John Speller's Web Pages Bedford to Hitchin Railway

John Speller's Web Pages - Midland Railway
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The Bedford to Hitchin railway line was originally part of a larger Midland Railway scheme to build a main line connection to London. Originally the Midland Railway had to rely on the London & North Western Railway to connect its system to Euston via Birmingham New Street. This arrangement was subject to numerous delays and difficulties, many of them deliberately contrived by the L&NWR. In order to find a better route to London, as a first step George Hudson, the “Railway King,” promoted the Leicester, Bedford and Hitchin Railway, a 65-mile route from the Midland main line at Wigston, 3.75 miles south of Leicester to a junction with the Great Northern main line at Ickleford, 1.5 miles north of Hitchin. Arrangements were to be made with the Great Northern Railway to run over the East Coast Main Line to King’s Cross. Against considerable opposition the Act passed in the 1847 session, but the line was not proceeded with and was formally abandoned in 1850. A second Act, however, the Midland Railway (Leicester and Hitchin) Act passed on 4 August 1853. Thomas Brassey was the contractor and work began early in 1854. The total cost for the line from Wigston to Ickleford Junction was £1,700,000 and the line opened for mineral traffic on 15 April 1857, for goods on 22 April and for passengers on May 4. The only major engineering work on the linr was the Warden Tunnel, 882 yards, between Cardington and Southill. The line was laid with steel bullhead rails of 83 lbs. per yard and 20 feet long, in cast-iron chairs of 34 lbs with inside keys. As well as providing a better route to London, the line opened up communication between Oxford and Cambridge by means of the Midland’s Bedford to Hitchin line and the Great Northern’s Hitchin to Cambridge line, albeit by a more circuitous route than became possible with the opening of the London & North Western Railway’s Bedford to Cambridge line on 1 August 1862. Also in August 1862 the Great Northern Railway began running through trains from King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley in association with the North Eastern and North British Railways. It soon became apparent that this would lead to tremendous overcrowding of the sidings at King’s Cross, and the Midland Railway was given formal notice that they would no longer be able to make use of them for storing their rolling stock. This led the Midland Railway to build its “London Extension” from Bedford to St. Pancras, which opened 13 July 1868. As it was no longer part of the main line, the 15-mile Bedford to Hitchin line was relegated to being a minor branch line, and in 1911 it was singled except for the section between Shefford and Southill. The line closed to passengers even before the “Beeching Axe” on 1 January 1962, and goods services were also withdrawn on 28 December 1964. Stations on the line with distances were: Bedford (0 miles), Bedford St. John (1.25 miles), Cardington (2.5 miles), Southill (6.75 miles), Shefford (9 miles), Henlow (11.5 miles) and Hitchin (65.25 miles).
Map of the Bedford to Hitchin section of the Leicester, Bedford & Hitchin Railway
Bedford to Hitchin brick train double-headed by ex-Midland Railway Class "3-F" 0-6-0s Nos. 43808 and 43766 at Hitchin, 2 November 1957. Image © copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
Bedford Auto-Train at Hitchin on 30 April 1955, behind LMS Ivatt Class "2-MT" 2-6-2T No. 41270, built by British Railways, Crewe, in 1950 under Lot 209. Image © copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
Postcard view of Henlow station (renamed Henlow Camp in 1933) in around 1914
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