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Great Eastern Railway

Great Eastern Railway
Dates of operation 1862–1922
Predecessor Eastern Counties Railway
Eastern Union Railway
and others
Successor London and North Eastern Railway

The Great Eastern Railway (GER) was a pre-grouping British railway company, whose main line linked London Liverpool Street to Norwich and which had other lines through East Anglia. The company was grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923.


  • Overview 1
  • Constituent companies 2
    • Joint railways 2.1
  • Geographical development 3
  • Infrastructure 4
    • Stations 4.1
    • Engine sheds 4.2
    • Works 4.3
    • Signal boxes 4.4
  • Operations and timetables 5
    • Main line 5.1
    • Main line boat trains 5.2
    • Suburban services (the Jazz) 5.3
    • Named trains 5.4
    • Branch line services 5.5
    • Other services 5.6
    • Freight traffic 5.7
  • Accidents and incidents 6
  • Rolling stock and other material 7
    • Locomotives 7.1
      • Prior to 1862 7.1.1
      • 1862 to 1880 7.1.2
      • 1880 to 1922 7.1.3
      • Livery 7.1.4
      • Locomotive stock (1923) 7.1.5
      • Preserved locomotives 7.1.6
    • Coaching stock 7.2
      • Main line 7.2.1
      • Pullman 7.2.2
      • Dining and restaurant 7.2.3
      • Suburban 7.2.4
    • Ships 7.3
    • Buses and horses 7.4
  • People 8
    • Chief mechanical engineers 8.1
    • Chairmen 8.2
  • During World War I 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
    • Sources 11.1
    • Further reading 11.2
  • External links 12


The GER was formed in 1862 by amalgamation of the Eastern Counties Railway with a number of smaller railways. In 1902 the Northern and Eastern Railway was absorbed by the GER, although it had been worked by the Eastern Counties Railway under a 999-year lease taken on 1 January 1844 whereby the Eastern Counties would work the Northern and Eastern in return for an annual rent and division of the profits.

Memorial at Liverpool Street station to GER staff who died during World War I, unveiled in 1922 by Sir Henry Wilson, who was assassinated by Irish Republican Army gunmen on his way home from the unveiling ceremony.

Among the towns served were Cambridge, Chelmsford, Colchester, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, King's Lynn, Lowestoft, Norwich, Southend-on-Sea, and East Anglian seaside resorts such as Hunstanton (whose prosperity was largely a result of the GER's line being built) and Cromer.[1] It also served a suburban area, including Enfield, Chingford, Loughton and Ilford. This suburban network was, in the early 20th century, the busiest steam-hauled commuter system in the world.

The original London terminus was opened at Shoreditch in east London by the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) on 1 July 1840 when the railway was extended westwards from an earlier temporary terminus in Devonshire Street, near Mile End.[2] The station was renamed Bishopsgate on 27 July 1847.

The Great Eastern attempted to obtain a West End terminus, alongside the one in east London, via the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction Railway, formed by an Act of Parliament of 28 July 1862.[3] Plans to extend the western end of this line via a proposed 'London Main Trunk Railway', underneath Hampstead Road, the Metropolitan Railway (modern Circle line) and Tottenham Court Road, to Charing Cross, were rejected by Parliament in 1864.[4]

A new London terminus at Liverpool Street was opened to traffic on 2 February 1874, and was completely operational from 1 November 1875. From this date the original terminus at Bishopsgate closed to passengers, although it reopened as a goods station in 1881. (The Bishopsgate goods station was destroyed by a fire in 1964 which claimed the lives of two people.)

The majority of the Great Eastern's locomotives were manufactured at Stratford Works, part of which was on the site of today's Stratford International station and the rest was adjacent to Stratford Regional station. The GER owned 1,200 miles (1,931 km) of line and had a near-monopoly in East Anglia until the opening of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway in 1893 although there were a number of minor lines that stayed resolutely independent until the grouping in 1923.

In 1922, a large marble memorial was installed at Liverpool Street station commemorating GER staff who had answered the call of duty to fight but died in action in World War I. The memorial was unveiled by Sir Henry Wilson, who was assassinated by two Irish Republican Army gunmen on his way home from the unveiling ceremony. A smaller memorial to Wilson was later placed adjacent to the GER memorial, alongside one to Charles Fryatt, a British mariner who was executed by the Germans for attempting to ram a U-boat in 1915.

The Great Eastern name has survived, being used both for the Great Eastern Main Line route between London and Norwich, and also for the First Great Eastern train operating company which served much of the old GER route between 1997 and 2004.

Constituent companies

The Great Eastern Railway was made up of a number of constituent companies when it was formed in 1862. The most notable was the Eastern Counties Railway, which had taken over most of the main companies by this time. After 1862 there were still a number of companies operating independently in East Anglia, but most of these were eventually taken over by Great Eastern, although some such as the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway survived until 1923.[5] The history and exact status of many of these railways is quite complex. In many cases the operation of the railway that built the line was taken over (usually by the Eastern Counties Railway before 1862 and the Great Eastern Railway after that date) although the original railway company often existed in legal form after that date.

The 1862 Act stated that the purpose of the legislation was "to amalgamate the Eastern Counties, the East Anglian, the Newmarket, the Eastern Union and the Norfolk railway companies, and for other purposes". This suggests that despite the fact that some of these railway companies had been taken over by the Eastern Counties Railway prior to the 1862 Act, they still legally existed.

Joint railways

Geographical development

The table below shows the building dates of the railways that made up the Great Eastern and the companies that built them. Abbreviations from above list.[5]

Opening Date Line Opening Company Notes
1839 Mile End - Romford ECR Initially built to 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge
1840 Shoreditch - Mile End ECR Initially built to 5 ft gauge
1840 Romford - Brentwood ECR Initially built to 5 ft gauge
1840 Minories - Blackwall BLR Minories used as a temporary terminus
1840 Stratford - Broxbourne N&ER Stratford was on the ECR line - initially built to 5 ft gauge
1841 Fenchurch Street - Minories BLR
1841 Broxbourne - Spelbrook N&ER To Harlow (July), to Spelbrook (Nov)
1842 Spelbrook - Bishops Stortford N&ER
1843 Brentwood - Colchester ECR
1843 Broxbourne Junction - Hertford N&ER Later named Hertford East
1844 Norwich - Great Yarmouth (Vauxhall) Y&NR Route via Reedham
1845 Bishops Stortford - Newport N&ER
1845 Newport - Brandon ECR Ely - Brandon taken over by NR March 1846
1845 Trowse - Thorpe Junction NR Through running from Norwich to London
1846 Colchester - Ipswich (original station) EUR
1846 King's Lynn - Downham L&ER King's Lynn Harbour branch also opened same day
1846 King's Lynn - Narborough L&ER
1846 Dereham - Wymondham NR
1846 Ipswich - Haughley Junction and Bury St Edmunds IBR Note:this did not serve the original Ipswich station directly - trains had to revere into the station at Halifax Junction a short distance to the south
1847 Ely North Junction - Peterborough Junction ECR
1847 Colchester - Hythe SVR
1847 Lowestoft - Reedham LRH Leased to NR from opening
1847 March - Wisbech ECR
1847 Stratford - North Woolwich ECR
1847 Thames Wharf branch STJR Opened same day as North Woolwich line
1847 Narborough - Swaffham EAR
1847 Chesterton Junction (Cambridge)-St Ives ECR Later part of GNGEJR route
1847 Huntingdon - St Ives EAR
1847 Bentley - Hadleigh EUR Note: this is in Suffolk
1847 Downham - Ely North Junction EAR King's Lynn to Cambridge and London, now a through route
1848 Swaffham - Sporle EAR
1848 Great Chesterford - Newmarket NEW See below - possibly first passenger route to close in the UK?
1848 Watlington - Wisbech EAR
1848 St Ives - March South Junction ECR Later part of GNGEJR route
1848 Haughley - Finningham EUR The first part of the link joining Ipswich to Norwich
1848 Maldon - Witham ECR Witham - Braintree opened same day
1848 Witham - Braintree ECR Maldon - Witham opened same day
1849 Sporle - Dereham ECR
1849 Water Lane (Angel Road)- Enfield Town ECR
1849 Stepney - Bow Junction BLR
1849 Marks Tey - Sudbury SVR
1849 Finningham - Norwich (Victoria) EUR Link between Ipswich and Norwich completed
1851 Shelford - Shepreth ECR End on working with GNR aallowing through trains between Cambridge and Kings Cross (London)
1851 Trowse Upper Junction - Trowse Lower Junction EUR
1851 Cambridge - Six Mile Bottom NEW Through route Cambridge to Newmarket now complete
1854 Newmarket - Bury St Edmunds ECR Through route Cambridge to Ipswich now complete
1854 Manningtree-Harwich ECR
1854 Victoria Park (Hackney)-Stratford Market (North Woolwich line) ECR Link to NLR. Note A
1854 Halesworth - Haddiscoe ESR
1855 Tivetshall - Harleston WVR
1856 Loughton Branch Junction (Stratford) - Loughton ECR Now part of London Underground Central line
1857 Wells - Fakenham WFR
1859 East Suffolk Junction(Ipswich)-Woodbridge ECR Opened same day as all East Suffolk lines listed below.
1859 Woodbridge - Halesworth ESR
1859 Saxmundham - Leiston ESR
1859 Wickham Market - Framlingham ESR
1859 Snape Junction - Snape ESR Freight only
1859 Haddiscoe - Great Yarmouth (South Town) ESR Great Yarmouth - Ipswich through route complete
1859 Beccles - Lowestoft ESR Lowestoft - Ipswich through route complete
1860 Leiston - Aldeburgh ECR Built by ESR but completed by ECR
1860 Harleston - Bungay WVR
1862 King's Lynn - Hunstanton LHR
1863 Bungay - Beccles WVR Taken over by GER on opening
1863 Hythe - Wivenhoe TEN [7]
1863 St Margarets - Buntingford WHBR Branch off the Hertford East line - operated by the GER from opening and taken over in 1868
1865 Loughton - Ongar GER Now part of London Underground Central line as far as Epping. The rest is run as preserved line. Original station at Loughton abandoned
1865 Shelford - Haverhill - Sudbury GER
1865 Haverhill - Colne Valley Junction GER Junction with independent Colne Valley Line
1865 Bury St Edmunds - Long Melford GER
1865 Saffron Walden - Audley End.[10] SAWR
1866 Wivenhoe - Weeley TEN
1866 Sutton Bridge Junction (Ely) - Sutton Bridge EHSR
1866 Wivenhoe - Brightlingsea TEN
1866 Weeley - Kirby Cross TEN
1866 Heacham - Wells GER
1866 Saffron Walden - Bartlow.[10] SAWR
1867 [11] Mellis - Eye GER
1867 Kirby Cross - Walton-on-the-Naze TEN [7]
1868 Tottenham North and South junction - Highgate Road T&HJR Note B
1869 Roudham Junction - Watton TWR
1869 Bishops Stortford - Braintree GER Completion of through Witham to Bishops Stortford line
1869 Wapping - New Cross ELJR First part of East London line
1870 Lea Bridge - Shern Hall Street (Walthamstow) GER
1870 Lynn Docks branch GER
1872 Bethnal Green - Bury Street Junction GER opened in three stages. Gave shorter route to Enfield Town.
1872 Hackney Downs - Coppermill junction GER This route is now used as main route to Cambridge
1872 Bethnal Green - Bishopsgate Low Level GER First part of line into Liverpool Street
1872 Clapton - Hall Farm Junction (Walthamstow) GER Route used by present-day (2012) Chingford trains
1872 Haddiscoe Spur GER Enabled through running from Yarmouth South Town to Lowestoft
1873 Shern Hall Street - Chingford GER
1874 Bishopsgate Low Level - Liverpool Street GER Suburban traffic only
1874 Custom House - Beckton GER
1874 Whitlingham Junction (Norwich) - North Walsham ENR Note C
1875 Watton - Swaffham TSR
1875 Liverpool Street GER Open to all traffic
1876 Bury St Edmunds - Thetford BTR
1876 Thetford Junction - Thetford East TSR
1876 East London Jn (Bishospgate) - Wapping ELJR Northern section of the East London Line
1876 North Walsham - Gunton ENR Note C
1877 Gunton - Cromer High railway station ENR Note C. Note also this is not the current Cromer station site
1877 Westerfield Junction - Felixstowe (Beach) FR Extended to Pier later in year.[12]
1878 Chingford (Old Station)- Chingford (present station)
1878 Seven Sisters - Palace Gates GER Branch to Alexandra Palace - opened in two stages during year
1878 Sutton - Needingworth Junction - St Ives E&SIR
1879 Wroxham - Buxton Lamas ENR Note C
1879 Wensum Curve (Norwich) GER Norwich avoiding line
1879 Ely - Fordham - Newmarket GER
1880 Buxton Lamas - Aylsham ENR Note C
1880 Limehouse Jn - Salmons Lane Jn GER
1880 Custom House - Gallions LID
1880 Aylsham - Cawston ENR Note C
1881 Cawston - Reepham ENR Note C
1881 Forncett - Wymondham GER
1882 Spalding - Lincoln GNGEJR Opened in two sections - through running from the GE to Doncaster and York was now possible
1882 Reepham - County School GER
1882 Thorpe-le-soken - Clacton TEN
1882 Stoke Ferry - Denver GER The Wissington Light Railway (an agricultural railway) had a junction with the Stoke Ferry branch from 1905.
1883 Breydon Junction (Yarmouth) - Brundall GER Opened in two stages
1884 Wisbech - Outwell Basin GER Operated by tram type locomotives
1884 Barnwell Junction - Fordham GER
1885 Fordham - Mildenhall GER
1886 Norwich Thorpe Station GER
1888 Highgate Road - Gospel Oak THJ
1888 Shenfield - Wickford GER Initially open for goods traffic only
1889 Wickford - Southend Victoria GER Initially open for goods traffic only
1889 Wickford - Southminster GER Initially open for goods traffic only
1889 Somersham - Ramsey ESJR
1891 Edmonton Jn - Cheshunt GER Known as the Southbury Loop
1894 Liverpool Street (East side) GER
1896 Newmarket Curve GER
1897 Three Horse Shoes Jn - Burnt House GER
1898 North Walsham - Mundesley NSJR
1898 Burnt House - Benwick GER
1898 Felixstowe Town GER Direct route closed to Beach and Pier station at this date and all trains had to run via Town for these stations.[12]
1903 Woodford - Fairlop - Ilford GER Remaining section part of LUL Central line
1903 Yarmouth - Gorleston - Lowestoft NSJR Provided a more direct route than the Haddiscoe spur.
1904 Kelvedon - Tollesbury GER
1906 Cromer Junction - Roughton Road Junction GER
1906 Roughton Road Junction - Runton West Junction NSJR
1906 Roughton Road Junction - Mundesley NSJR
1907 Tollesbury - Tollesbury Pier GER
1913 Elsenham - Thaxted[13] GER Known as the 'Gin and Toffee' line

Other railways

  • NLR - North London Railway
  • GNR - Great Northern Railway


  • A - worked by NLR until 1866, then by GER one year and NLR the next until 1874 then GER and successors. Known locally as "the Stratford Jack"
  • B - an attempt by the GER to gain a terminus in the West End - Parliament terminated the line at Highgate Road, thus thwarting GE ambitions. The line, however went on to have a future with the Midland Railway - see Tottenham and Hampstead Junction Railway for further details - and for a few years some Great Eastern Cambridge line services were routed to St Pancras.
  • C - Operated by the GER from opening.



The exterior of Liverpool Street station (1896) 
Former GER Class S69 at Liverpool Street Station locomotive yard (1948) 
Norwich Station (1993) 
Cromer High (then just "Cromer") shortly after opening (c.1878) 

Engine sheds

The Great Eastern had one of the largest engine sheds in the country at Stratford which in January 1923 had an allocation of 555 locomotives. At the other end of the scale, small engine sheds at the end of country branch lines had perhaps one or two locomotives in their charge. At this time the locomotives were generally allocated to the major shed in the area and the smaller sheds had no actual allocation.[14]

Before 1914 the engine sheds were organised into districts, with sheds at: Stratford; Ipswich; Norwich; Cambridge; Peterborough; King's Lynn; and Doncaster. In 1914 this was reduced to five with King's Lynn and Doncaster being abolished. By 1915 they were organised onto four districts (primary sheds in parenthesis): Southern (Stratford); Eastern (Ipswich); Northern (Norwich); and Western (Cambridge/Peterborough).

The Great Eastern did not see the maintenance of engine sheds as one of its top priorities. Many original structures it inherited from constituent railways struggled on in various states of disrepair, not only through Great Eastern days, but through its successor company London & North Eastern Railway from 1923 until 1947 and indeed to the end of steam on the Great Eastern in 1959.

Coaling at engine sheds was generally done by hand with the coaling stages constructed of wood. At a busy engine shed such as Stratford, each individual coaler employed on the coaling stage was expected to empty the contents of a 10-ton coal truck during his shift.

Turntables were generally small – in 1900 the longest was 50 feet – enough to turn the later B12 Class 4-6-0 locomotive. By 1932, with the advent of bigger locomotives and the working of other companies' locomotives onto GE territory, turntables had grown, with the major sheds generally having 60- or 65-foot turntables.

In 1922 the GER locomotive allocation across its sheds was: Cambridge - 178; Colchester - 47; Doncaster - 5; Ipswich - 131; King's Lynn - 37; Lincoln (Pyewipe Junction) - 12; Lowestoft - 22; March - 97; Norwich - 119; Parkeston - 20; Peterborough East - 86; Stratford - 555; Wisbech - 7; and Yarmouth - 20.[15] Each main shed had a number of sub-sheds and locomotives would work from these sheds for significant periods. For instance it is estimated that some 150 engines were outbased from Stratford at any one time.


The main workshops were located at Stratford Works and was responsible for the building of locomotives and carriages. Wagons were initially built here as well but as the railway grew a new wagon works was built at Temple Mills in 1896.[16]

In 1894 a carriage painting facility was opened at Felixstowe Beach station which dealt with the painting of around 200 carriages each year.[17]

Many engine sheds carried out heavier repairs.

  • Great Eastern Railway Society
  • Archived copy of a page containing comprehensive details of those railways
  • Shipping interests of the company
  • Manningtree Rail Users Association

External links


Further reading

  • Haws, Duncan (1993). Merchant Fleets – Britain's Railway Steamers – Eastern and North Western Companies + Zeeland and Stena. Hereford: TCL Publications.  


  1. ^ Map of GER system (Great Eastern Railway Society)
  2. ^ F.H.W. Sheppard, ed. (1957). Bishopsgate Railway Terminus. Survey of London. 27: Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. pp. 252–255. Retrieved 13 June 2009. 
  3. ^ Hansard: LOCAL AND PERSONAL ACTS 7 August 1862
  5. ^ a b Allen 1955, pp. 234–239
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b c Great Eastern Railway Society Journal 111 page 24 S Jenkins
  8. ^ a b Watling, John (October 2000). "The GER Board, its committees and what they did Part 3". Great Eastern Railway Journal 104: 104.23. 
  9. ^ Watling, John (October 2000). "The GER Board, its committees and what they did Part 3". Great Eastern Railway Journal 104: 104.24. 
  10. ^ a b c Paye, Peter (1980). The Saffron Walden branch. Usk: Oakwood Press.  
  11. ^ Paye, Peter (1980). The Mellis & Eye Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press.  
  12. ^ a b Quayle, H I; G T Bradbury (1978). The Felixstowe Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press.  
  13. ^ Paye, Peter (1976). The Elsenham & Thaxted light railway. Usk: Oakwood Press.  
  14. ^ Hawkins, Chris; George Reeve (1986). Great Eastern Railway Engine sheds Part 1. Didcot: Wild Swan.  
  15. ^ a b Yeadon, W B (1996). LNER locomotive allocations 1st January 1923. Challenger Publications.  
  16. ^ Great Eastern Railway (1991). Memoranda connected with locomotive and carriage works at Stratford and the wagon works at Temple Mills (June 1921). Great Eastern Railway Society and Passmore Edwards Museum.  
  17. ^ Great Eastern Railway Journal. January 1911. 
  18. ^ Hawlins, Chris; George Reeve (1987). Great Eastern Engine Sheds Part 2. Didcot: Wild Swan. p. 224.  
  19. ^ "Another Linc in the chain". Rail (Peterborough: EMAP) 699. 2012. 
  20. ^ a b Allen 1955, pp. 163–166
  21. ^ Allen 1955, p. 
  22. ^ Butcher, David (July 2006). "The Jazz train workings at Liverpool Street Station". Great Eastern Railway Society Journal (127): 127.3–127.10. 
  23. ^ Allen 1955, pp. 176–190
  24. ^ Allen 1955, p. 
  25. ^ Watling, John (July 2006). "Carriage Building in 1906 and the York-Harwich Train". Great Eastern Railway Society Journal (127): 127.13–127.18. 
  26. ^ Bradshaw's July 1922 Railway Guide. Newton Abbott: David and Charles. 1922. Table 316. 
  27. ^ Bradshaws (1986). Bradshaws July 1922 Railway Guide. Newton Abbott: David and Charles.  
  28. ^ Watling, John (October 1991). "The GER and sea water". Great Eastern Railway Society Journal (68): 16–17. 
  29. ^ Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 29.  
  30. ^ Voisey, F G (August 1991). "accidents on the Great Eastern no 22 - Bow Road". Great Eastern Journal 66: 14. 
  31. ^ Voisey, Frank (January 1990). "Accidents on the Great Eastern (part 18)". Great Eastern Journal (60): 8, 9. 
  32. ^ Earnshaw, Alan (1990). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 6. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 5.  
  33. ^ Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 42.  
  34. ^ Freestone, Jill; Smith, Richard W (1998). Ipswich Engines and Ipswich Men. Ipswich: Under Stoke History group.  
  35. ^
  36. ^ Board of trade (UK). "Accident report" (PDF). Board of Trade (UK). Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  37. ^ Ashton, Geoff; Challis, David (October 2013). "Collision at Stratford Market". Great Eastern Journal 156: 4–13. 
  38. ^ Trevena, Arthur (1981). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 2. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 26.  
  39. ^ Allen 1955, pp. 90–126
  40. ^ "The Holden 'Claud Hamilton' Class D14, D15, & D16 4-4-0 Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  41. ^ "The Holden E4 (GER T26) 2-4-0 Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  42. ^ "The Holden Class D13 (GER T19 Rebuilt) 4-4-0 Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  43. ^ Allen 1955, p. 110
  44. ^ "The Class J15 (GER Class Y14) 0-6-0 Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  45. ^ "The Holden J16 & J17 (GER Classes F48 & G58) 0-6-0 Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  46. ^ "Home". Claud Hamilton Locomotive Group. Claud Hamilton Locomotive Group. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  47. ^ "Home". Holden F5 Locomotive Trust. Holden F5 Locomotive Trust. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  48. ^ Allen 1955, pp. 154–162
  49. ^ Great Eastern Railway Society Journal 127 page 12 J Watling
  50. ^ Allen 1955, p. 
  51. ^ "Great Eastern Railway". Simplon Postcards. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  52. ^ "Great Eastern Railway, Local Ferry & Excursion Services". Simplon Postcards. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  53. ^ "Great Eastern Railway". The Ships List. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  54. ^ Clegg, W. Paul; Styring, John S. (1971). British Railways Shipping and Allied Fleets. Newton Abbot: David and Charles. p. 15.  
  55. ^ Haws 1993, pp. 38–56
  56. ^ Haws 1993, p. 43
  57. ^ King, Bill (January 2015). "Directors of the GER - Lightly Simpson". Great Eastern Journal 161: 35. 
  58. ^ a b c d Haws 1993, p. 46
  59. ^ a b c Haws 1993, p. 55
  60. ^ Gibson, R. H.; Prendergast, Maurice (2002). German Submarine War 1914–1918. Periscope Publishing. p. 47.  
  61. ^ a b Haws 1993, p. 52
  62. ^ Haws 1993, p. 39
  63. ^ a b Haws 1993, p. 40
  64. ^ a b Clegg & Styring 1971, p. 15
  65. ^ a b Haws 1993, p. 49
  66. ^ a b c Haws 1993, p. 44
  67. ^ a b Haws 1993, p. 45
  68. ^ a b c Haws 1993, p. 41
  69. ^ a b c Haws 1993, p. 51
  70. ^ a b c Haws 1993, p. 47
  71. ^ a b Haws 1993, p. 53
  72. ^ a b c Haws 1993, p. 38
  73. ^ Haws 1993, p. 42
  74. ^ Haws 1993, p. 56
  75. ^ The Times (London). 30 October 1908. p. 10. 
  76. ^ Goldsmith, Paul (July 2005). "Mystery Photograph". Great Eastern Railway Society Journal (123): 123.59. 
  77. ^ West, Dennis (July 2005). "The omnibuses of the Great Eastern Railway". Great Eastern Railway Society Journal: 123.10/123.11. 
  78. ^ King, Bill (January 2015). "Directors of the GER - Lightly Simpson". Great Eastern Journal 161: 35. 
  79. ^ Great Eastern Railway Society Journal Issue 111 Pages 12–20


  1. ^ (1810–1883) born in Tadcaster. He became a director of the Wharfedale Railway in 1846 and on 29 August 1849 he was elected as an auditor for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. In the 1850s further railway directorships followed including that of the East Anglian Railway which later became part of the Eastern Counties Railway and then in 1862 the Great Eastern Railway. In 1869 Simpson became vice-chairman of the GER and in 1872 chairman. He resigned in November 1874 stating "I cannot continue to hold office with advantage to the Company or pleasure to myself" although he remained a director of the GER until his death in 1883.


The GER also suffered from a number of Zeppelin attacks with, amongst others, the dormitory at Stratford engine shed and the royal shelter at King's Lynn both being hit.[79]

The company set up a section dedicated to the movement of military traffic and between 1914 and 1918 nearly 10.5 million men were moved on GER services as well as significant numbers of horses and supplies. Specific military traffic was generated at Brimsdown, Ponders End and Stowmarket. Because of attacks on east coast shipping traffic moved by sea was also carried on the GER (and more specifically the Great Eastern and Great Northern Joint Railway).

By 1916 unnecessary travel was being discouraged to conserve coal supplies.

The GER employed significant numbers of women during this period as many men had joined the army.

Had there been an invasion then the railways had evacuation plans for the civilian populations. The GER did require some upgrading to deal with the increased levels of traffic – lines were doubled, additional passing loops provided, platforms extended and watering facilities improved (for both the iron and more conventional horses). A number of link lines were provided including the link between the Tottenham and Hampstead at Gospel Oak to the Midland Railway and between the T&H and Great Northern Railway at Crouch Hill, Both links remain part of the national network in 2013.

The Railway Executive Committee was set up in 1912 after an incident between France and Germany in the Moroccan Port of Agadir and would take directions from the military and liaise with the railway companies. As it adjoined the North Sea the GER undertook a significant role in the war.

During World War I

Lord Cranborne went on to be the British prime minister between 1885 and 1892 and between 1895 and 1903. Parkeston Quay is named after Cecil Parkes and the famous Great Eastern 4-4-0 class was named after Claud Hamilton.

  • Horatio Love 1862–1866
  • Lord Cranborne 1866–1871
  • Lightly Simpson 1872–1874 [Note 1][78]
  • Cecil Parkes 1874–1893
  • Lord Claud Hamilton 1893–1922

The chairmen of the Great Eastern Railway were:


The chief mechanical engineers of the Great Eastern Railway were:

Chief mechanical engineers


The Great Eastern built buses at Stratford and ran a number of omnibus services including Halesworth to Southwold.[77]

The May 1911 issue of the Great Eastern Railway Magazine (the in-house magazine of the GER) stated the company had 1,750 horses the majority of which worked in the London area. Some wagon shunting work was carried out by horses but they would have found widespread work hauling delivery carts.[76]

Buses and horses

Ship Launched Tonnage (GRT) Notes
PS Adelaide 1880 969 Built by Barrow Shipbuilding Company. The company's first steel ship and last paddle steamer on HarwichRotterdam route.[56] Named after Adelaide Simpson the wife of GER director Lightly Simpson and launched by her.[57]

Sold for scrapping in 1896

SS Amsterdam 1894 1,745 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull for HarwichHook of Holland route, and later transferred to Antwerp service in 1910 when replaced by modern tonnage.[58] Scrapped in 1928
RMS Antwerp 1919 2,957 Built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank for HarwichAntwerp service.[59] She served as a Q-ship in World War I.[60] Scrapped in 1951
SS Archangel 1910 2,570 Built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank for HarwichHook of Holland service.[61] Bombed and sunk off east coast of Scotland in May 1941
PS Avalon 1865 670 Built by J & W Dudgeon at Cubitt Town on the River Thames for service HarwichRotterdam. Sold in 1888 to Earle's Shipbuilding, Hull and wrecked off Jamaica in 1909.[62]
SS Berlin 1894 1,745 Built for HarwichHook of Holland service by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull. Sister of SS Amsterdam. Sank whilst entering Hook of Holland in February 1907 with loss of 112 lives.[58]
PS Brandon 1871 718 Built as the "Richard Young" by J & W Dudgeon at Cubitt Town on the River Thames for the HarwichRotterdam service. Converted to a single screw by Earle's Shipbuilding in 1890 and renamed "Brandon", after which she was used for secondary and relief services. Scrapped in 1905.[63]
Brightlingsea 1925 51 Built by Rowhedge Ironworks.[64] Launch used between Harwich, Felixstowe Docks and occasionally Shotley, Suffolk. Passed to LNER, British Railways and Orwell and Harwich Navigation Co. Ltd., who re-opened Felixstowe Docks service in 1962.[64]
SS Bruges 1920 2,949 Built by John Brown and Company at Clydebank for the HarwichAntwerp service. Bombed and sunk at Le Havre in 1940[59]
SS Brussels 1902 1,380 Built by Gourlay Brothers, of Dundee for the HarwichAntwerp service. Switched to TilburyRotterdam when Harwich taken over by Admiralty in 1914. Captured by Germany in 1916 under command of Capt.Charles Fryatt who was tried and executed for an earlier war-like act. Scuttled 1918 at Zeebrugge. The ship was raised in 1919, sold at auction and repaired in 1920. She was eventually scrapped in 1929.[65]
SS Cambridge 1886 1,196 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull for service from Harwich and her career included Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hook of Holland routes. Sold in 1912 to Anglo-Ottoman Steamship Company.[66]
SS Chelmsford 1893 1,635 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull for the HarwichHook of Holland service. The first triple expansion vessel for the company and inaugurated the new terminal at Hook of Holland in June 1893. Sold in 1910 to the Great Western Railway and renamed Bretonne where she was placed on the PlymouthNantes route.[67]
PS Claud Hamilton 1875 922 Built by John Elder and Company, who were later known as Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Govan and launched the HarwichHook of Holland service. The vessel was named after the Chairman of the company. Sold in 1897 to the City of London as a cattle carrier. Vessel broken up in 1914.[68]
SS Colchester 1889 1,160 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull and with her sister "Cambridge" operated the three main routes from Harwich. Was operating to neutral Holland when captured by Germany in 1916. She grounded at Kiel in 1918 and was scrapped in 1919.[67]
SS Copenhagen 1907 2,570 Built by John Brown and Company at Clydebank as a replacement for the lost "Berlin" and was so successful that she was quickly followed by her sisters "Munich" [1908] and "St. Petersburg"[1910] on the HarwichHook of Holland service. The vessel was torpedoed and sunk in the North Sea in 1917 en route to Hook of Holland.[69]
SS Dresden 1897 1,805 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull for the HarwichAntwerp service. Dr.Rudolf Diesel was travelling on the vessel in 1913 when he disappeared overboard in uncertain circumstances. The vessel was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1915 and renamed Louvain, and was lost when torpedoed in the Aegean Sea in 1918.[70]
Epping 1914 21 Small launch used between Harwich and Shotley, Suffolk.
PS Essex 1896 297 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull and employed on local services and coastal excursions from Harwich. Sold in 1913 and became a River Thames excursion vessel.[70]
SS Frinton 1903 1,419 Previously Kilkenny, the vessel served the HarwichAntwerp route. She passed to the LNER in 1923 and was sold on again in 1926.[71]
Hainault 1914 21 Small launch used between Harwich and Shotley, Suffolk.
PS Ipswich 1864 87 Built by James Ash of Cubitt Town on the River Thames she served as a river steamer between Ipswich and Harwich. She was the first GER vessel having replaced the "Cardinal Wolsey" which was an Eastern Counties Railway ship on this service.[72] Withdrawn 1873.
SS Ipswich 1883 1,067 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull, she was designed with her sister "Norwich" for the Company's new quay at Parkeston, Essex. Operated on the Antwerp service until retired in 1905. Sold in 1906 to Shah Steam Navigation Co, Bombay, where she was broken up in 1909.[66]
SS Kilkenny 1903 1,419 Purchased in 1917 from City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, renamed Frinton in 1919. She was built at Port Glasgow and served on the DublinLiverpool and CorkLiverpool routes.[71]
PS Lady Tyler 1880 995 Built by T and W Smith at North Shields she operated on the HarwichRotterdam service. Sold in 1893 to Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull.[73]
SS Malines 1921 2,969 Built by Armstrong Whitworth and Company at Newcastle, she was the final steamer ordered by the GER and entered service on the HarwichAntwerp route. She was torpedoed by an air attack and was beached off Port Said in July 1942. Having been raised in September 1943 and towed back to her builders, the machinery damage caused her to be laid up 1945 and finally scrapped in 1948.[74]
SS Munich 1908 2,570 Built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank for the HarwichHook of Holland service. A sister of "Copenhagen". Requisitioned in 1918, renamed St Denis and converted to a hospital ship. She retained her new name on return to GER and passed to LNER in 1923. She was relegated to relief and secondary services in 1932. Was scuttled when cornered in Amsterdam in 1940. Having been raised by the Germans, she had her name changed to "Barbara" and was found in Kiel in 1945 where she served as an accommodation ship for Kiel University. In 1950 she was towed to Sunderland and scrapped.[69]
PS Norfolk 1900 295 Built by Gourlay Brothers, of Dundee. Used on local services and coastal excursions. Passed to LNER in 1923 and withdrawn in 1931. Scrapped in 1935.[65]
SS Norwich 1883 1,062 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding at Hull as a sister to "Ipswich" for the HarwichAntwerp service. Sold in 1905 to Channel Drydock & Shipbuilding Company, Harwich. Re-sold several times to companies in Cape Verde, Montevideo, New York and Mexico and sank in 1920.[66]
PS Orwell 1873 114 Built by Lewis and Stockwell in London and operated on IpswichHarwich ferry service with her sister "Stour". Sold in 1890 for scrapping.
Pinmill 1912 11 Small launch used between Harwich and Shotley. Withdrawn from ferry service in 1925, converted to work boat. Still in service in 1985.
PS Princess of Wales 1878 1,098 Built by London and Glasgow Shipbuilding Company at Govan. Entered HarwichRotterdam service and transferred to the Hook of Holland service when it opened in 1893. Sold and scrapped in May 1896.[68]
PS Richard Young 1871 718 Built by J & W Dudgeon at Cubitt Town in London. Served on the HarwichRotterdam service. Converted to single screw propulsion by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull and was renamed Brandon in 1890.[63]
SS Roulers 1894 1,753 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding at Hull and was launched as "Vienna". Entered HarwichHook of Holland service with sister "Amsterdam" Was transferred to the Antwerp service in 1910. Renamed "Roulers" when she entered HarwichZeebrugge service in 1920. Passed to LNER in 1923. Was withdrawn and scrapped in 1930.[58]
SS St Denis 1908 2,570 Built by John Brown and Company at Clydebank and launched as "Munich" for the HarwichHook of Holland service. Renamed "St. Denis" in 1914 and returned to GER service with the new name after the war. Passed to LNER in 1923 and relegated to relief work in 1932. Scuttled in 1940 at Amsterdam, salvaged by the Germans and repaired. Scrapped 1950.[69]
St George 1906 2,456 Built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead for the GWR and was sold to Canadian interests in 1913. Purchased from the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1919 by GER. Passed to LNER in 1923 and scrapped in 1929.[59]
PS Stour 1864 87 Built by James Ash at Cubitt Town on the River Thames. A sister of "Ipswich" and operated as a river steamer from Ipswich to Harwich. Withdrawn in 1878 and replaced by a slightly larger newbuilding with the same name.[72]
PS Stour 1878 112 Built by Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company and a sister of the "Orwell". Based in Ipswich for the river service to Harwich. Replaced slightly smaller vessel of same name. Sold in 1900 for River Thames river service.[68]
SS St Petersburg 1910 2,570 Built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank. A sister of the very successful "Copenhagen" for the HarwichHook of Holland service. Renamed Archangel in 1916 and used a cross-channel troop ship. Resumed service after the war and passed to LNER in 1923. The vessel was bombed and sank off Scotland in 1941.[61]
PS Suffolk 1895 245 Built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull and employed on local services and coastal excursions from Harwich. Used as a picket ship at Harwich from 1914 to 1918. re-opened her pre-war services in 1919. Withdrawn in 1931.[70]
SS Vienna 1894 1,753 Buily by Earle's Shipbuilding as a sister for "Amsterdam". Entered Hook of Holland service. Transferred to the Antwerp service in 1910. Renamed Roulers in 1920 when transferred to the HarwichZeebrugge route. Passed to LNER in 1923 and withdrawn in 1930.[58]
SS Yarmouth 1903 805 Built by Gourlay Brothers, Dundee, for the Rotterdam–Harwich cargo service. Sank with all hands in the North Sea on 27 October 1908.[75]
PS Zealous 1864 613 Built by J & W Dudgeon at Cubitt Town on the Thames. Served on the HarwichRotterdam and Antwerp routes. Scrapped in 1887.[72]

The GER also operated a number of ferries.[51][52][53][54][55]


The GER made every effort to maximise the capacity of its suburban carriages to deal with the rise in usage. In the early 1900s some four-wheeler carriages were cut in half longitudinally and a section inserted to make them wider in order to increase the capacity.[50] More bogied suburban trains followed in 1911 and were deployed on the Ilford, Gidea Park and Loughton services. By 1915 A. J. Hill instigated a policy of converting old four-wheel carriages into bogied stock and some 500 four-wheeled carriages were converted this way. The GER had a reputation for doing things on the cheap and this certainly was cheaper than building new stock.

In 1899 Holden built the first GER all bogied suburban train and although a success, the next one did not follow until 1911.

Interior design was spartan and around 1900 third-class passengers sat on bare boards five abreast, second-class passengers on cushions also five abreast, while first-class passengers sat four abreast and enjoyed more legroom. In 1899 James Holden produced the first six passengers sat abreast carriages in a 13-carriage, third-class only train (each carriage was 27 feet long and 9 feet wide and had five compartments). This set, which also included such modern features as slam lock doors and gas tail lamps became the model for future suburban carriage design.

In 1900 the majority of GER suburban trains were composed of four-wheeler carriages.

Body of GER 1380 4 Wheel Carriage, built 1892 at Stratford works for London suburban traffic (2010)


In 1899 Stratford Works produced four restaurant car sets consisting of three cars vestibuled together but without any corridor connections. This meant passengers had to spend the whole journey in the restaurant car. These were employed on services from Cromer and Yarmouth to Liverpool Street.

In 1891 the Great Eastern introduced the first restaurant car to its North Country Continental service.

Dining and restaurant

The introduction of Pullman cars to the GER was the idea of American General Manager Henry Worth Thornton. These were tried across the network and required payment of a supplementary fare. Unfortunately it was not a success although they were used on Liverpool Street - Harwich Continental trains for many years.


The livery of the stock was teak (effectively varnished wood) but in 1919 the decision was taken to paint all stock dark red. At the grouping in 1923 however all stock reverted to the teak livery.

In 1906 a new train set was produced for the North Country Continental train (see below) and in 1907 for the Norfolk Coast Express (see below). The latter was notable for being the first all corridor set built by Stratford Works.[49] However, with the restaurant sets built in 1900 being corridor coaches, more corridor coaches were being added to main line sets.

In 1904 Stratford produced a complete corridor train (this means a person can walk from the first to the last carriage whilst the train is moving). Despite the trend to bogied stock, Stratford still included three 6-wheeler carriages and a 4-wheeled luggage van in this formation. The other vehicles were all bogied stock and included a kitchen car. This train was also fitted for steam heating throughout and was employed on Liverpool Street - Parkeston Quay services.

Even by 1900 bogie coaches were rare on GER, with trains of six-wheelers being the norm. It was not until 1897 that the first bogie stock appeared, and these were a comparatively short 48 feet and 3 inches long. They contained two first-class compartments with lavatories sandwiched between four third-class compartments and a luggage compartment. The GER supplied separate luggage compartments for most of its main line stock. In 1900 an updated version had a corridor and third-class access to the lavatories but no corridor connections to other carriages.

Main line

Whilst not being at the forefront of carriage development, there were a number of interesting developments on the GER worth noting.[48]

Coaching stock

As of 2012 there are plans to build two replica steam locomotives - a class D15 4-4-0 (known as the Claud Hamilton class) and an F5 2-4-2T.[46][47]

Number GE class LNE class Wheel arrangement Location (2012)
BR 61572 S69 B12 4-6-0 North Norfolk Railway
GE 490 T26 E4 2-4-0 Bressingham Steam and Gardens
LNE 7564 Y14 J15 0-6-0 North Norfolk Railway
LNE 8217 G58 J17 0-6-0 Barrow Hill Engine Shed
GER 87 R24 J67 0-6-0T National Railway Museum, York
BR 69621 L77 N7 0-6-2T Colne Valley Railway
GER 225 GER Class 209 Y5 0-4-0T The Flour Mill, Lydney

The following GE locomotives are preserved:

J69 0-6-0T engine in GER livery and carrying headboard

Preserved locomotives

Class LNER
Wheel Arrangement Total Traffic type Running Numbers
S69 B12 4-6-0 70 Express Passenger 1500–1570
T19 D13 4-4-0 58 Passenger 700–779 1012–1039
S46 D14 4-4-0 21 Passenger 1862–1900
D56 D15 4-4-0 90 Passenger 1790–1899 Note D14/15 numbered in same series
T26 E4 2-4-0 100 Passenger 407–506
C32 F3 2-4-2T 50 Branch Passenger 1040–1099
M15 F4 2-4-2T 118 Suburban Passenger 71–189 211–244 572–591 650–679 791–800
M15 F5 2-4-2T 30 Suburban Passenger 91–96 100–110 141–147 170 179 188 589/90 780–788
G69 F6 2-4-2T 22 Suburban Passenger 1-10 61–70 789 790 Note F4/F5/F6 numbered in same series.
Y65 F7 2-4-2T 12 Passenger 1300–1311
S44 G4 0-4-4T 40 Suburban Passenger 1100–1139
N31 J14 0-6-0 18 Freight 604 951–998
Y14 J15 0-6-0 272 Freight 37–39 119–124 507–699 801–945
F48 J16 0-6-0 46 Freight 1150–1209
G58 J17 0-6-0 44 Freight 1153–1198 numbered in same series as J16. 1201–1239
E72 J18 0-6-0 10 Freight 1240–1249
T77 J19 0-6-0 25 Freight 1140–1149 1250–1269
D81 J20 0-6-0 25 Freight 1270–1294
E22 J65 0-6-0T 20 Shunting/Local Freight 150–159 245–254
T18 J66 0-6-0T 50 Shunting/Local Freight 275–326
R24 J67 0-6-0T 51 Shunting/Local Freight/Suburban Passenger 11–20 161 164 169 199–264 327–336 397–406
C72 J68 0-6-0T 20 Shunting/Local Freight/Suburban Passenger 21–30 41–50
R24 / S56 J69 0-6-0T 109 Shunting/Local Freight/Suburban Passenger 51–60 81–90 160–168 190–198 265–274 305 328 335 337–396
C53 J70 Tram 0-6-0T 12 Tram type shunting locos 125–139
J92 0-6-0T 3 Crane Tank engines B C and D were Stratford works shunters.
L77 N7 0-6-2T 12 Suburban Passenger 1000–1011
B74 Y4 0-4-0T 5 Dock/Works shunters 210 226–229
209 Y5 0-4-0T 4 Dock/Works shunters 209 0228 230 231
G15 Y6 0-4-0 tram 6 Dock/Works shunters 0125 0126 0129 132–134 - all allocated to Wisbech and Outwell tramway

Numbers of each GER locomotive class and running numbers (first and last numbers only) in 1922, prior to the 1923 Grouping. Note that the numbering is not necessarily contiguous:[15]

Locomotive stock (1923)

The Great Eastern locomotive livery was dark blue with red lining. Later on a grey livery was adopted.


Finally mention must be made of the Decapod which was the first 0-10-0T ever built in Britain, and possibly the only locomotive built for purely political purposes in order to block the passage through Parliament of a new rival scheme for an electric railway.

Shunting was generally in the hands of 0-6-0T locomotives although of note were the Class J70 tram engines employed at Ipswich docks and on the Wisbech and Outwell tramway. This class of locomotive was later the inspiration of the Reverend Awdry’s Toby the tram engine.

GER goods designs of this period were invariably 0-6-0 tender engines. The main freight class built by the GER was Worsdell’s Y14 (LNER J15) 0-6-0 class. 289 examples were produced between 1883 and 1913 with most being built at Stratford Works, although a small number were built by Sharp Stewart. On 10–11 December 1891, the Great Eastern Railway's Stratford Works built one of these locomotives and had it in steam with a coat of grey primer in just 9 hours 47 minutes; this remains a world record. The locomotive then went off to run 36,000 miles (57,936 km) on Peterborough to London coal trains before coming back to the works for the final coat of paint. It lasted 40 years and ran a total of 1,127,750 miles (205,594 km).[43] As freight traffic grew heavier after 1900, more 0-6-0 freight locomotives were built including classes F48 (LNER J16), E72 (LNER J18), G58 (LNER J17) and D81 (LNER J20); the Y14s, meanwhile, went into general local and branch line service, on both passenger and freight trains. The last Y14s ran until 1962, and no. 564 is preserved on the North Norfolk Railway;[44] and G58 no. 1217 (withdrawn 1962) is in the National Railway Museum, York.[45]

Mention should also be made of the T26 (LNER E4) 2-4-0s, which remained in service as the last locomotives of this wheel arrangement in Great Britain. Derived from the larger T19 2-4-0, 100 of these locomotives were built between 1891 and 1902 and worked a variety of trains across East Anglia. The last one, GER no. 490, was preserved as part of the National Collection when withdrawn in 1959. Today it resides at Bressingham Steam Museum, Norfolk.[41] Some of the T19s, incidentally, were rebuilt as 4-4-0s (class T19R) between 1905 and 1908, having been taken off express work by the "Claud Hamiltons". As LNER class D13, the last worked until 1944.[42]

Local suburban traffic was dealt with by numerous 2-4-2T and 0-6-0T locomotives belonging to several different classes. Stratford Engine Shed, for instance, had 163 2-4-2T engines of four classes. As trains got heavier, these locomotives were replaced by the Class L77 0-6-2T (LNER N7) designed by Alfred John Hill and introduced in 1915. 134 were built, including a number after the LNER took over in 1923; one is preserved. The 2-4-2Ts, of which none survive, were mostly cascaded out of suburban traffic by the 1940s and worked until the late 1950s on branch lines.

These locomotives were built to succeed the three classes of 4-4-0 employed by the GER on express services which were becoming heavier as the railways prospered. Classes S46, D56 and H88 (LNER D14, D15, and D16) were collectively nicknamed "Claud Hamiltons" because the first S46 (built at Straford in 1900, numbered 1900) was named after the then-current chairman of the GER, Lord Claud Hamilton. Most of the "Clauds" were later rebuilt by the LNER; the final one was withdrawn in 1960 and scrapped.[40]

Express services on the GER were latterly in the hands of the Class S69 (LNER class B12) 4-6-0 locomotives. Designed by James Holden and also known as the '1500 class', these engines were built at Stratford Works (51 engines) and William Beardmore (20 engines). Ten engines were later built for the London and North Eastern Railway by Beyer Peacock, and it is one of these locomotives that is preserved today.

Between 1880 and 1922 the Great Eastern produced some distinctive locomotives, and several of these have been preserved. Almost all of the Great Eastern’s locomotives were, after 1880, built at Stratford Works and many lasted until the end of steam on the Great Eastern.[39]

An official GER picture from 1902 showing CME James Holden alongside the unique 0-10-0T engine Decapod
GER Class T26 no 420 2-4-0 (later LNER Class E4)

1880 to 1922

However Bromley's first class of 4-2-2 locomotives were built by Dubs and Kitson with 12 allocated to Stratford and four each to Norwich and Yarmouth sheds. One of these locomotives was later equipped with oil-burning capabilities, but the increasing demands of railway traffic saw these engines withdrawn by 1893 after a relatively short life. Bromley also designed an 0-6-0 class which lasted some 24 years in traffic. He also designed the E10 0-4-4T class some of which were fitted with condensing gear and operated over the East London Line to New Cross and East Croydon.

Adams was succeeded by Massey Bromley who made the decision that henceforth more locomotives would be built at Stratford Works. Up to this point only 80 had been built.

The next Adams locomotive was the first UK 2-6-0 locomotive built in 1877. Another failure, this class of 15 locomotives were withdrawn after a working life of eight years, mostly working coal traffic between Peterborough and London.

The 0-4-4T 61 class was the first Adams engine, and these 50 engines were built for suburban traffic. Ten 0-4-2T locomotives (Class 61) followed between 1877 and 1879 and these lasted until 1907. Adams next design was a 4-4-0 class known as Ironclads. Unfortunately these were not very successful on passenger traffic and were soon deployed on freight workings.

The final locomotives introduced by Johnson were two C8 class 4-4-0 locomotives which were built with no engine brakes and no dedicated tenders. These locomotives, numbers 305 and 306, were frequently used on royal trains and finished their careers as station pilots at St Pancras and Liverpool Street.

The growth of London suburban traffic saw a requirement for additional tank engines. The GER borrowed some Metropolitan Railway 4-4-0T engines in the early 1870s and had 15 Class T7 class 0-4-2T engines built, followed by some 0-4-4T engines, one of which was the first locomotive to carry the distinctive GER Royal Blue livery.

Another more powerful 0-6-0 design followed in 1872/3 and was known as the 477 class. Introduced in 1872 and 1873, this 50-strong class was built by 5 different companies, and was notable for being the first GER engines with a six-wheeled tender. All were withdrawn between 1898 and 1902.

The next Johnson class was an 0-6-0 goods engine (Class 417) introduced in 1867 and 1868 and numbering 60 engines. A number of these engines had hinged chimneys for use through Silvertown tunnel on the North Woolwich line which had limited head room. Scrapping began in 1888 with the final locomotive withdrawn in 1899.

When Johnson took over as CME, the GER was so short of locomotives that he persuaded the North British Railway to let the GER have five locomotives of a 2-4-0 class being built by the Neilson, Reid & Co for them on loan. These formed the basis of the 40 strong 'little Sharpie' (or Number 1) class, with 10 being built by Stratford Works and the other 30 by Sharp Stewart hence the nickname. The GER was working many trains on the London Tilbury and Southend Railway at this time and the Sharpies were deployed on this traffic. The last two were withdrawn in 1913.

Generally Great Eastern locomotives carried a pea-green livery with black lining at this time.

Scrapping began in 1883 with the last two locomotives being withdrawn in 1894. The only other classes of locomotive that Sinclair designed were a 2-4-0T class of five engines built for the North Woolwich line and a class of 2-4-2T engines known as Scotchmen because they were built by Neilson,Reid & Co of Glasgow. Both classes entered service in 1864/65.

Sinclair's first design for the GER was the W class single drivers built between 1862 and 1867 by a number of engineering firms. Two of these locomotives were rebuilt from the 2-2-2 to a 4-2-2 configuration later in their lives and these two, plus one of the original locomotives, carried a canary yellow livery. Another member of this class carried a cream livery "encircled by garlands of roses" when it was used to haul a special train in 1863 for the Prince and Princess of Wales (Edward VII and Queen Alexandria after their marriage at Westminster Abbey. These locomotives were responsible for running express services on the Great Eastern and in later life worked the Cathedrals Express to Lincoln and York.

1862 to 1880

In 1859 Sinclair (CME of the Eastern Counties Railway and later first CME of the Great Eastern) started some form of standardisation with the Y Class 2-4-0 locomotives, of which 110 were built by various engineering firms (including one French firm). The last locomotives of this class were withdrawn in 1894.

Prior to 1862 the companies that had built the various parts of the network operated locomotives from a variety of engineering companies. Generally the wheel arrangements were 2-2-0 and 2-2-2 for most classes of locomotives. It was not until 1850 that the Eastern Counties Railway under Gooch built a locomotive at the then newly opened Stratford Works. Number 20 was the first of a class of six 2-2-2T locomotives (although three more were also built by R B Longridge and Co of Bedlington, Northumberland). Slightly bigger improved versions of the class followed in 1853 and 1854.

Prior to 1862


Rolling stock and other material

  • On 1 January 1915, an express passenger train overran signals and collided with a local passenger train at Ilford, Essex. Ten people were killed and over 500 were injured.
  • On 24 December 1891 an accident occurred at Barnby Box (between Beccles and Carlton Colville) with three killed and four injuries.[33]
  • On 25 September 1900 at Westerfield 0845, GER Class Y14 0-6-0 locomotive no 522 which was then just a year old stopped at a signal on the Ipswich side of the level crossing awaiting a route to the Felixstowe branch. Shortly afterwards the boiler exploded killing driver John Barnard and his fireman William Macdonald, both based at Ipswich engine shed. The boiler was thrown 40 yards forwards, over the level crossing and ended up on the down platform. Apparently the locomotive had a history of boiler problems although in the official report the Boiler Foreman at Ipswich Engine shed was blamed. The victims were buried in Ipswich cemetery and both their gravestones have a likeness of a Y14 0-6-0 carved onto them.[34][35]
  • On 5 April 1905 two trains collided on the junction directly north of Stratford Market station with the goods engine overturning and crushing its fireman William Secker. The driver of the other train had mistakenly started his train thinking the signal was in his favour.[36][37]
  • On 1 September 1905, an express passenger train was derailed at Witham, Essex due to a platelayer's error. Eleven people were killed and 71 were injured.
  • On 12 July 1913, an express passenger train collided with a light engine at Colchester, Essex due to a signalman's error. Three people were killed and fourteen were injured.[38]
  • On 26 September 1865 a light engine returning from Great Yarmouth to Ipswich derailed between Darsham and Halesworth killing the driver and fireman.[29]
  • On 3 September 1881 there was a collision at Bow Road where a train ran into the back of a stationary train which had failed at the station. The driver and fireman of the moving train were killed and 11 passengers injured. In the inquiry that followed the cause was deemed to be the failure of the signalman to protect the rear of the train by placing signals to danger. The train crew however were criticised in that while they had noticed the signals were not at danger, they had failed to inform the signalman. The guard of the failed train was criticised for not having properly protected the rear of that train.[30]
  • On 6 August 1889 there was an accident between Bishopsgate and Liverpool Street when an up passenger service ran into the back of a stationery empty coaching stock train. The enquiry was unable to determine the exact cause of the accident due to conflicting witness statements.[31]
  • On 17 October 1891, a passenger train was derailed at Lavenham, Suffolk. During recovery operations, a crane was derailed.[32]

Accidents and incidents

One of the more obscure services the GER offered was the delivery of sea water. This service started in the 1870s and by 1880 it was reported that 4,500 gallons had been delivered on a single day. A redundant steam locomotive was employed in the task at Lowestoft and a number of fish and open carriage wagons were converted to saltwater tanks. The trains ran to London where the water was distilled into three gallon barrels and sold for sixpence (pre decimalization - price c. 1880). The sea water was used in baths and was still running as late as 1910 although the exact final date of operation is unknown.[28]

There were a number of ports on the GER including King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Felixstowe and Parkeston Quay. Fish traffic emanated from Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

As the GER served a predominantly rural area, the majority of outward traffic was agricultural in nature. The opening of the Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint railway in 1882 gave the GER access to the coal fields in South Yorkshire and East Nottinghamshire and this became an important source of traffic for the railway.

Freight traffic

The GER also operated services from Liverpool Street via the East London Line to New Cross and New Cross Gate with some services being extended to East Croydon.

Royal trains were also worked from St Pancras to Sandringham in Norfolk, and race day trains to Newmarket also operated into St Pancras.

The GER ran a number of trains from Ely and Cambridge to St Pancras after the Midland Railway completed the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction Railway in 1880. in 1914 there were three express services from St Pancras to Cambridge (12:22 pm 2:40 pm and 5:05 pm) with the 12:22 pm reaching Cambridge in a creditable 71 minutes. Suspended during the First World War, these were briefly revived but stopped running in 1922.[20]

Other services

In 1865, when the Saffron Walden Railway opened, the GER provided some of its most modern rolling stock on opening day before reverting to stock of more dubious quality for general operation of the line.[10]

From Wickham Market the trains departed at 07:56, 09:35, 13:14, 17:52 and 19:10. All services except the 09:35 departure had a connection from London Liverpool Street.[27]

For instance in the July 1922 Bradshaws Timetable Guide, Table 316 showed five departures from Framlingham at 07:20, 08:30, 12:40, 16:25 and 18:30. All services had connections to London Liverpool Street. All trains called at the two stations on the branch, taking 18 minutes to get to the junction station at Wickham Market.[26]

Typically branch line services were worked by small tank engines usually with ancient carriages handed down from main line or suburban services. Generally many branch services would be timed to connect to services to the main line thus providing through journeys. Many rural branch lines had no more than a handful of services each day.

Branch line services

However whether all (or indeed any) of these trains carried nameboards in Great Eastern days is doubtful.

The Norfolk Coast Express operated between Cromer and Liverpool Street and a purpose-built train was built for this service in 1907. This was the first formation without six-wheeler carriages in the 12-car formation, which included eight carriages for Cromer, two for Sheringham and two for Mundesley. The portions were detached at North Walsham.

ENGINE+THIRD CLASS BRAKE+CORRIDOR THIRD+OPEN THIRD+KITCHEN AND OPEN FIRST+SEMI-OPEN FIRST+SIX WHEEL BRAKE (this constituted the York section). Then followed various corridor composite brakes followed each detached from the rear of the northbound train en route. These were for LIVERPOOL (detached Doncaster on the outward journey)+ LIVERPOOL + MANCHESTER(detached at Lincoln and routed via the Great Central routes) + BIRMINGHAM (via Midland Railway routes) + BIRMINGHAM (via London and North Western routes)(both of which were detached at March).[25]

The North Country Continental operated between Harwich and Manchester Picadilly usually being routed via March and the GNGEJR route. This train included the first restaurant car on the Great Eastern (in 1891) and this was also the first service in the UK to allow third-class passengers to dine. A new train set was built for this service in 1906 and generally operated in the following formation:

The Cathedrals Express operated from Liverpool Street via Cambridge, Ely, Lincoln and Doncaster to York. Three services were run each day although it was never a particularly well patronised service.[24]

Named trains

Turn round (train arrival to train departure) could be achieved in as little as four minutes.[23]

The Great Eastern was renowned for operating an intensive suburban service known as the "Jazz" service. The different classes on the trains were indicated by different coloured stripes which, in the parlance of the day, was regarded as jazzy. They were yellow for first class and blue for second class. The service was initially operated by 2-4-2T engines and these were later superseded by 0-6-2T engines of the N7 class. At Liverpool Street station alterations were made to the signalling so once a train had arrived and was emptying, an engine was attached to the other end of the train whilst the train engine was detached. When the train departed, the locomotive on the buffer stops moved to the locomotive siding at the other end of the platform to await the arrival of the next terminating service.[22]

Map dated 1914, showing, on the right, some of the north London branches of the Great Eastern Railway

Suburban services (the Jazz)

Boat trains commenced running to Harwich Parkeston Quay in 1882 and were timed at 1 hour 45 minutes from Liverpool Street. By 1895 this was down to 1 hour 30 minutes. In 1897 the 8:30 pm train was run as two separate trains - 8:30 pm for the Hook of Holland and 8:35 pm for Antwerp. With the introduction of the corridor restaurant cars in 1904, the time was eased to 87 minutes, but the introduction of the 1500 Sandringham 4-6-0 express engines in 1912 saw a running time of 82 minutes.[21]

Main line boat trains

In 1869 the situation had been reversed and it was quicker to get to Norwich via Cambridge (3 hours 30 minutes) compared to 4 hours 15 minutes via Ipswich. In 1870/1 the balance shifted back to the Ipswich route, with a time of 3 hours 35 minutes compared to 3 hours 53 minutes via Cambridge. By 1878 the Cambridge route was ascendent, with times of 3 hours 12 minutes for the fastest trains compared to a time of 4 hours 10 minutes via Ipswich. In the 1880s both routes had similar times, but by 1887 the Ipswich route offered a time of 2 hours 40 minutes which improved to 2 hours 31 minutes in 1897 and by a further five minutes in 1906.[20]

Because the route via Colchester had been built by a number of different companies, mostly in dubious states of financial stability, it was some years before the Colchester route rose to prominence. Then, as line speeds on this or the Cambridge line improved, the focus of the Norwich services would shift from one to another. On taking over the entire route in 1862, the GER improved speeds on the Colchester line so that Colchester was reached in 70 minutes (non-stop) and Yarmouth (via the East Suffolk route) could be reached in 3 hours 25 minutes. Norwich was 3 hours and 15 minutes via Ipswich and 4 hours via Cambridge.

In the early days of the GER the 5 p.m. departure from Shoreditch (the terminus before Liverpool Street) took 52 minutes to reach Bishop's Stortford (average speed 38.5 mph) and 92 to get to Cambridge.

Over the years the principal main line services between Norwich and Liverpool Street were routed via Ipswich or Cambridge, generally depending on the quickest journey time available. Before the GER was formed its predecessor the Eastern Counties Railway had a reputuation for speed second only to the Great Western and Great Northern Railways! From 1850 to 1855 Cambridge could be reached in 75 minutes (53.75 miles (86.50 km) from Stratford), a further 20 minutes to Ely (14 miles) and a further 55 minutes to Wymondham (43.5 miles) giving an average speed of 47.5 mph (76 km/h). There is some doubt as to the reliability of these times; as the writer Thackeray observed in The Lamentable Ballad of the Foundling of Shoreditch, "For even the Heastern Counties' trains must come in at last."

Main line

Operations and timetables

Manea signal box near March 
Attleborough Signal Box 

By 1997 there were still 90 of these in service, but with recent (2012) changes, and more changes expected.[19] , then it is unlikely that many will remain in service for much longer.

By 1886 timber boxes were being constructed again as well as brick examples but this - with some variation - was the last design for Great Eastern signal boxes.

The GER always allowed contractors a certain amount of freedom within their specified design, and three early types evolved built by Saxby & Farmer, Stevens or McKenzie & Holland. By 1877 the GER were consolidating their own design, which featured a gabled roof, with large overhang, and weatherboarding. Windows were always two panes high in this design. A more ornate style of construction replaced this type in 1882, but this did not last long - the GER was never a rich railway. By 1883 brick boxes were being built to a plainer design, although 1884 saw some ornateness returning. For instance, March West box contained mock stonework in the gables, fancy window design and decorated bargeboards.

Signal boxes

Stratford Works and Ipswich lasted until the 1990s but Temple Mills closed in 1983.

Another wagon works was located at Ipswich (adjacent to the engine shed south of the tunnel).


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