On Monday 2nd June 1845, the first train steamed into the East Station in the north of the parish of Fletton on the Blisworth to Peterborough line. (1) However, the arrival of the railway in Peterborough was not easily achieved.
It was on the 4th June 1825 that the Helpston poet, John Clare, recorded in his diary that he had come across ‘3 fellows’ in Royce Wood who were laying out a plan for an ‘iron Railway’ from Manchester to London. (2) These men were surveyors working for the London Northern Railway Company. The proposed route from London would take in Ware, Cambridge, Peterborough, Oakham, Loughborough before progressing through Derbyshire to Manchester via Stockport. The company was only established in 1824 but the financial crisis of 1825 meant that the project was abandoned. This route was resurrected, with extension lines to Cromford and York, in 1830, by the London Northern Railway. But again, the plans did not come to fruition.
It would be six years until the next railway company, the Norwich and Leicester Railway, proposed to bring the railways to Peterborough. Their proposition was to link the Eastern Counties Railway at Norwich with the Midland Counties Railway at Leicester. There would also be connections to Nottingham and Derby. Once again promises turned to failure and the plans were shelved.
At a public meeting held at the Peterborough Town Hall, in December 1842, a delegation from Northampton proposed that the London and Birmingham Railway build a line along the Nene Valley between Blisworth and Peterborough. Given the history of the previous attempts to bring the railway to Peterborough, it would not have been surprising if the hopes of the delegation were not overly high. In the event the vote was in their favour, 300 to 6.
Opposition to the proposed plan came predominantly from three sources. Firstly, the nearby town of Stamford. Stamford lies 14 miles north of Peterborough and traditionally felt themselves superior to their smaller neighbour. Stamford was more connected to the outside world as it sat on the Great North Road and in 1821 Stamford’s population was 6,237 whereas Peterborough’s was 4,598. At the vote, the local magnate Lord Exeter remained neutral. Secondly, the Trustees of the road from Peterborough to Wellingborough, and another turnpike that the railway would cross, expressed their concern that they would lose income and traffic to a railway which had no ‘sufficient and compensating advantage’ to it. Thirdly, in a report from the Committee on the Peterborough to Northampton Railway Bill it was noted that local landowners such as the Duke of Dorset, the Earl Fitzwilliam and other minor interests, such as Thomas Atkinson Esq, made petitions. (3) Issues raised in their petitions included; that the railway was not called for by ‘public necessity’, that it would ‘intersect valuable meadows’ that were prone to flooding, that there would be ‘injury to mills’, that they would be ‘insufficiently compensated, that their residences ‘would be prejudiced by the railway’, and that the line would ‘traverse a thinly peopled district’. What was perhaps nearer to the truth was that the Duke of Dorset and the Earl Fitzwilliam favoured a scheme of their own, passed in 1836 the Northern and Eastern Railway which planned to build a line from London to Cambridge and onward to York.
The Northampton and Peterborough railway received Royal assent on 4th July 1843. It was a hard worn victory, being carried by only one vote, 52 against 51. (4) Fortunately, for opposers of the line terminating in the Fair Meadow, on the west of the London Road, on the 4th July 1844 the Eastern Counties Railway received its Act for their Ely to Peterborough line. There was no point in building two stations, especially as both companies required access to the others. So, the Eastern Counties built its station, on the edge of the Fair Meadow, on the east of London Road and the Northampton and Peterborough railway constructed an extra 28 chains of track into the station that they shared with the Eastern Counties.
Peterborough East Station was only known as this from 1923. Until that date, from it’s birth on the 2 June 1845, the station was known as Peterborough. On timetables from 1862 it was referred to as Peterborough (GE).
Photograph (Peterborough) East Station, 1845. , Saturday, June 14, 1845, p. 380, issue 163.
2. P. Waszak, Rail Centres, (Ian Allan Ltd, 1984), p. 6.
3. Northampton Mercury, 15 April 1843.
4. Lincolnshire Chronicle, 30 June 1843.