The well-documented and fierce competition between the Great Northern and the Midland Railways began in the late 1860s, and London’s goods traffic was not exempt, especially not the Widened Lines or Extended Widened Lines. In a seemingly endless, and very expensive game of tit-for-tat, wherever the Great Northern went, the Midland was sure to follow. Therefore, the Midland’s Whitecross Street depot was built as a direct response to the Great Northern’s Farringdon Street depot, but constructional and financial difficulties ensured that the GN depot had already been open for four years before Whitecross Street was finally opened in 1878. The Midland depot had four stories above ground and one basement level, and was located in the heart of the lucrative textile district. In a rather cheeky pawn-takes-queen move, the GNR then opened a non-rail served depot in Whitecross Street almost opposite the Midland, offering a goods and parcels collection service, and warehouse space to rent.

With the coming of the Extended Widened Lines, the Midland Railway found itself in a position to finally get the jump on its arch rival, and a large depot with rail access to the huge six-storey warehouses that surrounded St. Katherine’s Docks was opened in 1889. St. Katherine’s Docks had an infamous reputation in the 19th century; the construction of Telford’s masterpiece left over eleven thousand people homeless and caused the demolition of historical ecclesiastical buildings. Opened to great fanfare, it soon became a white elephant as the twin wet-docks soon became too small for the new and larger ships being built, and by the mid-1860s had merged with London Docks. After this, much of the traffic was brought in by barge and lighter from the lower docks, and the warehouses were used mainly for storing and distributing imported luxury goods such as ivory, shells, sugar, marble, rubber, carpets, spices and perfumes.

Midland goods traffic through Artillery Lane will reflect these imported goods, and the majority of wagons will be opens of various sizes and covered vans, with some perishable goods.

The photo is of the Midland’s depot at Poplar, and is an early photo as at least one of the sheeted wagons is unbraked.

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