The Nene Valley Railway is an accredited museum in its entirety, with multiple sections dedicated to conserving the legacy of the railway. The departments in question are the ones for mechanical engineering, locomotives, carriages, wagons, operations, civil engineering, commercial, and heritage and archives.  

Museums of the World Nene Valley Railway Museum-Sheet1
Nene Valley Railway, Wansford_©

The History

The restored Nene Valley Railway line was originally a section of the eastern segment of the Northampton and Peterborough Railway (N&PR), which became operational on June 2, 1845, and was the first railway to reach Peterborough. It was a branch of the London & Birmingham Railway (L&BR), not a stand-alone railway, that stretched from Blisworth to Peterborough via Northampton, Thrapston, Oundle, and Wansford. It became known as the Nene Valley line since most of its route was an easy one that followed the River Nene’s valley.

After the L&BR joined the London & North Western Railway (L&NWR) in 1846, the latter discovered that its circuitous Nene Valley route—which had a reversal at Blisworth—from Peterborough to Birmingham and the Midlands was slower and took longer than its rivals. Consequently, a connecting line to Seaton was constructed in November 1879, giving access to Rugby, from Yarwell Junction (beyond Wansford Tunnel, west of Wansford Station). 

Despite the Wansford Branch of the Stamford & Essendine Railway connecting the Great Northern Railway (GNR) in 1867 from Stamford to the Nene Valley line at Wansford, the GNR closed this line in 1929 due to lack of profitability. Its embankment is visible to the east of the Wansford River bridge, heading northward. The Fletton Loop, which opened in 1883 and allowed the GNR’s trains to run to Leicester for many years, was a more significant link. Just east of the current Orton Mere Station, at Longville Junction, this joined the Nene Valley line after departing the GNR main line at Fletton Junction. This loop continues to be in use and connects the Nene Valley Railway to the Railtrack system.

In 1923, the L&NWR joined the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, which in turn joined British Railways in 1948. The Nene Valley line saw a sharp decrease in traffic throughout the 1930s, but during World War 2, it was very busy. With passenger services on the Northampton line ending in 1964 and freight service the following year, it was the traffic migration to the roads in the 1950s and 1960s that first led to the closure of some stations on the route. On the Rugby line, through-rail services were discontinued in 1966. A few unique services and local items were offered until 1972 when the Nene Valley line was shut down entirely.

Permission to use the Wansford signal box as a new base was granted by BR in April 1973 to the Peterborough Railway Society, which was operating on the British Sugar Corporation (BSC) sidings in Peterborough and was the progenitor of the Nene Valley Railway. September saw the arrival of rolling stock at Wansford, and in November the Society was granted use of a portion of the Wansford site through a tenancy agreement. In March 1974, the line between Longville Junction and Yarwell Junction was bought by the Peterborough Development Corporation (PDC) and leased to the Society. With the inauguration of the Wansford Steam Centre at Easter 1974 and the start of a shuttle service between Wansford and Yarwell in 1975, the stock was gradually transferred from the BSC to Wansford.

The Wansford to Longville Junction line was progressively brought up to passenger standards between 1974 and 1977. After the Railway Inspectorate conducted an inspection, a Light Railway Order was given, and in June 1977 the line between Wansford and Orton Mere was formally opened. The goal of the railway had always been to get closer to Peterborough’s center, and by the end of 1983, planning clearance had been obtained. Track laying began in September 1984 after BR had previously elevated the track, and on May 24, 1986, the first train to Peterborough Nene Valley Station ran after the customary inspection. HRH Prince Edward officially opened the line from Longville Junction to Peterborough at the end of June. The chain’s freehold, formerly owned by the PDC, was transferred to the railway in 1998.

Museums of the World Nene Valley Railway Museum-Sheet2
Nene Valley Railway, Wissington_©

The Archive

The material in the Railway’s archive is divided into two categories: Nene Valley Railway content and Mail-by-Rail material, primarily Travelling Post Office material. A variety of plans, track diagrams, and maps are included in the part devoted to NVR; some are original papers, and NVR has been granted permission to duplicate them from original material, including other local lines. Some very early original plans are held in the Huntingdonshire Records Office; however, these are retained in the NVR’s archive. 

The history of the railway in its different guises dates back to the time before the 1843 Act, which permitted the building of the Blisworth to Peterborough line (which became the first railway into Peterborough when it opened in 1845). More contemporary records from the early years of the Peterborough Railway Society, which later evolved into the Nene Valley Railway, have recently been assembled. The section on Mail-by-Rail has assembled an equally extensive and fascinating assortment of records, images, and printed materials from other sources. The late D Moulder, a former TPO employee, gave the NVR his personal collection with the stipulation that “it received a good home” where it might be available to other interested people.

Museums of the World Nene Valley Railway Museum-Sheet3
Muesum External_©

The Museum

Even though the entire institution is an accredited museum, all “museum” matters are handled by a specialized team that focuses on the management of the NVR’s full collection. Their activities are all supervised by a qualified Museum Mentor. Items that are loaned or donated are acknowledged and recorded, and the NVR follows standard museum procedures for collection and disposal. 


  • History of the Nene Valley Railway | Nene Valley Railway Ltd. (n.d.). 

Kimaya is an architect based in Mumbai. Her interests lie in contributing to social justice and making cities more habitable. Her research interests include public and urban policy, urban inequities, and mobility. She enjoys observing and writing about cities and their complexities.