platforms, whilst a hydraulic lift was used to transport luggage from the booking hall.

After nationalisation the Leicester Central engine shed played host to increasingly old and worn-out locomotives; in 1958 the engine stud was made up of 11 LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0s, 3 LMS Stanier Class 4 2-6-4s, 2 BR Class 5 4-6-0s and 1 0-6-0 diesel shunter; the engine shed closed in 1964. On 3 September 1966 the line ceased to be a trunk route
with the withdrawal of services to Sheffield and Marylebone, leaving Leicester Central operating a sparse DMU local service to Nottingham and Rugby, from this date the station  was unstaffed; with final closure on 5 May 1969.

During late 1970 Leicester Central's platform buildings, canopies and platforms were largely
demolished and replaced by industrial premises in the 1980's; the signalboxes were removed and the site of the turntable became a car park. The former booking offices were reused as part of a commercial premises the station's clocktower had previously been removed by British Rail. Much of the Great Central's viaduct through Leicester had been demolished by the beginning of the 1980s and the bowstring bridge over Northgate Street was dismantled in 1981. The roman pavement was removed in 1976 and is now on display in the Old Jewry Wall museum. The goods yard remained open serving Vic Berry's scrap yard until the 1990's being rail linked via a chord laid onto the ex Midland Leicester - Burton-on-Trent line. The scrap yard handled large quantities of railway rolling stock. 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 Loughborough.

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 except 1st ticket from Glynn Waite.

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 North***, Belgrave & Birstall, 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

Leicester Central during construction in 1897
hoto by S W A Newton from Leicester & Rutland Record Office

Leicester Central Station in 1910
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

Leicester Central Station in June 1963
Photo from Leicester Railway Historical Society
Leicester Central Station in May 1969. The station was still open at this time although track has been lifted in the bay platforms.
Photo by J E Connor

Demolition in progress at Leicester Central Station in December 1970
Photo by John Daniel from Leicester & Rutland Record Office

Leicester Central Station in 1976
Photo by loose_grip_99 from his Flickr web site

Leicester Central station looking north in May 2008. Two short lengths of platform survive
Photo by Nick Catford

Click here for more pictures of Leicester Central Station




[Source: Nick Catford]

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