A Glimpse Into the Past

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Recently, the Financial Times celebrated 125 years of publication and reproduced, by way of remembrance, a copy of its first front page, of 13th February, 1888. The front page makes interesting reading for LR readers, as there were no less than three references to the railways serving London, copies of which can be seen below.

The first article is a preliminary glimpse of the half-yearly report of the Great Northern Railway. This is largely self explanatory. It gives a good snapshot of a high-Victorian railway company, at the peak of its prestige. Of note also are the monies set aside for extensions, future works, the (very new & daring) “electric lighting of carriages”, and the replacement of the Kings’ Cross station roof structure in iron, as opposed to the timber originals.

The Great North Railway

The Great North Railway

The second perhaps needs more explanation. Its a letter from a correspondent signing himself as Sapere Aude (“Thinking hearer”, or “thinking auditor”) and can only be described as a rather impressive rant against the chairman of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR), James Staats Forbes.

The Metropolitan District Railway

The Metropolitan District Railway

Suffice it to say that, nothing came of “Mr Hearer’s” rant, and J.S.Forbes remained in charge of the LC&DR until their Joint Committee was established in 1898/9. This letter was, of course, written only 4 years after the “Inner Circle” had been completed, with the Corporation, other business interests, and Parliament, having “leant” very heavily on both the railways and their chairmen, to put aside their bitter personal quarrelling for the financial and structural benefit of London. Sir Edward Watkin was, of course, chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, as well as the South Eastern Railway (SER), the Great Central Railway (GCR), and the Channel Tunnel development company that existed at the time. He was also on the board of the Nord in France!

Matters continued in this rather dubious fashion until Watkin resigned his directorships in 1894, due to illness. Forbes’ iron grip, however, was not relaxed on the LC&DR until the Joint Committee was founded, and even then he “persuaded” the Joint Committee to retain him as a consultant, which post he filled until his death in 1904. The Metropolitan & District then almost immediately fell under the control of the very epitomé of the railway “Robber Baron”, Charles Tyson Yerkes, who assumed the Chair in 1905.

The Southern Railways

The Southern Railways

The third article refers to an set of just-broken-off preliminary talks between Watkin (as chairman of the SER) and Allen Sarle, the chairman of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR). These apparently concerned an amalgamation of the two railways, which ultimately came to nothing. Surprisingly, there is no reference to these in Dendy Marshall’s history of the Southern companies, so they must have been tentative at best. There were, however, many ongoing financial and running/operating difficulties between the two companies, and these talks may have been an attempt to sort these problems out without going expensively to law or Parliament. The diagrams below highlight some of the complexities of their relationship.

Pre Grouping railway junction around Bricklayers Arms & New Cross, Midhurst

Pre Grouping railway junction around Croydon, Norwood & Woodside

Pre Grouping railway junction around Croydon, Norwood & Woodside

Purley, Redhill & Stoats Nest Junction

Purley, Redhill & Stoats Nest Junction

The LB&SCR and the SER had running powers over each others’ lines between London Bridge and Redhill/Earlswood Junction. The tracks were crowded to capacity, causing a great deal of conflict, and the LB&SCR Quarry line bypassing Redhill was not opened until 1899/1900, 11 years after the date of this communication. The dispute had started as far back as 1883, and the impasse was not resolved until 1889, when Sir Henry Oakley of the GNR was asked to arbitrate, leading to a permanent financial settlement. This article highlights nicely some of the facets of that dispute.

Written by John Bull