John Speller's Web Pages Great Central Personnel

John Speller's Web Pages - Great Central Railway

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In the history of many railways you will find one truly great man. The Great Western was probably unique in having at least six -- Charles Russell, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Saunders, Sir Daniel Gooch, George Jackson Churchward and Sir Felix J. C. Pole. The Great Central was also pretty much unique in having at least three -- Sir Edward Watkin, Sir Sam Fay and John G. Robinson.

The Great Central Railway largely came about as the vision of a single man, Sir Edward Watkin (1819-1901), who in 1854 became the General Manager of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway, a medium-sized railway serving the Midlands and East Anglia. In 1864 he was appointed Chairman of the MS&LR, a position he held for thirty years until his retirement in 1894. He was a Director of a number of other railway companies including the Great Western Railway, and Chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, and was also a Liberal Member of Parliament. A man of vision, he dreamed of the MS&LR becoming a high-speed broad-gauge railway stretching from Manchester through London to the English Channel, and through a Channel Tunnel to the Gard du Nord in Paris. He was also Chairman of the South Eastern Railway and a Director of the Chemin de Fer du Nord in France, but did not manage to get anywhere with either of those companies. Many of his plans were never realized, but one which did come about was the extension of the MS&LR to a London terminus at Marylebone. It was not broad gauge, but was built to continental clearances, which makes it particularly unfortunate that it was abandoned in the 1960s. Watkin's schemes were the cause of ridicule, and Punch (28 March 1891, p. 155) poked fun at him for his support of the London Extension in a Commons debate, referring to him as "Lord Chunnel-Tannel," perhaps the first use of the word "Chunnel" in the English language. The London Extension led to the MS&LR being renamed the Great Central Railway in 1897. On the approach to Marylebone the Great Central had to rely upon the Metropolitan Railway's route from Aylesbury to London, and since relations with the Metropolitan were not always congenial (largely due to personality clashes between the General Managers of the two companies, notwithstanding that Sir Edward Watkin was Chairman of both), at the beginning of the twentieth century a second route to Aylesbury via High Wycombe and Princes Risborough was built as a joint line with the Great Western.
John George Robinson, C.B.E. (1856-1943), Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Central Railway 1900-1923. The son of Matthew Robinson, Great Western Railway Divisional Superintendent at Chester and Bristol, J. G. Robinson apprenticed at Swindon in the 1870s before becoming the assistant to Henry Appleby in 1881, and succeeded Appleby as Locomotive Superintendent of the Waterford & Limerick Railway in 1888 when the latter resigned owing to ill health. He became Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Central Railway in July 1900.
Harry Pollitt (1864-1945), Locomotive Superintendent of the MS&LR 1894-1900, after which he married an Australian and spent the rest of his life living as a country gentleman in Australia. He was the nephew of MS&LR General Manager Sir William Pollitt
Sir Sam Fay (1865-1953), General Manager of the Great Central Railway 1902-1923. Spy Cartoon, 1907
Sir William Pollitt, General Manager of the MS&LR and GCR 1886-1902, who presided over the building of the London Extension
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