Out of the Cinders and Ashes: The Story of a New Model Railway Shop in an Old Railway Town

Welcome to the first in a new blog series by Matt Simons, the latest member of the Rocket Railways team. Each week we will bring you features about railways both large and small, with the hope to both entertain and inspire – a celebration of the hobby we all love.

In this post, we reflect on the origins of Rocket Railways, and explore the heritage of our home town. Grantham boasts a long history as a thoroughfare for goods and people. Whilst this unassuming town made its mark on the world as a centre for engineering, individuals also left their own unique imprint. As the ‘new kids on the block’ in this railway town, made famous by its connection with the glamorous express locomotives of the ‘golden age’, we’re following in the footsteps of esteemed forebears. 

What’s in a Name?

As we are fast approaching the first anniversary of Rocket Railways, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on our business and its origins. 

Established by Jason Thickpenny in the autumn of 2019, Rocket Railways is a specialist in second-hand model railway items. As an enthusiast with a young family, Jason wanted to provide family-friendly model railways at affordable prices. Over the past year, this aim has continued to guide our development – we believe railway modelling should be accessible to everyone. 

We are now a leader in OO gauge and N gauge scale model railway items with a 99.6% positive eBay feedback score and 5 star Google reviews, regularly beating our competitors on both range and service. 

We take inspiration from our namesake, the famous locomotive Rocket, designed by pioneering engineers George and Robert Stephenson. At Rocket Railways we strive to combine innovation with enthusiasm, offering great quality items with first class service.

Victor of the Rainhill Trials of 1829, Rocket was at the time the fastest

steam locomotive in the world, with a top speed of more than 30mph

A Well Trodden Path!

Rocket Railways is based in Grantham, birthplace of Britain’s first female Prime Minister and the oil-fuelled tractor. The town was site of Cromwell’s first victory over the Royalists, and the place where Sir Isaac Newton went to school. Grantham also boasts the UK’s first policewoman and, of course, the famous Gingerbread.

Grantham’s communication and transport networks fostered its development. The town is situated at the confluence of rivers Mowbeck and Witham, just to the west of Ermine Street, the Roman road which connected London and Lincoln. 

In the 14th century the Great North Road brought prosperity and growth, evidenced most notably by the spectacular parish church with its imposing spire which reaches high above the town. Such is the beauty of this remarkable edifice – a testimony to both faith and fortune – that prominent nineteenth century art critic John Ruskin is said to have swooned on first seeing it!

Photograph by Martinevans123 licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence

Centuries later, Medieval inns gave way to Georgian hotels, including the George Hotel (built 1780), where another eminent Victorian, Charles Dickens, once stayed the night. Dickens was evidently impressed by the hospitality, granting it a cameo role in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby, as ‘one of the best inns in England’.

In 1797 the Nottingham and Grantham Canal opened, providing a more economic means of transporting manufactured goods and agricultural produce, though this proved relatively short-lived.

A Railway Town

The arrival of the railways in the 1850s transformed Grantham, giving rise to new industries. Surrounded by some of Britain’s richest farmland, the town became a centre for the manufacture of agricultural machinery. Firms such as Ruston & Hornsby and later Aveling-Barford set up in Grantham.

Even the site of our office and shop, in an old maltings built in 1866, is a reminder of how the railways provided a catalyst for processing agricultural products on an industrial scale.

The Ambergate, Nottingham and Boston and Eastern Junction Railway was the first company on the scene, opening in July 1850. Despite its catchy title, the company ultimately failed in its aim to connect Lancashire with the port of Boston. They built only the line between Nottingham and Grantham, and bought out their competitors, taking ownership of the canal.

In the summer of 1852, the Great Northern Railway arrived, connecting the town with Peterborough and eventually London. Located just over 100 miles north of London, Grantham provided an ideal site for a locomotive depot. Here, engines could be changed and serviced. The railways were of course important employers in their own rights. Nearly everyone in the town must have known somebody employed on the iron road. 

Within thirty years, Grantham was at the centre of a network of secondary lines. These new links provided fast communications with Lincoln and Boston as well as Leicester. Burgeoning demand for Nottinghamshire coal and local iron ore, supplemented by passenger traffic, soon necessitated further expansion of Grantham station.

Copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Grantham achieved notoriety during the 1930s for its associations with the speed trials carried out by the LNER. In 1934, Flying Scotsman passed through on its record-breaking journey, when it became the first locomotive to reach 100mph. Four years later, in July 1938, Mallard set out from Barkston junction on another record-breaking journey. Mallard reached a top speed of 126mph, a record which remains unchallenged by another steam locomotive. 

Present Day Grantham

The reorganisation of British Railways in the 1960s brought dire consequences for this railway town. In September 1963 Grantham’s locomotive shed closed. The arrival of diesel locomotives removed the need for changing locomotives so frequently. Even before Beeching, passenger trains to Leicester ceased in 1953. In 1965, the line to Lincoln closed.

For decades Grantham has seemed more a waypoint than a destination. Many viewed it as one of the less interesting places along the East Coast route from Kings Cross to Edinburgh. We are proud to call Grantham our home, and honoured to be the latest addition to the town’s railway heritage. Despite the losses of the 1950s and 1960s, Grantham remains an important station on the East Coast Main Line. Our town is within easy reach of Nottingham, East Anglia, and the Lincolnshire coast. A recent article named Grantham as the most desirable place in the east midlands for London-bound commuters, with around 70 trains to the capital each weekday.

Though the engine shed is long gone and memories of the steam age are fading, Grantham still has a lot to offer railway enthusiasts and history buffs alike. 

Photograph by mattbuck licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Rocket Railways Needs You!

We also welcome your contributions, and invite any recommendations for features or advice articles. What do you want to know? What do you want to tell us? Let us know!

We are extremely grateful for the support of our customers over the past few months. Looking ahead to the future, we would like to invite you to become a part of our wider Rocket Railways family, and take advantage of a whole host of benefits and goodies. As a Member you will receive a 10% discount on all purchases made on our website or in our shop. You will also have privileged access to our latest stock updates, with an opportunity to peruse new items before the general public.