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[ Overview | Part 1: First Schemes | Part 2: Horncastle | Part 3: Louth & The WRR | Part 4: Consolidation & Connections | Part 5: The Final Links | Part 6: Growth & Union ]
Part 2: Unfinished Business in Horncastle

Shareholders who'd bought in as a purely speculative investment were satisfied with progress so far. Ordinary stock was doing well, albeit more on the back of MS&L excursion traffic and the shrewd investment in Grimsby Docks than any achievements of the railway. However, those who'd invested hoping to see their return in an improvement in the prosperity of their towns and businesses were disappointed. Disgruntled landowners and local shareholders alike wanted to see trains in Caistor, Horncastle and even Louth- where delight in the presence of the East Lincs had rapidly turned to disappointment at the high rates and sparse service. Pressure was exerted at board and shareholders' meetings to make some progress. Hopes were raised by the renewal of all powers in 1851, only to be dashed when they lapsed in 1856 with no work done. Clearly, if Horncastle wanted a railway it was going to have to provide it by its own enterprise.

A rival scheme of 1851 to link the town with the GNR at Kirkstead, called the Horncastle & Woodhall Junction Railway, had failed in the face of the LG&L's renewed powers and expressed determination to build the lines. In 1857 a group of local worthies revisited the scheme. With only minor changes to the route, such as making the junction face Lincoln instead of Boston and a change of name to Bain Valley Railway, potential investors were canvassed and an act of parliament sought. This was duly given the Royal Assent in 1858 but efforts to fund construction proved fruitless. Some work was done around 1860 before efforts petered out, but this was not the mania of 1846. Euphoria had been replaced by practical realism concerning railway shares, and small provincial branches had to work a lot harder to prove their case before money would be invested. If the cost was perceived as too high or the return too low, it simply wouldn't happen. Powers lapsed in 1862.

Nothing happened for three years, but then rumours on the back pages began to speak of a new kind of railway. Small and cheap, it was financially light enough on its feet to go where big railways feared to tread, and lean enough to draw sustenance from the most unpromising of territory, stony ground that would see conventional railways wither and die. More educated locals investigated professional journals like "engineering", and learned of the existence of narrow gauge railways. By 1865 numerous industries were using tiny wagons and locomotives in their quarries, foundries and factories, away from public view. In that year however a railway took the next step. The Festiniog Railway in North Wales had been operating steam locomotives for 2 years when it upgraded its operation from goods-only to passenger. This was unprecedented, and widely believed to be impossible, but they had proved otherwise and generated worldwide publicity doing so. Among the many who flocked to see it were a delegation from Horncastle, who travelled across in the Spring of 1865. They were able to ride upon the line and inspect its construction and equipment. Suitably impressed, they also viewed the then incomplete Tallyllyn Railway further south, a much smaller line built for a lower expected traffic, but designed for steam operation from day one. This was the answer, a railway cheap enough to be built with the investment funds the town was likely to attract.

On their return, the promoters considered the question of routing. They had originally pushed the Bain Valley route in preference to the original LGLUR proposal on the grounds of cost, a level waterside route being considered much cheaper than slicing through the southern edge of the wolds. Narrow gauge methods could make the original proposal via Wragby, a more direct link to Lincoln, viable so a new survey was done and a viable route found. After years of frustration, progress was rapid and visible. An act of parliament was secured that same year for the Horncastle Railway, and the fund was quickly fully subscribed. Contracts were let, and construction began at both ends simultaneously, the Horncastle end contractors being fed by the canal. One oddity of the act was that it gave powers to absorb the moribund Bain Valley company, since although that had never laid a yard of track it had completed the purchase of its Horncastle station site, and built a handsome station in Horncastle for use as its headquarters and offices (and derived its sole income from letting it out as a pub, after selling the rest of the site off in penny packets). Shares were exchanged for HR stock at 10 for 1 including those on which calls had not been met (though new calls would have to be honoured), which while disappointing the few who had paid in full gave the rest a chance to get in on a viable investment, at considerably less risk than they had bargained for. This meant all calls on the shares were made quickly to keep up with contractors' progress, and most quickly paid in full. This was fortunate because it meant the railway avoided the worst effects of the Overend Gurney collapse.

Track was laid throughout by the Spring of 1866, so despite the financial crisis the railway was able to start earning some income from goods traffic, though the last-minute reluctance of some investors meant that finishing-up work was slowed down drastically, notably on the intermediate stations and at Wragby. This meant the line missed the Summer 1866 season. The Horncastle Raillway finally passed inspection at the first attempt and opening that November. As an isolated narrow-gauge line there was never any prospect of it being worked by any stock but its own, so nothing to be gained from contracting-out its operation. The HR ran its own trains with its own equipment from the start (save for the Summer of 1866 when goods was moved using a hired contractor's locomotive until the arrival of the company's own).

The line was never wildly successful, but earned a modest profit throughout its independent life. Facilities provided at construction proved more than adequate. The only changes were at the 2 termini and both brought about by connecting railways, regauging of the LGLUR at Wragby and the arrival of the WLLR at Horncastle respectively. While powers to be absorbed by (or absorb) the LGLUR had been written into the act of 1865, this was more as a contingency plan than a definite objective, so since there was nothing to be gained by union the company retained its independent existence for half a century, only becoming part of a larger unit in 1917, when a major shareholder in all four constituents of the LRJA consolidated his acquisitions for book-keeping convenience, and due to wartime austerity it was not until 1921 that the faded green of the HR would disappear to be replaced by the blue of the Joint Administration.

Go back to Part 1: The First Schemes and The Standard Gauge | Continue to Part 3: East, West, South and North

[ © 2012 Tim Lockley & Rebecca Jane Lockley ]