John Speller's Web Pages Sir Edward Watkin

John Speller's Web Pages - Great Central Railway
Sir Edward Watkin Untitled Untitled
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 and Great Eastern Railways, and Chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, and was also a Liberal Member of Parliament. He even had railway interests in North America, where he was Chairman of the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway and of the London Board of the Great Western Railway of Canada. He traveled all over the world and in 1875 claimed to have been more than 1 million miles by train. 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. He actually succeeded in getting an Act through Parliament for a Channel Tunnel, and about 2 miles of it was constructed in the 1870s. However, fear of a French invasion something laughably unlikely following the devastating defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, besides which a single man with a rifle could probably have stood at the entrance to the tunnel in Dover and taken out the invading troops one by one and Sir Edward's house was stoned by an angry mob. In the end the British Government had to drop the scheme until the second half of the twentieth century. Many of Sir Edward's 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. Sir Edward was a sensitive man who did not take well to criticism, and he suffered much from panic attacks and depression. The London Extension led to the MS&LR being renamed the Great Central Railway in 1897. A former activist in the Anti-Corn Law League and a political radical, Sir Edward was as much a politician as a railwayman. He lived frugally and spent much of his money on promoting the causes he believed in. At his death he left an estate of a mere 17,300.
"The Railway Interest." Cartoon of Sir Edward Watkin by "Spy" in Vanity Fair
Sir Edward William Watkin, Bart., M.P. (1819-1901), successively General Manager and Chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway
"LORD'S IN DANGER. THE M.C.C. GO OUT TO MEET THE ENEMY." Cartoon from Punch 13 December 1890, commenting on the controversy over the digging up of Lord's Cricket Ground in order to build a tunnel under it to provide access to Marylebone station
The Metropolitan Tower ("Watkins's Folly") was planned by Watkins as a replica of the Eiffel Tower and designed by Sir Benjamin Baker to be built on the site of the present Wembley Stadium. It was never completed
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