Notes: Thorneywood station was located in a deep cutting on the west side of Porchester Road, immediately south of the 408yd Thorneywood tunnel. The eastern side of the cutting was strengthened by a blue brick retaining wall which was spanned by a wrought iron lattice footbridge which connected Porchester Road (at that time called Thorneywood Lane) and Marmion Road. It was in this area that the station yard and goods shed were located. The goods yard was the busiest on the line and handled a full range of traffic including livestock, with a cattle dock being provided behind the north end of the up platform. In the early years there were four coal merchants operating from the yard; three of them were still there in 1930. The yard comprised two loop sidings, one passing under the canopy of a large brick goods shed. A third siding hugged the western perimeter of the yard.
There were further sidings on the up side of the line with a short headshunt behind the platform giving access to a rope-worked incline running through a tunnel under Thorneywood Lane into the Thorneywood Brickworks of the Nottingham Patent Brick Company. To the south of the station, on the down side, another short branch served the Nottingham Builders' Brick Company works.
The approach to the station was from the western side of Marmion Road, and the station itself consisted of two 360ft facing platforms connected by a wrought iron lattice bridge standing on cast iron columns. The single-storey brick booking office was located on the down side with a brick waiting room on the up platform. Thorneywood had two signal boxes; there was a 30-lever box at the north end of the up platform with a smaller 10-lever signal box at the north end of the yard on the up side; this was manned only when required for shunting. Both platforms’ buildings had wooden awnings supported by ornamental brackets. The stationmaster's house was in Thorneywood Lane overlooking the station. Wooden steps led down from the house to the platform at the rear of the signal box. Both the house and the station buildings were designed by TC Hine. Immediately to the south of the station a bridge spanned the railway taking Carlton Road over the line.
The station was initially well patronised, but the arrival of the Great Central Railway in 1899 provided commuters with a more direct route into Nottingham city centre, and the electric tramcar which reached Thorneywood in December 1910, also hit passenger services hard. As a result, the station was closed to regular passenger services on 1 July 1916. It has been said that during WW1 wounded soldiers arrived at Thorneywood by special trains from where they were transported to local hospitals.
After closure the station fell into disrepair; however both Thorneywood and Sherwood were renovated for a single event on 10 July 1928 for the purpose of transporting schoolchildren to nearby Woodthorpe Park where King George V and Queen Mary were to review the gathering between their visits to Wollaton Park and the new university buildings.
After singling of the line in 1930 the canopies at the station were removed. Further clearance started on 8 April 1938 when the signal box and waiting room on the up platform were demolished along with the booking office and part of the waiting room on the down platform. The line was used between Thorneywood and Daybrook for a thrice-weekly goods service until this was withdrawn on 1 August 1951. The track had been lifted and the remaining station buildings demolished by 1954. The station site was acquired by British Telecom who built an engineering depot utilising virtually all the trackbed between Carlton Road and the south portal of Thorneywood Tunnel. This depot was demolished in 1999 and the bridge spanning the cutting removed. By 2000 the station site had been further redeveloped with a sheltered housing complex.
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.
Ticket from Michael Stewart. Bradshaw from Chris Totty. Route map 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, Nottingham London Road High Level, 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.