Bedford Overview

A coal dealer and a gas works emphasise the impact of the Railway Age; the LNWR line from Bedford to Bletchley was opened in 1846. The railway came to Cardington in 1857 when the Midland Railway, encouraged by W.H.Whitbread, constructed their link to the Great Northern line at Hitchin to provide a through route to London. This was the main line until 1868 when the Midland Railway opened the London (St. Pancras) to Bedford extension. Another railway, the Bedford and Cambridge (later London and North Western), built their line from Bedford to Sandy in 1861-2, which cut across the northern corner of the Cardington parish. The arrival of the Midland Railway between 1857-1868 brought a firm of Coal, Lime and Salt Merchants to the Railway Station by 1869. Numerous other railway schemes were proposed between 1844 and 1859, but never built.

Cambridge to Oxford Railway Line - Bedford & Cambridge section

This railway formed one of the few east-west routes across country, with the capability of reaching the east coast ports.

Its origins lie in plans and proposals to build railways between Bletchley and Bedford, Bedford and Cambridge, with the connections eventually being built to link Cambridge with Oxford - hence the "Universities Line". Robert Stephenson surveyed the routes between Bletchley and Bedford, and also between Bedford and Cambridge, in 1844/45. Had his recommendation been followed, the line would have run through Sandy, and then headed north easterly towards Tetworth and Waresley.

However, this scheme was abandoned, and only the Bedford to Bletchley route was built, which opened on November 17th 1846. In the 1850's William Henry Whitbread formed the Bedford & Cambridge Railway Company, and progressed an Act through Parliament.

In the meantime, Captain William Peel RN had already started to build his railway, from Potton to Sandy, in order to join up with the Great Northern Railway. This opened in 1857, and in 1862 was absorbed into the Bedford & Cambridge Railway, who were then able to use Peel's route instead of earlier proposals.

Stations were constructed at Gamlingay, 1 mile from the town, (after objections from the Old North Road's turnpike trustees), Old North Road (on the turnpike) and Lords Bridge (a stop for Lord Oxford, who was lord of the local manor). To the east of Sandy, stations were built at Blunham and Willington, on the way to Bedford.

The railway itself was operated by the London and North Western Railway, who from 1862 ran 5 trains per day each way, between Bedford and Cambridge, and one on Sundays. In 1938, there was an experimental service using the then "new" diesel-electric multiple units between Oxford and Cambridge. The war intervened, and the experiment discontinued.

By 1967, the line was operating diesel hauled trains. The railway survived the "Beeching axe" after the evaluation of Britain's railways in 1961 led to wholesale closure of many rural routes, as the good Dr Beeching (the report's author), recognised the potential growth of an East -West route to the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich. Alas British Railways thought differently, and the line was closed on 31st December 1967.

Bedford to Hitchin Railway

Though in its later years a cross-country route of secondary importance, the railway from Bedford to Hitchin was originally part of the main line of the Midland Railway to London. The Midland obtained powers for this line on August 4th 1853 and it was opened throughout on May 8th 1857.

Intermediate stations on the Bedford-Hitchin line were at Cardington, Southill, Shefford and Henlow (renamed Henlow Camp from March lst 1933).

All had full passenger facilities except the last-named, which had no accommodation for furniture vans, livestock, horse-boxes or carriages by passenger train - though only Shefford and the separate Midland goods station at Hitchin had cranes - both of 1 ton 10 wt capacity.

Passenger services were a basic of four trains each way (six in 1910) on weekdays, with extras on Tuesdays; by 1938 there were also three trains each way on Sundays, and weekday extras to the basic four-train pattern ran on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The problems in building Shefford railway had been great because of the presence of the Greensand Ridge near Shefford. Because of this the railway had to go through a tunnel at Old Warden and also through a cutting to the north of Shefford. From this cutting the railway made a wide sweep on the north coming into Shefford and ran accross the valley floor on an embankment which reached its widest part in the goods yard just south of Ampthill Road. The tunnel at Old Warden which is half a mile long and approached through a mile-long cutting was therefore not the only difficulty. At this point the railway was single track.

Timetable of the Bedford-Hitchin Branch Railway - August 1887.

Bedford 7.45 10.50 12.27 4.50 7.30
Cardington 7.56 10.59 12.36 4.59 7.41
Southill 8.05 11.07 12.44 5.07 7.49
Shefford 8.11 11.13 12.50 5.13 7.55
Henlow 8.23 11.19 12.56 5.19 8.03
Hitchin 8.35 11.30 1.07 5.30 8.15

Midland Railway

The Midland Railway began life in 1844 by the amalgamation of The Midland Counties Railway, North Midland Railway and the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway which were all centered on Derby. It then expanded and acquuired other railway companies until it became the third largest railway in Britain.

When its new Coat of Arms was introduced it had extended enormously. The main line ran from London to Carlisle and south-westward to Bristol and Bath, while through carriages travelled as far as Bournemouth, Torquay, Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, in its Coat of Arms, the Midland kept faithful with its origins. Its crest was the Wyvern of Mercia and the shield incorporated six of the largest centres that the company reached. These were, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Leeds, Leicester and Lincoln.

The expansion from 1844 was both rapid and sustained and the companies bought included the Leicester & Swannington, Birmingham & Gloucester and the broad gauge Gloucester & Bristol.

With no direct route into London, traffic from Derby, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester was routed via Rugby and the London & North Western Railway. As many of these trains were delayed en-route to Euston, the Midland sought and obtained Parliamentary permission to build its own line into London from Bedford its most southerly point. This line along with the magnificent St Pancras Station was completed in 1868.

The previous year (1867) had seen the Midland's route to Manchester, via Matlock, opened along with the one third owned (along with the Great Northern Railway and Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway) Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC) route to Liverpool.

The Midland then concentrated on the north and a direct route of its own to Scotland. Building on the lines it owned in the West Riding of Yorkshire, thec Midland pressed north from Settle to the border city of Carlisle. Running agreements were then made with the Glasgow & South Western Railway and the North British Railway to take expresses onward to Glasgow and Edinburgh repectfully.

Further acquisitions took the Midland into South Wales, Ireland and finally in 1912 it bought the London Tilbury & Southend Railway. Lines were then built to York, between Chinley and Sheffield and to complement its part ownership with the GLC, it jointly purchased the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway with the Great Northern Railway and the Somerset & Dorset Railway with the London & South Western Railway.

The Midland Railways tradition was 'light and fast', regarding the running of its trains, both express and secondary, and especially locomotive design. Matthew Kirtley was the first Locomotive Superintendant, retiring in 1873. He is acknowledged with establishing Derby Works with its excellent reputation for quality of build, the first locomotives being built there in 1851.