The Northampton and Peterborough Railway was an early railway promoted by the London and Birmingham Railway to run from a junction at Blisworth to Northampton and Peterborough. The Northampton and Peterborough Railway Act received the Royal Assent in 1843 and the line opened in 1845. In 1846, it became part of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR). The LNWR became a constituent of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) when the railways of Great Britain were merged in the grouping of 1923. In 1948, the LMS became part of the publicly owned British Railways. Regular passenger services ceased in 1964 and the line closed completely in 1972. A part of it has since been reopened as the Nene Valley Railway heritage line.
There had been two original schemes for lines between London and Birmingham. One proposed by John Rennie would go via Oxford and Banbury. The other proposed by Francis Giles would go via Bletchley, Rugby and Coventry.
In 1830 the two decided to amalgamate, adopting Rennie's plan which, as a canal builder, he had laid out following fairly level country. George Stephenson was asked to plan the line and he passed it to his son Robert who carried out a further survey favouring a route very similar to that proposed by Giles, much to the annoyance of Rennie.
While there was a certain amount of opposition from landowners, the people of Northampton were much in favour of the line. However, in the end, it bypassed the town, following higher ground to the west, through Blisworth and Weedon. At that time it was normal for new lines to bypass the larger towns because of inherent complication and the cost of land. On the other hand, in those days, the time taken to travel to the station was not seen as a handicap, given that the total journey would be much quicker than anything that had been known before. In addition, a rail link to Weedon Barracks was seen as strategically important.
The Peterborough line
The London and Birmingham Railway opened in 1838 and, four years later, a delegation from Northampton approached the directors with a proposal to build a branch which would run through to Peterborough, which at that time also had no railway although a number of schemes were being proposed.
The Bill for the line's construction met considerable opposition from those who favoured the Northern and Eastern Railway which was progressing to Cambridge and Peterborough. However the Northampton and Peterborough Railway Act received the Royal Assent in 1843.
Once again the engineer was Robert Stephenson. The line would be relatively easy to build, following the valley of the River Nene to Peterborough, with only a small tunnel to the west of Wansford. Stations would be provided wherever the line crossed a turnpike where there would be level crossings. Most of the line was raised on embankments because of the likelihood of flooding. In spite of this it occurred from time to time. In 1852 for instance several bridges were swept away and the line was closed for a week.
The line opened from Blisworth to Northampton in May 1845 and then throughout in June, the 47 miles having taken only a year to build. The station at Blisworth was rebuilt next to the junction, and Northampton people at last had their train service to London. In 1846 the line, along with the London and Birmingham, became part of the London and North Western Railway.
Although the infrastructure of the line had been built for double track, only a single track was laid from Northampton to Peterborough, with a passing loop at Thrapston. This single line working was facilitated by the installation of electric telegraph. However it became clear that the traffic would be such that doubling would be required very quickly and this was completed by September 1846. Two stations were unusual to say the least. One, Ringstead and Addington was approached on foot from one direction by means of stepping stones. Another, Ditchford was said to be the location of famous treacle mines.
There were five trains each way on weekdays and Saturdays, with two on Sunday, and extra services between Northampton and Blisworth. Initially the goods traffic was cattle and coal but later iron ore became important.
In 1857 the Midland Railway built a line from Wigston to meet the GNR at Hitchin via Wellingborough. It built a spur to the LNWR station for goods. In 1861 the LNWR began running trains from Wichnor near Burton on Trent and the Midland then began running trains between Wellingborough and Northampton. The Midland built a small station in 1866 near the LNWR's (the latter becoming Northampton Bridge Street in 1876). This little station closed in 1872 when the Midland built its main line from Bedford and opened a new station at St John Street. In 1881, the LNWR opened the Northampton Loop Line which placed the town on a through service superseding Blisworth. At grouping in 1923 it became part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway.
The use of level crossings had reduced the costs of building the line, but it greatly increased operating expenses and it became be a major reason for the line being closed to passengers by British Rail in 1964. Some passenger trains still ran from the boarding school at Oundle until 1972 when the line closed completely.
The Northampton and Peterborough Railway closed in 1964, followed 2 years later by the closure of Peterborough East station and the passenger services to Rugby The line between Rugby and Nassington remained open until the line was finally closed with the track remained in situ. The remaining village stations including Helpston and Ketton & Collyweston on the Syston and Peterborough Railway ceased in the same year, although line remains open with through passenger services.
Nene Valley Railway
Part of the Northampton and Peterborough Railway has been reopened as the Nene Valley Railway heritage line.
- see Weedon Bec
- Butler, P., (2007) A History of the Railways of Northamptonshire,' Great Addington: Silver Link Publishing
- http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1843/feb/28/northampton-and-peterborough-railway Hansard 28 February 1843 vol 67 cc14-6 Northampton and Peterborough Railway Bill