How was the 1923 Grouping decided?

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32475

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I’m intrigued to know how the geographical boundaries of the Big Four came about in 1923 and how was it all decided. The ‘new’ GWR didn’t change too radically from its older parameters and the Southern came about from combination of the SECR, LBSCR and LSWR. However I imagine there must have been much debate about where other companies and lines ended up. For example, the Great Central could have become LMS or LNER in geographical terms. I also wonder whether there was any consideration to all of the Scottish pre-grouping companies becoming a GSR (Great Scottish Railway)?
Any thoughts anyone?
 
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StephenHunter

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The LTS route out of Fenchurch Street was already under Midland Railway control, which is probably why it ended up under LMS.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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I'm pretty sure it was decided by the government of the day, following a parliamentary commission.
Geography was quite vague, because the grouping was a merger of commercial companies with overlapping networks.
The LMS reached Goole, Southend and Swansea (and into NI), while the LNER reached Wrexham and Birkenhead.
Some effort was made to make the new companies of a similar size, and for instance the Cambrian went to the GWR because the LMS was already considered "too big".
Competition was also part of the equation, which prevented the Midland and GC ending up in the same group.
It also meant Scotland was still divided between two big companies, though the smaller ones were absorbed into both LMS and LNER.
Joint lines were sometimes tidied up and merged, others not.
So the CLC continued right up to nationalisation, split 2/3 to LNER, 1/3 to the LMS, and there were several other sizeable joint operations between the Big 4.
There was some rationalisation of services within the new groups, to reduce duplication.
The Forth Bridge became 25% LMS because of the Midland 1/4 share, the other 3/4 belonging to companies which merged into the LNER (GN, NE, NB).
Much of the 1923 structure still applied well into BR (outside Scotland), until the Regional boundaries were finally made geographical in 1963 (though they have continued to change since).
 
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6Gman

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I’m intrigued to know how the geographical boundaries of the Big Four came about in 1923 and how was it all decided. The ‘new’ GWR didn’t change too radically from its older parameters and the Southern came about from combination of the SECR, LBSCR and LSWR. However I imagine there must have been much debate about where other companies and lines ended up. For example, the Great Central could have become LMS or LNER in geographical terms. I also wonder whether there was any consideration to all of the Scottish pre-grouping companies becoming a GSR (Great Scottish Railway)?
Any thoughts anyone?
A Great Scottish Railway would, I suspect, have been a financial basket case. Remember, these new companies had to be "sold" to shareholders. I suspect the LMS was content to take on the Highland as a small part of its portfolio; ditto the LNER with the Great North of Scotland, because they were balanced elsewhere by profitable operations. There were also existing strong links between companies either side of the border - LNWR/CR, MR/GSWR, NER/NBR.
 

MarlowDonkey

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Competition was also part of the equation, which prevented the Midland and GC ending up in the same group.
I believe there had already been commercial discussions on merger between the GER,GNR and GCR. Elsewhere the L&Y merged with the LNWR in 1922.

If there had been a desire to retain a bit more route competiton, perhaps the Midland could have remained independent partnering only with a couple of Scottish companies. Similarly as a large and rich Company in its own right, perhaps the NER could have similarly only been paired with Scottish companies and its local rival, Hull & Barnsley.

The other "it never happened" would have been whether the local raiilways in London should have been included and perhaps given slices of the London networks of the major long distance operators. That's the Metropolitan and the London Electric Group, which already owned most of the deep surface lines,
 

ChiefPlanner

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A Great Scottish Railway would, I suspect, have been a financial basket case. Remember, these new companies had to be "sold" to shareholders. I suspect the LMS was content to take on the Highland as a small part of its portfolio; ditto the LNER with the Great North of Scotland, because they were balanced elsewhere by profitable operations. There were also existing strong links between companies either side of the border - LNWR/CR, MR/GSWR, NER/NBR.

I think that is right re Scotland - the Caledonian might have been the best earner , but they had a few deeply rural bits , much of the rest was a bit challenging The GWR - then - could easily take on the Cambrian , a marginal rural operator as there was was a good volume of business in other core areas , with the prospects of some amalgamation and money saving in South Wales.
 

Taunton

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Scotland did end up with two companies, but part of the overall mainstream companies. One I heard was that Scotland would be one company, jointly owned 50-50 by the LMS and LNER. Would have been a bit difficult I would have thought. An independent Scottish company was felt certain to be a loss-maker.

I also read the Great Central was a bit of a toss-up, but giving it to the LMS would make the latter too big. There was some desire to retain a few competitive routes, which the GC gave.

The Great North of Scotland was a bit strange, unconnected to the LNER and with the LMS at both ends.

Why the Mersey remained independent when the connecting Wirral was put into the LMS, and the only through running the Wirral had was with the Great Central, was another surprising one. Birkenhead ended up with four companies.

The Midland &South Western from Cheltenham to Andover never seemed to fit into the GWR, logically it should have been transferred to the Somerset & Dorset so it got owned 50-50 by the LMS and the Southern, with whom it fitted much better.

A basic tenet was no transfer of lines between companies to balance things out. It was to be wholly mergers at the existing corporate level. It's also not always realised that the Grouping did a pretty complete tidy-up of the ownership of many independent companies that were worked by other main line companies. Lines like the London & Blackwall, existed until 1922, owned Fenchurch Street station, and was operated by the GER, fell into the LNER. The LT&S into Fenchurch Street was never a tenant of the GER, it was a tenant of the L&B until 1923 when the LNER took them over.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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If you go back far enough, there were proposed mergers between unlikely bedfellows, including LNWR/GN and LNWR/GC.
The Midland was originally very close to the LNWR but in later years became opposed to Euston and could have gone into the LNER group.
The Grouping was not necessarily welcomed by all parties, and in some cases the companies were not properly integrated until overtaken by nationalisation.
The Welsh independents were not at all keen to be taken over by the GWR.
The LB&SC had to ditch its 6.6kV AC electrification in favour of the LSWR 3rd rail system.
 

Helvellyn

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GCR into LMS and Midland into LNER would have been interesting.
 

webbfan

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If you go back far enough, there were proposed mergers between unlikely bedfellows, including LNWR/GN and LNWR/GC.
The Midland was originally very close to the LNWR but in later years became opposed to Euston and could have gone into the LNER group.
The Grouping was not necessarily welcomed by all parties, and in some cases the companies were not properly integrated until overtaken by nationalisation.
The Welsh independents were not at all keen to be taken over by the GWR.
The LB&SC had to ditch its 6.6kV AC electrification in favour of the LSWR 3rd rail system.
Even more suprising was serious discussions of merger between the lnwr and gwr.
 

32475

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Many thanks all of you for your replies. The historical, economic and political reasons for the grouping are fascinating. No doubt there were many smaller or struggling companies which welcomed the grouping and others, maybe the Midland and GWR who could quite happily have carried on as normal.
 

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The other "it never happened" would have been whether the local raiilways in London should have been included and perhaps given slices of the London networks of the major long distance operators. That's the Metropolitan and the London Electric Group, which already owned most of the deep surface lines,
The term "Big Four" is a misnomer - after 1933 there were five big companies, LPTB being the fifth.

I also read the Great Central was a bit of a toss-up, but giving it to the LMS would make the latter too big. There was some desire to retain a few competitive routes, which the GC gave.
A tie-up between the GWR and GC would have made sense.

Later on there was some consolidation in practice - in the 1930s the LMS let the LNER take over the running of the M&GN, presumably as it was an economic basket case.
 
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LSWR Cavalier

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After WW1 the railways were in a bad way, lots of equipment was worn out, so the state intervened to try to achieve more efficiency, economies of scale. Much the same happened after WW2.
 

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I read very recently that the Great North of Scotland was intended for the LMSR, but that the intense and sometimes commercially vicious historic rivalry between it and the Highland Railway led to a different outcome!
 

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I read very recently that the Great North of Scotland was intended for the LMSR, but that the intense and sometimes commercially vicious historic rivalry between it and the Highland Railway led to a different outcome!

From https://www.lner.info/article/history/bigfour.php :
That issue aside, one way in which the map could have been tidied a little would have been to assign the Great North of Scotland to the LMS, thereby removing its five interfaces with the Highland and simplifying matters in and around Aberdeen by confining LNER involvement to running powers north of Kinnaber Junction. But it would have meant a four-one split of the five Scottish companies, though making little difference to the share of assets.
 

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The White Paper issued in July 1920 originally proposed 7 groups, of which the Western and Southern were much as they eventually turned out; the other groups included a North Western group, more or less the later LMS without its Scottish lines; and separate Eastern (GC, GN and GE, a merger first proposed but rejected by Parliament before 1914)and North Eastern groups, the latter being the NER plus the Hull and Barnsley. The London group and a Scottish group made up the 7. The Railway Companies Association came up with alternative proposals in a letter to the Minister of Transport on 8 December 1920. The grouping as it finally happened was much more in line with the RCA's ideas. See the Railway Year Book for 1921, pp. 42-43.
 

Gloster

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The White Paper issued in July 1920 originally proposed 7 groups, of which the Western and Southern were much as they eventually turned out; the other groups included a North Western group, more or less the later LMS without its Scottish lines; and separate Eastern (GC, GN and GE, a merger first proposed but rejected by Parliament before 1914)and North Eastern groups, the latter being the NER plus the Hull and Barnsley. The London group and a Scottish group made up the 7. The Railway Companies Association came up with alternative proposals in a letter to the Minister of Transport on 8 December 1920. The grouping as it finally happened was much more in line with the RCA's ideas. See the Railway Year Book for 1921, pp. 42-43.
The six main-line groups appear to be very similar to how British Railways’ regions were initially organised.
 

Taunton

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A tie-up between the GWR and GC would have made sense.
That would have given the interesting situation that the CLC, equally owned one-third each by the GC, GN and Midland, would have ended up split across three groups of GWR, LMS and LNER.
 

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That would have given the interesting situation that the CLC, equally owned one-third each by the GC, GN and Midland, would have ended up split across three groups of GWR, LMS and LNER.

A pretty trivial matter -- and drifting a bit, from thread's original topic -- but I felt curious a while ago, about how many joint-line partnerships / permutations thereof, there came to be as regards the post-Grouping Big Four. This involves two-railway partnerships only: as things worked out, there were in fact no "three-up" ones as above. I discovered that five out of the potential six permutations, did exist -- the only "non-event" was LNER / SR. There was a near-ish approach to this in the shape of the East London Railway: Bishopsgate Junction -- Shoreditch -- Rotherhithe -- assorted junctions around New Cross; which pre-1923 was jointly run by the Great Eastern / LBSC / South Eastern & Chatham / Metropolitan / Metropolitan & District. In my view, failing to have been a straight post-Grouping "two-fer" owing to the Metropolitan undertakings' being in the mix; plus, I understand that after the Grouping, the Southern's involvement went largely into abeyance.
 

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A pretty trivial matter -- and drifting a bit, from thread's original topic -- but I felt curious a while ago, about how many joint-line partnerships / permutations thereof, there came to be as regards the post-Grouping Big Four. This involves two-railway partnerships only: as things worked out, there were in fact no "three-up" ones as above. I discovered that five out of the potential six permutations, did exist -- the only "non-event" was LNER / SR. There was a near-ish approach to this in the shape of the East London Railway: Bishopsgate Junction -- Shoreditch -- Rotherhithe -- assorted junctions around New Cross; which pre-1923 was jointly run by the Great Eastern / LBSC / South Eastern & Chatham / Metropolitan / Metropolitan & District. In my view, failing to have been a straight post-Grouping "two-fer" owing to the Metropolitan undertakings' being in the mix; plus, I understand that after the Grouping, the Southern's involvement went largely into abeyance.
Wasn't part of the present Chiltern line jointly owned by two undertakings that were themselves joint (GW/GC and GC/Met)?
 

etr221

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Wasn't part of the present Chiltern line jointly owned by two undertakings that were themselves joint (GW/GC and GC/Met)?
Yes - the Aylesbury Station Joint Committee was joint between the GW & GC, and Met & GC Joint Committees.

One oddity was that the Watford Branch (opened 1925) was Met & LNER Joint, whereas the 'main line' it branched off remained Met & GC Joint.

The West London Extension (south of Kensington Addison Road) was a three way joint: LMSR (ex LNWR), GWR and Southern (ex LSWR & LBSCR) - and as the two SR constituents only had a half share (relative to the northern lines), ended up an equal three way split.
 

Taunton

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Interesting to look at how the USA, which has also long over time regulated mergers of railways, does things differently. One thing commonly there is to require lines to be sold/transferred/exchanged with other companies as part of the deal, which never happened in the Grouping, and rarely at all in UK rail history. The US also has some significant joint lines, especially at major cities where all the incoming companies share ownership of a Terminal Company, and its yards and stations. There were few of these in Britain as running powers were easier to set up, although Carlisle was one, and the Forth Bridge an equivalent one, which continued with a quarter-ownership by the LMS until 1947.

I was struck by a clever approach when the extensive Rock Island railway across middle-USA with many thousands of miles of lines went bankrupt in the 1980s, the government issued a "Directed Service" order, which they can do to another railway to operate it. This they did to the Kansas City Terminal, a minor line in that city with about 5 miles of tracks. But it was owned by the eight principal companies serving the city, who thus in one command were all required to get stuck in themselves and sort it all out between them!
 

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The West London Extension (south of Kensington Addison Road) was a three way joint: LMSR (ex LNWR), GWR and Southern (ex LSWR & LBSCR) - and as the two SR constituents only had a half share (relative to the northern lines), ended up an equal three way split.

I stand corrected -- thanks ! (Re my own concerns, I tend not to "count" the Metropolitan in matters such as this -- appropriate apologies, to all Londoners here !)
 

edwin_m

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I was struck by a clever approach when the extensive Rock Island railway across middle-USA with many thousands of miles of lines went bankrupt in the 1980s, the government issued a "Directed Service" order, which they can do to another railway to operate it. This they did to the Kansas City Terminal, a minor line in that city with about 5 miles of tracks. But it was owned by the eight principal companies serving the city, who thus in one command were all required to get stuck in themselves and sort it all out between them!
I was reading the Wikipedia on Rock Island, and I don't think that ended well...

There seems to have been a principle not to break up any pre-existing company. I speculate that one reason might have been because all running powers and joint arrangements passed to the new company whenever an amalgamation took place (sometimes to the chagrin of the company granting them, when a rival took over the visitor company).
 

LNW-GW Joint

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The South Yorkshire Joint Railway, effectively a northeast-southwest Doncaster bypass, had a 5-way ownership: equal shares between GC, GN, L&Y, Midland and NE.
It was an LNER-LMS joint line after grouping, before ending up in the Eastern/North Eastern Region of BR.
Trackmaps still shows a point on the line at St Catherine's Jn with L&Y mileage (from Manchester Victoria).
It remains to be seen if the route survives the end of coal shipments, its original purpose.
 

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Interesting to look at how the USA, which has also long over time regulated mergers of railways, does things differently. One thing commonly there is to require lines to be sold/transferred/exchanged with other companies as part of the deal, which never happened in the Grouping, and rarely at all in UK rail history. The US also has some significant joint lines, especially at major cities where all the incoming companies share ownership of a Terminal Company, and its yards and stations. There were few of these in Britain as running powers were easier to set up, although Carlisle was one, and the Forth Bridge an equivalent one, which continued with a quarter-ownership by the LMS until 1947.

I was struck by a clever approach when the extensive Rock Island railway across middle-USA with many thousands of miles of lines went bankrupt in the 1980s, the government issued a "Directed Service" order, which they can do to another railway to operate it. This they did to the Kansas City Terminal, a minor line in that city with about 5 miles of tracks. But it was owned by the eight principal companies serving the city, who thus in one command were all required to get stuck in themselves and sort it all out between them!
This thread has drifted a bit, but you are right that the USA is an interesting parallel. The Americans have now ended up with something like a grouping situation, albeit less geographically segregated than ours was, with a handful of Class 1 railroads, compared with the past. But it has been achieved more by private enterprise mergers than by government direction - always excepting the creation of Conrail and its later sell-off, of course. The result is that some parallel lines that might have been kept separate for the sake of competition (e.g. SP and WP), are now under the same ownership, while other lines that seemed a natural fit for a takeover, such as the Rock's Choctaw route from Amarillo to Memphis, have not ended up where you would expect (with Santa Fe in that case), but have been partly closed, since the company that might have taken over already had an alternative route (the Frisco).
 
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