Smoke & Mirrors


Former Great Northern Railway 0-6-2T No.1744, polished to a mirror and wreathed in smoke, sorry steam, catches the first rays on a cold and frosty day on the Great Central Railway. The Great Northern Railway, everything was ‘great’ in railways, back in Victorian times, Great Western, Great Eastern, there was even a Great North of England Railway – bit obscure that one but, it does have a modern echo in the initials GNER, the one time franchise holder for the East Coast route from London to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The echo, echoes, to another tune too – the Great North of England Railway, or rather shady share dealings in it, brought down the ‘Railway King’ George Hudson. The funny bit is that the modern day GNER spent £2 million to come up with the initials GNER, trumpeted that they would become as respected as those of the LNER, yet seemed to have no idea these self same intitials, GNER, were attached to one of the biggest financial scandals in railway history.

The strange thing to modern ears, in the saga of Victorian railway chicanery, is that it was a clash between the ‘business principals’ of Hudson on the one hand and those of the Quaker founding fathers of the Stockton & Darlington on the other. Hudson resorted to illegal share dealings to try and get his way and lost – and where are GNER now, sunk by hubris, buried by debt.

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