The MCR was one of the first railway companies to be formed in Britain, and was based in Leicester in the English east midlands. The MCR started out in 1832 as a small company with a few mineral lines linking the Nottinghamshire coalfields to the city of Leicester where rapid industrialisation was occurring. The system rapidly grew to connect Leicester with Nottingham and Derby and it linked to the North Midland Railway system, which linked to Sheffield. However the supply of coal outstripped demand and new markets needed to be opened up.
In 1840 the MCR built a line connecting their system to the London and Birmingham Railway at Rugby. This allowed coal from the east midlands to be transported to London and opened up a huge new market, making the MCR one of the busiest and most profitable railway companies. In 1844 the MCR merged with several other railway companies to form the Midland Railway of which the former MCR was the most important part.