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The Midland

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Those who would nationalise our railways may be interested to know that the National Debt is just four times the amount of the capital of The Midland Railway Company, which is but a seventh of the total capital of the 296 railway companies in these islands.

The Midland has more money in it than any other corporation, and no company has done so much to make our railway system what it is. For sixty years and more it has been a thoroughly business line, thriving on the broad policy of catering for the multitude. To say nothing of the improvements due to it in goods and parcels work, its passenger department gave us excursion trains and through trains and through carriages and crosscountry expresses; it was the introducer of third-class carriages by all trains; it led the way in abandoning bare boards as third-class seats and making the carriages as comfortable as the old first-class; it abolished second class; it brought in Pullman cars, bogie cars, and restaurant cars of all kinds, and revolutionised the whole routine of railway travel.

Not only did it do these things for London, but for the large centres of population all over the kingdom, of which it has more on its many routes than any other company. From its headquarters at Derby its trains go to Cromer, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, London, Bournemouth, Bristol, Swansea, Liverpool, Southport, Heysham, Morecambe, and Carlisle; its inland net, carefully knotted with few loose ends, covers every town of importance between Lincoln and Manchester, Bradford and Leicester, Birmingham and Leeds; across the border, in conjunction with the Glasgow & South Western, it goes to Stranraer and to Glasgow, and by the North British to Edinburgh and across the Forth Bridge, and so on to the north. Including its Irish property it has close on 1800 miles of line, over which its trains travel a million miles a week throughout the year, and it owns 2900 engines and 126,000 vehicles.

The origin of The Midland Railway is shown by the wyvern it bears as its crest, just as its coat of arms records the six chief cities it served in its early days, Birmingham, Derby, Bristol (with the ship), Leicester, Lincoln, Leeds (with the fleece). The wyvern was the standard of Mercia. Leicester was the chief Mercian town, and The Midland owes its origin to the Leicester & Swannington, from whom it took over the crest when it took over the line.

For years the Leicestershire coal-owners had been sending their coal into Leicester by carts, while the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire owners were sending in theirs by canal, when in October 1828 William Stenson of Whitwick happened to see the Stockton & Darlington line. He made up his mind that somehow or other he would have a railway that would take the place of his carts, and, being a capable and energetic man, he went out surveying and found what he considered a suitable route. Who could help him in his project? The reply of his two partners was "John Ellis of Beaumont Leys, near Leicester." And to him he wrote. He made no mistake, for John Ellis, as his portrait in the Board Boom at Derby shows him to be, was a real king of men.

Ellis appreciated the importance of the proposal, and after going over the proposed route with Stenson, went off to Liverpool to consult his friend George Stephenson, who was then busy with the Liverpool & Manchester. He found him in Rainhill cutting, so very much out of humour at something that had gone wrong that he judiciously asked him to dine with him off a beef-steak at the village inn close by a few hours later. There, after dinner, Ellis produced his map and began to talk until "Old George," agreeing that there was "something in the scheme," asked him when he was going back to Leicester. "To-night," said Ellis. "Then I will go with you," said George; and with them went his son Robert. The Stephensons, with Ellis and Stenson, went over the route, and the result was a meeting at the Bell Hotel in Leicester, where the Leicester & Swannington Company was formed, with a capital of 90,000 in 50 shares. "Now, gentlemen," said Ellis, taking a large sheet of paper, "how many shares?" "Put me down for fifty," said George Stephenson. Nearly 60,000 was subscribed, and Thomas Paget, the local banker, agreed to lend 20,000 more.

George Stephenson was asked to become engineer. "No," was the reply; "I have thirty-one miles of railway to make, and the Liverpool directors think that is enough for any man at a time." "That being so," said Ellis, "is there any person thou canst recommend?" "Well, I think my son Robert is competent to undertake the thing." "But wilt thou be answerable for him?" "Oh yes, certainly." And thus it came about that George Stephenson was the first shareholder, and Robert Stephen-son, aged twenty-seven, got his first job as chief engineer.

Robert Stephenson altered Stenson's route a little to improve the gradients, and on the 30th of May 1830 the Act was obtained, being one of the earliest railways to be authorised on the first application. As there was no ordnance bench-mark then in the district, the slate slab forming the doorstep of the offices at West Bridge was used as the base line. About a mile and a half out of Leicester was the Glenfield tunnel, a little over a mile long, made at considerable difficulty and much expense owing to its being through running sand which required a wooden tunnel to be made to keep it in check while the brickwork was put in. Through it the rails were laid on longitudinal timbers held to gauge by cross-ties; on the embankments the rails were on cross sleepers of oak; in the cuttings they were on stone blocks laid diagonally. The Bagworth incline, which could not be avoided, was worked by an endless rope running on a horizontal wheel, by which the empty wagons were hauled up by the loaded ones running down.

The first engine to arrive was the Comet, weight 9i tons, made by the Stephensons at Newcastle, shipped from there to Hull and sent thence by canal, and put in steam on the 5th of May 1832. "Edward," said John Ellis to his son Edward Shipley Ellis, destined to be another great chairman of The Midland, "thou shalt go down with me and see the new engine get up its steam." And the first trial trip was made of the first engine to run in The Midlands.

The opening was on the 17th of July. On that morning the platelayers had lifted the rails rather too high at one place in the tunnel, and when the engine reached the spot the chimney caught the top of the arch and was knocked down, with dire results to the faces and clothes of the people in the train of open trucks. This incident is worth remembering, as it is the origin of the legend that Trevithick's engine lost its chimney on the first trip from Penydaren.

Among the visitors were William Jessop, the inventor of the edge rail and the railway chair, and James Oakes, representatives of the Erewash Valley coal-owners, who saw that their trade by canal to Leicester was practically at an end. They returned and reported that something must be done at once; and on the 16th of August they and a few others in the trade, at one of their usual weekly meetings at the Sun Inn at Eastwood, were seated round the parlour table discussing the gloomy outlook, when it was decided that there was no other plan for their adoption than to attempt to lay a railway from their collieries to the town of Leicester; and a committee was chosen to take the necessary steps. The outcome was The Midland Counties Railway project, which began with the Erewash Valley and ended by leaving it out.

The idea was to make a line, from the old Mansfield & Pinxton tram-road, to Leicester, but the money required could not be raised locally, and application was made to certain wealthy men in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and elsewhere, known as "the Liverpool party," of whom there was much talk in railway circles. These men provided the needful capital, but insisted on having their own way. And what they did eventually was to develop Jessop's Erewash idea into a main line from Derby to Rugby, with a branch to Nottingham. Jessop was solaced by being made engineer to the company, but he soon had notice to quit and George Rennie was appointed to succeed him, and Rennie in turn had to give place to Charles Vignoles. The proceedings throughout were surprising and most curious, and the Erewash people were furious. "They held a meeting, passed resolutions, and expressed their views in very strong terms, but they could do nothing beyond close the meeting and retire to an excellent dinner at the Sun Inn."

It was on this line that the first excursion train was run, the credit of the new idea being due to the Nottingham Mechanics Institute, who, to enable their members to visit an exhibition then being held at Leicester, made out a list of those wishing to go, interviewed the company, and secured a special train at half fares. The train was run on the 20th of July 1840; and a week afterwards the Leicester Mechanics Institute arranged a second excursion for their members to visit a similar show at Nottingham.

The success of these trains led the company to run an excursion of their own on the 10th of August from Leicester and intermediate stations to Nottingham; and that day fortnight they ran an excursion to Leicester, the announcement being so well received that no less than 2400 people took tickets, who were all carried in one train which consisted of sixty-five carriages. The matter excited so much interest that crowds gathered to see the excursion arrive. It left Nottingham at 8.30. "At 11.30," said The Leicester Chronicle, in a burst of eloquence, "alarm was felt at the non-appearance of the train. An engine with several of the railway labourers started off to meet it. Another feverish half-hour crept on, when a second engine carrying a few of the directors was despatched. At half-past twelve, however, a thin vapour, a little smoke, then a huge undulating mass was discovered at the extremity of the horizon, and gave assurance that all was safe. In a minute a long, lingering, undulating mass of wood and iron slowly emerged from the dark mass of vapour which partially accompanied it like a bodyguard, and rushed along the line with a noise resembling the dashing of a thousand surges on a rocky shore."

Next year, on the 1st of July 1841, the first excursion was run on the North Midland and Sheffield & Rotherham, and on the 5th of that July Thomas Cook, then Secretary to the Market Harborough branch of the South Midland Temperance Association, ran his first excursion, hiring the train at his own risk, selling the tickets himself, and travelling with the excursionists to look after their comfort. That temperance excursion at a shilling a head from Leicester to Loughborough and back was the beginning of the business of Thomas Cook & Sons.

The North Midland was projected by George Stephenson to connect with The Midland Counties at Derby and run through Masborough and Normanton to Leeds. It was a low-level line along the valleys, Sheffield being avoided owing to the gradients, but at his suggestion the Sheffield & Rotherham was laid out connecting with the North Midland at Masborough. As made, it was 72 miles long, and had two hundred bridges and seven tunnels; and it cost 3,000,000.

At Ambergate the upper half of the hill rested on an inclined bed of slippery wet shale, and, as a tunnel of the ordinary shape would not have been strong enough to resist the pressure, Stephenson made it elliptical in section, so that the flat of the arch of the ellipse should bear the weight. The work, however, had not long been finished when it was found that the solid stonework of millstone grit was being so splintered as to endanger its safety, and he removed some of the overlying mass, drained the shale, and put in a lining of iron ribs, so that it became a double tunnel of limestone and iron. About a mile farther on, at Bull Bridge, the route was crossed by the Cromford Canal and the river Anker. To deal with the canal he designed an iron trough the shape and size of its bed, floated it into position, and sank it on to its resting-place without interfering with the traffic; and thus the river runs below, crossed by the railway bridge, which in turn is crossed by the aqueduct. At Clay Cross is another tunnel in the making of which so much good coal was discovered that with the financial aid of "the Liverpool party" Stephen-son formed the company that works the Clay Cross Collieries; and as he started coke works here, and limekilns at Ambergate for the limestone brought from Crich, he soon had so many important interests on the line that he removed from Alton Grange to Tapton House near Chesterfield, where he lived for the rest of his days.

According to David Stevenson, it was from Clay Cross in July 1845 that the trucks of coal were brought by The Midland to Rugby for the London & Birmingham to take on to London. "What! Coal by railway?" said Captain Bruyeres, a military martinet, then Superintendent of that line, "they will be asking us to carry dung next!" The coal, however, came on in trucks covered with tarpaulins to Kilburn, whence it was carted by the consignee; and this was the first coal that came to London by railway instead of by sea or canal.

The same autumn that George Stephenson surveyed the route for the North Midland he made the survey for the Birmingham & Derby, which had its terminus at Derby, side by side with the other two; its avowed object was to provide a road to Birmingham and the west country, but The Midland Counties were not long in discovering that it was a competing line to the south, and thereupon there began a war of rates that was leading the three companies well on the road to bankruptcy when the news of the Great Western's intention to lay the broad gauge to Birmingham brought them to their senses.

One of the directors of the North Midland happened to be the celebrated George Hudson, and at his initiative proposals for amalgamation were made. He is usually called the Railway King, but a far better title would be The Amalgamator, for he it was who by this move began railway amalgamations, and it was by amalgamations that most of his work was done. Supported by John Ellis, who was a director of The Midland Counties, and George Stephenson, he succeeded in getting the three companies to agree; and on the 10th of May 1844 the Act was passed which formed them into The Midland Railway Company, of which he was the first chairman.

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