‘And quite where Rugby Central is, does only Rugby know’ – John Betjeman
Rugby Central railway station was opened in 1899 and had services between London and Manchester via Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield as well as various cross country services to places such as Southampton and Hull. The station was under the management of the Great Central Railway until it was grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923 and it then came under the management of British Railways in 1948.
Rugby Central was located roughly midway along the Great Central line, and was a stopping point for express services, as well as a changeover point for local services. Until the early 1960s the station was served by around six daily London-Manchester expresses, and was the terminus for local services from Leicester or Nottingham from the north.
After we moved to Rugby and before dad could drive we used to use the line to get to Leicester but 1963 was a bad year for railways and the Beeching report in March proposed that out of Britain’s then twenty-nine thousand kilometres of railway, nearly ten thousand of mostly rural branch and cross-country lines should be closed. The name derives from the main author of the report ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’, Dr. Richard Beeching, and although this report also proposed the development of new modes of freight service and the modernisation of trunk passenger routes, it is best remembered for recommending the wholesale closure of what it considered to be little-used and unprofitable railway lines, and the removal of stopping passenger trains and closure of local stations on other lines which remained open.
The report was a reaction to the significant losses which had begun in the 1950s as the expansion in road transport began to transfer significant passenger and goods traffic away from the tracks and British Railways continued making increasingly large losses despite the introduction of the railway modernisation plan of 1955. Beeching proposed that only drastic action would save the railways from increasing losses in the future. Thousands of kilometres of railway track were removed and hundreds of stations were closed in the decade following the report and many other rail lines lost their passenger services and were retained only for freight.
Most of the Great Central line was closed in September 1966 and on this date, the line south of Rugby Central and north of Nottingham Victoria was closed. The section between Rugby Central and Nottingham (initially Victoria, later cut back to Arkwright Street) remained open as self-contained branch carrying a local passenger service until 3rd May 1969; the station formally closed on 5th May.
This was significant for us because the Beeching Axe closed the Great Central Railway that ran from London Marylebone to Manchester Piccadilly but rather critically for us connected Rugby to Leicester and my grandparents. Every other Saturday we used to use the steam train to Leicester via Lutterworth, Ashby Magna and Whetstone to Leicester Central and then a bus to Narborough Road (if we were lucky) to visit the folks. With no convenient alternative route available to visit them, or to get to the football matches, this must have been an important factor in dad’s decision to learn to drive and join the motoring age.
More than 40 years after the end of rail services, you can still catch a bus at the site of Rugby Central. The station passenger entrance was by the lamppost; the houses are built on the former goods yard.