Bringing History to Life: The Great Central Railway


This past week has been half-term (half way through the summer term) in most areas of the U.K. Until 1978, it was known as Whitsuntide, or in short, Whitsun, or even Whit. The Monday following Whit Sunday was always a bank holiday. Today it is called the spring bank holiday and falls on the last Monday in May.

I don’t intend to elaborate on what Whitsun means in the Christian Church, other than to say that this period is also referred to as Pentecost, the Christian festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension, and is held on the seventh Sunday after Easter.

For many people, in various occupations, Whit Monday is a day off work, and as such, many places of interest are packed. This year I went along with my fifteen-year -old grandson and his mum, my eldest daughter, for a day out to the Great Central Railway at Loughborough. We’re all history lovers in our family, and will take any opportunity to go along to events that really bring the past to life. And, as a heritage railway, the Great Central certainly does that. It is currently Britain’s only double track mainline heritage railway and runs for 8.25 miles in total from the large market town of Loughborough to a new terminus just north of Leicester.


The great steam engines are a wonderful sight in themselves, but I was also fascinated by the way the railway stations have been rebuilt to look like those of past times. The one at Quorn Station reflects World War 2, whilst Rothley Station illustrates the Edwardian era. Special Gala days are held throughout the year, when either the 1940’s or Edwardian eras are featured. Stations are packed with people in relevant costumes, and they really go to town to make it all so realistic.

It was not a special day last Monday, and the stations were not so packed. My grandson, Kieran, loves history, and is considering becoming a history teacher (as long as he can be a volunteer worker on steam engines in his holidays!). He’s been many time to the GCR and to the North York Moors Railway (NYMR) on Events/Gala days, and laps it all up. A few people even dress up on non-event days, just for the fun of it, as the top photo shows.

Here are a few photos of the engines and carriages:

I have been feeling ‘all trained out’ this week. But it was an enjoyable day riding up and down the line in the old-fashioned carriages, and Kieran managed to get himself enlisted as a volunteer next summer, after he finishes his GCSE’s!

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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43 Responses to Bringing History to Life: The Great Central Railway

  1. draliman says:

    There’s just something about old trains and railways, isn’t there? Very nice!

    • milliethom says:

      I love the things, Ali, which is probably just as well with a grandson like Kieran. He has the whole family involved in his passion. I’ve never been to this line before, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be going again. Thank you for the nice comment.

  2. angeldown15 says:

    Absolutely gorgeous pics, Millie!

    P.S. Did I ever tell you that the book I am writing is about a Millie? 😉 x

    • milliethom says:

      Aww, thank you so much. 🙂 It was a good day for taking photos – for a change. Fancy you having a character called Millie! is it a modern book or historical? Millie can be a dated name, but it’s had a bit of a comeback in recent years. My mum’s name was Millie, too.

      • angeldown15 says:

        It’s a comedy. Diary of a frazzled, working mum who thinks her husband may be having an affair. ‘The digital diary of Millicent Bodger, aged 39 & a half’ Title may change!
        A great name, Millie! 😀 x

      • milliethom says:

        I love the title! She can’t be as big a bodger as I am when I’m let loose on all things digital. I’ll look forward to reading it when it’e finished. 🙂

      • angeldown15 says:

        Ha ha! It may be a while! 🙂

  3. Shivangi says:

    Delightful…thank you for sharing all the information.

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you for liking it, Shivangi. 🙂 It really is worth a visit – just for the historical value. I love the old steam engines, too, and it’s all so atmospheric. 🙂

  4. HumaAq says:

    Good post, I admire different cultures different lifestyles and there is something about the antiquities that says several stories!

  5. smilecalm says:

    enjoyable to take a train adventure
    & clearly understand why!
    thanks milliethom 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, smilecalm. I was truly transported back in time for a day. It really was an atmospheric day out. I think I’m turning into a train geek. 🙂

  6. exiledprospero says:

    Old trains: sign me up.

  7. scrapydotwo says:

    This would have been very interesting to see all these old fashioned things. It interests me too. You are lucky to live in an old country with history way back! Thanks for all the lovely photos too I enjoyed going with you and your daughter and grandson

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, we have more than our share of historical buildings and archaeological sites here. Sometimes we just take them for granted, which is a pity. The old fashioned railway stations and the great steam engines are really quite something, too. Thank you, Scrapydo. 🙂

  8. Wonderful photos Millie! There is something very special about trains .. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us all.

    • milliethom says:

      I agree. Steam engines are awesome things. I loved the whole historical feel of everything, too, and would love to visit on a Word War 2 Gala Day. (How on earth I’d manage that weird hairdo, I don’t know!) 🙂

  9. Nice write-up Millie, the pictures bring the information to life.

  10. Congratulations to your grandson! Sounds like you, your daughter and grandson had a lovely day filled with fun history memories brought back to life.

  11. Galit Balli says:

    I love trains so much ❤ There is always something magical about them, don't know why 😀

    • milliethom says:

      I totally agree, and I’m surprised how many people think the same. I put this post up thinking everyone would think I’m just a geeky train lover. But it’s just these old ones I love. It’s history … which I adore. Thanks, Galit. 😀

      • Galit Balli says:

        I was surprised as well by this, lol.
        But I guess old trains are just the best in the eyes of most people 😀

      • milliethom says:

        Yes, I don’t think anyone can deny how magnificent steam engines are. Just standing next to one as it belts out steam is quite awesome. As for the nostalgia… well, that’s another story. Have a great day, Galit. 😀

  12. Norma says:

    The first photo reminds me of “Downton Abbey” (not exactly but some bit – you know what I mean). ;)Congratulations to your grandson.:) Old is gold but here old was coal. These trains remind me of human chain trains that we used to form and play as children specially during festivities.

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Norma. I do see what you mean about Downton Abbey! I suppose it’s the same era – Edwardian dress and the old-style carriage in the oldy-worldy station. (I wonder where these people get their costumes from?) And yes, I think all kids play trains at some stage or other. Happy memories for you there, perhaps? I love the saying you quoted. It’s like the other old, North of England saying, ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass.’ Thanks for your great comment! 😀

      • Norma says:

        Somehow I love those costumes but what’s gone is gone. Think if we were to wear those clothes now – with the heat and soaring temperatures- I would surely go mad. And by some mistake if they step into our present day world they’ll think of us as hooligans. Thanks for that idiom. Who knows it better than us humans. 😉

      • milliethom says:

        I agree, those kind of scenes are great to look back on – and they make great for wonderful BBC period dramas and Gala days at the Great Central. I couldn’t wear clothes like that for long. 🙂

  13. Great story and pics! Love it!

  14. Bekki Hill says:

    It’s always wonderful to feel you’ve stepped back in time – at least for a short while. Old railway journeys always seem so romantic, but a wimp like me would probably have hated all muckiness.

    • milliethom says:

      You would have had to upgrade to First Class, I think. But it wouldn’t get rid of the billowing smoke. I think people back then just accepted all that for the speed and convenience of travelling – especially in the earliest days of the Railways, when the alternative was the stagecoach. 🙂

  15. AlexF says:

    Great photos, Millie. Sounds like you had a great “day off” with your family members!

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks. Alex. We had a lovely day, and hope to go back in a few weeks’ time. 🙂 At weekends they run the Restaurant train, It’s not too cheap (!) but the three course meal is served as the train travels to Leicester and back. They have a stop in the middle at some scenic site, just to give diners enough to eat. We’ve decided to give it a go. It should be really atmospheric and some people will be in Edwardain costume. 🙂

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