Notes: Nottingham London Road High Level was built on the viaduct that carried the chord linking the Great Northern's line into London Road with the Great Central running into Nottingham Victoria via Weekday Cross Junction. The viaduct followed the northern perimeter of the Eastcroft Gasworks on the site of a former siding running into the works. It was sandwiched between the gasworks and the Poplar arm (now filled in) of the Nottingham Canal. Boots the Chemist's Island Street factory dominated the north side of the canal overlooking the station between 1915 and 1996.
There was a single curved island platform, which, at its east end, ran across London Road on the viaduct. The station was provided with a single-storey brick booking office reached from the same approach road as the earlier London Road terminus; the two buildings faced each other. The front of the building included four decorative gables. Steps led up to the island platform from the booking office.
At platform level there was a range of timber and brick buildings containing waiting rooms and toilets. A wide hipped ridge-and-furrow glazed canopy was provided to give protection from the weather.
With the opening of the new station, most services approaching Nottingham along the Great Northern route were diverted into High Level station, and by the 1920s only a handful of trains still ran into Low Level each day. With the closure of the Low Level station to passenger traffic on 22 May 1944 all services were diverted into the High Level.
By the 1960s Nottingham Victoria was in decline and was closed on Sundays and the High Level station acted as a terminus. This stopped on 10 January 1965 when the Sunday service was diverted into Nottingham Midland over the new connection at Netherfield Junction. The weekday service remained at Nottingham Victoria until 3 July 1967 when it, too, was diverted to Nottingham Midland and the High Level station closed.
The platform buildings were demolished c1971 but the chord line remained in use for a few years for freight traffic until at least 1973. The track was lifted by 1975 and the bridge over London Road was demolished in January 1978.
The booking office found a number of new uses first as the Nottingham Antique Centre and then a restaurant when it became the Grand Central Diner. Any American pretensions were dispelled by the presence of a Peckett 0-4-0ST sitting outside, complete with 'Thomas' face. This had originated at Cawdor Limestone Quarries, Matlock and has since moved on in preservation. The station building later became Sam Fay's Bar then Hooters for a short period before demolition of the building and the viaduct c1996. The site is currently waiting redevelopment.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AMBERGATE, NOTTINGHAM, BOSTON & EASTERN JUNCTION RAILWAY
The Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston and Eastern Junction Railway was borne out of a scheme to link Manchester with Boston and the East Coast. The new line would form a junction with the proposed Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway at Ambergate. It would then proceed eastwards running north of Ripley and Eastwood to the proposed Midland Railway line from Bulwell to Nottingham. There it would join the Midland's Lincoln line as far as Colwick where there would be a junction. Proceeding to Grantham and Spalding, there would be two branches, one to Sleaford, the other to Boston.
Not only were subscriptions minimal, some investors reneged on their pledges - a common state of affairs in early railway history. In the event it only opened from Nottingham to Grantham.
The Ambergate, Nottingham and Boston and Eastern Junction Railway Act received Parliamentary approval on 16 July 1846. Despite crossing a number of river valleys, the terrain was favourable. The major engineering work was the viaduct at Radcliffe over the River Trent.
Rather than build its own expensive station in Nottingham, the ANB&EJR sought running powers into the Midland Railway's Carrington Street station, from a junction at Colwick. With the support of the city fathers it obtained these, but the Midland insisted that ANB&EJR bought out the Nottingham and Grantham Canals two months after opening the line from Ambergate to Grantham. This final blow to the company’s overstretched finances was to have unfortunate, and unintended, repercussions for the Midland.
The line opened for passengers on 15 July, 1850 from its own terminus at Ambergate Yard at the Old Wharf in Grantham to Colwick Junction. Both the Midland and the LNWR were interested in making a takeover, since it would impede the Great Northern's progress. Meanwhile, the Great Northern was keen to penetrate Nottinghamshire and its coalfields, something that Midland in particular was resisting, making a takeover offer in 1851. However a member of the GNR board had acquired a holding of ANB&EJR shares and was able to resist the offer.
In 1852 the Great Northern arrived at Grantham and a connection was built into its station. Running rights were agreed such that the GN was able advertise through coaches from Nottingham to London in competition with the Midland. The Midland obtained an Order in Chancery preventing the GN from running into Nottingham, but in 1852 an ANB&EJR train arrived in Nottingham with a GNR locomotive at its head. When it uncoupled and went to run around the train it found its way blocked by a Midland loco, while another blocked its retreat. The engine was shepherded to a nearby shed and, for good measure, the tracks were lifted. This episode became known as the 'Battle of Nottingham' and, though the action moved to the courtroom, it was seven months before the loco was released.
From 2 April 1855 the Great Northern agreed to work the line for a period of ten years. The directors of the ANB&EJR, not having completed the line throughout, held that they were not bound to buy the two canals. The canal proprietors took the matter to court, the sale was affected and, in 1860, the name was changed to the Nottingham and Grantham Railway and Canal Company. In 1861 it was leased to the GNR completely.
GNR trains originally used the Midland station in Nottingham, but there were frequent disputes, especially when the GNR began running through trains from London via Grantham in a shorter time than the MR could manage. Though the Midland grudgingly accepted passengers into its station, it refused to handle goods which had to be carted from the terminus at Colwick.
To solve the problem, the GNR opened their own terminus along with an impressive goods and corn warehouse at London Road on 3 October 1857 served by a new line from near Netherfield, adjacent to the Midland line whose tracks they had previously used.
The Derbyshire and Staffordshire Extension between Colwick and Egginton Junction (in Staffordshire) was built during 1872-8 with a branch up the Erewash Valley from Awsworth to Pinxton via Eastwood. This line was deliberately designed to run near all the main collieries in the Erewash Valley and included the impressive 1,440 foot long Bennerley viaduct and the Giltbrook viaduct. Another GNR line running up the Leen Valley from Bulwell to Newstead (alongside the MR’s Mansfield Branch line) opened in 1882 and was extended to Shirebrook in 1901. The Leen Valley Line’s main objective was “to muscle in on the coal trade” and soon every major colliery in the area had both GNR and MR branches running into it.
When Nottingham Victoria railway station was opened on 24 May 1900, the Great Northern had to construct a new chord line, carried mainly on brick arches and steel girders, by means of a junction at Trent Lane, east of London Road, to Weekday Cross where it joined the Great Central main line.
This new chord included a station which opened before Victoria on 15 March 1899 on an island platform reached, by means of a staircase from the booking office on the same approach road to the earlier London Road terminus. To avoid confusion, the new station was designated 'High Level' and the old station became 'Low Level'. The transfer to Victoria Station gave the Great Northern a prestigious location and avoided their need to reverse trains to and from Grantham, Derbyshire, and north of Nottingham. Passenger services at the low level station were substantially reduced with the opening of Victoria station and the last passenger service ran on 22 May 1944. The station however remained open as a mail depot for troops during the Second World War and as a goods station until 4 December 1972. After that date it remained in use as a parcels concentration depot finally closing in the c1989.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NOTTINGHAM SUBURBAN RAILWAY
In the 1880s, the city of Nottingham had expanded into its surrounding villages and hamlets which, in turn, had grown into suburbs. These needed to be connected to the rail network. At this time the only competition to the railways came from horse-drawn trams and omnibuses which were slow, could only carry light loads and not travel long distances.
The 1860s and 1870s had seen the unrivalled success of the London underground railway system and its associated commuter lines so, in the late 1880s, a group of Nottingham businessmen felt that the creation of a railway on similar principles would benefit the city’s rapidly growing suburbs.
The Great Northern Railway had opened its Derbyshire extension line into Nottingham in 1878; however its principal concern had been to link up the numerous coal mines to passenger traffic. In addition, trains had to make a 7¼-mile circuitous journey from Nottingham, first travelling eastwards to Colwick (later known as Netherfield & Colwick) before heading north-west through Gedling, Mapperley and Daybrook to Basford which, on a direct route, was a mere 3¼ miles from the city centre. The Nottingham Suburban Railway, so its backers thought, could complement the Great Northern’s extension line as well as providing a more direct route into the city. An agreement was arrived at whereby the GN would work the proposed line, providing all the locomotives, rolling stock and staff; in return it would retain 55% of the gross receipts. Despite this arrangement, it is worthy of note that the Nottingham Suburban Railway company remained an independent entity until 1 January 1923 when it was absorbed by the London & North Eastern Railway.
Passengers were not the only motivation for building the line. One of the leading promoters, Robert Mellors, was chairman of the Nottingham Patent Brickwork Company whose works were on the proposed route at Thorneywood, and it was put forward that a branch be built to serve them. This plan received approval from a director of the company, Edward Parry, who would go on to become the line’s chief surveyor and structural engineer. The branch would become the only one of note from the line, running a distance of just 198yd, of which 110 were in a tunnel taking it beneath Thorneywood Lane before climbing an inclined plane along which wagons were hauled to and from the brickworks.
The company obtained its Acts during 1886 and these were strongly supported by Nottingham City Council. By October 1886 Parry had surveyed and staked out the route. Construction work began in June 1888. Some 3¾-mile in length, it ran from a junction with the Great Northern Railway at Trent Lane and headed north to another junction with the GN’s Derbyshire extension line at Daybrook. Intermediate stations were built at Thorneywood, St Ann’s Well and Sherwood.
Because of the hilly terrain, the railway proved extremely costly to build, with one-sixth of it built in four tunnels, the longest being just over quarter of a mile long. In addition, there were seven brick-arched bridges, nine girder bridges of which three were over 100ft in span, eight culverts and numerous retaining walls, embankments and cuttings. Construction costs were increased by a third as the Midland Railway insisted that all bridges carrying the line over its metals were at least 50ft wide whilst the Great Northern demanded a flyover at Trent Lane to avoid conflicts on their Nottingham-Grantham line.
Despite these adversities, the line was completed by 23 November 1889 and opened both to passenger and goods traffic on 2 December of that year.
Operational history, decline and closure
In 1890 there were ten trains per day running out of London Road along the line to Daybrook, four of which continued through to Newstead. In the opposite direction were nine trains of which four originated from Newstead. There was no Sunday service. The journey time from Nottingham to Daybrook was a very respectable 13 minutes. By 1895 there was a through train to Ilkeston which, on Fridays, was extended to Derby Friargate.
Unfortunately, within a little more than ten years, two developments occurred that would render the Nottingham Suburban Railway superfluous. The first was the arrival of the Great Central Railway which, in 1900, had opened up an even more direct route into Nottingham. Trains along the GC’s own Leen Valley railway could run directly from Newstead via Bulwell, New Basford and Carrington into Victoria Station, thus cutting out the lengthy negotiations of Daybrook Junction and Leen Valley Junction on the Great Northern route.
The second was the introduction of the electric tram. Horse-drawn trams had been operating in Nottingham since September 1878; however the arrival of the electric tram offered a quicker, more frequent service than the trains. The first route opened to Sherwood - running along Mansfield Road close to Sherwood Station - on 1 January 1901. Extensions to St Ann’s came on 21 February 1902, Thorneywood on 16 December 1910 and Daybrook on 1 January 1915. With their comparatively light loads and easy acceleration, the trams could negotiate the gradients in the hilly east of Nottingham more easily than steam locomotives. Indeed the clanging of the tram bell would, in the coming years, often sound the death-knell for many a suburban railway station.
A third factor was offered to Railway Magazine (August 1961) by a correspondent, J P Wilson, as an addendum to an article about the Nottingham Suburban Railway in the magazine two months earlier. He noted that the line traversed one of the few areas of the city of Nottingham where little housing development had taken place by the start of World War I. Only Thorneywood station was at all conveniently situated when the line was open, while St Ann’s Well was particularly remote. He added: ‘In the last thirty years small housing estates have come near to all three stations, far too late in the day to have any influence. One can only conclude that the whole project was something of a gamble, especially as to passenger traffic’.
The 1 in 49 gradient from Trent Lane Junction, which was also on a curve, posed particular problems for the GN’s Stirling 0-4-4 tanks which worked the line. In order to achieve faster journey times than the trams, some of the suburban services were run non-stop from London Road to Daybrook. By 1914, whilst there were still eight trains per day each way along the line, only four of these stopped at the intermediate stations. For example, St Ann’s Well saw departures for Basford & Bulwell at 7.55am and, to Shirebrook, at 9.11am, 1.20pm and 4.58pm. In the opposite direction, trains departed for Nottingham at 8.24am, 2.21pm and 6.01pm. It is also worthy of note that other trains passed through the station at 11.38am, 8.40pm and 9.50pm en route to Shirebrook and to Nottingham at 10.36am, 12.59pm, 9.20pm and 10.41pm. Even before the closure of the intermediate stations - which at this time was less than two years away - more passenger trains passed through than stopped. One can only imagine the long-deserted platforms at St Ann’s Well which, just a few years earlier, had anticipated unprecedented numbers of customers.
As a supposed wartime economy measure, the three intermediate stations were closed to passenger traffic on 13 July 1916 and, thereafter, just two trains a day along the Leen Valley route used the line. After the war it became evident that the Great Northern had little interest in promoting services along the line nor reopening the intermediate stations. Bradshaw of July 1922 shows that, just prior to grouping, only three trains passed daily over the line.
On 25 January 1925 the collapse of Mapperley Tunnel on the Great Northern extension brought a brief flurry of activity for the Nottingham Suburban when all Leen Valley passenger and coal traffic was diverted over the line whilst repairs were effected.
Also, on 10 July 1928, their majesties King George V and Queen Mary opened the Royal Show at Wollaton Park and the new university buildings. Between these two events their majesties reviewed a huge gathering of school children in Woodthorpe Park. As the nearest station was Sherwood, both Thorneywood and Sherwood stations were renovated and re-staffed for the occasion. This made it possible for 6,550 of the 17,500 children and 284 of their teachers to be brought in on 13 special trains. It is ironic that, on that one day, the two stations saw more activity than they had ever done during their operational days.
The line was converted to single track with the removal of the down line on 9 February 1930 when the signal box at Sherwood was closed and all signalling removed. The line was then worked by staff who unlocked the ground frames controlling the siding connections. Not long after, the footbridges and canopies were removed from the stations, a clear indication that they would never reopen. The last passenger train to use the line was the 5.05pm Nottingham Victoria to Shirebrook via Trent Lane Junction on 14 September 1931. Services had lasted just 41 years, with the intermediate stations faring even worse with an operational life of just 26½ years.
The next misfortune to befall the line occurred on the night of 8 May 1941 when, during Nottingham’s worst air raid of the Second World War, considerable damage was done in the Sneinton area. A bomb landed on the southern section of the line damaging a bridge over the Midland Railway and blowing away part of the embankment. This was never repaired and buffer stops were erected at either side, effectively creating two dead ends.
Subsequently the goods service along the line was reduced to a thrice weekly pick-up, carrying domestic coal between Daybrook and Thorneywood only. But even this ended on 1 August 1951 thus bringing the story of the Nottingham Suburban Railway to an end. The last-ever passenger train to run over the line had been a chartered enthusiasts’ special between Daybrook and Thorneywood on 16 June 1951. Apart from a short section at Daybrook, the tracks were lifted between June and October 1954. When the connection at Daybrook Junction was removed on 24 February 1957, the end of the line had truly come.
Today little evidence remains of the Nottingham Suburban Railway. Being situated in the city’s suburbs, both residential and industrial developments have obliterated most traces of it. The line's course from Thorneywood station to Sneinton Tunnel has been made into a footpath. The latter’s portals have been partially obscured by infilling but access into the bore is still possible for members of the local gun club. Descending to Sneinton Dale, nothing remains of the three-arch viaduct which once took the line over it and the site is now occupied by a doctor’s surgery, medical centre and police station. The footpath resumes at a point just south of Sneinton and follows onwards to Colwick Road where the bridge has been removed. The girders of the bridge over the Midland Railway have gone; however the segmental arch and abutments at Trent Lane still exist.
Few people are now aware that the Nottingham Suburban Railway existed. The line which was built to serve early commuters has almost disappeared but one cannot help wonder whether it might have found a fruitful role today, when we are all being urged to ditch the car in favour of public transport. Could it have formed the basis of a regenerated public transport infrastructure in the city? We will never know.
Tickets from Michael Stewart. Bradshaw from Nick Catford. Route maps drawn by Alan Young.
Story of the Nottingham Suburban Railway: Pt. 1: Conception, Construction, Commencement David G Birch - Book Law Publications 2010
The Story of the Nottingham Suburban Railway: v. 2: The Operational Years David G Birch - Book Law Publications 2012. Volume 3 has yet to be published.
To see other stations on the Nottingham Suburban Railway click
on the station name:
Nottingham Victoria, Nottingham London Road Low Level, Thorneywood, St. Ann's Well, Sherwood & Daybrook
Take the Grand Tour - A photographic survey of all the tunnel portals and bridges along the Nottingham Suburban Railway in 1904.