© Railway Wonders of the World 2012-23  |  Contents  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  | Cookie Policy

The “Twenty Fives”, LMSR

More Famous Trains of the LMS


LMS Standard Compound 4-4-0 locomotive No. 1112

LMS Standard Compound 4-4-0 locomotive No. 1112. Considerable numbers of these locomotives have been built recently by the LMS at their Derby Works and by outside builders.

SUCH a title as this, if announced two or three months ago, would, I fancy, have aroused no small speculation among readers as to what particular trains could be referred to. It was suggested to me by the name of a booklet recently published by the LMS, called “The Track of the 25’s” describing the route over which these expresses run. I will relieve your curiosity to some extent straightaway by explaining that “25” refers to minutes; the trains about to be described leave their terminal, station at 25 minutes past the hour.

“Systematic” timetables are no novelty. Their purpose is to relieve as far as possible the intending passenger from the trouble of consulting timetables by giving him a train service at exactly even intervals. On a suburban route, and especially a route without many branches, this is a comparatively simple matter, but on a main line it is not so easy. Connections and through carriages, the necessity of giving better services to some intermediate towns than to others (involving more stops in some schedules than in others), freight train movements, and many other factors, all tend to upset systematic working.

One of the oldest systematic train services in existence in this country is that connecting Liverpool and Manchester on the Cheshire Lines. For many years an express has been provided over this route in both directions at even hourly intervals, leaving the two extremities at hall-past each hour and taking 45 minutes on the journey. In more recent years other railways have extended the practice to long-distance main line services. First of all the London and South Western Railway tried it, expresses being arranged to leave Waterloo for the West Country at the even hours; for Southampton and Bourne-mouth at the half-hours, and for Portsmouth at 10 minutes to the hour. Since the Southern group has been formed, similar arrangements have been made on the Central and Eastern Divisions, with trains from Victoria to Brighton at 35 minutes past the hour; from Charing Cross to Folkestone and Dover at a quarter past, and so on.

Then the Great Western followed suit, establishing what is in some respects the most completely systematic timetable of all the groups, seeing that departures from many important towns for London are as systematically arranged as those out of Paddington. For the West of England you leave London at 30 minutes past the hour; for Birmingham and the North at 10 past; for South Wales at five minutes to, and for the West Midlands at a quarter to. Similarly you leave Birmingham for Paddington at the even hours; Cardiff and Bristol at a quarter past the hour, and Newport at 35 minutes past, with certain exceptions.

It is not possible, of course, to make all these expresses take the same times on their journeys, as some make more stops than others; so that the arrivals are not as systematic as the departures. Systematic departure times are the more important of the two, however, and are greatly appreciated by business men and others making frequent use of the trains.

Thus far the two Northern railway groups have not been seized with the desirability of this arrangement of timetables - although it could certainly be put into force without great difficulty on some of the most important business services between London and the Midlands and North - save only for the train service that I am about to describe. A good many years ago the Midland Railway, whose express trains from London Manchester left at fairly even intervals, decided to reduce the down service to systematic departures and the departure time selected was 25 minutes past the hour. So now you can leave St. Pancras for Manchester at 2.25 a.m. (the newspaper train); 4,25, 8.25, 10.25 in the morning, and 12.25, 2.25, 4.25 and 6.25 in the afternoon and evening. Three of these expresses - the 10.25, 12.25, and 2.25 - are booked to take exactly four hours on the journey of 190 miles; the others, with additional stops, take longer.

Every one of the “25’s” stops at both Leicester and Derby. In pre-war days the 10.15 a.m. from Manchester to London for a long period ran non-stop over the 170 miles from Chinley to St. Pancras, while various other expresses made a non-stop break between Manchester and Leicester, in all these cases using the avoiding line at Derby between Nottingham Road and Spondon stations. In this manner the best pre-war time between St. Pancras and Manchester was 3 hours, 40 minutes. But since the grouping, with the easier and faster Western Division route from Euston to Manchester available to LMS pass-engers, there has not been the same need for haste over the Midland route; and the growing importance of both Leicester and Derby makes it undesirable that either of these towns should be given the “go-by”. Thus it is, as mentioned in the last paragraph, that the best Midland time to Manchester has now gone up to four hours.

Up Manchester-London Express hauled by LMS 4-4-0 Compound

Up Manchester-London Express hauled by LMS 4-4-0 Compound locomotive No. 1029.

The set of coaches used on the chief Midland Manchester trains is usually of the same formation. From the engine backward on the down journey, you will find a third-class brake, two open third-class coaches, a kitchen car, an open first-class coach, and a first-class brake - six vehicles in all. The open cars flanking the kitchen on each side form the restaurant accommodation, but passengers are allowed to travel in them throughout the journey if they so desire.

On many of the “25’s” additional vehicles are provided. For instance, the 10.25 a.m. and 12.25 p.m. carry portions for Manchester (Victoria) and Liverpool. This in the former case comes off at Derby, to be transferred to the slower 9.25 a.m. from St. Pancras, which the 10.25 has overhauled en route at Kettering. The 12.25 and the 2.25 p.m. have through coaches for Buxton detached from the former at Derby and from the latter at Chinley. The 4.25 p.m. works on the rear an additional dining car for Manchester; the car has come south from Manchester to London at 8.55 a.m, and as there are more dining-car trains in the southbound than in the northbound direction, this is the only convenient way of returning the car concerned to its starting point. And then the 8.25 a.m, dignified in consequence by the high-sounding title of “Continental Boat Express”, carries next the engine a through coach from Tilbury Marine Station, in connection with the steamer from Dunkerque. In front of this, again, there is attached at Derby a through vehicle from Nottingham.

Generally speaking, therefore, the “25’s” are heavier south of Derby than they are north of that point. This is fortunate, as, although all the fastest running of the journey must be performed between Derby and St. Pancras, and more especially south of Leicester, by far the hardest climbing has to be performed between Derby and Manchester. Here the “25’s” have to penetrate the heart of the Peak District, breasting a maximum altitude above the sea of no less than 880 ft at Peak Forest Station. It is of interest to note that this summit falls short of the more famous Shap, the West Coast main line to Scotland, by only 35 ft and. what is more, the worst of the climbing is spread over no more than 14½ miles, from Rowsley, as compared with the 24½ miles from Milnthorpe up to Shap Summit.

Seeing that nothing of greater power than the 4-4-0 Midland compounds are employed for working these trains, the merit of the locomotive work entailed on these journeys is further enhanced, In order to enable time to lie maintained, however, the loads per engine have to be rigidly restricted. Between St. Pancras and Derby the compounds are not generally allowed to work more than nine or ten bogie vehicles on the fastest timings; between Derby and Manchester about eight going north and seven coming south constitute a maximum load. With Driver Poole - one of the best-known men at Derby shed - I have known nine worked south from Cheadle Heath to Derby to time by an unpiloted compound, over the hardest gradients of the whole route, but this is quite an exception and none but an expert crew could have done it.

We have now to make our customary trip over the route of the “25’s”, and with such a wealth of trains at our command, it is perhaps difficult to choose the one that will give us the most interesting journey. On the whole I am inclined to favour the 12.25 p.m. down. The load out of St. Pancras is regularly nine bogie coaches, and as only one of these is dropped at Derby - the through coach for Matlock and Buxton which follows us on a slower train - there are still eight to haul over the mountains of the Peak. Two more, for Liverpool, come off when we stop at Cheadle Heath, eight miles short of Man-chester, so that we finish the journey with one of the standard sets of six vehicles, to which reference has already been made. As it is now mid-winter, also, we shall have the advantage of completing the whole trip in daylight, which will enable us to see some of the finest scenery in England that can be commanded from the window of a railway carriage.

Arriving at St. Pancras just after midday, we ascend into what is, in reality, the roof of the station, in order to find our train. As I explained in a previous article, the ties of the magnificent “all-over” roof at St. Pancras are beneath the platforms, so that the trains are virtually running up in the attic! The main portion of the building, beneath the platforms, is an enormous beer storage. It is said that one of the units of measurement employed in the design of the lower portion of the station was the dimensions of a barrel of beer, in order that the maximum possible accommodation might be available for the liquid products of the town of Burton-on-Trent! We find our train at No. 3 platform, and must be careful not to get into the three rear coaches, or we may get left behind at Derby or Cheadle Heath.

The engine is, of course, one of the familiar Midland compounds. The high-speed services of the Midland have been developed with the use of 4-4-0 locomotives exclusively, and the Midland main lines have now the distinction of being the only ones in Britain on which - except on rare occasions - no more powerful engines than those of this wheel arrangement appear on the express trains. Fast and frequent service has always been the Midland motto, and, as we have already seen, rigid load limitation is necessary over such grades in order to make time-keeping possible in these conditions. But for a train such as that on which we are about to travel it would be difficult to find a more suitable type of engine, both for efficiency and for economy, than our 4 4-0 compound.

An imposing view of the St. Pancras Hotel

An imposing view of the St. Pancras Hotel. The Railway Station may be seen on the extreme left of this fine Gothic structure.

The run now before us falls short of the “century” in its length by just under a mile. For this distance of 99 miles and a fraction the faster “25’s” are allowed 109 minutes, which means an average speed of 54.6 m.p.h. Before the War the best down trains made the run in three minutes less, but they were considerably lighter than the nine-coach formation behind our engine, which weighs empty about 250 tons, and with passengers and luggage fully 265 or 270 tons. We are enabled to make a good start, however, by the aid of the locomotive that has brought in our empty coaches. This gives us a good “shove” in rear until we are well clear of the platform at St. Pancras.

There is plenty of “collar-work” before the engine in the first 21 miles of the run, but fortunately there are several breaks in the continuity of the climbing, which act as “breathers” for our hard-worked locomotive. First we rise, largely through tunnel (Haverstock Hill Tunnel is just over a mile in length), for five miles to Cricklewood, on a gradient mostly between 1 in 160 and 180. Then there follow 1½ miles falling at 196 to the point of crossing the reservoir which, from its peculiar shape, is known as the “Welsh Harp”. Just before Hendon we shall attain our first maximum of 60 miles an hour, or slightly under. Beyond Hendon there begins a rise at between 1 in 161 and 176 for five miles to Elstree Station, which we should top at between 45 and 48 m.p.h. or so, in preparation for the second brief descent, dropping at 1 in 200 for three miles to just beyond Radlett. Here the speed may be expected to reach 67 or 68 m.p.h. Once again there is climbing ahead. Between mile-posts 16 and 21 we rise, mostly at 1 in 176, passing on the way the Cathedral City of St. Albans, 20 miles distant from St. Pancras. With our load on this train the time out to St. Albans is not likely to be less than 26 minutes.

Once past mile-post 21 we have to look forward to sharp undulations for the next 13 miles, on which an average gait but little short of a mile-a-mmute will be maintained. The chief “dips” occur just beyond Harpenden, to the point where the line crosses the Lea Valley on a high embankment, and down to Luton, which we shall dash through at about 65 miles an hour. Luton is 30¼ miles from St. Pancras, and we should get through in 37 minutes, or slightly less.

From mile-post 34 we have immediately ahead the most glorious “racing-ground” of the whole journey. For 15 miles the line falls almost uninterruptedly, chiefly on a grade of 1 in 200, and is very largely free from curvature as well, so that the highest possible speeds may be developed with safety. My own record here was one of 88 m.p.h. - singularly enough, behind one of the “Class 3” simple 4-4-0 engines, and not behind a compound - but in the ordinary course the maximum sustained speed over this length generally lies between 75 and 78 m.p.h, with a slight decrease along the short level break from Flitwick to Ampthill. It is unlikely that the 19½ miles from Luton to Bedford will take more than 17 minutes. We may, indeed, cut the time over this stretch to 16 minutes, so that passing Bedford, 49¾ miles from London, in the 54 minutes allowed, is not a difficult matter.

Non-stop expresses do not pass through Bedford Station, as the main line leaves the passenger station on the right. This arrangement is a reminder of the fact that originally, before the extension of the Midland into St. Pancras terminus was opened in 1868, Midland trains for London ran through the station and straight on to Hitchin, whence they made use of the metals of the Great Northern Railway into King’s Cross for a considerable period.

The winding valley of the Ouse is now responsible for undulations in the main line for some miles beyond Bedford, during the course of which our engine takes water from Oakley troughs. Then the high ground between the Ouse and Nene Valleys involves us in the hardest of all the climbs between London and Leicester, known as Sharnbrook bank. This is 5½ miles in length, and for the upper 3½ miles is at 1 in 119. which will cause a drop in our speed to but little over 40 m.p.h. Meanwhile we notice the goods lines on our right, first of all rising above us from a point beyond Oakley troughs, and then falling below us, finally into Sharnbrook Tunnel, which accommodates the goods lines only and is over a mile in length. In this way the goods lines (which after the tunnel follow a different location entirely as far as Irchester South Junction, to reduce to a minimum the amount of cutting necessary), have been kept down to a maximum steepness of 1 in 200.

Sharnbrook Summit is 59¾ miles from St. Pancras, and is dignified to the extent of figuring in the working timetables, the express trains being given definite times to passing this point. The 10 miles from Bedford to the top will probably not take us more than 11 minutes, and a swift descent of Irchester bank should bring us over the wide curve through Welling-borough Station, 65 miles from London, in a shade under 70 minutes. Here are very important marshalling sidings, chiefly on the east side of the line, and here also we are reminded of the iron ore beds of Northamptonshire by seeing blast-furnaces both to right and left of the train.

One of the twenty fives at full speed, near Mill Hill

One of the “25’s” at full speed, near Mill Hill. As will be seen, the Standard Compound Locomotive No. 1100 was fitted as an oil burner. This was done for experimental purposes, and the apparatus has since been removed.

Seven minutes later we are running through the important junction of Kettering, 72 miles out. A couple of miles further on the direct line to Nottingham leaves us on the right, and 74½ miles from St. Pancras (Glendon Junction) the goods lines, which have accompanied us uninterruptedly to this point, come to an end, the freight traffic for Leicester direction being passed on to the main lines.

There is another long climb from before Kettering to Desborough Summit, at mile-post 78½, as steep in parts as 1 in 120 to 136; a speedy descent of the subsequent steep downgrade to Market Harborough is cut short by the necessity of slacking to 45 m.p.h. over the sharp curve through that station. We are 16 miles from Leicester now, and should have about 19 minutes left, There is yet another sharp rise from East Langton to Kibworth Summit, at mile-post 89½ and then gently falling grades lie ahead all the way to Leicester. North of Wigston we slacken round the curve on to the Rugby and Leicester line - which carried the Midland trains to Rugby and Euston even before they sought the hospitality of King’s Cross - and just about 2.14 p.m. we make a smart stop in the line Midland Station at Leicester. This particular express, however, is not booked into Leicester until 2.15 p.m, in 110 minutes from St. Pancras.

Five minutes suffice for the station work here, and at 2.20 p.m. we are away for Derby. This is one of the most level stretches on the Midland system, and a schedule of 34 minutes proves more than ample. Between Loughborough and Hathern we pass over the second set of track-troughs and shortly we are threading the Red Hill Tunnels and crossing the wide River Trent. After this we negotiate at speed the complicated Trent Junctions. Continuing, we pass on the left the vast Celanese works at Spondon, working day and night to produce artificial silk, and having travelled round the long reverse curve from Spondon Junction, passing on the right-hand side the great Derby Locomotive works, we halt in the large station at Derby at 2.54 p.m. Here the engine that has brought us 128½ miles from St. Pancras is detached, and another compound 4-4-0 is provided to haul us over the 61½ miles remaining to Manchester. The loss of the Buxton coach from the rear of the train brings the load down to about 235 or 240 tons in all.

Promptly at 3 p.m. - promptness has always been the keyword of Midland operation - we get away from Derby. Again we have no serious grades for some 20 miles, the tendency of the road being but slightly against the engine as far as Rowsley. We shall just about reach 60 m.p.h. past Duffield and Belper, but speed has to be drastically reduced, to 15 m.p.h, to enable us to pass round the exceedingly sharp curve through Ambergate. This is a most singular station, being laid out in the form of a triangle with platforms on each of the three sides - the only true example of its type, to my knowledge, in the country, with the possible exception of Rutherglen, in Scotland. From the train you should particularly notice, at the London end of the station, the new “upper quadrant” signals, which are to be the future standard for all the railways in Great Britain, instead of the falling arms to which we have so long been accustomed.

A striking view of the triangular station at Ambergate

A striking view of the triangular station at Ambergate, LMS. The “25’s” take the left hand curve.

Ambergate is like the “gateway” of the Peak District of Derbyshire. Through fine scenery and many tunnels we pass on to Cromford and Matlock Bath, and then under the “nose” of High Tor to Matlock, whence we hurry on to Rowsley. Here we note large and important marshalling sidings on the left of the train, where the loads of northbound trains are rearranged in preparation for the heavy climbing ahead. From Derby we should take about 14 minutes over the 10¼ miles to Ambergate, and 27 minutes to clear Rowsley, 21½ miles distant.

Now our train begins to mount rapidly, and the speed falls in proportion. For 15 miles from Rowsley to Peak Forest the gradient but seldom falls below 1 in 105 in steepness, and for the last 3¼ miles it increases to 1 in 90. There are three short downhill “breathers”; one just before Bakewell; one through the tunnel that ushers us into the magnificent scenery of Monsal Dale, and one before Miller’s Dale Station - in all cases leading to the crossing of valleys, and, none more than one-third of a mile in length. The effect is slightly to raise the speed in each case, but the bulk of the ascent will not be compassed at a much greater rate than 35 m.p.h. or so, and at Peak Forest, up the final 1 in 90, we may drop more nearly to 30. For the 14¼ miles from Rowsley to Peak Forest the time allowance is 22 min, and with such a load as this it is none too ample.

Wonderful views are obtained as the train runs high above Miller’s Dale. The final climb is then accomplished in a deep and treeless - and also apparently waterless - valley to Peak Forest Station, which is situated amid the extensive quarries and limeworks of the Buxton Lime Firms, now part of the great Imperial Chemical Industries combine.

Up till now we have passed through many tunnels, but none to compare in miles of Dove Holes, which we thread immediately the descent begins. On emerging we get fine and extensive views of the Peak Country, as we dash down through Chapel-en-le-Frith and Chinley to New Mills, where the original line to Manchester, through Stockport, leaves us on the right. But we hurry into another long tunnel - Disley, 2¼ miles - which brings us down to Hazel Grove and Cheadle Heath. Owing to a winding track and the necessity for moderated speed, it is not until we are through Disley Tunnel that the driver really lets his engine go, and we may now touch 75 rn.p.h. or over ere we make our stop at Cheadle Heath. This we are booked to do at 4.8 p.m, 68 minutes after leaving Derby, now 53½ miles away.

At Cheadle Heath the Liverpool coaches are dropped off the rear, to continue their journey over the Cheshire Lines Committee’s tracks to Warrington and Liverpool. We have now 13 minutes left from our re-start, at 4.12 p.m, to cover the eight miles through the Southern suburbs of Manchester. At Chorlton-cum-Hard y we also pass on to the system of the Cheshire Lines, and thence over the complicated Throstle Nest junctions and up a 1 in 100 rise on to the great approach viaduct that ushers us into Manchester Central Station.

On arrival at 4.25 p.m, we cannot but be struck by the extraordinary similarity between the interior of the station from which we started and that of the one at which we have now arrived. Both were built on a very similar plan. And if we want to go back to renew our acquaintance with St. Pancras, we have but to cross the platform at Manchester and board a return express leaving at 4.35 p.m. - 10 minutes later - which will run us back to London in the same time of four hours that we have taken to come north.

2.25 p.m. Down Manchester Express near Mill Hill

2.25 p.m. Down Manchester Express near Mill Hill. LMS 4-4-0 Standard Compound Locomotive No. 1102.

You can read more about “The Manchester Club Trains”, “The Midland Scotsman”, and “The Waverley Way to the North” on this website.