For the descendents of Richard Dearie and his son John Russell

Great Northern and City Railway


“The achievements in tunnelling, excavation and the management of large bodies of workers served as an inspiration for the entire profession of civil engineering”

(Two innovations made the construction of London’s Underground. possible: the Barlow /Greathead method of tunnelling using a metal shield being driven further forward as the earth was removed the resulting hole lined with cast iron segments to form a stable tunnel. The second was the electric train, which was pollution free.)

The GN and CR ran from Finsbury Park under the Great Northern Railway station to Moorgate, (the station was originally called Finsbury Pavement) in the City. The total mileage was 3.42 miles and it had 6 stations. The extra large tunnels were 16 feet in diameter, which allowed the use of surface gauge rolling stock.

The original intention was to link Great Northern Railway (GNR) with Moorgate using a standard gauge line. But the connection to the surface was never made; the line remained isolated, terminating in a blind tunnel at each end. GN and CR was authorised to build the line in June 1892. GNR agreed to operate 50 mainline services each weekday giving the company a guaranteed source of income. No start was made to construction until Aug 1899. The Moorgate to Drayton Park section was completed by Jan 1903 and the entire line opened to passengers on 14 Feb. 1904. A depot and workshops were built to the west of Drayton Park. The fare was 2d all the way and 1d between stations It was popular on foggy mornings when mainland services were delayed.

The Contractor from 1898 to 1904 was S Pearson and son Ltd The firm was run by Sir Weetman Pearson, the future Lord Cowdrey, who took over the contract to build the line on the death of the previous contractor. Weetman Pearson in the 1890s held contracts worth £10milion.in Mexico alone. His contracts at home included the Blackwall tunnel, which he completed in 1897. He had the distinction, rare for a non-American of being awarded a large contract in New York City. Pearson could already claim in early 1890s to be” probably the first firm of contractors in regard to the work it has in hand and the third or fourth in regard to wealth” Sir Weetman Pearson promised to take “a very handsome proportion of the stock and to guarantee a 3 % dividend for several years on those it did not take up.” His second attempt to float the company in June 1898 was a failure, but within a few weeks largely due to the assistance of Sir Henry Burdett, the great authority on hospitals, who was also strategically situated as secretary of the Share and loan department of the stock exchange, all 78.000preferred and 26,000 deferred shares were taken up. Burdett joined the board and construction began.”


It had an unusual method of construction. The tunnel was built with normal iron segments with lower key pieces in concrete. The key pieces were then demolished and segments in the lower half of the tunnel removed for use again elsewhere, as the segments were taken out, they were replaced with 3 rings of blue vitrified bricks. It was claimed that this type of tunnel, upper half iron and lower half brick made running quieter and saved the company £30.000. They needed economies because of the high cost of building a 16-foot tunnel. The large size made possible the use of hydraulic segment erectors in both station and running tunnels.

All the stations were lit by electricity. The platforms were 420 feet long and had 21 ft tunnels. The lifts operated hydraulically at Highbury, and Finsbury and electrically at Moorgate, Old Street and Essex Road. The rolling stock had lattice gates at the end of each carriage operated by a gateman. There were rattan covered seats and mahogany interiors.

The company ran their own electricity generating station at Poole Street, Hoxton, which supplied the power. It was the first tube to have an automatic signalling system, using light signals without moving parts. which was unique at the time.

For the first 3 years its builders worked the line. Pearson took 60% of the receipts in the first year and 50% in the next 2. But GNR refused to advertise the line. The new companies results were disappointing and the railway was never profitable Passengers averaged 16 million a year until 1907 when they fell to 11.6 million due to competition from electric trams operated by the LCC. The line came to be called the poorest of the tubes; the weakest of the independents and a stagnant back water/ white elephant. . By the end of the decade it was in dire financial circumstances.


1. The generating station at Poole Street was closed in 1913 and became the Gainsborough Film studios.

3.The line came under control of the Metropolitan railway in 1913 It was the only tube line to have first class accommodation from 1915 to 1934.

4. It came under the control of the Northern line in 1935. It was cut back to Drayton Park in 1964 with the construction of the Victoria line. The last tube train ran on it in 1975 when it was transferred to BR. In 1976 it came under the control of the Eastern Region and was finally used to connect to surface trains, which had been the original plan for it 60 years previously. You will no longer find it marked on the tube map but it is there on the tubes and trains map. West Anglia Great Northern now operates the trains on this line.

3. Just before its transfer to BR in 1975 it was the scene of one of the worst accidents on the tube when a packed southbound train failed to stop at Moorgate and hit the end wall of the blind tunnel at 35 mph. 43 people died and 74 required hospital treatment. The 16-foot tunnels may have made the accident worse by allowing the following carriages to ride up over the wreckage of the first one. This would not have been possible in a standard tunnel. No cause for the accident was ever found.

Bibliography: The Oxford companion to British Railway History, H Pollins. Railway contractors and the Finance of Railway development, in MC Reed (ed) Railways in the Victorian Economy 1969 Railway Times 18 (1855) London Metropolitan Railways Alan A Jackson 1986 Rails Through the Clay, Alan A Jackson and Croome DF The Big Tube, Bruce, J Graeham, London Transport 1976 Tramway and Railway World July 1902 Kirkland. RK, Jubilee of the Great Northern and City Railway, The Railway Magazine 1954