Sir Edward Watkin became chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1864; Watkin was a politician and railway administrator of many other companies besides the MS&L, and had great influence, as well as great visions for the companies he helped handle. The MS&L at this time did have London traffic, but it was handled by the neighboring Midland Railway and Great Northern Railway, the company not having its own mainline into the capital. For Watkin, this was a definition of unacceptable, and when he became chairman of one of London’s suburban railway systems, the Metropolitan Railway in 1872, he determined that if the Midland Railway and Great Northern Railway weren’t interested in absorbing the MS&L, that the simplest course of action was to build the company its own mainline into the capital, connecting with the Metropolitan and, at the back of his mind, a channel tunnel to Europe.
The company however, was not rich; no matter how much Watkin persisted, even trying to tempt the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway with a joint line to London wasn’t enough to turn things his way. It was only after a long push against his fellow directors in the company at the close of the 1880s that they finally accepted Watkin’s proposals, only after he told them that dividend’s as high as six percent could be seen if they reached London. In 1891 a survey was ordered, and submitted to Parliament.
It was proposed that the line would border the Midland Railway, before on the outskirts of London joining up with the Metropolitan Railway and using the tracks to reach a new terminus station. As soon as the proposal was submitted however, there was fierce opposition; the Midland Railway and Great Northern Railway were opposed to losing the traffic, as were some distinguished artists that the line was to make its way past, in a similar vain to lines built years earlier where the wealthy were worried of their view being spoiled; such were Victorian attitudes.
The biggest opponent however ended up being, of all things, cricketers! The very idea of their pitches being disturbed was enough to get the bill thrown out of Parliament entirely. A year later Watkin tried again, this time sweetening the deal with neighboring companies by offering joint running agreements and associated joint lines. He also realized that the cricketers would be his biggest threat, and went to even greater lengths to please them. No spoil would be carried past the cricket fields, the land would not be disturbed, and certain properties that would have be demolished to make way for the railway would be gifted to the cricket clubs. High society certainly enjoyed being pampered. The act was passed in 1893, and after financiers like Alexander Henderson committed to backing the project, work began in 1894.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances (Watkin suffering a stroke and being forced to retire, as well as being replaced on the Metropolitan which did not want to have the company taking over their running lines) the MS&L was forced to go about things differently, digging tunnels to create the approach and resulting in the company having their own lines running directly alongside the Metropolitan for a greater distance then intended. In 1897, it was decided the company needed a name change to something a little less clunky, and duly became the Great Central Railway.
As stated, the MS&L was not a rich company, and by this point really was not able to afford much; in fact the terminus was halfway constructed! The 4 running in lines that exist today were the only ones ever constructed, with land adjacent to the station being bought up for future expansion should use of the station increase to expected level, no architect was even hired to design the station building, instead the features of the station itself were designed by H.W. Braddock of the company’s engineers staff. Similarly affected were new locomotives and coaching stock to be built to cater to the extension, all of which had to be bought by setting up a Rolling Stock Trust Company which then sold them to the new GCR under a hire purchase agreement.
The station building itself was very much made up with the intention to add more platforms and running in lines; it’s a bigger space then there needs to be for only 4 platforms. The booking hall for instance is a concourse 100 feet wide and 289 feet long, over twice the width of the platforms and tracks! The land the GCR had bought up was enough to accommodate 10 more lines. The extension was mostly completed by the summer of 1898, with trains running on July 25. Inauguration of the route took place on March 9 1899, where it was quietly remarked that there would probably never be another mainline terminus built in London, and indeed there wasn’t. The heaviest loads for that day only carried 34 paying customers, and for the first few weeks only 2 of the platforms were used.
The primary concern for the GCR was enticing passengers; to this end they simply made their services more attractive than that of neighboring companies serving the same cities. All express trains had electrically lit corridor carriages, as well catering via a restaurant or buffet car, the latter of which were the first to be seen in Great Britain; despite this, there were only 11 trains each way daily.
For the first few years of operation station staff would outnumber the amount of paying customers, and the staff would more often be seen playing cards or reading a book rather than their jobs, simply because there was nothing for them to do. In fact things only began to seriously change when Sam Fay was hired on as the company’s General Manager; Fay pushed heavy advertising for the company, and increased the standard of the train services even higher then they currently were. Fay would often come up with the marketing ideas, and the Chief Mechanical Engineer J.G. Robinson would design locomotives and rolling stock to suit those needs, creating an extremely effective partnership.
Marketing proved the be difficult to places such as Manchester and Sheffield, where the neighboring London North Western Railway and Great Northern Railway had the quicker routes respectively, the Great Central could however easily compete for Leicester and Nottingham; train speeds were increased to the respective cities, but very soon calmed down after the “new London extension” had faded from the headlines.
Very quickly the GCR was not happy having to share tracks with the Metropolitan to get into London; it proved to be difficult for both companies to accommodate each-other on the same lines, and the route of Marylebone proved to be taxing, all trains leaving on a gradient. As a result the GCR accepted a proposal from the Great Western to create joint lines, resulting in the GCR having an alternative route out of Marylebone at the expense of only 4 extra miles, the only caveat being the GWR not allowing the GCR to build an extension to Birmingham.
These new joint lines out of London proved to be a savior for the station, suburban services were overhauled with modern, electrically lit coaching stock, as well as new locomotives to pull the trains; this was combined with another one of Fay’s publicity campaigns, enticing businessman to buy properties outside of London and served by the GCR. Similarly to the Metropolitan, the GCR is heavily tied to creation of suburbia as we know it today. The London Underground was extended from Baker Street to Marylebone in 1907, further pushing the station’s use for suburban traffic.
The GCR became part of the London North Eastern Railway in 1923, and the only change was that more services used the old line rather than the joint line out of London. From this year onwards one of Marylebone’s main uses was for cup final day, the station being the closest to the new Wembley Stadium, the station becoming so busy that the LNER had to increase the signaling to the running lines to cope. The station survived the second world war intact, but the same could not be said for the goods yard which ended up being entirely razed to the ground by German bombs; the tunnels leading out of the station were damaged as well, leading to station being closed for October and November of 1940.
When nationalization came, the new British Railways concentrated all services from High Wycombe and Princes Risborough at Marylebone, each destination having a slow and fast train each hour of the day; these services were however removed in 1951 and never saw reinstatement. Two named trains were also introduced at this time, the first the Great Central had ever seen; The Master Cutler to serve Sheffield, and The South Yorkshireman to serve Bradford. Both these services only managed to last for 10 years before getting the axe.
Diesel multiple units began to make an entrance in 1960, and 2 years later had taken over all the suburban services; at the same time all semi-fast services were withdrawn from Sheffield, Manchester and Bradford, leaving only the ones to Leicester and Nottingham, but shorn of all refreshment facilities. Rundown of services continued to the point that by 1966, all steam disappeared from Marylebone, as well as its title of a mainline station on September 4, with the arrival of a parcels service.
By the 1980s, Marylebone was only served by local passenger services and closure was on the table, between 1983 and 1984 proposals were submitted to shut down the station and convert it into a bus station! These faces heavy opposition from both the public and local authorities and after a 2 year legal battle were quietly dropped.
When British Railways split up its passenger operations into different sections, Marylebone became part of Network Southeast, when the Travelcard (a type of ticket that can be used over multiple railway lines rather than having to buy several) was introduced for use at Marylebone; almost overnight the passenger numbers doubled, the station taking in the excess passenger numbers from nearby Paddington and Baker Street, eliminating all talks of closure in one fell swoop.
In 1986, a grant of 85 million pounds was granted for Marylebone’s refurbishment and modernization, partially funded by finally selling off the land the Great Central had purchased for future expansion. Run down lines were renovated with new signaling, modern diesel multiple units were introduced for services from the station, and through services were reinstated.
Today Marylebone just seems like any other London station, just as busy, but smaller than anything else. After spending so many years fighting off run down, closure, and figuring out its identity, Marylebone has settled down into a role that it wasn’t intended to fit, but has done so comfortably, and is if it should have been there all along.