John Sydney Crossley (1812-1879), who lived at Barrow House (which he himself had built) in Barrow upon Soar, was one of the great Victorian railway engineers, famous for his work on the Settle-Carlisle Railway, the last, highest and arguably most scenic of the great mainline routes to have been constructed in Britain.
He was born at Loughborough, on Christmas Day,1812. At an early age he was articled by his guardian, to Mr. Edward Staveley, engineer to the Leicester Navigation Company (see Christpher Staveley), and in 1832 he was appointed a director of the company, a position he held till his death. He became involved on railway work in 1832 when he was employed on surveying the Leicester and Swannington railway, one of the first railways in the UK, and in 1835 he began his association the Midland Counties Railway and the line which runs through Barrow.
His railway work continued in 1845, involving surveys for the South Midland railway, in 1846 on the Leicester and Swannington extension of the Midland railway, the construction of the line from Ashby to Coalville, the deviation from Coalville to Leicester, and the stations from Burton to Leicester. These projects lasted until 1851, when he was engaged as engineer for the Leicester Waterworks Company.
In 1852 he commenced the surveys of the Leicester and Hitchin branch of the Midland railway, but, apparently due to the heavy workload, he suffered a stroke. He recovered however and in 1853 he was able to assume the position of resident engineer on the Leicester and Hitchin railway. This line was not completed until 1857, when he was appointed resident engineer to the Midland Railway Company, and, in 1858, as its engineer-in-chief. He was responsible for building the railway line through Barrow, including the bridges over the lines and the passenger station which was located next to the footbridge.
He was also heavily involved in many other lines and branches for the company:-
The Erewash Valley extension from Pye Bridge to Clay Cross; the Cudworth and Barnsley; Duffield and Wirksworth; Mangotsfield and Bath; Yate and Thornbury; Derby, Melbourne, and Breedon; Ashby,Stenson and Weston; Mansfield and Worksop; and the Ambergate and Codnor Park branches; the Trent and Derby curves; the Radford and Trowell branch; the Bristol Junction lines; the Gloucester to Berkley new docks; the Trent to Leicester widening; the Shipley and Guiseley branch; and the Settle and Carlisle Railway (see below).
Settle – Carlisle Railway
Of all his achievements, the greatest engineering work was the Settle and Carlisle railway, and he was responsible for the design and construction of all the major features along it. Although it is only about 73 miles long, it goes through the heart of the Pennine Hills in the north of England, and presented tremendous engineering challenges, with the terrain requiring as many as 21 viaducts and 14 tunnels, as well as numerous bridges and culverts. This "tremendous feat of engineering" (Scholes) was beset by more mundane challenges as well, such as inhospitable weather and a shortage of labour in this part of the country. Around 6000 men were brought in to work on it, and it took six years to complete. The final cost of this enormous project was phenomenal for those days — about £3.4M.
This most important branch of the Midland railway was, however, successfully opened for passenger traffic on the 1st May, 1876.The new line not only provided a through route to Scotland, it proved of enormous benefit to the local communities along the route.
During the later years of his life Mr. Crossley was only engaged on occasional work for railway and canal companies.However, he had built up extensive property interests in the Barrow area, which are described in the sale of his estate in 1884 after his death as:
"30 Lots of Land, Messuages (dwellings with land) and Cottages"
Among them was Barrow House, which he had built for his extended family (wife Agnes, four children and their offspring, plus 5 servants) which stood at the corner of Bridge Street and South Street at Jerusalem Island, and was an imposing mansion with extensive grounds which overlooked the canal and fields of what is now Proctor's Park. He also owned cottages in High Street and South Street.
He died at Barrow-upon-Soar on the l0th June, 1879. He is buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard and the Lych-Gate entrance to the Church was erected in his memory, and there is a dedication to him beneath the roof which reads:
"In Memory of John Sydney Crossley of Barrow upon Soar, who died June 10th 1879 aged 66 years. Also of Agnes his eldest daughter who died Dec 10th 1856 aged 18 years"
Barrow House, built by John Crossley, from the rear; note the Cedar tree which was well known to local residents before it was cut down in 2008