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‘The Stamford Deviation’

Mike Sockett

There is a common assertion that the Great Northern Railway planned for their route to come through, or near to, Stamford and that it was the objection of the Marquis of Exeter that stopped this. However there is evidence that this was not the case and is certainly not the whole picture.

In May 1844 the GNR proposed a route through Peterborough and a meeting was held in Stamford to lobby for a ‘deviation’  that would take the railway near the town, with a station at Newstead. By August the GNR had decided against the deviation, though the people of Stamford continued campaigning. It seems that the Marquis of Exeter initially supported this deviation but by 1846 had withdrawn his support and then become an active opponent. There is s letter in the Mercury on June 14th 1847 which is a clear attack on Exeter accusing him of being a hypocrite. In this it is asserted that when the deviation was proposed Exeter actually drew a line of the railway on the map and made sure it would pass through his land! It is then asserted that when the GNR refused to give him the price he was asking for his land he withdrew his support and instructed his Parliamentary nominee Granby to remove from the Bill all references to the Stamford deviation. As the letter is signed by ‘a person’ this was clearly a political issue – there was general election the following month.

A Committee of the House of Commons had considered the issue of the deviation and gave their reasons for refusal on June 8th 1847, here addressing the role of the Marquis of Exeter:  

“….it may well have weighed with the Committee to consider whether they would sanction anything which could in any way injure or detract from the noble, and princely, and historical domain of Burghley…..these cases were by no means the grounds for our decision. It was a matter of public not private interest which swayed us in the judgement at which we arrive.”

The Committee also dealt clearly with the whole issue of whether the deviation was in the general interest:

“…..as the station intended for them by the Great Northern was to be upwards of a mile from the town of Stamford, they would still have that distance to go to gain the GN, thereby gaining an advantage of only three miles, while the rest of England travelling on that line and not intending to stop at Stamford, would be carried nearly two miles out of their course by the proposed deviation; and it came therefore to a nice account for the Committee to settle between Stamford and all the rest of the travelling world, whether the people of Stamford should go three miles out of their way or all other travellers two miles. It was, as it were, a fair match between Stamford on the one side and all England and Scotland on the other; we thought that England had it.”

There are two interpretations of the role of Burghley in this:

  • Firstly that he did not want the GNR through Stamford, but supported the campaign of the town to keep in with its citizens (and voters!). His support is referred to as ‘luke warm’ in one source.
  • Secondly that he did want Stamford on the GNR because it would be very profitable for him, but he miscalculated the price the company was willing to pay for his land.

It would seem that the idea of the GNR passing through, or near to, Stamford was never part of the railway company’s plan and it was always referred to as a ‘deviation’, ie a deviation from the preferred route through Peterborough and Tallington.

For a map of railway routes in the Stamford area that shows the line of the deviation proposal see Martin Smith, ‘Stamford Then and Now’, (1992), page 120.