Marking 100 years since the formation of the Southern Railway – a potted history

It would be remiss of me not to mark the fact that today is 100 years since the Grouping and the formation of the Southern Railway, it also of course marks the demise of its constituent companies. This post attempts to provide a simplified potted history of the Grouping and the Southern Railway.

The Southern Railway coat of arms incorporated heraldic elements from the main constituent companies.

Although the actual Grouping occurred on 1st January 1923, it’s instigation can be traced back to the First World War where all railways were under state control until 1921. The Railways Act 1921, followed discussions at the time on potential nationalisation, had the aim of stemming the losses being occurred at the time by many of the 120 or so railway companies.

The form of Grouping originally proposed in 1920, by former North Eastern Railway executive, the Minister of Transport, Eric Geddes, was for five English and one Scottish regional companies, by 1921 this was amended to four English and two Scottish companies before the Scottish routes were incorporated in the companies that we know as the ‘Big Four’.  Royal Assent for the Railways Act was in August 1921.

The main Constituent companies of the Southern Railway were the well known three, actually four: The London and South Western Railway (LSWR), The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) and the combined South Eastern Railway and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, under the South Eastern & Chatham Railways’ Managing Committee (SECR).

The first SR passenger livery was a continuation of the LSWR style in Olive Green with expanded Clarendon ‘Egyptian’ style ‘Southern’ font as seen on ex LSWR Adams A12 0-4-2. From 1937 the Bulleid malachite green and ‘Sunshine’ lettering as seen on the ex LSWR M7 in the background was introduced.

Also incorporated were the three Isle of Wight railway companies and the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway (Bere Alston and Callington section).
Some non-working or joint companies that had been previously leased or worked by the main constituent companies, including for example (not an exhaustive list): the North Cornwall Railway, Sidmouth Railway, Lee-on-the-Solent Railway, Hayling Railway, Cranbrook and Paddock Wood Railway, London and Greenwich Railway, Croydon & Oxted Joint Railway and Dover & Deal Railway, were also included, as was the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway although not covered by the Railways Act 1921, it had been absorbed by the LSWR.

The Southern Railway also was to share or jointly operate a number of lines including: the East London Railway, West London Extension Railway, Weymouth & Portland Railway and of course the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway.

The Southern Railway Network

The total route mileage owned whole by the Southern Railway at Grouping was 2,186 miles, with the main constituents not surprising forming the majority with 1,020 miles ex LSWR, 457 miles ex LBSC and 637 ½ ex SECR. The SR was operated essentially as three Districts: Western, Central and Eastern based approximately on the previous main constituents.

There were two Chief Mechanical Engineers; Richard Maunsell, ex SECR, between 1923 and 1937 and Oliver Vaughan Snell Bulleid, ex GN / LNER, from 1937 to 1948.

And just because you can never have enough Bulleid pacifics or Southern malachite green…

Although originally three general managers were appointed from each of the main constituents, with a year Sir Herbert Walker became the single General Manager and the development of the SR was built upon many of his ex LSWR practices. Following his retirement in 1937 he was succeeded as general manager by his long-time assistant Gilbert Szlumper. In 1939, Szlumper left the Southern Railway for war service and Sir Eustace Missenden took over.

The Southern Railway officially lasted, of course until Nationalisation in 1948, although in reality, just as during the First World War, the Railways due to the outbreak of The Second World War were taken once again under Government control via The Railway Executive on 1st September 1939 and would remain so until the 1st January 1948 becoming the Southern Region of British Railways.

With the passing of the Transport Act 1947 that nationalised the Railways, Missenden became the first Chairman of the Railway Executive and John Elliot became acting General Manager of the SR and would later become Chief Regional Officer of the Southern Region of British Railways.

I hope this brief simplified history of the Southern Railway has been of interest, and appropriate to mark the 100 years since its formation. I thought it was about time that it was included on my corner of the blogsphere!

4 thoughts on “Marking 100 years since the formation of the Southern Railway – a potted history”

  1. A most informative reminder – thank you Graham.

    My grandfather joined the Southern Railway just six weeks after its incorporation (retiring in the late sixties under the Southern Region). Grandmother also worked for the Southern Railway (my railway career started on the Southern Region).

Leave a Reply Cancel reply