Sir Malcolm Barclay-Harvey (1890 – 1969, was a member of Queen’s Body Guard for Scotland (Royal Company of Archers). He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. Served in Gordon Highlanders, TF, 1909–15; Home Staff, 1915–16; Ministry of Munitions, London, 1916–18; Paris, 1918–19. Unionist MP Kincardineshire, and West Aberdeenshire, 1923–29, and 1931–39; Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir John Gilmour, 1924–29, and to Sir Godfrey Collins, 1932–36; Governor of South Australia, 1939–44. Member Aberdeen County Council, 1945–55. Hon. Colonel 4th Bn Gordon Highlanders, 1939–45. He had a life-long interest in railways, and while in Australia, had a large model railway laid out in the garden of the Governor General’s Summer Residence.
His choice of title “A history…” rather than “The History…” indcates modestly I that he was not aiming for a complete work, but nevertheless it is remarkably comptrehensive for a railway history published at this period, and is rather better than one or two later efforts.
Despite its grandiose title the Great North of Scotland Railway was the smallest of the “constituent” companies amalgamated to form the London Midland & Scottish Railway and the London & North Eastern Railway, in 1923. With the North British, it fell to the latter group, although it was one of the many minor anomalies thrown up by the great amalgamation, that it was not directly connected to the rest the LNER, and could only be reached by the exercise of running powers over the LMS.
Beset from its earliest days by financial problems, although it obtained an Act of Parliament to build a line from Aberdeen to Inverness, it was 1854 before it was able to open its first section, from Kittybrewster, just north of Aberdeen, to Huntly, only about half way to Inverness, in September 1854. In the meantime, other railways had been proposed and built south from Inverness, and by 1858, through carriages were conveying passengers between Aberdeen and Inverness. By the middle of the following decade, the mileage of railway operated by GNOS trains had quadrupled, but much of it was by exercise of running powers over other company’s lines, or over leased lines. A substantial minority of shareholders were dissatisfied by this situation, where receipts from trains worked by the GNOS. flowed into the coffers of other companies and benefited their shareholders. There were rows at Annual Meetings, controversy in the newspapers, and pamphlets published like this scarce example from 1862 The situation was simplified by the provisions of the Great North of Scotland (Amalgamation) Act 1866, which swept a number of smaller undertakings into the GNOS net.
Unfortunately, the collapse of the Overend Gurney Bank the same year resulted in interest rates of 10% for several months and chaos in the financial markets, particularly affecting railways, A number barely evaded receivership, some did not- and some which had begun construction, were destined never to be completed.
For the Great North of Scotland, it was the beginning of over a decade of “austerity”. Only half a mile of new line was built, no dividend could be paid until 1874, and no new locomotives built until 1876.
Hamilton Ellis wrote “Truly the Great North in mid Victorian times was a fair match for England’s Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, which Ahrons described as being the most degenerate railway in the kingdom. If the L&Y were casual and doddering, the Great North, was apparently, vilely bad out of sheer mischief.” Passengers and freight customers were treated with contempt, the former often being left stranded, with no indication of when the journey might be completed, the second suffering unexplained delays and losses of their consignments, while it seemed to be a matter of policy that under no circumstances would a GNOS train make a connection with those of any other company. All this began to change, with the appointment of a vigorous new General Manager, William Moffatt, a North Eastern Railway district officer from Tyneside, in 1880. By the end of the century, The GNOS was a model of what a railway should be.
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