The Great Central Railway - 'The Last Mainline' - ran from Annesley Junction north of Nottingham to Marylebone Station in London. Work on the line began in 1894 and it was officially opened on 9th March 1899.
In 1882 Alfred Newton opened the Belvoir Photographic Studio in Leicester, which his son Sydney Walter Newton joined in around 1894. The young Sydney Newton gained permission to photograph the construction of the GCR and he continued to photograph its operation until at least 1907, creating a unique and valuable record. Despite having full access to the construction site, Newton operated in a private capacity and was not the official photographer of the GCR.
Newton was interested in the life of the villages through which the GCR passed and photographed widely, creating a remarkable social record. This was the 'golden age' before World War I heralded massive social change and before the internal combustion engine displaced muscle power. But the reality of poverty, hard work and lack of amenities is captured on film.
Although Newton took many of these pictures for his own interest, he was a professional photographer and no doubt took opportunities to charge a fee when he could. Family portraits and coverage of country houses were almost certainly done on a commercial basis. Though he was aware of the importance of his photographs as a unique historical record, and ensured that the collection passed into public ownership on his retirement: the collection is divided between the Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland and the English Heritage NMR.
Author: English Heritage