John Speller's Web Pages Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway

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Few companies can have faced the frustration of the Great Northern Railway over its dealings with the Great Eastern Railway, a company that was poorly managed, radically underfinanced, and constantly changing its Directors, so that know one knew its policy was from one day to the next. Nevertheless, by 1866 the Great Eastern Railway was determined to have its own line to Darlington and the north, and the Great Northern, fearing a competitor on the East Coast Main Line, determined to make the best of this they could. They offered the Great Eastern Railway a half-interest in their existing loop line from Gainsborough to Doncaster at a price to be determined by an independent arbitrator, together with a half-share in their proposed line from Spalding to March in return for half the cost of constructing it. The Great Eastern Directors shilly-shallied. In 1876 the Great Northern suggested a complete amalgamation with the Great Eastern, offering to pay them 50% on the value of all their shares. This was probably the best offer that the impecunious and inefficient Great Eastern could ever have hoped for, but they held out for an additional 5s. per share, at which the Great Northern baulked and the deal fell through.

In 1879 the Great Northern and Great Eastern did finally, however, agree to a joint line, and Great Northern and Great Eastern Railway Joint Powers Act received the Royal Assent on 3 July 1879, authorizing a 123-mile line from Huntingdon to Doncaster. The Joint Committee took over the lines of the Great Eastern from St. Ives to March, the lines of the Great Northern from March to Spalding, built a new line from Spalding to Lincoln (authorized under an Act of 17 June 1878), and took over the Great Northern lines from Lincoln to Doncaster. The Great Eastern ran their own trains, but used the stations of the Great Northern at Spalding, Sleaford, Lincoln, and Doncaster. Similarly, The Great Northern used the stations of the Great Eastern at St. Ives and March. The Joint Committee was composed of five members from each company, four being a quorum. A standing arbitrator was appointed to settle any disputes between the two companies. The completed line opened on 1 August 1882.

Having obtained their main line to Doncaster, however, the Great Eastern Railway mostly ignored its potential. The one exception to this was the running of a through passenger train in co-operation with the North Eastern Railway called the “Cathedrals Express,” which as its name suggests ran from London via Ely and Lincoln to York. The train was taken off during World War I and never restored; the same name was later used for a Paddington – Oxford – Worcester – Hereford service on the Western Region of British Railways. Even by 1909 the Great Eastern had largely tired of its Doncaster extension and an agreement was reached whereby the Joint Committee was abolished, the Great Northern Railway took over the line north of March and the Great Eastern took over the line south of March. The two halves were once again united under auspices of the LNER at the Grouping 1923. Most of the line south of Lincoln closed under the Beeching Axe, but there is talk of reopening parts of it.

Map of the Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway
Robert Sinclair's "W" Class 2-2-2, of which 31 were built for the Great Eastern Railway in 1862-67, and which were used on the "Cathedrals Express" in the 1880s and early 1890s
Postcard view of Gainsborough Lea Road station of the Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway in about 1905
The goods yard at Spalding, circa 1910
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