Further east the little branch to Spilsby was going from strength to strength. Shortly after opening their own line, on seeing the success of the lines to Mablethorpe and Sutton the S&FR directors decided that the logical thing to do was promote a coastal resort line of their own. The Skegness and Firsby Railway proposed 2 lines, No1 from a terminus on the Eastern side of Firsby ELR station, running a straight 6.25 miles East across open country, serving the large village of Burgh-le-Marsh en route before terminating a little inland of the sea front at Skegness. Railway No2 was a connecting link with the Spilsby line, crossing the ELR on the level just north of the standard gauge station, looping round to cross the main road on the level, joining the other line a little way south of the platforms. It was promoted as a freight transfer link but built to passenger standards to permit the occasional through excursion. The act of parliament was passed in early 1870, allowing fundraising and construction to proceed rapidly since by now the narrow gauge was a proven concept and there was plenty of local practical experience to draw on. Inspection took place in April 1871, and while the GNR crossing needed further remedial work the main line itself was satisfactory and services began the following day.
The railway proved a satisfactory investment and did well, so much so that the Great Northern decided to build its own route to Skegness by extending the existing Wainfleet branch. By virtue of brisk, efficient operation the S&F was able to see this threat off at the Parliamentary stage, demonstrating its ability to cope with such traffic as then existed, but as Skegness grew rapidly it was clear to all that this might not be true forever. The regauging of the LGLUR was viewed with interest, since this raised the possibility of a through narrow gauge link to Lincoln, giving access to both the large resident population and through passengers from the Midland and MS&L. A first attempt in 1885, the South Wolds Railway, achieved an act of Parliament and some earthworks but was unable to fund completion due to financing difficulties. It would be the light railway act of 1896 that solved the problem, making lines easier to promote and cheaper to build and operate. An order was granted in mid 1898 for a West Lincolnshire Light Railway, running from Spilsby around the Southern edge of the Wolds to Horncastle. The route was carefully selected with economy in mind, following the contours closely in a rather weaving roundabout route and making full use of the limited earthworks of the earlier SWR scheme. The order also granted to the S&FR (both S&FRs in fact, but they were largely operated as a single system) powers to operate as light railways, enabling some economy in operation as gatemen and signalmen were withdrawn. Interestingly, the board assumed that since the WLLR order applied to the whole system the whole railway should be known by that title, thus the most Easterly railway in Lincolnshire was the West Lincolnshire. With no major engineering features the line was simple to construct and completed quickly, opening in June 1900 and restoring to the Spilsby and Skegness companies' books some of the respectability lost when the GNR's Skegness line eventually opened in 1886. The arrival of the GNR had not been all bad news, since the large numbers of holidaymakers found the S&F an attractive day out even if they chose not to use it for their journey to the resort, and Firsby trains started to fill up with passengers who chose not to leave the coaches at their destination but go straight back- an astonishing sight to old-hand railwaymen.
Further North, the indefatigable Mr Galland was still persisting in his efforts to secure his share of the coastal resort trade. Unable to promote a railway from his own resources and unwilling to return to the LMR board although entitled by virtue of his large shareholding, he turned to the various Tramway acts for a cheaper solution. His Alford & Sutton Tramway proposal of 1882 was approved, despite the objections of the L&ECR ( an LMR motion against it was voted down after careful behind the scenes manoeuvres) and opened a year later. The line barely broke even. Although more a more direct link from the South than travelling via Louth, the low speed made it unattractive to all but the most cost-conscious holidaymakers. The shorter route did however prove attractive to some goods customers since it was slightly cheaper, and LMR and L&ECR revenues both dipped slightly as a result. Further extension was proposed down the coast to Skegness, which would have opened up vast lengths of deserted beaches to the tourist trade. The prospect was attractive but the long journey by steam tram was considered unlikely to impress the customers and the project shelved. It would be another decade before the septugenarian Mr Galland took his last chance to find real profit. Advised by his doctor in 1895 to take a long holiday by the sea, away from smoky industries, he found his way to the Isle of Man and there was beguiled by the Electric Railways along the coast and up the Mountain. This, then, was his answer: a risk free investment since the power-stations the railway would need could serve their towns with power when no cars were running, and indeed could earn an honest profit before a yard of track had been laid. Subscriptions were invited for the East Lincolnshire Electric Railway running from Skegness GNR station, past the S&FR terminus then out along the front and for 14 miles atop the ancient Roman Bank sea wall to Sutton, continuing to Mablethorpe via the LMR, whose objections were stillborn thanks to the intrigues of Mr Galland and a few fellow disgruntled shareholders. Power Stations would be built at Skegness, Chapel St Leonards and Sutton on Sea. Promotion and fundraising was slow but steady, allowing the railway's act to be passed in September 1896, an act of parliament being chosen over an LRO in order to give the company powers to generate and sell electricity to the public. Powers to absorb the A&ST were quickly used (the two lines having mostly common shareholding) and thus the East Lincolnshire Electric Railway's first train was an early morning steam tram departure from Alford on the 3rd of October.
Construction began at the Skegness end and was at first concentrated on the section through the town, slowing down noticeably once the power-station site was reached as all funds and materials went into finishing this as quickly as possible to start earning some money. At the other end the LMR and L&ECR both insisted that Mablethorpe-Sutton electrification had to be completed in a single off-season in order not to disrupt high season traffic. Digging holes and erecting posts could be done between trains on the sparse winter timetable (though some delays did occur), and stringing span-wires in the stations could take place at night (much to the disgust of the stationmasters and their families) but wiring was a long slow Sundays-only business, not helped by the shortness of the daylight hours in winter. The deadline was met and wiring completed by April 1897, though the wires had over a year to tarnish before Sutton-on-Sea power station would be comissioned. Construction took place from both ends simultaneously, but the expensive power supply was extended in stages from the south, and operations likewise. A local service in the environs of Skegness began in March of 1897, and extended gradually to Ingoldmells (May) and Chapel St Leonards (June), all powered from Skegness. Transmission losses and a busy service led to an unreliable power supply, so efforts were diverted to the completion of Chapel power station (Sept). The two contractors met at Anderby in early December, and after the creek was bridged all that remained was to complete wiring and Sutton power station. This switched on in May 1898 and the completed line was open just in time for the summer season.
The ride proved extremely popular as a cheap easy means moving between the peace of long empty beaches and the fun and facilities of thriving resort towns. The flexibility of electric traction allowed the company to cater for peak demands at a moments notice, sending cars out at the drop of a hat. The only exception was the section where running powers were exercised over the LMR into Mablethorpe LECR station, where the need to obey the railway rulebook and the limited line capacity of the single track railway (even after the LMR had been persuaded to install a passing loop at Trusthorpe) required a change of approach. That season cars were tried with whole trains of trailers on the "railway" section (trains of such a length being forbidden on-street). For the future, discussions were opened with both the LECR and the LMR about the practicalities of through trains, and orders placed for electric locomotives.
Go back to Part 4: East, West, South and North | Continue to Part 6: Growth and Union
[ © 2012 Tim Lockley & Rebecca
Jane Lockley ]