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Fig 1: Freight trains pass on the Great Northern Leen Valley extension line between Kirkby South Junction and Victoria Road bridge c1965. Photo Credit: David K Dykes

The Great Northern Railway at Kirkby-in-Ashfield

The Great Northern Railway’s (GNR) Leen Valley Extension line ran for ten miles between Kirkby South Junction and Langwith Junction. The line from Kirkby South Junction to Pleasley opened in April 1898 with the remainder of the line to Langwith Junction opening in 1900. Michael Vann (2010) stated that four words could encapsulate the history of railways in Nottinghamshire; coal, geography, competition and politics. The GNR’s Leen Valley Extension was a prime example of this, encompassing all four. Essentially, it was part of the GNR’s continuing policy to break the Midland Railway’s monopoly on coal in the Nottinghamshire and North Derbyshire coalfields.

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Fig 2: Route of the Great Northern Leen Valley & Extension lines around Kirkby-in-Ashfield.

A number of larger, modern collieries existed along the planned route of GNR’s Leen Valley Extension line at Kirkby Summit (1890), the trio of Stanton Company collieries at Teversal (1868), Silverhill (1875) and Pleasley (1873) and Shirebrook Colliery (1896). Production from these collieries far exceeded the older ones in the Erewash Valley and this was the catalyst for the Leen Valley Extension line being built. From 1896 to April 1898, a Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MSL) / GNR north to east curve was constructed at Kirkby-in-Ashfield to allow the GNR access to Kirkby Summit, Teveral and Silverhill Collieries. (More about this in another post).

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Fig 3: Great Northern Leen Valley line at the site of Annesley North Junction c1967.  Photo Credit: David Lowe

The Leen Valley Extension line was part of the Great Northern’ s network expansion from its Derbyshire and Staffordshire Extension line (1875-1878) with branches up the Erewash Valley in 1875 and the Leen Valley in 1881. In 1892 the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Company (MSL) extended its network southwards from Beighton to connect with the Great Northern’ s Leen Valley line at Annesley North Junction. This gave the MSL access to collieries in the North Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coalfields plus Colwick marshalling yards and likewise the GNR access to Sheffield.

Agreement was reached between the GNR and MSL (renamed Great Central Railway in 1897) to run through the 997 yard Annesley Tunnel. This saved the GNR having to construct a planned third tunnel under the Robin Hood Hills at Kirkby-in-Ashfield.

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Fig 4: Passenger train on the GC main line at Kirkby South Junction about to take the GN Leen Valley Extension line c1956. Photo Credit: Kirkby Heritage Centre

Although coal was the primary reason for the Leen Valley Extension line, a passenger service from Nottingham to Shirebrook operated until 1931. Despite Kirkby’s population growing considerably in the late Victorian / Edwardian period with the sinking of Kirkby Colliery and the opening of Kirkby Loco Sheds and Sidings, it never had a Great Northern station.

Stations along the line were at Sutton-in-Ashfield (Town), Skegby, Pleasley, Shirebrook (South) and at Langwith Junction, on the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast (LDEC) line. The latter was renamed Shirebrook North in 1924. The GCR absorbed the LDEC in 1907 and from this time to the 1923 groupings, the Leen Valley Extension line had GC lines at both ends.

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Fig 5: Class 9F 2-10-0 tender first with a coal train coming off the GN Leen Valley Extension line to join the GC main line at Kirkby South Junction c1964. Photo Credit: David K Dykes

At the 1923 grouping, the line went into the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and then into the Eastern Region of British Railways at nationalisation in 1948. In 1956 regular passenger services between Sutton–in-Ashfield (Town) and Nottingham Victoria were reintroduced on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. They finished in October 1956 despite over 6,000 people signing a petition a year earlier. (see ‘Sutton-in-Ashfield Station Reopening – February 1956’ YouTube video clip below)

Excursion passenger trains, notably at Sutton-in-Ashfield station, continued to use the line into the 1960’s. In the early 1960’s Starlight Specials used the Leen Valley Extension line in the nighttime during electrification of the West Coast Main Line from Crewe to London Euston. The Flying Scotsman ran a passenger special on the line in 1963, which can be viewed on Marsden No.10 Sheffield to Nottingham GC DVD.

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Fig 6: Sulzer Type 2 diesel light engine heading north between Kirkby South Junction and Victoria Road bridge in 1968, the last year of running for the GN lines in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Photo Credit: Malcolm Rush

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Fig 7: 8F 2-8-0 running tender first with a coal train at Kirkby Summit GN circa 1966. Photo Credit: Arthur Upchurch Jnr

Rationalisation started to set in with the closure of the Great Central’s Annesley marshalling yards in June 1965, the closure of the GC main line as a through route on 3rd September 1966 and the rationalisation of the local coalfields during the 1960’s. The last passenger train to travel the Leen Valley Extension line was a Stephenson Locomotive Society (SLS) special, a six car Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) on 4th May 1968. Details of the tour timetable can be seen at  http://sixbellsjunction.co.uk/60s/680504sl.html   The Leen Valley Extension line, along with the remainder of the GNR’s lines in the East Midlands, closed on 27th May 1968.

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Fig 8: Brush Type 4 (Class 47) on the Metal Box train approaching Kirkby Summit on the GN Valley Extension line c1966. Photo Credit: Graham Upchurch.

However, this was not the end of the GNR’s Leen Valley extension line at Kirkby-in-Ashfield. The Metal Box Company continued to use a section of the line from their factory on Oddicroft Lane to Kirkby Summit, where it had to do an elaborate shunting manoeuvre through Kirkby Colliery yard to join the Midland’s Worksop to Nottingham line.

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Fig 9: Four EE Types 1’s (Class 20’s), two added for breaking purposes, on a southbound coal train on a reinstated section of the GNR Leen Valley Extension line at Kirkby-in-Ashfield as part of the 1972 deviation line – April 1972.  Photo Credit: Notts Free Press collection

In 1972, a section of the GNR Leen Valley Extension line came back into use as part of the Kirkby-in-Ashfield deviation line (to be covered in another post). A branch at Kirkby Summit to the Metal Box Factory operated from early April 1972 until the late 1980’s.  In November 1995, Stage 2 of the Robin Hood Line between Newstead and Mansfield Woodhouse opened and a year later, in November 1996, Kirkby-in-Ashfield station opened, bringing the town back on the national passenger railway network after a gap of thirty-two years. On a technicality, Kirkby’s fourth railway station is the Great Northern station it never had!

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Fig 10: A4 Pacific 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley at Kirkby-in-Ashfield in June 1987 on the section of the GN Leen Valley Extension line reinstated as part of the 1972 Kirkby deviation line. This is now the site of Kirkby-in-Ashfield station on the Robin Hood line. The loco was en-route for Shirebrook Depot BR Open Day. Photo Credit: David Amos.


Anderson, P. & Cupit, J  An Illustrated of Mansfield’s Railways, (2000).


Henshaw, A.  The Great Northern Railway in the East Midlands: Nottingham Victoria & the GC Line, The Leen Valley Network and Extensions, (2000). 


Taylor, W. Great Northern Railway: The Leen Valley Extension (Kirkby-in-Ashfield – Shirebrook), (2017).


Vann, M.  An Outline History of the Railways of Nottinghamshire, (2010).



Posted by David Amos

SB2K Admin

Ist November 2022