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The Great Eastern


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The Great Eastern is our greatest passenger line, for over 103 millions travel on it in a year, and it is the sixth in order of our great lines, the length being over 1200 miles, thus exceeding both the South Western and the Great Northern. "Friendly with all companies," it was for years an example of a really well-managed concern that progressed without competition.

Through the greater part of its history, with the exception of the early parliamentary contests with the Great Northern, which ended in its being confined to that section of the country it was specially projected to serve, it was without any such "spur" as rivalry is assumed to give. Some years ago Sir George Gibb astonished an interviewer by telling him of the North Eastern, a line similarly placed, that "monopoly secures harmonious, consistent, and well-ordered progress," and The Great Eastern, ever since the days of the Marquess of Salisbury, afforded until recently another example of the truth of that doctrine. It is careful not to promise what it cannot perform, and, though not speedy in its fastest trains, its general average of speed for all trains is higher than that of any other company. Its suburban traffic is tremendous, and its goods traffic, 5½ million tons of it a year, is most miscellaneous.

The way it has fostered local produce and local industries is worthy of all praise. Think of the millions of herrings and trawl-fish it distributes from Yarmouth and its own docks at Lowestoft, the sprats from Aldeburgh, the shrimps - a thousand tons a year of them - from Harwich, the crabs from Cromer, the cockles from Wells, the oysters from Brightlingsea. Think of the grain and fruit and market-garden stuff it pours into London from all over its area. Think of the mustard and boots it scatters from Norwich, the chemicals from the marshes, the xylonite from Man-ningtree, the rifles from Enfield, the cordite from Waltham and Hadham, and the gun-cotton from Stowmarket. With the aid of the London & Blackwall it has a large dock and shipping business irrespective of what it may do at Parkeston, where it brings in almost everything from everywhere on the Continent. Add to this its passenger matters with the Broads and the towns of the east coast, the multitudes it runs to the Forest and the greater multitudes it carries in and out to business, and you will understand that it has quite enough upon its hands besides the sale of sea-water by the gallon for London's baths.

From Lowestoft to Huntingdon, from Shoreditch to Peterborough it has covered the east country between the Thames and the Wash with a network of rails having some forty loose ends, half of them ending on the coast, which has linked up every place of any importance and many that are of none; and north of that, through Spalding and Lincoln, it works right away to York and Chesterfield in search mainly of a coal trade that is ever increasing and now reaches 7½ millions of tons a year, obtained by its arrangements with the Great Central and Great Northern.

The ring of shields round London on its coat of arms tells you where it goes - Essex, Maldon, Ipswich, Norwich, Huntingdonshire, Cambridge-, Hertford, Northamptonshire. By its close upon 1100 engines its passenger trains are run thirteen million miles and its goods trains eight millions of miles a year, and it has over 32.000 vehicles on its rails in addition to over a score of motor-cars, about 1300 horse-drawn carts, wagons, and omnibuses, and a fleet of fifteen steamers. In fact no one would imagine from the position in which its enterprising management has placed it that in 1867 it was in such low water that its creditors seized its engines for debt.

The Great Eastern is a railway with a past, in the usual acceptation of the term. From being nearly the worst of railways it has become one of the best. Those who have read about its territory in books know it as a flat country; those who have been there know that, with the exception of the north-western corner, it is anything but flat, being an undulating land with very little level in it. It was a tempting region lor cheap railways laid practically on the natural lie of the ground, and thus it came about that The Great Eastern, which is an assemblage mainly of farmers' lines, with many sharp curves and steep gradients, is really not an easy road to work.

It began with the Eastern Counties, a 5-ft. line, which the Northern & Eastern, also a 5-ft. line, joined in 1844, three months before the change of gauge. Then there was the Norwich & Yarmouth which for years held the sprint record - one mile in 44 seconds - and was also the first to make trial of a telegraph system that showed the passage of the trains at its five chief stations, introduced on the opening day in 1844. It did not last long alone, for that year it joined with the Norwich & Brandon to become the Norfolk Railway; and four years afterwards the Norfolk joined with the LoAvestoft to be worked by the Eastern Counties. Then there was the Eastern Union which amalgamated with the Ipswich & Bury and came to lease the Colchester, Stour Valley, Sudbury & Halstead, all of them falling into the net of the Eastern Counties in 1854. Into that net had also fallen the East Anglian, an amalgamation of the Lynn & Ely, the Lynn & Dereham, and the Ely & Huntingdon. The Newmarket, the Wells & Faken-ham, and the East Suffolk followed suit; and - but we may got lost among the details, and enough has been said to show how The Great Eastern, which took the name in 1862, has been built up.

The engineer of the Eastern Counties was John Braith-waite, who, in partnership with Ericsson, built the Novelty for the Rainhill race, the engine for John Ross's Victory, and much other machinery that failed, sometimes from no fault of its own, as, for instance, the first steam fire-engine, which the mob smashed up. In short, his experiences were not encouraging, and in 1834 he took to civil engineering, an offer having been made him to survey for a new railway in Essex in conjunction with Vignoles.

Vignoles did nearly all the work, though he took little part in the affairs of the company after the Act was obtained in 1836, five years after the project had been launched, when Braithwaite was left to go ahead alone. The line was to run from High Street, Shoreditch, by Colchester, to Norwich and Yarmouth, the longest line up to then projected, its length being 126 miles. Under another Act the Northern & Eastern was to start from a junction with it at Angel Lane, Stratford, and proceed to Bishop's Stortford; and this company was fortunate, for the only difficult section was that between Shoreditch and Stratford.

Here Braithwaite had many calls on his peculiar gift for making the best of things. The marshes were for a time insatiable; they swallowed up all the materials dumped on them to form the embankment, and when at last the embankment ceased to sink into the ground it simply spread and would not hold together. As time was getting on, Braithwaite decided to treble the rate of accumulation, and built a staging in advance from which the wagons could be tipped side by side. This brought up the earth-work quickly enough round the stage, but the posts could not be readily moved to take the stage on farther. And he left them where they were and their lower framework with them, and went on building stage after stage in a manner new but now familiar, leaving the piles as he went, and there they are still, ensuring the permanence of the embankment. To drive these piles he was the first to use the American locomotive steam pile-driving machine, just as he was the first to introduce the American excavator to make his cuttings with.

Braithwaite had no conception of the magnitude of the work he was beginning; he was the narrowest in vision of all these engineers. He laid out the line to a 5-ft. gauge, and was the first witness called by the Gauge Commission. "Having adopted a wider gauge than others," he said, "an impression has been created that I am a Broad Gauge man, but I state most distinctly that I am not a Broad Gauge man and I see no necessity for the Broad Gauge." And then listen to this: "If the object were that all the world might leave London in the morning and come back at night, you would want magnificent gradients such as on the Great Western with the Broad Gauge." O Shade of Braithwaite! Meet us at Liverpool Street on Saturday afternoon!

His directors wanted the 7-ft. gauge, and he reported against it and persuaded them to adopt this little gauge of his own. But why 5 ft. instead of 4 ft. 8½ in.? This is his answer verbatim: "With a little more space between the tubes we should have a more quiet action of the water in the boiler and consequently less ebullition; and therefore with my diagram and my section of my engine, I added to all its different bearings, and I added what I considered sufficient additional space to the tubes, the sum of which gave me 4 ft. 11¾ in., and upon that I assumed that 5 ft. would be about the thing."

With this in mind let us refer to the first engines that were placed on this 5-ft. line. They were designed by Braithwaite, and were the engines he speaks of. There were six of them, the four first to be delivered had 12 in. by 18 in. cylinders, the other two had 13 in. by 18 in. cylinders, otherwise they were all alike; they had four wheels, the leaders being 54 in. and the drivers 72 in.; the heating surface was 428 sq. ft.; the boiler had 84 tubes of 1 7/8 in., and its diameter, with the additional space for the less ebullition, etc., was 3 ft. 3 in. Thus the greater room he obtained by his 5-ft. gauge enabled him to produce a boiler of less diameter than that of the Rocket! And that is all that need be said about Braithwaite; except that the line he laid had to be taken up and replaced, eighty-four miles of it, at a cost of 1000 a mile, and that he ceased to have anything to do with the company after May 1843.

Shoreditch, that is Bisliopsgate as we now know it, was the original terminus, but, owing to the station not being ready, the Eastern Counties was opened on Waterloo Day 1839 from Devonshire Street. Liverpool Street was not opened until the 2nd of February 1874, and then only for local trains, the terminus not getting into full swing until the 1st of the following November. This magnificent station, which cost over two millions of money, covers over sixteen acres and has over two miles of platform faces.

The local traffic north and east is so varied and abounding that the main-line trains are not clear of suburban troubles until they are beyond Tottenham and Romford. Up to Bethnal Green the road rises for nearly half a mile at a gradient of 1 in 71. Along the Colchester line, the original track, it rises gently until for the last three miles to Brentwood the gradient is 1 in 95, then it falls to Colchester and undulates at from 1 in 100 to 1 in 150 all the way to Yarmouth. Along the Cambridge line, the old Northern & Eastern, most of which was made by Morton Peto, it rises to Elsenham, the last five miles being at 1 in 130, and then it drops at 1 in 230 practically all the way to Cambridge, north of which it is level. Elsenham used to be the summit level of the system, but that height, 340 ft., is now reached between Epping and North Weald on the road to Ongar. Up in the Fenland about March The Great Eastern has the flattest, dreariest district known to the railway traveller, a country in which the waterways are parallel straight lines and the marshes lead up without even a hillock right away to the unbroken horizon, a scene so deadly dull that it is impossible to read and the passenger takes to whittling sticks.

The longest tunnel, for The Great Eastern has tunnels, is between Newmarket and Warren Hill; the most interesting viaduct is that at Lakenham, between Swainsthorpe and Norwich, which was built in 1848 and carries the old Eastern Union over the River Yare and the Cambridge line. For the illustrations of this and of the Trowse and Reedham swing bridges we are indebted to the courtesy of the engineer, who tells us that "the Trowse Swing Bridge over the River Wensum between Trowse and Norwich was rebuilt in 1905. There are two viaduct spans of 24 ft. each. The swing portion is equal-armed and 121 ft. over all, crossing a 45-ft. span on each side of the centre, only one of which is navigable. The bridge is worked electrically from a cabin at the centre, and the wedging blocks at each end are released by hydraulic jacks worked direct from a pump coupled to an electric motor. Reed-ham Swing Bridge over the River Yare between Reedham and Haddiscoe was rebuilt in 1904. There are three viaduct spans of 33 ft. 6 in. and two of 27 ft. 6 in. The swing portion is equal-armed and 141 ft. over all, crossing a 55-ft. span on each side of the centre, only one of which is navigable. The bridge is worked electrically from the cabin seen on the right in the photograph, and the wedging blocks on the centre pier are released by hydraulic jacks worked direct from a pump in the cabin." These bridges and the two at Carlton Colville and Somerleyton, which so frequently block the way, are perhaps the most interesting features in the civil engineering work on The Great Eastern.

Lakenham is of course a little thing compared with the roads on arches in the London district. There is one of these, nearly two miles long, from Stepney to Bow that cost a quarter of a million, and remained in the wilderness for years owing to the Eastern Counties declining to lay the junction rails. This belongs to the London & Blackwall, which was built mainly on arches and began as no other railway began. It was Ronnie's original scheme for putting London into communication with the eastern counties, the idea being to connect the City with the docks and continue the line as a grand trunk route through East Anglia. The great scheme failed to secure support, while the Eastern Counties obtained the Act for their line which left the docks for another company to deal with. Then Rennie, cutting off his continuation, formed a company for a line from Blackwall only to Fenchurch Street, to be worked by locomotives; and some one in the City seeing its importance secured Robert Stephenson as the engineer of an opposition line to be worked by ropes. A Bill for each was introduced into Parliament, and Rennie's passed while Stephenson's did not; but Rennie's people could not raise enough money and Stephenson's could, and so Stephenson's London & Blackwall company bought up Rennie's Commercial, and Stephenson became the engineer of the line that was made.

As it was mentioned in the Act, which was obtained in 1836, he had to adopt a gauge of 5 ft. 0½ in., another of Rennie's trivial variations, and the line was so short that he thought it would not pay to use locomotives. It measured 3| miles, and was worked by two endless ropes, one for the up line, one for the down, some fourteen miles of rope in all. The working was on the slip principle, the two front coaches going through, the third slipping off at Poplar as did one for every station, the last being for Shad well, the first station of the seven on the road. On the up journey the coaches were each pinned on at the same time, so that they came into Fenchurch Street separately with the same intervals between them as there were between the stations, all but the Blackwall pair which arrived together. Really an ingenious and remarkable railway, the only one on which the train started from every station at the same time; and on it was used Cooke & Wheatstone's new galvanic telegraph. Needless to say the ropes wore out and were abandoned for locomotives; the stationary engines were removed to the City Flour Mills near Blackfriars Bridge; and the line - opened in 1840 - which soon became the dirtiest in the south of England, ended its separate existence in 1865 when The Great Eastern took it over, and thus obtained a second London terminus, the right to run into St. Pancras making a third.

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Pictures for The Great Eastern

The Great Eastern
The Great Eastern >>>>
Liverpool Street Station
Liverpool Street Station >>>>
Main Line Goods Engine, No. 1189
Main Line Goods Engine, No. 1189 >>>>
The Train Indicator at Liverpool Street
The Train Indicator at Liverpool Street >>>>
The Kitchen Car of the Norfolk Coast Express
The Kitchen Car of the Norfolk Coast Express >>>>
Composite Carriage, No. 702. Standard Type
Composite Carriage, No. 702. Standard Type >>>>
The Trowse Swing Bridge, near Norwich
The Trowse Swing Bridge, near Norwich >>>>
Lakenham Viaduct
Lakenham Viaduct >>>>
The Norfolk Coast Express
The Norfolk Coast Express >>>>
First class Dining Saloon on the Cromer Express
First class Dining Saloon on the Cromer Express >>>>
Lynn Station
Lynn Station >>>>
Carlton Colville Swing Bridge
Carlton Colville Swing Bridge >>>>
A new Third-class Carriage to carry six a side
A new Third-class Carriage to carry six a side >>>>
Express Passenger Locomotive, No. 1853
Express Passenger Locomotive, No. 1853 >>>>
A useful little Tank Engine for Suburban Traffic
A useful little Tank Engine for Suburban Traffic >>>>
The Great Baddow Motor-Bus
The Great Baddow Motor-Bus >>>>
Decapod
Decapod >>>>
Signal Cabin at Bethnal Green West Junction
Signal Cabin at Bethnal Green West Junction >>>>
A Signal Gantry at Stratford
A Signal Gantry at Stratford >>>>
The Train Board
The Train Board >>>>
Sea Water arriving at Liverpool Street from Lowesoft
Sea Water arriving at Liverpool Street from Lowesoft >>>>
Reedham Swing Bridge
Reedham Swing Bridge >>>>
The River Service from Ipswich to Felixstowe
The River Service from Ipswich to Felixstowe >>>>
Great Eastern R.M. Steamer <I>Munich</I> - Harwich and Hook of Holland Service
Great Eastern R.M. Steamer Munich - Harwich and Hook of Holland Service >>>>

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