Of all the grandiose railway schemes proposed in Britain in the nineteenth century, few match the audacity of the Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway.
Its original Act of 1891 authorised a 170-mile line from Warrington in Lancashire to Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire, together with extensive docks at each terminus, crossing the paths of every major main line to the North in the hope of carrying substantial traffic east and west from new collieries opening on the concealed coalfield in east Nottinghamshire.
In fact, only the section between Chesterfield and Lincoln was built. It opened in 1897, along with a branch to Sheffield in 1900. It was sold to the Great Central Railway in 1907 without ever paying a dividend.
Driven by Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coal-owners’ desire to exploit their untapped mineral resources, it would have involved audacious engineering over the Peak District, including a three-hundred-foot viaduct topping the existing sixty-three-foot viaduct at Monsal Dale.
Most of what was built has disappeared – the main station at Chesterfield Market Place, the sixty-three-foot high viaduct at Horn’s Bridge on the outskirts of Chesterfield, which crossed two rivers, two roads and two railway lines within a couple of hundred yards, and the notoriously unstable 2,642-yard Bolsover Tunnel.
The line west of Langwith Junction closed in 1951 when Bolsover Tunnel became impassable, and passenger services on the remaining section ended in 1955. Freight traffic over parts of the route continued until 2015.
The only part of the line still in use is now Network Rail’s High Marnham Test Track, reopened in 2009 between Thoresby Colliery Junction and Dukeries Junction. Beyond that, almost all the way to the end of the LD&ECR at Pyewipe Junction, the trackbed is now part of the National Cycle Network.
And on that stretch is the only surviving substantial engineering monument of this bravura piece of railway building – Fledborough Viaduct, 59 brick arches and four girder spans, in total just over half a mile long, crossing the River Trent and its wide flood plain at no great height.
There had to be a viaduct at this point because of the Trent’s propensity to flood. An embankment would have acted as a dam and caused serious flooding upstream.
On the west bank of the Trent High Marnham Power Station opened in 1962 and the railway supplied it with coal until a derailment in 1980 led to a temporary closure that became permanent.
The power station in turn closed in 2003 and was finally demolished in 2012.
The cycle trail is the best way to appreciate the scale of Fledborough Viaduct, which is difficult to see from any public road.
The best view of the Viaduct is from the river path at High Marnham, where the Brownlow Arms [https://www.thebrownlowarms.co.uk] marks the existence of a now-vanished ferry.
The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2018 ‘Waterways and Railways of the East Midlands’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.