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  • From 1899 to 1966, Leicester’s Central Railway Station linked the city with London on a new line extension running from Nottinghamshire
  • When it opened, the station was the largest single building in Leicester with an impressive clocktower and gateway
  • During the war-time women workers took on typical men’s roles such as being porters and cleaning engines

The Great Central Railway

From 1899 to 1966, Leicester’s Central Railway Station linked the city with the largest market in the world, London. The new station was part of an extension to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. 136 miles long, it ran from Annesley in Nottinghamshire to the new Marylebone Station in London. Work started on the new Great Central Railway in 1894. It opened to transport coal traffic on 25 July 1898 and then to passengers on 15 March 1899.

Leicester Central Railway Station, c1925

The Largest Single Building in Leicester

Around 300 houses were demolished for the new station site. When it opened, it was the largest single building in Leicester and the clocktower and gateway looked impressive. An extra entrance was created for the public to view a Roman mosaic floor, visible under the station. The mosaic is now in the object collections held by Leicester Museums and Galleries. The Great Central Railway was a large employer of men and women. During war-time women took on “men’s roles” such as being porters and cleaning engines.

A ticket examiner, adjusting the train indicator, 1902

Great Central Square

Building the Great Central Railway was difficult and expensive. It cost £6 million but did not generate as much money or benefits as expected. The faster Express services stopped in 1960 and the route to London stopped in 1966. The station closed in 1969 and much of it was dismantled, including the bridges over Northgate Street and Braunstone Gate. The former railway line is now a cycling and walking route and the old station is at the heart of Great Central Square.


Visitor information
Seen from Street, Public access


Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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