Golden age of railways with 22 stations in the Market Harborough area

The original Market Harborough station, in 1880. (picture from Leicestershire Heritage Services)
The original Market Harborough station, in 1880. (picture from Leicestershire Heritage Services)

When Market Harborough is mentioned in all those “nice place to live” guides, they always highlight the useful railway station.

But while what we’ve got today is good – and being improved by the £54m railway upgrade project – it’s a basic service, compared with the network the town and the Harborough district used to have.

The railway bridge on Rushes Lane in Lubenham with two archways and two levels of road.'PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER NNL-181109-164858005

The railway bridge on Rushes Lane in Lubenham with two archways and two levels of road.'PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER NNL-181109-164858005

In the Golden Age of Railways – as a 1947 railways map shows – the busy town station was a railway hub, with lines heading off in six different directions, rather than the two directions we have today.

What’s more, people living in the district and nearby – say within a 15 miles radius of Market Harborough – could catch a train from at least 22 different stations.

Market Harborough is now the sole station survivor. It used to be very different...

It was May 1, 1850, when the railway arrived in Market Harborough; built into the town from Rugby by the London and North Western Railway company (LNWR). The original station was slightly north of the one we see today.

Ashley station is now a house called Welland Bank.'PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER NNL-181109-164810005

Ashley station is now a house called Welland Bank.'PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER NNL-181109-164810005

Those first steam train journeys to Rugby would have taken 40-45 minutes, stopping at stations en-route including Theddingworth and Welford & Kilworth.

The same line then reached east from the town to Luffenham station in Rutland, where it joined the Midland Railway’s Peterborough line.

Market Harborough, now linked to west and east, was on the railway map at last. The railway boom had started.

In 1857, Midland Railway opened a north-south line which came from Leicester and went on to Kettering; an LNWR line to Northampton opened two years later.

No Caption ABCDE NNL-181109-164709005

No Caption ABCDE NNL-181109-164709005

By 1885 the old station was demolished and the current one built, jointly owned by MR and LNWR companies. The station had up to six platforms, accessed by subways.

Inside, the station building was mirror-like, with passengers turning right for MR tickets, or left for LNWR. A stationmaster lived above.

Where were these travellers going? Well, from Market Harborough you could take a train on six different lines...

(1) The line north-west to Leicester (still in use), via long-gone stations at East Langton, Kibworth and Great Glen.

(2) The line north to Melton Mowbray – the first to close in 1957 – via stations at Hallaton, East Norton and Tilton.

(3) East to Peterborough (line gone), via stations at Ashley and Rockingham. Medbourne station had its own link line between (2) and (3)

(4) South-east to Kettering (still inuse) via Desborough and Glendon & Rushton stations (both gone).

(5) South to Northampton (now a cycle track), via stations like Clipston, Kelmarsh and Lamport. Last to close, in 1981.

(6) West to Rugby (gone) via stations including Lubenham, Theddingworth and Welford.

Lutterworth also had a station on the Great Central line – closed in 1969 – linking it south to Rugby; north to Leicester, via Ashby Magna.

Finally a now-vanished line linked the Melton line to Leicester, with stops at 
Ingarsby and Thurnby & Scraptoft.

Between the wars, more than 200 staff were needed to control Market Harborough’s complex rail lay-out and around 250 trains a day.

They included 100 freight trains, serving the agriculturally rich Welland Valley with its cattle, sheep, milk and crops and its coal and iron ore traffic, as well as daily goods, post and papers .

- Help and research by Phillip Baildon. Research by Fred Hartley, Stephen G. Abbott, Vic Mitchell, Keith Smith.