During the 1840s, Britain witnessed a railway boom. Fuelled by low interest rates and a thriving economy, the railway system grew from a few scattered local lines to a huge national network, as railway companies – led by magnates such as George Hudson (1800–1871) – vied with each other to cash in on new routes and buy struggling rivals.
J M W Turner’s (1775–1851) famous impressionistic masterpiece Rain, Steam, and Speed, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844 when ‘railway mania’ was at its height, celebrated the new age artistically.
This printed response of six years later (by ‘Old Stoker’), however, offers a more comic take on railway culture. It provides an interesting popular insight into the look and feel of the travelling experience of the time, from steamboats to trips abroad, and leaking third-class carriages to the refreshment room, where pork pies and stout are evidently staple fare. Some of the frustrations, such as waiting to be served at the ticket office by a newspaper-reading jobsworth, may be familiar today. Others – porters angling for a tip, or the etiquette of asking neighbours before smoking – are no longer experienced by today’s travellers.
By the time this publication appeared, the railway bubble had already burst, with many investors losing huge sums of money to collapsed companies, and many hurriedly proposed lines never to be built. Hudson himself was revealed to have bribed MPs and defrauded investors, and was exiled to the continent.