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Building the last Main Line Railway


Life Through a Lens: Sydney Walter Alfred Newton

The majority of the photographs seen in the Great Central's Building the last Main Line Railway section of the website were taken by SWA Newton who was born in Argylle Street, Leicester in 1875. His father, Alfred, ran a small photographic business in 19 Belvoir Street, Leicester with the family living above the shop. Unfortunately, a fire in an adjacent factory caused a wall to collapse on the Belvoir Street shop, and the business was forced to relocate to 17 King Street. To the late Victorians, photography was still thought of as novel and exclusive, and Alfred did a roaring trade as a portrait photographer. However, this was not the only line of business concentrated on and, for many years, Alfred Newton & Son was the official photographer to the Leicester Museums - helping to record and document many objects and artefacts.

Sydney joined the family firm in the early 1890's, shortly before work began building the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway's London Extension which linked Nottingham, Leicester with London. When construction of the railway began in 1894, Sydney took it upon himself to record the work in progress. He was never the official photographer of the company, but his own enthusiasm for this momentous engineering scheme led to the creation, at his own expense, of a truly magnificent photographic archive. By rail and bicycle, he travelled the length of the London Extension as the construction progressed and photographed every aspect of its creation. He captured the excavators, locomotives, bridges, cuttings, and also the navvies themselves whose labour drove the line through the countryside. Indeed, workmen often wanted photographs of themselves, and Newton would help to offset the costs of his journey by selling these pictures to the navvies and engineers. Together, Newton's photographs represent a compelling and unrivalled account of social and engineering history at the end of the 19th Century.

Courtesy of Railway Archive

The photographs on the Railway Archive web site have very informative captions which in many instances we have reproduced in full. However we have added to and amended the captions of a number of the photographs, particularly relating to building practice, to reflect information which we have to hand and the Railway Archive's author did not. Should any mistake come to light these must be considered as being our responsibility alone. It is our stated practice to accommodate fluctuations in the County's boundary line where this interrupts a route. Therefore as both Barby and Catesby Tunnel lie on the route between Rugby and Willoughby, but lie within Northamptonshire, we have included these for the sake of completeness. As Staverton Signal Cabin was very close to the County's border and was the location of many photographs, attributed to Gordon Coltas, of the many services passing through Warwickshire, we have also included this location too. Finally the 'Railway Archive: The Last Main Line' web site also includes photographs of the dismantled line taken in the 1970s which we felt were very poignant and therefore we have exceptionally extended our 1968 timeline to include a few examples.

We have however structured the order of the photographs, see below, relating to Warwickshire in a geographical order starting near Newton, just inside the county's border with Leicestershire, and finishing with Flecknoe, just before the line re-enters Northamptonshire. Select a station or subheading to view associated images. Numbers in [brackets] specify the number of photos on each page.

Newton to the Oxford Canal [21]
Great Central Bridge and Viaduct [21]
Rugby to Barby [22]
Catesby Tunnel and Viaduct [31]
Flecknoe, Willoughby and Staverton [28]
Contractor's Builders Yards & Locomotives [16]