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Although primarily a Northern English railway, the NER had a short length of line in Scotland, in Roxburghshire, with stations at Carham and Sprouston on the Tweedmouth-Kelso route (making it the only English railway with sole ownership of any line in Scotland), and was a joint owner of the Forth railway bridge and its approach lines. The NER was the only English railway to run trains regularly into Scotland, over the Berwick-Edinburgh main line as well as on the Tweedmouth-Kelso branch.
The North Eastern Railway headquarters in York built by Horace Field in 1906. Now a hotel
The total length of line owned was 4,990 miles (8,030 km) and the company's share capital was £82 million. The headquarters were at York and the works at Darlington, Gateshead, York and elsewhere.
Befitting the successor to the Stockton & Darlington Railway, the NER had a reputation for innovation. It was a pioneer in architectural and design matters and in electrification. By 1906 the NER was further ahead than any other British railway in having a set of rules agreed with the trades unions, including arbitration, for resolving disputes. In its final days it also began the collection that became the Railway Museum at York, now the National Railway Museum.
In 1913 the company achieved a total revenue of £11,315,130 (equivalent to £1,121,600,000 in 2019) with working expenses of £7,220,784 (equivalent to £715,760,000 in 2019).
During the First World War, the NER lost a total of 2,236 men who are commemorated on the North Eastern Railway War Memorial in York. An earlier printed Roll of Honour lists 1,908 men. They also raised two 'Pals Battalions', the 17th (N.E.R. Pioneer) Battalion and 32nd (N.E.R. Reserve) Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers. This was the first time that a battalion had been raised from one Company. The company also sent two tug boats, NER No.3. and Stranton The latter became HM Tug Char and was lost at sea on 16 January 1915 with the loss of all hands.
Having inherited the country's first ever great barrel-vault roofed station, Newcastle Central, from its constituent the York Newcastle & Berwick railway, the NER during the next half century built a finer set of grand principal stations than any other British railway company, with examples at Alnwick, Tynemouth, Gateshead East, Sunderland, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Darlington Bank Top, York and Hull Paragon; the rebuilding and enlargement of the last-named resulting in the last of the type in the country. The four largest, at Newcastle, Darlington, York and Hull survive in transport use, as does Tynemouth. Alnwick is still extant but in non-transport use since 1991 as a second-hand book warehouse, the others having been demolished during the 1950s/60s state-owned railway era, two (Sunderland and Middlesbrough) following Second World War bomb damage.
York station (York) was the hub of the system, and the headquarters of the line was located here. The basis for the present station was opened on 25 June 1877. From June 1909 to May 1951, when it was replaced by an electric system, the 295-lever Locomotive Yard signal cabin contained the largest mechanical lever frame in Britain.
The NER was the first railway company in the world to appoint a full-time salaried architect to work with its chief engineer in constructing railway facilities. Some of the men appointed were based in, or active in, Darlington.
George Townsend Andrews was the first architect associated with the North Eastern Railway. He designed the first permanent station at York, along with others on the NER route. He also designed the Assembly Rooms in York.
Thomas Prosser held the position from 1854 to 1874. He worked in Newcastle.
William Bell worked for the NER for 50 years; he was chief architect for 37 years, between 1877 and 1914. His major contributions were as NER architect. Bank Top (1884-87) is one of the best examples of his station designs, for which he developed a standard system of roof building. He added various elements to the North Road Engineering works between 1884 and 1910. With Horace Field, he designed the splendid Headquarters Offices in York in 1904. He also designed the offices of the Mechanical Engineer's Department in Brinkburn Road in 1912, showing that he could adapt his style to the new influences of the Queen Anne revival.
Professional design was carried through to small fixtures and fittings, such as platform seating, for which the NER adopted distinctive 'coiled snake' bench-ends. Cast-iron footbridges were also produced to a distinctive design. The NER's legacy continued to influence the systematic approach to design adopted by the grouped LNER.
Chairmen and Directors
Sir Joseph Pease, Chairman 1895-1902
Sir Edward Grey, Director from 1898 & Chairman 1904-05
The initial NER Board of Directors was drawn from the directors of its four constituent companies. A director of the NER from 1864, and deputy chairman from 1895 until his death in 1904, was ironmaster and industrial chemist Sir Lowthian Bell. His son Sir Hugh Bell was also a director; he had a private platform on the line between Middlesbrough and Redcar at the bottom of the garden of his house Red Barns. Gertrude Bell's biographer, Georgina Howell, recounts a story about the Bells and the NER:
As the heirs of the director of the North Eastern Railway, the Hugh Bells were transport royalty. At Middlesbrough the stationmaster doffed his hat to them and ushered them onto the train at Redcar. Many years later, Florence's daughter Lady Richmond was to remember an occasion when she was seeing her father off from King's Cross, and he had remained on the platform so that they could talk until the train left. The packed train failed to leave on time. Remarking on its lateness, they continued to talk until they were approached by a guard. 'If you would like to finish your conversation, Sir Hugh', he suggested, doffing his hat, 'we will then be ready to depart'.
In 1898 Sir Edward Grey became a director, later becoming Chairman (1904-5; curtailed by his appointment as Foreign Secretary). In his autobiographical work Twenty-Five Years Grey later wrote that '...the year 1905 was one of the happiest of my life; the work of Chairman of the Railway was agreeable and interesting...'. After leaving the Foreign Office Grey resumed his directorship of the NER in 1917, and when the North Eastern Railway became part of the London and North Eastern Railway he became a director of that company, remaining in this position until 1933. At the Railway Centenary celebrations in July 1925, Grey accompanied the Duke and Duchess of York and presented them with silver models of the Stockton and Darlington Railway engine Locomotion and the passenger carriage Experiment.
TE Harrison, portrait painted for the NER boardroom
General Passenger Superintendents / Superintendents of the Line
Alexander William Crow Christison 1856 - 1890
William Blackadder Johnson 1890 - 1891 (died in office)
John Welburn 1891 - 1892
(Post renamed Superintendent of the Line):
John Welburn 1892 - 1897
Philip Burtt 1897 - 1900
Henry Angus Watson 1900 - 1902
(Post then divided between General Superintendent - Henry Angus Watson - & Chief Passenger Agent)
The above list only covers the most senior officers of the company and its passenger department. Further lists covering the officers in the Engineering, Locomotive and Docks departments will be summarised here as they appear.
The Northern and Southern Divisions were established for operating and engineering purposes on the creation of the NER in 1854. When the merger with the Stockton and Darlington Railway took place in 1863 their lines became the 'Darlington Section' until 1873, and then the Central Division. In 1888 the boundaries were altered to remove anomalies; for example, the former Clarence Railway routes became part of the Central Division. The engineering and purchasing autonomy of the three divisions brought about diverging styles of infrastructure. In 1899 it was decided to abolish the Central Division and its area was divided between the Northern and Southern Divisions.
The lines were originally electrified at 600 V DC using the 3rd rail system, although after 1934 the operating voltage was raised to 630 V DC. On the Newcastle Quayside Branch overhead line of tramway type was used for upper and lower yards (to avoid the danger of shunters and other staff coming into contact with live rails) with 3rd rail in the interconnecting tunnels between the yards.
NER slotted-post signals at Wensley on the Hawes Branch, seen in the 1960s
The signalling of the NER and its constituent companies in the 1850s and 1860s was, at best, average for the period (with the notable exception of the Stockton and Darlington Railway). Passenger traffic density and train speeds were generally low and, despite the absence of continuous brakes, train crews were usually able to pull up short of an obstruction. The time interval system was in widespread use, and the interlocking of points and signals was very rare. It was only after a spate of accidents (notably at Brockley Whins in 1870, see below), and mounting public pressure, that the NER began to adopt the block system and interlocking. Once this decision had been taken, the company made reasonably speedy progress, aided by the scrutiny of the Railway Inspectorate (Board of Trade) whose officers were supported by increasingly comprehensive legislation. The inception of block signalling in particular brought with it a large increase in manpower to operate and maintain the new equipment, along with the need for staff literacy. This was essential to enable compliance with a large number of new rules and regulations covering block working and the operation of the electric telegraph. In the last years of the Nineteenth Century a combination of changes began to drive modernisation of the signalling systems in the north-east of England. The track layouts installed in the 1870s were no longer adequate to handle the increased traffic and the signalling equipment was worn out or becoming obsolete. Longer and heavier trains were running, often at higher speeds; electricity was playing an increasing role, and finally the managers of Britain's railways were becoming aware of the radical changes by which the railways in the United States were improving revenues, productivity and safety. The NER made several bold moves towards automatic and power signalling, but these did not always bring the benefits hoped for.
By the end of its independent existence the North Eastern Railway had one of the most advanced signal systems of the LNER constituent companies - the Great Central was also well-equipped - and the progressive attitude of the signal engineers continued to make itself felt in the North Eastern Area of the new company. Despite this, features dating back to the mid- Nineteenth Century remained in use, such as slotted-post semaphore signals and rotating board signals. By 1910 about 1,150 block signal cabins controlled the NER network, along with numerous other signalling installations at level crossings and isolated sidings.
Accidents and incidents
On 6 December 1870, a collision between two trains at Brockley Whins, County Durham killed five people. The accident was caused by a lack of interlocking between points and signals, and is generally viewed as having persuaded the NER board to adopt the block system and interlocking.
On 25 October 1887, a freight train overran signals at Chevington, Northumberland and was in a head-on collision with a locomotive that was shunting. That locomotive and its wagons were pushed into a stationary passenger train.
On 2 November 1892, an express passenger train was in a rear-end collision with a freight train at Thirsk, Yorkshire due to errors by the driver of the freight train and a signalman. The latter had fallen asleep on the night shift after spending his rest day searching for medical help for his infant daughter. Ten people were killed and 43 were injured.
On 4 November 1894, a sleeping car train overran signals and collided with a freight train that was being shunted at Castle Hills, Yorkshire. One person was killed.
On 5 November 1900, a freight train ran away and was derailed by trap points at Lingdale Junction, Yorkshire.
On 4 July 1901, a freight train was unable to stop and ran off the end of a siding at Harperley, County Durham.
On 24 November 1906, a passenger train overran signals and ran into the rear of a freight train at Ulleskelf, Yorkshire.
On 26 March 1907, a passenger train was derailed by heat buckled track at Felling, County Durham (now Tyne and Wear). Two people were killed and six were seriously injured. The accident could have been prevented as the signalman had been warned of the buckle by a member of the public but refused to heed the warning.
On 28 August 1907, a freight train overran signals and was derailed at Goswick, Northumberland. Two people were killed and one was seriously injured.
On 8 October 1908, an overloaded freight train ran away and crashed into goods wagons at Masham, Yorkshire.
On 8 August 1909, a freight train was derailed at Hartley, Cumberland due to the track buckling in the heat of the sun.
On 15 November 1910, an express freight train overran signals and was in a rear-end collision with a freight train at Darlington, County Durham.
On 15 December 1911, a freight train was derailed at Lartington, Yorkshire due to the driver braking too sharply. During recovery operations, a rail-mounted crane overturned.
On 17 December 1915, a passenger train collided with a light engine at St Bede's Junction, Tyne Dock. The light engine had been overlooked by the signalman. An empty carriage train travelling in the opposite direction then ran into the wreckage. The wooden carriages were gas-lit and caught fire; 17 people died and 81 were injured.
On 31 March 1920, a passenger train was derailed at York station.
On 22 October 1921, Petrol Inspection Saloon No. 3768 was destroyed by fire at York station.
The company owned the following docks:
The Hull Docks Company (Queens dock, Humber Dock, Railway Dock, Victoria dock, Albert dock, William Wright Dock, St Andrews dock): acquired 1893. Dealt with a large variety of cargoes, including coal exports, grain, seed, and imports of timber and fruit
Hartlepool Docks: acquired as part of the West Hartlepool Harbour & Railway in 1865. Major imports of Scandinavian timber (including pit props for coal mines): coal exports from the south Durham coalfield
Tyne Dock: opened by the NER in 1859. Major coal export terminal; also chemicals and grain exports. Imports including iron ore and esparto grass for paper manufacture.
The NER originally operated with short four and six wheeled coaches with a fixed wheelbase. From these were developed the standard 32-foot (9.8 m) six-wheeled, low elliptical roofed coaches which were built in their thousands around the 1880s. One variety alone, the diagram 15, five compartment, full 3rd class, numbered around a thousand. The NER started building bogie stock for general service use in 1894, 52-foot (16 m) clerestories for general use with a 45-foot (14 m) variation built for use on the tightly curved line from Malton to Whitby. There were also a series of 49-foot (15 m) low ark roofed bogie coaches (with birdcage brakes) for use on the coast line north of Scarborough.
Coach manufacture moved to high arched roof vehicles but with substantially the same body design in the early 1900s.
The NER had limited need for vestibuled coaches but from 1900 built a series of vestibuled, corridor coaches with British Standard gangways, for their longer distance services. The company introduced clerestory corridor dining trains on services between London and Edinburgh. The initial trial was run between York and Newcastle in 1 hour 30 minutes on 30 July 1900. The new train consisted of eight coaches and was 499.5 feet (152.2 m) long (excluding the engine), and had seating for 50 first-class and 211 third-class passengers. At the same time they built (in conjunction with their partners) similar coaches for the East Coast Joint Stock (GNR/NER/NBR) and the Great Northern and North Eastern Joint Stock.
With the introduction of the standard 32-foot (9.8 m) 6-wheeled coaches NER carriage livery was standardised as 'deep crimson' (a deeper colour with more blue in it than that used by the Midland Railway), lined with cream edged on both sides with a thin vermillion line. For a time the cream was replaced with gold leaf. Lettering ('N.E.R.' or when there was sufficient space 'North Eastern Railway' in full, together with 'First', 'Third' and 'Luggage Compt.' on the appropriate door) and numbering; was in strongly serifed characters, blocked and shaded to give a 3D effect.
The NER's bogie coach building programme was such that, almost unique amongst pre-grouping railways, they had sufficient bogie coaches to cover normal service trains; six wheel coaches were reserved for strengthening and excursion trains.
^ abShakespear, Lt. Col. A Record of the 17th and 32nd Battalions Northumberland Fusiliers 1914-1919 (N.E.R.) Pioneers. Unit 10, Ridgewood Industrial Park, Uckfield, East Sussex, TN22 5QE, England: The Naval & Military Press Ltd. pp. 1-14. ISBN9781843426875.CS1 maint: location (link)