The people of Horncastle were satisfied, but that still left Louth and a lot of villages and estates unhappy with no railway and no prospect of being able to afford one. However, the example of the Welsh lines and now the Horncastle Railway closer to home offered hope of a solution. In the wake of the HR's opening two independent Lincolnshire narrow gauge schemes were promoted, and both gained their act in the same 1866 session of Parliament.
One never became part of the LRJA so will be dealt with briefly. The East Lincolnshire Railway was built to connect Hull with London, and whether or not towns on the way were well served was at the whim of the engineer. While the market towns of Louth and Alford were fortunate to lie on the route, Spilsby was on the edge of the wolds and so bypassed in the interest of cheap speedy construction. After 10 years of sullen isolation, the Spilsby & Firsby Railway was formed to close the gap,connecting the town to the nearest station at Firsby. The act of 1858 gave powers for a standard gauge single track line approximately 4.25 miles long. After 3 years insufficient funds had been raised to begin construction but powers were renewed in the hope of an upturn. By the time they came up for renewal again prospects were little better, and the repeated renewal was more in hope than expectation. However the following year the examples of the Festiniog, Tallyllyn and Horncastle lines were there to follow, so an amendment act was obtained altering the railway to narrow gauge, reducing construction costs and increasing its attractiveness to investors. Work began in 1866 and the straightforward little railway was quickly completed, opening on 1st May 1867. The line was succesful and eventually threw out extensions at both ends, but since it will not impact directly on our story until it does, no more will be said of it for now.
The other 1866 scheme started modestly enough but would eventually grow to significant size and great importance, after nearly foundering under the weight of its own ambition. Despite the presence of the ELR the Louth party remained dissatisfied. The service was expensive and infrequent, and connections with the rest of the county poor, and it didn't serve the large wealthy estates to the West of town in the southern wolds, source of the influential grumbling. It was at least understood that the Rasen-Line's own earning powers would be weak, so its prospects were limited unless it could be built as part of a greater scheme, thereby gathering to itself some profitable long distance through traffic. A link right across the county, West to Gainsborough and the Trent and East to the coast at Mablethorpe, might be the key that unlocked the southern wolds. Given the shaky state of the economy and the lack of appetite for wildly ambitious schemes at the time, it was decided to start modestly. Thus that year an act was obtained for the "Louth and East Coast Railway". A simple 11 3/4 miles across flat open country linking the market town and ELR station to the small but growing resort village presented no challenge to the contractors. However they did present a considerable challenge to the promoters. Even at the beginning their ambition was obvious, since the act of parliament included not one but four railways. Railway No2 was to turn off the main line a little east of the halfway station of Saltfleetby St Peters, and run across the marsh to Saltfleet. From there Railway No3 continued to terminate at North Somercoates while No4 ran down to Saltfleet Haven, a total of 4.5 additional miles. These yielded more strife than traffic, since the route was disputed by both landowners and a minority of shareholders (including Mr Galland, a vociferous individual who was promoting a rival line from Cleethorpes to Sutton-on-Sea). So acrimonious did things become that a deviation was deemed necessary and an amending act obtained in 1868, before tracklaying had passed Grimoldby. When things settled down and the contractors were allowed to get on with their work construction proceeded quickly, especially after the decision was taken to forget the branches for now and concentrate on the main line, which was completed and duly opened in October that year.
The line quickly settled into a pattern of operation that would last for many years. A sparse winter serving a thinly populated area would be transformed for the season, and a high-density service was operated for those few months. Overall the few fat months paid for the many thin ones, but the sharply peaked traffic meant the line had to be generously equipped, with both rolling stock and stations far in excess of year-round local need. With a railway making a modest but steady income and the case for narrow gauge proven, it was time to consider expansion. This quest was aided and given a massive boost by the headline-making success of Little Wonder on the Festiniog railway, the Fairlie locomotive delivering performance that made converts of many a critic of the narrow gauge. Clearly the time was ripe for bold plans. The Saltfleet and North Somercoates branch was forgotten for the moment and resources concentrated on the great leap Westwards.
Since not all L&ECR shareholders were such bold spirits -and to protect the original investment in case of difficulties- the ambitious plan was promoted by a nominally independent company, albeit one whose shareholding overlapped the L&ECR's considerably. The North Lincolnshire Narrow Gauge Railways were launched in the spring of 1870, proposing a 38 mile line spanning the whole of West Lindsey from Gainsborough through Market Rasen to Sixhills, then over the Wolds to Louth. West of Rasen a new route was proposed and to the east the LGLUR route of 1846 was heavily modified, taking full advantage of the narrow gauge to eliminate costly earthworks. The LG&L objected on the grounds that it duplicated a route they had powers to build and still intended to build, but the parliamentary committee could not take those protests seriously given the lack of progress over the previous 2 decades and they were dismissed. The act was passed that November, and all that remained was to build the railway.
Financing the line proved slow and difficult, so progress on the ground was equally slow. The sensible plan was to start with the easiest, flattest sections first and venture into the hills only when funds allowed. This was a problem straightaway since although the Western half of the line was mostly flat it did include 2 heavily engineered grades, the climb out of the Trent Valley at Gainsborough and the ascent of the Lincoln Edge at Glentworth. Construction began in the summer of 1871, work commencing simultaneously at Market Rasen and Gainsborough. The contracts were not evenly split, the gang heading west had the easiest country to pass through so were given 12 miles of main line to build, from the bufferstops of the narrow gauge bay at Rasen down to the bottom of the Glentworth bank at Hemswell. The Gainsborough men were so favoured since theirs was the harder job, digging a deep cutting to climb out of the town and building several road bridges as the line threaded its way over streets and under existing lines, forking near the GN's Lea Road station to access a passenger terminus alongside the MS&L Central station and a goods yard on the river bank. The combination of earthworks, demolition and bridge-building was rightly expected to take much longer, but the ready availability of casual labour in and around the town enabled work to go much faster than planned. When they reached the limit of their contract in March of 1873 the Market Rasen contractors were over a mile away and well out of sight. The connection was finally made in June, inspection and opening taking place 2 months later. This delay was not due to any lack of diligence on the contractor's part, far from it. Funding difficulties had slowed the pace considerably, and the scope of work at Glentworth had been expanded by a dramatic development. Another narrow gauge railway in the south of the county had announced plans to expand, and this changed everything.
The Spittlegate, Loveden & Manthorpe was a contemporary of the LGLUR, being opened to goods in 1847. The owners of the magnificent Belton House, aware of the many rival schemes for a London-York direct railway and fearful of having their estate blighted or carved up by it, acted pragmatically and swiftly. Rather than try to block a development they saw as both desirable and inevitable, they cleverly promoted a horse-drawn narrow gauge tramway through the narrow defile that was the most threatening of the ECML routes under discussion. With the aid of some friends in high places, their act was passed - forcing the GNR to find another route, tunneling its way through Stoke and Peascliffe- and the simple little railway, lightly and cheaply engineered, was open a year later. After 20 years of undistinguished and largely unprofitable service, not that this mattered, since the principal customer was also the sole shareholder, the railway changed hands as the estate passed from father to son, and the new Lord had a different outlook. Expansion was in the air. Ironstone was known to be present in the area, visible in outcrops all along the Lincoln cliff, and a railway to exploit these reserves would be a guaranteed earner. Therefore a line was promoted, nominally independent from the SLMR but connected to it end-on and with most shareholders in common. The North Lincolnshire Extension Railway would take narrow gauge rails from Belton Park, over the GNR's Sleaford-Boston line at Barkston, through Caythorpe, Leadenham & Navenby, across the South Common and into a rather awkwardly located Lincoln terminus at Durham Ox. Since a single proprietor was putting up most of the funding work started the moment the act was passed- in the same committee sitting as the NLNGRs- and the narrow gauge landscape was completely altered.
This was an opportunity the anxious NLNGR shareholders could not and would not miss. The presence of a railway of the same gauge as their own in Lincoln, with access to vast mineral wealth, held out the promise of a huge and reliable income unimpeded by the costs and complication of transhipment. A mere 15 miles from Glentworth lay the huge iron and steel works at Scunthorpe, and if narrow gauge wagons could make a direct unbroken journey from quarry face to blast furnace profit was assured. With their own line still in the early stages of construction and struggling to fund that, they turned away to thoughts of further expansion and had a route surveyed from Lincoln to Scunthorpe. With the way into the city from the West blocked by dense development or other railways, the only viable route was via the LGLUR's metals as far as Cherry Willingham before turning north, threading a way through the villages of Nettleham, Scothern and Welton then out into open country, heading for a junction with the NLNGR near Owmby cliff, separating again beyond Glentworth to follow the foot of the Lincoln cliff all the way to Manton Warren, burrowing under the MS&L at Kirton on the way, then swinging NNW towards Brumby on the outskirts of Frodingham- where a branch into the steelworks complex swung away NE- and finally terminating close by the MS&L station and associated level crossing. In January 1871 the scheme was put before the shareholders of the NLNGR, where to universal astonishment it was narrowly voted down, on the grounds that the scheme would delay further the completion of the long-promised Louth-Rasen line. The patience of the Southern Wolds party had finally worn out. Unabashed, a group of NLNG shareholders decided to promote the line independently, setting themselves up as the West Riding Railway1.
All the foregoing activity had been watched with great interest from the Tentecroft Street Station offices of the LGLUR. In the wake of the triumph of Little Wonder narrow gauge was the height of fashion, and to the board of the "Union" it seemed to be not only a cheap practical solution to their missing link through Caistor, but one sufficiently en vogue with investors to attract the investment funds that a boring old coal-cart gauge line would not. The surveys and deposited plans of 1846 were dusted off and studied again, paying particular attention to Caistor. Whilst the tunnel at Canada was considered unavoidable if the station was to properly serve the town and maintain acceptable gradients to the North, a gentle climb looping around Nettleton hill and the adjoining valley would eliminate the need for the long tunnel and high viaduct which had defeated the standard gauge line. Since the new proposal was outside the limit of deviation it was decided to seek a completely new act rather than re-activate the moribund powers of 1846. This would allow for the construction of a narrow gauge line from Market Rasen to Laceby, and alter their existing lines to mixed or narrow gauge. The South Wolds party protested the absence of the Louth scheme but since they were a minority, albeit a very influential one, they were overruled and a plan was deposited with the parliamentary standing committee, to be heard in the same session as the West Riding Railway.
The South Wolds party were determined not to be disappointed again. Though they had lost the battle in the LGLUR boardroom and been outmaneuvred by the WRR promoters, Parliament was their last line of defence and a formiddable fortress it was too. There they had power, contacts and influence, and formed a real threat to both West Riding and Union interests. Their position was simply stated, absolutely clear and immovably stubborn; "You have taken our money and given us nothing. We will not stand for it. If we don't get our railway neither do you". Adding up the numbers the danger to both bills was very real, and too much had been spent to countenance loss. Legal and survey fees had eaten into both companies' reserves, so if they failed this year it would take a lot of saving before they could try again. Perhaps their very survival (particularly in the case of the NLNG/WRR) was at stake. It was time to offer a compromise.
Since the Louth line was unlikely to make a profit but vital to the success the companies' more lucrative ventures they hatched a scheme whereby they would build it jointly, each absorbing half the construction and operating costs, and dividing the income likewise. Amendments to both acts were swiftly tabled, transferring the powers to construct the Rasen-Louth line, on the route of the 1870 NLNGR survey, to a newly established joint subsidiary to be known as the Lindsey Railways Joint Administration. Thus prepared, the railway companies faced Parliament. Even this carefully crafted olive branch was not enough, though. The landowners of the South Wolds had seen acts passed before but seen no trains as a result, and weren't going to be satisfied with paper promises. They forced through amendments to both acts, entitling their estates to impose an eye-watering fine on each company for every day that trains ran between Lincoln and Scunthorpe (for the WRR) or Market Rasen and Laceby (for the Union) while none ran between Market Rasen and Louth. They then made it absolutely clear to both companies that they had every intention of exercising that power should it prove necessary. The Union was further hamstrung by amendments protecting the interests of the MS&L and customers on their existing line. It was decreed that mileages and thus charges between Laceby and Cleethorpes and between Lincoln and Market Rasen would remain unchanged2, and further that direct standard gauge access must be maintained to all existing customers within the City of Lincoln and standard gauge access to Cleethorpes could not be withdrawn. Finally, by the Union's act an amendment was granted to the NLER, enabling them to cross the Union line between Durham Ox and High Street on the level and enter the new station at Tentecroft Street, a joint enterprise shared between all three companies. As amended, both acts passed in June 1871 and construction began at once.
Market Rasen trains returned temporarily to Lincoln's Midland station that September, to allow for the partial demolition and rebuilding of Tentecroft street as a mixed gauge station, ready for the arrival of WRR and NLER trains. Narrow gauge track was quickly laid between Cherry Willingham and Greetwell by running construction trains on the LG&L line, in the space bought by the Union for a second line but never used. Adding a third rail to the two miles through Lincoln proved more complex. The maze of junctions, private sidings, level and flat crossings had to be tackled in small careful stages, particularly the junctions, crossing and level crossings combined at Pelham Street. This was trial-assembled in stamp end yard over several weeks, and once perfected lifted into place in a single 12hr possession, fortunately without a hitch. Union trains returned to Tentecroft Street in April 1872, while the narrow gauge tracks and platforms would wait a month longer for the first NLER train to Waddington.
Once the detailed fiddly work in the city was complete, the pace of work picked up on both NLER and WRR contracts, since the former now had rail connections at both ends, and the latter at three points- soon to be four when NLNGR rails reached Owmby cliff in October 1872. Reports from the Union of progress that was not much slower were cause for both celebration and concern, since the risk of arousing the wrath of the southern wolds party was very real. Efforts had to be diverted into the long-awaited Louth line, so contracts were let that November and the first sod cut, without ceremony, the following month.
After considering the alternatives, such as dividing the responsibility in half by mileage, by department (one company to build and maintain the railway, one to man, stock and operate it) or by time (each company to have total responsibility for alternating 5 year periods), it was decided the Louth line would be a nominally independent subsidiary, both boards appointing an equal number of directors (chairmanship to alternate every 3 years) to the LRJA board which would in turn appoint manager & engineer to run the railway. This arrangement took effect immediately, and a capable young man with no previous connection to either concern was appointed engineer. In fact, he proved so capable of encouraging the contractors along that they were inspired to offer higher rates, poaching navvies from the ongoing WRR, NLNG and LG&L contracts. This indiscretion might have turned out ill, but since all concerned wanted the joint line finished and the wolds estates placated no more was heard of it. The line itself began immediately south of Market Rasen's narrow gauge platform, curving sharply east alongside a platform of its own, crossing the Wragby road on a brick bridge before the land rose to meet it and heading ESE into the hills. It weaved around the Western edge of the wolds, taking a sinuous curving route both to give it room to climb on an acceptable gradient and to hug the contours, keeping construction costs down. It served the larger village of Ludford, passed the deserted remains of East Wykeham, South Cadeby and Calcethorpe whilst trying to get as conveniently close to (while remaining discreetly out of sight of) large country houses at the former and latter, both the source of much agitation and grief for the railways. Welton-le-Wold station was more convenient for the Manor than its namesake village, and South Elkington's manicured gardens required a difficult looping deviation to avoid. Finally, the approach to Louth required drastic alteration. The town had grown in the quarter century since the original survey, and though the East Lincs had been prepared to allow a flat junction for Union trains to enter its own station, the narrow gauge had to pass over the main line on a bridge and descend to a junction with the L&ECR a quarter mile beyond, thus forcing trains from Market Rasen to reverse into the existing narrow gauge bays at Louth station. Gangs worked west from Louth and East from Market Rasen, meeting in March 1874. After the heavy work was done, detail jobs like building construction, signalling and general fettling took a further 2 months. The inspector came to visit that May and passed the line, despite a few choice words concerning the eccentric arrangements at Louth.
The men of the West Riding and Union companies had been waiting for this moment. The inspector also visited both ends of the West Riding. The Scunthorpe to Kirton Lindsey line still needed some work: signalling was incomplete and a bridge at Brumby showed evidence of subsidence. Lincoln to Welton was judged complete, so almost before the marquee had been tidied away from Market Rasen racecourse the West Riding opened its first section to the public, running a purely local service from Lincoln. The inspector was back in Lindsey a month later, first to review the Scunthorpe to Kirton (Town) section of the WRR and then the Market Rasen-Caistor section of the Union, which had been ready for several months but left unopened pending completion of the Joint line. So advanced was the work, in fact, that Caistor only operated as a terminus for 2 months. The inspector's final visit of 1874 was a return to Caistor, this time to travel North to Laceby over the brand new narrow gauge line and view the mixed gauge from there to Grimsby and the diverted MS&L connection. A highlight of the trip was a brake test using one of the new large Fairlie locomotives dragging a 100 ton train up the gradients. In the debates over the merits of the narrow gauge one influential naysayer had gained considerable publicity with the statement "Anyone selling a scheme whereby a tiny toy engine can haul even sixty tons over such grades as are proposed in this scheme is peddling horse-feathers!" After this claim had been comprehensively disproved, the locomotive was there and then adorned with nameplates bearing the proud boast Horsefeather, a name that would ever after be associated with the Union and later the Joint Administration.
As this momentous year drew to a close, only two narrow gauge lines remained unfinished. Progress was steady on the WRR, contractors being fed by a steady stream of trains to four railheads, though now hampered by having to give way to service trains. One other railway had appeared on the scene in the meantime. The agricultural and maritime interests of the salt marsh country around North Somercoates were stung by the apparent neglect of their needs by the L&ECR. Patience gave way to frustration as other schemes were given priority and resources. Eventually frustration became fury as the powers for the Saltfleet Haven and North Somercoates lines lapsed in 1872 and were not renewed. Aided by the quarrelsome Mr Galland, they worked up a scheme for a "Lincolnshire Marshes Railway", to consist of lines approximately along the L&ECR's railways 2,3 & 4- modified to join that railway facing Mablethorpe instead of Louth, continue North from North Somercoates via Marshchapel, Tetney Lock and Humberston to Cleethorpes, and continuing from Mablethorpe to Sutton on Sea (exercising running powers over the L&ECR to access the Sutton line).
The L&EC naturally objected to this, and relations were hostile for some months. Eventually a compromise was reached, aided by the resignation of Mr Galland from the LMR board over some trifle, and running powers were agreed on a reciprocal basis, the LMR running over the L&EC as planned and the L&EC exercising powers over the LMR from Mablethorpe to Sutton. The Lincolnshire Marshes Railway Act duly passed in November of 1872 and construction began the following spring. The job took longer than expected. The need to stabilise the soft marshy ground slowed construction on even the straight, level sections. The Louth Navigation trustees raised endless objections to design details of the opening bridge, sidings and wharf at Tetney Lock, there were severe practical difficulties fitting trans-shipment facilities into the restricted space at Cleethorpes and Mr Galland, unabashed and undaunted was now in a position to create further difficulties as he was now on the board of the North Sea Harbour & Fisheries co who were planning to build a dock at Sutton. All this meant that it took two years to build the 20 mile line, which would finally open in July 1875.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Wolds the early spring of 1875 saw tracks meeting at both Hackthorn and Hemswell, and the ironstone which would be the red blood of the Lincolnshire narrow gauge for a century began to flow, first a trickle and then a spate which greatly interfered with the final preparations for inspection. Fortunately the heavy traffic also aided the consolidation of the ballast, as well as pointing out any equipment defects and giving a chance to rectify them before they were spotted by the Board of Trade's inspector. He paid a call late that April, declared himself satisfied, and the first passenger trains ran between Scunthorpe and Lincoln the following day, an event met with as much relief as jubilation among the directors of the WRR. It had been a long, hard haul but now they had their railway, and all they had to do was run it.
Go back to Part 2: Unfinished Business in Horncastle | Continue to Part 4: Consolidation & Connections
[ © 2012 Tim Lockley & Rebecca
Jane Lockley ]