- Published: 27 September 2015 27 September 2015
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Until the Mid 1980's I lived in Northamptonshire, not far from the Great Central London Extension route at Helmdon. As a kid i'd walk the old trackbed, which back then wasn't heavily overgrown. On one occasion I even found a metal spoon with the inscription GCR that somebody had lobbed out of the restaurant car back in the day. Although I had been interested in trains and spent many a sunny and rainly hour down at Banbury station on the goods plaform, the GC hadn't any real significance until much later.
Once I had moved away from train sets and decided to model something more seriously, the Great Central started to become interesting. Although at the time i'd never even been to Leicester, the more I read, the more it seemed to me to be an ideal location.
The line was constructed in the last few years of the 19th Century, the London Extension of the Great Central Railway ran from Nottingham down through Leicester, Rugby and on to London Marylebone. The last mainline railway to make it to London (prior to HS1) it was also one of the significant losses of the Beeching cuts.
Being at the crossroads from North East to South and South West, Manchester and Nottingham Expresses to London and Summer holiday traffic there was a significant diversity of locomotives and rolling stock from the Southern, North-Eastern, Eastern and Midland Regions of British Railways, and to make life even more interesting locos would often be changed over there. GW Halls and Granges could be regularly seen reaching Leicester Central (sometimes even further north), former LNER locos V2's B1's and a myriad others, the BR Standards, notably the 9Fs and early diesels, (class 08, 24, 26, 27, 31, 35 (Hymek) 37, 47 and even a 40), plenty of variety on cross-country, London to the North expresses, excursion and special stock (Mallard was hauled through by a 9F from Clapham to York) and City of Truro, City of Nottingham, Midland Compound 1000, Clun Castle and many others are documented as going through. Through Summer (and regular) trains from the south coast brought Green Mk1 stock, and the Windcutters taking express goods south and back. The GT3 Gas Turbine and Kestrel were all tested on the line too.
Beeching closed the line down completely in 1969 but there had been a general rundown since the early 1960's when the Midland Region took the route over from the Eastern Region. The last through expresses from Nottingham to Marylebone ran on the 3rd September 1966 leaving only an irregular and inconvenient DMU service. In the end this service terminated at Arkright Street since the once grand Nottingham Victoria was closed in September 1967. If you are interested more in the decline of Leicester Central there is a link to Nigel Tout's excellent website at the bottom of this page.
Although my main interest started in the changever between steam to diesel (end of the 1950's beginning of the 1960's, as often happens this expanded era-wise so in my world the station wasn't closed down. In fact it began to flourish.
The old London Road station was in a very valuable location from a real estate point of view and was closed down and the land sold off for redevelopment. Some new spurs added just south of Braunstone Gate and the Leicester South Goods yard and Loco Sheds and Central became Leicester's mainline station handling the Great Central route and also dwindling traffic from the secondary Midland Main Line. The Central also saw plenty of traffic from the North West & North East to London and the South as well as cross country passenger and through goods to the South West and South Wales (via Stratford upon Avon, Broom Junction), particularly steel. The link from Woodford Halse to Banbury, which connected it to the south coast, Swindon and beyong became even more heavily used. Railfreight traffic boomed and in later years the station was served by Regional Rail, Network Southeast (it was the most northernmost outpost) as well as Intercity. In fact what didn't run through Leicester Central?
The whole station is built up over the city on a viaduct and bridges, the area around it is now mostly gone but there are some excellent photographs on the britainfromabove.org site and the whole area is well documented in the 1930's, 40's and 50's - there are also countless books and photos on Flickr etc. So plenty of historical resources to use. I'm particularly looking forward to modelling the Bath Lane area in front of the station in the photo above.
I've attempted to recreate the "spirit of Leicester Central". From the track plan it's recognisable to anybody who knew the layout of the original. I will also try to keep as much as possible based on the feeling of the place. Only my modelling skills, which are improving but have scope for a lot more practice, will stand in the way of recreating the legacy of the GC.
Nigel Tout's "Great Central Railway Through Leicester"