A Brief History of the GER

The early years of the GER were dogged by financial problems but a large share issue was promoted and raised £3 million which solved the issue and finance was never such a problem again.

Various branches were built in the 1860s but an interloper appeared at this time - the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway. This concern remained independent until 1923 but was too small to pose any sort of threat.

The shortcomings of the Bishopsgate terminus were becoming profound and in 1865 a Bill was passed to create a new, more central terminus which eventually became known as Liverpool Street. It took quite some time to clear the route and complete the construction work; the first part opened in 1874 and the remainder, the following year. It was thought by many to be an oversized extravagance, but such was the success of the railway's operation that within less than twenty years it had been nearly doubled in size. More suburban branches were opened during the course of the station's construction. Once Liverpool Street was operational, the former terminus became Bishopsgate Goods station. Old tenement buildings were purchased and demolished to make way for the extension and station building and their occupants moved further out in the suburbs. A condition laid down by Parliament was to provide two early morning and two early evening trains to various locations for a return fare of twopence so that these people would not be unduly disadvantaged. By the turn of the century, these trains had grown in number to 23 from as far afield as Enfield. In addition to these trains, a half fare only was charged on all trains reaching Liverpool Street before 8:00 am. Other innovative fares were also offered. For a while, there was a connection, in a tunnel, with the MetR to enable their trains to use platforms 1 & 2 at Liverpool Street until their own station could be built. This link was last used by an excursion train in 1904.

In 1891, restaurant cars were introduced on the "North Country Continental" service between Harwich and York. For the first time in the UK, these were available for 3rd class passengers. By 1913, restaurant cars were included on so many trains, especially those leaving Liverpool Street at tea time, that no other railway surpassed it; the quality of the food and service was excellent.

Two light railways were opened in the early 1900s, the Kelvedon and Tollesbury and the Elsenham and Thaxted, neither were very successful.

In the early years of the 20th century, various schemes were mooted for the construction of electric railways which would be in direct competition with the GER. All failed for one reason or another, more of which later. However, the electric street trams were taking suburban traffic from the GER and the management were aware that something had to be done, again more information will be found later on.

In 1908, there was a proposed amalgamation with both the GNR and Great Central Railway (GCR) but Parliament imposed such onerous conditions that the Bill was withdrawn. It is ironic that within 15 years, Parliament would actually impose an even more wide ranging amalgamation.

An unforeseen blow took place in 1912; the MR took over the LT&SR, the negotiations had been kept secret; the move adversely affected the GER trade with the London Docks; it no longer held a monopoly. The General Manager, Walter Hyde was made a scapegoat and resigned office. A new General Manager, Henry Thornton, was appointed, who was to make a significant mark on the railway. Thornton was an American, previously General Superintendent of the Long Island Railroad. He brought a totally new style of management to the railway. He brought in Irishman John Miller with whom he had previously worked. Miller was an engineer and eventually became GER Chief Civil Engineer and later held a similar post in the North Eastern area of the LNER. An early result of Thornton's management was the setting up of a timetable committee; members came from various sectors of the railway's operation including S&T and Stratford Works. The committee's work was totally disrupted by the outbreak of war.

During the First World War, Thornton took various posts relating to the war effort and gained the rank of Major General. He was knighted for his war service.

After the War, Thornton, appreciating the need for a better suburban service put a team together to plan improvements. At an early stage, electrification was ruled out as not being cost beneficial. The main player in the team was FV Russell (from the design team at Stratford) also included were AJ Hill (Locomotive Superintendent) and HW Firth (Electrical Engineer). More detail of this very ambitious and successful plan will be found later.

At the time of the Grouping, Thornton was not in immediate line to take the same post with the LNER and he left to become President of the Canadian National Railway.


Thank you to Richard Barron for the above information.