I grew up in Leicestershire and developed a fondness for the Midland Railway. This was reinforced when I went to work with British Railways in 1970, although I spent my early years on the London Midland Region on former LNWR territory at Euston, Manchester, Preston, and up to Carlisle. I took a leading part in aspects of the refurbishment of Barlow’s trainshed at St Pancras station in the middle 1970s for the Bedford – St Pancras (affectionately known as the Bed-Pan) suburban electrification. British Rail’s finances were always parlous and we weren’t able to lavish money on the work in the way others were able to thirty years later to bring Eurostar into St Pancras.
After a lifetime in the railway industry at home and overseas, I spent my last 7½ years working in Derby overlooking The Roundhouse, the centre of the Midland Railway’s universe. The Roundhouse was built in 1837 by the North Midland Railway and narrowly escaped demolition when the works closed down. It was saved, became classified as a listed building and has now had new life breathed into it as a visitor centre and social hub within Derby College.
Thus my layout was to reflect the Midland Main Line, nominally in Leicestershire. As well as the main line, I wanted a branch line and local terminus. The Midland Railway’s main line was four-track pretty much all the way from London to Trent Junction where it split to serve Derby, Nottingham, and the Erewash Valley.
As can be seen from any older map, the area has a rich railway heritage, and many early railway companies were promoted to chase the rich coal deposits in the north of Leicestershire, and into Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. Where coal wasn’t being dug out of the ground, sand and gravel was. The map here shows the railways constructed in the area as recorded in Ian Allan’s Pre-Grouping Atlas.
I grew up in Rothley, then a small village some six miles north of Leicester on the Great Central line, and I clearly remember hearing the blast from the Mountsorrel Granite Quarry each day. The quarry has been active for more than 200 years and as early as 1860 there were eight and a half miles of track serving the quarry. It must have been unique in having a rail link to two main lines. The line ran from the Great Central Railway at Swithland Sidings, around the quarries, over the Grand Union Canal at Mountsorrel, and on to the Midland Main Line at Barrow-upon-Soar. The line fell out of use in the 1950s and the track was lifted in the 1960s. The quarry is said to be the largest man-made hole in Europe.
Thus my main line covers the stretch between Leicester and Trent Junction, with my imaginary branch line running westward from Loughborough to Branston on the Birmingham to Derby line, as suggested on the inset map below here. I should add that my representation of these places is not based upon anything in particular and any likeness is purely coincidental. As well as the local granite traffic, the coal industry was still very active around here during the 1960s, and this idyllic way of life continued until the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, which changed everything forever.
There will be plenty of scope for local coal and stone and other pick-up goods traffic and I might even be able to justify some other local beer and pickle flavours!
• Historical Context
• Train Operation