The line in 1959

A contemporary account of the route between Nottingham and Kettering, based on an article written by John Oxley and D R Smith which appeared in the June 1959 issue of 'Trains Illustrated' 

Click on the pictures for a bigger image

The 51-mile railway from Nottingham to Kettering is an interesting example of a main line route which has developed from three separate lines. Nowadays it is part of the shortest route between Nottingham and London, and enjoys the glamour of high-speed running (notably enhanced by the recent Midland Division accelerations); but at the same time it retains many characteristics normally found on secondary routes and branch lines.

A Bill was deposited in Parliament in 1874 for a line from Manton, on the Leicester-Peterborough branch, to Rushton, on the Midland main line, and this Bill was approved the following year. Some years elapsed before the Nottingham-Saxby and Manton-Rushton lines were open for traffic. Engineering works were unusually heavy and there were two deviations from the original proposals; as constructed, the Nottingham-Saxby line joined the Peterborough branch to the west of Melton Mowbray, whilst the Manton-Rushton line converged with the main line to St. Pancras at a point now known as Glendon South Junction. Both lines were opened simultaneously goods traffic began on November I, 1879, and passenger services commenced on February 2, 1880. Through expresses between St. Pancras, Nottingham and Bradford via the new route did not commence until June I, 1880.

Nottm London Road Jcn 1956

Nottingham London Road Junction Signal Box is right centre behind the freight train in this picture taken in 1956.

John Oxley

The Nottingham-Kettering line leaves the Lincoln branch at London Road Junction, mile east of Nottingham Midland station. Turning southward, the line rises steadily for one mile at I in 330 through industrial sites towards the River Trent, the boundary between the City and County of Nottingham. The bridge over the river consists of three girder spans, each of 100 ft., resting on four cast-iron cylinders filled with brickwork, and there are five land arches, or flood openings, all of 26 ft. span, at each end of it. At one time the Trent was particularly prone to overflow at this point; as a result of serious flooding in 1948, extensive protection works were put in hand, and little trouble has been experienced since their completion in 1955. Close to the south bank of the river is the entrance to the now derelict Grantham Canal, which the railway crosses on a skew bridge, the plate girders of which were originally constructed in wrought iron.

Stanier 'Black Five' 4-6-0 locomotive No: 45277 heads south over Lady Bay Bridge with the 6.10 pm relief to St. Pancras on August 3rd 1953.

J P Wilson

The line is climbing at 1 in 200 as it threads West Bridgford on a high embankment almost two miles long. West Bridgford, a residential suburb of some 24,800 inhabitants, has never had a railway station, although a recent boundary extension has brought the village of Edwalton within the West Bridgford Urban District some years after the closure of Edwalton station. The spoil removed from Edwalton cutting, 50 ft. in maximum depth, was used in the construction of the Bridgford embankment previously mentioned. Immediately beyond the cutting is Edwalton station. At the time of the line's construction there were great hopes that Edwalton would become a residential suburb of Nottingham, but they were never realised; the station was "temporarily" closed to passenger traffic on July 28,1941, and never reopened, but the small goods yard remains in use and the daily pick-up goods from Nottingham to Melton continues to call

Plumtree

Another contemporary picture shows a Stanier 'Black Five' 4-6-0 mixed traffic loco at Plumtree on an Up service 

Noel Ingram

Passing on to another long embankment and still climbing at 1 in 200, the line is now in agricultural country. Plumtree station, 55/8 miles from Nottingham Midland, is inconveniently situated halfway between the villages of Plumtree and Keyworth, so that in the 1930's its passenger traffic also succumbed to bus competition, although it was not closed to passenger traffic until February 28, 1949. At Plumtree the railway enters the pleasant, rolling Wolds, famous for fox-hunting. Engineering works become progressively heavier, and there follow alternately three embankments and three cuttings before the line enters Stanton Tunnel, 1,330 yds. long. The geological formation here is boulder clay and lias and the original intention to keep the railway in open cutting had to be abandoned, as this would have resulted in 90 ft. deep walls through unstable terrain. At Widmerpool, the next station, where the gradient eases to 1 in 400, the buildings are of typical late 19th century Midland architecture, although since the station's closure to passenger traffic on February 28, 1949, some of them have disintegrated or disappeared. It is the practice to store coaching stock throughout the year at Edwalton, Plumtree and Widmerpool, and on summer Saturdays several holiday expresses begin their journeys as empty coaching stock from each of these stations. Just beyond Widmerpool the railway crosses the Roman Fosse Way on the skew. In The Midland Railway: Its Rise and Progress Frederick S. Williams wrote in 1877 that "in reverence to the past, the Midland acquiesced in the matter of a skew bridge, so that the lengthy straight course of the Fosse Way should not be disturbed". Present-day motorists traversing this road at 60-70 m.p.h. should be grateful for the Midland's indulgence.

Gradients of 1 in 264/220/200 up precede Upper Broughton, 10 miles from Nottingham, and here there is a brief 1 in 264 downhill. Apart from three insignificant stretches of level track, this is the first respite for up trains since leaving Nottingham, but soon the gradient reverts to 1 in 220 up for the final climb to a summit at the south end of Grimston Tunnel. Upper Broughton station was closed completely on May 31, 1948, and is now derelict; the signalbox has been removed and intermediate colour-light signals for both directions have been installed. Another long embankment precedes Old Dalby station, 121/8 miles from Nottingham, which is situated to the east of the village; an adjacent Ordnance Depot contributes the bulk of the passenger traffic but recent observations indicate that freight traffic to and from the depot is meagre and many of the sidings are overgrown and out of use.

Old Dalby

A Jubilee-hauled London-bound express passes through Old Dalby on a summer's afternoon in 1956. 

John Oxley

Grimston Tunnel (1,305 yds. long) was completed in an unusual manner, for the strata is blue lias and bricks for the tunnel lining were manufactured on the site with material excavated from the tunnel workings. The line emerges from the tunnel into a mile-long cutting, broken by yet another tunnel, 100 yds. long and known simply as "Covered Way", and begins a four-mile descent at 1 in 220 to Melton Junction. The cutting extends to Grimston station, 14 miles from Nottingham, which is some distance from Grimston village but close to the charming hamlet of Saxelby. In an attempt to avert closure to passenger traffic on December 29, 1956, the local council offered to construct a footpath from the down platform to the road below, so that the station might be retained as an unstaffed halt, but the proposal was unsuccessful.

After Saxelby Tunnel (543 yds. long), Holwell Iron Works are seen on the left and at Holwell Sidings a steeply graded mineral line to Eaton Mines diverges to the left. Traffic from the works and mines is heavy and several mineral trains for and from a wide variety of destinations begin or end their journeys here. After threading Asfordby Tunnel, 419 yds. long, the line emerges on to a long embankment, crosses the Asfordby- Welby road on a substantial bridge and sweeps down to Melton Junction. Immediately before the junction, the Kettering line passes under the L.N.W./G.N. Joint Line mentioned earlier and crosses over the River Eye on a girder bridge. A connection between the Joint Line and the Midland Railway was put in about 1879, but removed at the turn of the century ; its course can still be traced at the rear of Melton Junction signalbox.

Melton Jcn

A double-headed train, eases the Nottingham to London express off the 40 mile/h curve and past Melton Jcn signal box in July 1958.  

Peter Groom

The older line from Leicester makes a gentle curve from the west at Melton Junction, but the newer line from Nottingham is subject to a 40 m.p.h. speed restriction at this point. Melton Mowbray station, 1 mile east of the junction, is an unimposing and cramped structure with up and down platforms only and express trains which call there have to draw up twice because of the short platform lengths. The pleasant and prosperous market town of some 14,000 inhabitants is the centre of a renowned fox-hunting and agricultural district.

The remainder of the article describes the line to Glendon Junction where it joined the main line between Leicester and Kettering, but the final paragraphs are of historical interest.

As it is used by many different traffic streams, the pattern of services on the Nottingham- Kettering line is particularly complex. Pride of place goes to the through expresses between London and Scotland, although the Leeds and Bradford (and some Manchester) trains are equally, if not more, heavily loaded. "The Waverley" uses this route in both directions and is timed non-stop between St. Pancras and Nottingham Midland (123 miles) in 124 min. down and 123 min. up; the overnight counterparts (9.0 p.m. St. Pancras-Edinburgh and 10.5 p.m. Edinburgh-St. Pancras) also run via Nottingham, but on more liberal schedules, including Kettering stops. Oddly, there are more down non-stop trains than up. This unbalance is partly accounted for by the four Nottingham-London trains in the weekday which call at Melton Mowbray, Oakham and Corby (one of these, the 6.15 p.m. (SX), calls additionally at Old Dalby and Manton). In the down direction, only two semi-fast trains-the 4.45 p.m. (SO) and 9.30 p.m. (Sundays) from St. Pancras-call at principal stations between Kettering and Nottingham, giving an un- balanced service from St. Pancras to Corby, Oakham and Melton Mowbray. Although Kettering-Nottingham stopping trains take connections off northbound expresses at Kettering, the result of this unbalance in the timetable is that the four best up trains from Melton Mowbray to St. Pancras take between 130 and 138 min., whereas the best down train between the same points takes 147 min. and on one day of the week only (9.30 p.m. Sundays from St. Pancras).

The remainder of the passenger service consists of stopping trains between Nottingham and Kettering, Nottingham and Melton, Kettering and Leicester via Melton and an afternoon local between Kettering and Gretton. Trains to and from the M. & G.N., of course, are no more and the local service between Nottingham and Bourne via Saxby and Melton Mowbray was withdrawn on March 2 last. Between Manton and Melton the service is augmented by Peterborough- Leicester trains. Excursion traffic has never been particularly heavy and is now confined to Nottingham-St. Pancras cheap trips, following the M & GN closure. Less spectacular than the passenger service, but far more important, is the freight traffic carried over the line. The pre-war strawberry specials from the Fen District to Nottingham, run at express train speeds, are no more, but the line carries a number of fitted freight services. However, this traffic is dwarfed by the very heavy tonnages of coal and ironstone moved in each 24-hour period. From Nottingham, coal trains originate at Beeston Sidings and run to Wellingborough, Brent and Peterborough. At Melton Junction the stream is swollen by southbound coal trains from Toton which run via Loughborough, the north- to-east curve at Syston and Brooksby to the south; although it means a slightly longer run, these trains are routed via Melton Mowbray to ease congestion at Leicester, and also because the gradients of this route do not exceed I in 200, as compared with I in 132 on the Leicester-Kettering line. From the ironstone workings and blast furnaces at Holwell, South Witham (on the Bourne line), Cottesmore, Corby and Glendon, there are ore trains to destinations of great variety. Light engine workings, a daily pick-up goods from Nottingham to Melton Mowbray and the Cottesmore branch shunting engine (which works down from Kettering each day) complete the general picture of freight movements. Normal freight traffic usually ceases at about 6.0 a.m. on Sunday mornings and for the following 20 hours only a few Nottingham-St. Pancras semi-fasts and the Leicester-Peterborough slow trains are to be seen.

In the 1920s compound 4-4-0s and "700" class 4-4-0s were to be found on the express trains, helped out by Class "2" 4-4-0s and Johnson "Singles". These last two types were usually seen as pilots. The abolition of the "one man, one engine" principle in the early 1930's, coupled with the drive for greater engine mileages and the institution of through locomotive workings between St. Pancras and Leeds, led to the use of six-coupled engines on the principal express passenger trains. Beginning with the "Claughtons", which were found principally on the 5.30 a.m., 1.30 p.m., and 5.37 p.m. ("Thames-Forth") up trains from Nottingham and the 5.0 p.m. (Heysham Boat Express) from St. Pancras, there soon followed the "Baby Scots" (which were nominally rebuilt from the "Claughtons"). The first "Baby Scot", then No.5971, worked on some of these turns, and as more of the class moved to the Midland Division, the "Claughtons" were displaced altogether. In 1935 came the "Jubilees" and Class "5s", and in 1959, 24 years later, these same locomotives are still responsible for the bulk of the express passenger workings. With the appearance of the latter classes on express workings, the "Baby Scots" were transferred to the Western Division of the L.M.S., although Nos. 5534/5/8 lingered on for some years. Apart from the introduction of a few B.R. Standard Class "5" 4-6-0s on semi- fast trains and the arrival in 1957 of the "Royal Scots" on certain St. Pancras-Nottingham- Manchester expresses last year, the Nottingham-Kettering line has seen little change in express motive power over two decades. From time to time also, Class "7" "Britannia' Pacifics work over the line on the through Manchester expresses.

Midland 0-4-4 and 0-6-4 tank engines could be seen on local trains in the 1920s, while the longer turns (Nottingham-Kettering) produced 2-4-0s and Class "2" 4-4-0's; the unrebuilt Johnson 4-4-0 No.311 appeared for a time in the early 1930s. Fowler 2-6-4 tanks then replaced the older locomotives and were displaced in turn by their Stanier counterparts, but the Class "2s" have remained on the scene throughout and may still be observed on occasion. For a short period after the war Tilbury 4-4-2 tanks were used on a few local duties, but these engines have now disappeared. On freight workings the numerous Midland 0-6-0s have given way successively to L.M.S Beyer-Garratts, Stanier 2-8-0s, and now B.R Class "9" 2-10-0s on the heaviest trains. The 2-8-0s are still very much in evidence and the 0-6-0s can be seen on a number of lighter duties

Although there is less variety in its steam motive power than in former years, the Nottingham-Kettering line still offers much to the enthusiast. In particular, the heavy engineering works and steep gradients are an excellent test of locomotive working, and there are many places on the route which are ideal for a lineside visit.

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