The story of the Lindsey Railways narrow gauge system began unremarkably, with just another railway mania scheme in 1846. The Lincoln, Grimsby and Lindsey Union Railway proposed a 38 mile standard gauge line, double track from Lincoln to Wragby (where an 11 mile branch to Horncastle would diverge), then Market Rasen, junction for a branch to Louth, continuing on single track over the Wolds via Caistor to Grimsby and Cleethorpes. There were a multitude of schemes proposed for this part of the country, and the Lindsey Union was not considered likely to prevail. The first competing bill presented to parliament was that of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Rly, and so convincing was the MSLR's evidence that many rivals decided to withdraw and save the cost of their parliamentary deposits. However, the MSLR bid was jeopardised by a shareholder revolt led by an unpaid contractor (having received part payment in shares but no cash, the company had unwisely given him both a legitimate grievance and the means to do something about it) and eventually failed. With no credible opposition remaining (the usual motley collection of landowners, coach proprietors and others having been bribed or bamboozled into silence), the LGLUR bill was passed 'on the nod' without the usual level of scrutiny. With hindsight, this may not have been the blessing it appeared at the time, since bitter experience proved parts of the route survey and estimates to be somewhat optimistic...
With the act of parliament granted, the board sent out a call on shareholders for an installment so construction could begin. Strangely, the unbounded optimism of the promoters so confidently displayed in the prospectus was not reflected in their generosity, and the money failed to flood in. Enough did arrive to allow some work to begin, but that work would have to be carefully chosen to gain maximum benefit from minimum outlay. The directors decided that work would begin from the end of the line in Tentecroft street goods yard, Lincoln, and proceed as far East and North as funds permitted. Earthworks and bridges would be built to take a double line, but single track only would be laid- a sensible economy since without a complete through route traffic the route was hardly likely to be heavy. After some thought, and the successful passage of the East Lincolnshire Railway act in the same parliamentary session, it was thought wise to complete the Cleethorpes-Grimsby section before the ELR arrived, thus establishing the Lindsey Union as the "senior" railway at the point of crossing and forcing the East Lincs to meet any expenses incurred thereat. This ploy was a success in that the ELR built a long embankment to cross over the LGLUR's level route but the cheapness of a ground level route had its own price, namely an inconveniently large number of level crossings. A minor irritant from the beginning, these would become a major aggravation as the population of the area grew over the years.
Construction was not difficult. The only major obstacles were the Witham and Eau rivers. The contractor used a single stores depot at Lincoln, and worked slowly forward. He had to pace himself carefully in order not to outrun the company's ability to pay for work done, but nevertheless the head of steel crept forward at a respectable pace. The only significant pauses were for installation of the cast iron girder bridges over the aforementioned rivers. Langworth was reached by the autumn of 1847, and Wragby by the year's end.
Work was equally rapid at the isolated northern end of the line. Although running powers had been sought and granted for the use of the MS&LR's Grimsby station, in the teeth of opposition from that company, the charges for its use were considered excessive and an independent station deemed a better choice, a site immediately beyond the junction at Ainslie Street was chosen, enabling both MS&L and LGLUR trains to call. Lines were built out in 3 directions, ESE for 2.5 straight level miles to the seafront at Cleethorpes, 0.3 miles WNW to a MS&L connection at Deansgate Jn, and a meandering 4.5 miles West veering Southwest to Laceby, the last place of any size on the easy coastal plain. A branch was provided from Bradley, following the River Freshney under the MS&L line (an easy matter while construction of the latter was still in progress) and providing independent access to Grimsby Docks and a stake in the rapid commercial development of this growing port. Construction was rapid and the entire Northern section was ready for a trouble-free BoT inspection and opening to passengers by the Autumn of 1847.
After a slow winter, both contractor and railway were in a hurry to get to Market Rasen and begin passenger operations on the Southern section. Subcontractors were put to work on station buildings and the last few miles were swiftly completed. Unfortunately, they were in too much of a hurry, and the first BoT inspection in April 1848 was unsatisfactory, several stations being unfinished, ballasting incomplete and some new embankments and bridge abutments showed signs of considerable movement as they settled. It was another six fraught weeks before he was satisfied, and operations could begin. The first train left Lincoln (Midland) on the 19th June, accompanied by the usual celebrations.
Since relations with the MS&L where somewhat frosty, the northern section operated its own trains from the first day. A brace of handsome E B Wilson 2-2-2WTs were purchased, along with a dozen four wheeled coaches and a smattering of goods stock- though this was always outnumbered by private-owner wagons and other companies' stock on through workings. Small locomotive and carriage sheds were built at Cleethorpes, where land was readily available, cheap. At the Southern end a goods depot had been built but neither passenger station (though the deposited plans made provision for this) nor locomotive facilities. There had simply been neither time nor money to squeeze them into the constricted site available, which left the LG&L no choice but to have its trains operated by another. Both companies already present in Lincoln bid for the job, but since the GN's own railway (including Lincoln Central station) was not quite complete when the LG&L was ready to begin operation the Midland won by default so their Lincoln shed had the job of providing 3 locomotives each day for service East of High Street, one each for passenger, goods and shunting/ trip activities.
With the easy part of construction complete, and the operational parts of the railway finally making a modest income, it was time to consider where to deploy the contractors next. Since Market Rasen, then the Northern terminus of the Southern section had been built as a through station from the outset it had been considered logical to complete all construction through the town, including bridges over roads and river, rather than leave the work in an unfinished state. Sensibly, land had been purchased in the early stages of construction- before the presence of a finished working railway pushed prices up too far. As for the next stage, opinion was divided evenly into three parties. One group were in favour of completing the Louth branch first, and although small in number they included some very influential landowners and major shareholders. This was widely considered expensive to build and unlikely to yield a good return since the town would very shortly have a direct service of Great Northern trains between London and Grimsby, courtesy of the East Lincolnshire Railway. The cautious pragmatic group favoured Horncastle, as although it was not quite as big as Louth, a branch there would enjoy a monopoly as well as being easier and cheaper to build. Shareholders without local interests tended more towards the final option, completion of the main line, since although a direct assault on the Wolds was not without risk, it promised a direct link between Grimsby and the Midlands and the lure of large volume through traffic was irresistible. The surveyors rode north into the hills around Caistor and the navvies followed closely behind them.
The Wolds are not massive hills, even by the gentle standards of British geography, but they do rise very abruptly out of the flat Lincolnshire countryside, presenting a sharp climb to Eastward travellers as they reach their full height in less than a mile before undulating gently away to the East. The engineer decided to edge up this western face, beginning the climb in earnest at Claxby. A punishing 3 miles of 1 in 60 would follow, crowned by a 550 yard tunnel under Nettleton hill, immediately followed by a 300 yard, 100' high viaduct across the glacial valley of the Nettleton Beck. A further 400 yard tunnel would be necessary under the watershed at Canada, immediately beyond Caistor station. After that some contour following would be possible, but the line would still be heavy on both earthworks and gradients, and consequently expensive. It was considered a challenge, but by no means beyond the resources of 1840s engineering or finance. Early investor reluctance was fading as the railway continued to do moderately well. The trouble was that the company now had commitments above and beyond laying track.
Whilst investment capital was coming in and shares were starting to move, the railway had to spend every penny it could get on consolidating its existing assets, both physical and financial. The Southern section remained incomplete, with no station or rolling stock. The Midland, while happy to help out in the short term expected traffic on their Lincoln branch to grow and fill their small terminus to capacity, squeezing the LGLUR out by degrees. Also, the uncertainties of single-track operation were heavily delaying trains, using up extra locomotives to maintain the service and taking away power the Midland needed for its own trains. As a first step to fixing this problem the line was doubled as far as Greetwell Quarry, an ironstone and limestone operation just outside the city, which meant that as-required trip workings to the various industries on the Witham bank could be run without the constraint of needing the train staff. This helped somewhat but the problem remained. The message from Derby was gentle but firm- we can't keep this up forever, so you need your own trains and your own station. Nor were the GNR an option, since relations with them had cooled of late over disputes concerning the layout and expense of the flat crossing at Durham Ox, and the perceived friendliness of the Midland (then a mortal foe of the GN).
The Northern section was also a victim of success, though not its own. The reciprocal running powers forcibly obtained from the reluctant MS&L turned out to be greatly to that company's advantage. For the trifling concession of allowing LG&L trains to reach New Holland (for Hull), they gained access to a rising resort town. Within a year of the Cleethorpes line opening, the MS&L had sent excursions from Sheffield, Barnsley and Manchester. Within two years the modest station was in danger of being completely overwhelmed by this traffic. Extra platforms and carriage sidings were laid, filling all available land as growth of the town began to squeeze the station site. The LG&L's own locomotive and carriage facilities were sacrificed to this growth too, being relocated to Laceby. With the station site full, excess excursion stock had to be housed elsewhere in the area, making the single track line a congested nightmare as loaded and empty trains queued for platforms or storage sidings respectively. As the powers contained in the original act were about to lapse in 1851, the act that renewed them also contained a clause to allow for the doubling of the line between Cleethorpes and Deansgate Jn, powers swiftly put to use. The Northern section was making plenty of money from this traffic, but spending it almost as fast in an effort to ensure its facilities kept pace with demand. During the next 5 years attention always on the busy last 2.5 miles, never the rest of the main line, apart from the renewal of powers. These lapsed in 1856 and this time were not renewed. The Southern section had done no better. After reaching open country beyond Market Rasen progress had stalled for lack of funds, and eventually the contractors were paid off and the navvies dispersed
What had stalled construction of both main line and branches was the insatiable demand for capital of the modest investment the LGLUR had made in the harbour branch and waterfront. The Grimsby Docks and Harbour Board had several major investors, but the biggest three were the MS&L, the town Corporation and the LGLUR. Taking an equal share had seemed like a good idea at the time, and indeed it proved to be a good investment. The trouble was that rapid growth in both the fishing trade and the MS&L's traffic, demanded rapid expansion to cope. As an equal partner, the LG&L was committed to finding an equal share of the investment capital to cope with another railway's much higher traffic levels. Motivated jointly by fear and greed since the fear of being outvoted and frozen out of future developments was very real, and a third share of the profits was well worth retaining the LG&L did its best to keep up. Since the investment was a good one they had no difficulty finding third-party funding for it (though interest ate into the profit somewhat) , but it meant their borrowing powers were stretched to the absolute limit allowed by the railway's act (despite an increase in the 1851 act) which left no room for maneuver or other investment, and the virtual certainty of the whole enterprise being bankrupted by any major financial reverse in the docks meant it was an anxious few years for the accountants. Fortunately, the trade there was sufficiently diverse that a downturn in any one business was not a threat. Coal, fish, manufactured goods export and raw material import all had their ups and downs but never all at once.
Eventually a modestly elegant station was built in Lincoln, behind Tentecroft street. In view of the shortage of land at that location it was decided the main locomotive shed & works would be built at Stamp End, opposite Clayton's and Ruston's factories. However, given the level of traffic over the flat crossing at Durham ox, a small stabling point with coal, water and turning facilities was provided by the station, in order not to have trains delayed due to engines waiting at Durham Ox to move on or off shed. The station and loco shed were complete by 1851. Fortunately the completion of the GNR "Towns Line" in that year diverted much through traffic away from Lincoln, so the problem of the flat crossing was not yet as acute as had been feared (though traffic would surpass 1850 levels before too long) and the turntable and coaling stage were postponed for the time being.
So, by 1853 the LGLUR was still a railway of two isolated halves. The Southern section ran from the Midland connection over High Street Level crossing for goods and Tentecroft Street station for passengers as far as Market Rasen. On the other side of the Wolds double track ran from Cleethorpes to Grimsby, single to the docks and to Laceby. A thirteen mile gap existed between the standard gauge rails at each end, a gap that would remain closed. Lincoln-Grimsby direct trains seemed as far from reality in 1865 as they had 20 years earlier.
Continue to Part 2: Unfinished Business in Horncastle
[ © 2012 Tim Lockley & Rebecca
Jane Lockley ]