railway history

Praising the unsung heroes

During the Industrial Revolution, Britain was completely transformed. It was transformed through technological development: steam, locomotion and railways. It was transformed by millions of pounds of capital backing increasingly ambitious, even audacious schemes. But, more than any other factor, it was physically transformed shovel load by backbreaking shovel load by the navvies. Navvies, short for ‘navigators’, were the men who actually built the wonders of the industrial age – the canals, railways, […]

Thirty miles to the future 1

At just over thirty miles, the railway between Liverpool and Manchester covered a relatively short distance. But, as the world’s first twin tracked and timetabled passenger railway it signalled the start of the railway age and ushered in the modern age. At the start of the nineteenth centuries Liverpool and Manchester were fizzing with capitalist energy. Liverpool was well into its ascent as a great port, cementing its place as a leading […]

Ahead of their time

The arrival of the railway heralded a new age more than almost any other technological development. But the idea of combining fixed paths with wheeled vehicles was much older than the great nineteenth century inventors and the age of steam. Christopher Woolmer opens his book Fire and Steam, a history of the railways, with this quite arresting story: “One of the least known facts about Louis XIV is that he had a railway […]

An asylum of railway lunatics

It is now over four years since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers heralded the credit crunch and the start of the one of the deepest global recessions in history. We are well versed in warning stores of booms, busts and bubbles. The South Sea Bubble and the Wall Street Crash are well known examples of speculative bubbles bursting with catastrophic effect. Less well known, but similarly destructive, was the British ‘Railway Mania’ […]

Makin’ all t’railways cum to York

York, Swindon, Crewe, Derby, Peterborough, Wolverton and Eastleigh are very different places, cities and towns spread across Britain. From ancient cathedral cities to metropolises that barely existed two centuries ago, they all share one thing; they are amongst Britain’s railway towns.  Railway towns owed their economic success and booming populations to the arrival and patronage of the railways. To be a true railway town, it wasn’t enough to be served by the railways; […]

Steaming into post-war Britain

It was the dawn of a new age for Britain’s steam-powered trains. After years of neglect and underinvestment, the railways would be revitalised and the country would regain its position stoking the furnace of innovation and enterprise. Thousands of brand new steam engines were ordered to haul Britain back into pole position. Over the next 12 years, 2,500 engines were produced in workshops across the country – literal cast-iron commitments to a […]