The exhibition due to open at the Alford Manor house Museum on 5 October acts as a reminder of the importance of the Great Northern Railway in Lincolnshire.
Whilst the GNR is traditionally associated with the East Coast main line from London King’s Cross through to Doncaster and beyond and in much of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, its once important route to Grimsby was an essential link to much of the north-east of the county to the rest of the railway network and provided competition for the lines of the Lincolnshire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway — later the Great Central Railway — through to the Grouping in 1923.
The 47½-mile line from Grimsby to Boston was promoted by the East Lincolnshire Railway and authorised by an Act of Parliament of 26 June 1846. In order to protect its interest, the Great Grimsby & Sheffield Junction Railway sought to operate the line through leasing it, but this attempt failed and the line passed into the hands of the GNR through a lease dated 2 December 1846 that was ratified by an Act dated 9 July 1847. Following construction, the line opened in two stages: from Grimsby to Louth on 1 March 1848 and from Louth to Boston on 2 December 1848. Although operated by the GNR from its opening, the East Lincolnshire Railway maintained its notional independence through to the Grouping in 1923.
The most important intermediate station along the new line was Louth, where an impressive station in the Jacobean style was erected. The station also served as the offices of the ELR. The station’s foundation stone was laid by Charlotte Alington Pye, a note Victorian writer of popular songs, on 8 July 1847. Following the line’s closure, the station was disused for some years and allowed to deteriorate. Subsequently, however, the main building, which is now listed Grade II, has been converted into residential property.
The next development was the development of the link from Louth to Mablethorpe. The Louth & East Coast Railway was authorised on 18 July 1872 to construct an 11-mile line from Louth to Mablethorpe along with a branch to Skegness. The line to Mablethorpe opened on 17 October 1877 although the branch was never built. The line was backed by the GNR and operated by it from opening. The L&ECR maintained its independence until 1908 when it was take over by the GNR following an Act of 1 August of that year.
The next line to appear was the 2ft 6in gauge Alford & Sutton Tramway; this was promoted to provide a link between the L&ECR and Sutton. Incorporated on 12 August 1880 and opened on 2 April 1884, the line was relatively shortlived, being superseded by the opening of the standard-gauge Sutton & Willoughby Railway in 1886. The Alford & Sutton Tramway closed in December 1889 as a result.
The Sutton & Willoughby Railway was incorporated on 28 July 1884 to construct seven-mile line from Willoughby, on the L&ECR, to Sutton-on-Sea, where the railway’s promoters were hoping to build a new port. Initially the GNR was unwilling to back the new railway and the S&WR was unwilling or unable to proceed with the construction of the docks without the railway. However, following a traffic agreement authorised by an Act of 25 September 1886, the impasse was broken and construction started. The Act of 25 September 1886 also permitted the construction of a 2¾-mile extension from Sutton to Mablethorpe, thus completing a loop from Willoughby to Louth via Sutton and Mablethorpe. The line from Willoughby opened officially on 23 September 1886 and to the public on 4 October 1886; the extension to Mablethorpe was opened on 14 July 1888. The S&WR was formally taken over by the GNR in March 1902.
When the L&ECT opened, it was provided with intermediate stations at Waltham, Holton-le-Clay, North Thoresby, Ludborough, Louth, Legbourne Road, Authorpe, Aby for Claythorpe, Alford Town, Willoughby, Burgh-le-Marsh, Firsby, Little Steeping, East Ville, Old Leake and Sibsey. These were added to in 1905 by the opening of halts at Hainton Street, Weelsby Road, Holton Village, Grainsby, Utterby and Fotherby in connection with the introduction of a steam railmotor service from Louth to Grimsby.
The entire network of lines passed to the LNER in 1923 and to British Railways (Eastern Region) in 1948 with the exception of the halts at Grainsby and Weelsby Road that had closed in 1939 and 1940 respectively.
The first contraction occurred on 5 December 1960 when the line from Louth to Mablethorpe lost its passenger services and closed completely. The following year, on 11 September, the all of the surviving intermediate stations, with the exception of Firsby, Burgh-le-Marsh, Alford Town, Louth and North Thoresby closed. Worse was to follow with the Beeching Report of March 1963: all of the ex-GNR line from Peterborough to Grimsby was slated for closure along with the branches to Skegness and to Mablethorpe. In the event, the section from Boston to Skegness was reprieved but the remainder were all condemned.
The last timetable to include services over the routes concerned was that issued by Eastern Region for the period from 4 May 1970 through to 2 May 1971. It included a 16pp supplement that came with the following, ominous, statement: ‘This supplement contains alterations which apply to this Passenger Timetable EASTERN REGION dated 4 May 1970 to 2 May 1971. The Minister of Transport has consented to the withdrawal of rail passenger services between Lincoln Central and Firsby, between Peterborough and Grimsby and between Willoughby and Mablethorpe. Alternative bus services have been stipulated by the Minister and after these are arranged notice of the rail passenger services withdrawal date will be given in the Press and at stations and this Supplement will cease to apply.’
The original timetable had been printed on the assumption that passenger services would have ceased on 5 May 1970 but the delay until 5 October resulted in a five-month reprieve for the services concerned. At closure, the sections from Peterborough to Spalding and from Louth to Grimsby were retained for freight services but the rest of the lines were destined to close completely. Passenger services were, however, to be restored to the section from Peterborough to Spalding on 7 June 1971.
Freight continued to operate to Louth until October 1980 although the last service was a special five-car DMU that operated on 20 December 1980. Following final closure efforts were made to preserve the line and the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway is now based at Ludborough and has the intention of eventually reopening the eight-mile section from Louth to Holton-le-Clay. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to reconnect to the main line at Grimsby as the trackbed has been used for the construction of the A16.