The Railways


  • Intro

    Between 1830 and 1870 a vast, sprawling network of railways was built all around the British Isles.  By 1852 there were over 7000 miles of rail track in England and Scotland, and every significant centre could rely on rail communication. Britain's railways transformed the landscape both physically and culturally. New opportunities were produced for commerce and travel, the railways literally paving the way for industrial and economic development. Trains transported goods around the world at unprecedented rates, and British technologies and engineers were responsible for railway construction across the Empire, in the Americas and in many part of Europe.


    At home, major cities, such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol were now interconnected. Until the creation of the railway, the fastest speed known to man had been that of a galloping horse. Now, an express train could reach speeds of 80 miles an hour. Newspapers printed in London in the early hours could be loaded on a train to be sold that morning ‘hot from the press’ in the provinces. Fresh produce such as milk or meat, could be rushed from rural producers to city consumers on a daily basis. Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes could send a letter at breakfast time and receive a reply before lunch the same day – something unimaginable until the railway. Some people feared that fast trains might cause physical harm to the passengers. Queen Victoria asked the driver to go more slowly than his average speed of 40 miles an hour, on her journey from Slough to London, finding the experience terrifying.


    Shelfmark: MS 43474, f.1

Find out more about The Railways Here

Explore more timeline content: