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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

story:Constructing the railway system

scene:Cultural changes between 1820 and 1850

There was considerable concern about the cultural changes introduced with the railway network. The Duke of Wellington thought 'they would encourage the lower classes to move about'.

John Ruskin was a vitriolic critic of what he saw as the destruction of the countryside by the advance of the railways:


There was a valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time as divine as the vale of Tempe; . . . You enterprised a railroad through the valley – you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone and the Gods with it, and now, every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you Fools everywhere.

John Ruskin, Praeterita, 1871-77.


A painting by Norman Wilkinson for a 1930s London, Midland & Scottish Railway poster, extolling the beauties of Monsal Dale in the Derbyshire Peak District. picture zoom © National Railway Museum/Pictorial Collection

Ruskin was referring to Monsal Dale in Derbyshire. Ironically, the line was closed in 1968, though the viaduct remains for walkers to use.

Railway time


The master regulator clock from Euston station, London and Birmingham Railway, 1837. It was used to set guards’ chronometers and other station clocks. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science Museum and Society Picture Library

The spread of railways brought a new complication to everyday life. Trains needed to operate according to a common timetable, but the places they were beginning to serve still observed local time. This might vary by as much as 20 minutes from London (Greenwich) time. During the 1840s most railways in Britain made the decision to run according to London time. This created the potential for considerable confusion, with trains arriving and departing at different times from those shown on the local public clocks. Many towns and cities changed their public clocks over to , though in some places the matter caused considerable debate. The pressure for change was strong, especially from the early 1850s when daily time-signals began to be distributed by electric telegraph from Greenwich. By 1855 nearly all public clocks in Britain showed Greenwich time.


A cutting on the London and South Western Railway, with telegraph lines at the left, 1845. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science Museum and Society Picture Library


The end of coaching


In 1822 the future of coaching still seemed assured. This is the London to Brighton stagecoach. picture zoom © National Museum of Photography, Film and Television

In Britain, road travel reached a high state of efficiency by 1820. Construction of new roads and continued improvements in road surfaces brought down journey times for both people and goods. Overall passenger capacity was low and fares were high. The introduction of main-line railways, which were both faster and cheaper, rapidly brought all this to an end. At first the stagecoach operators responded by reducing their fares, but this did not work. As the railways advanced, the long-distance coach services collapsed and the infrastructure of road travel decayed. Inns closed, or continued only by serving a purely local clientele. Turnpike trusts were wound up and road surfaces deteriorated.



						‘Past and present’. By the end of the 1840s the coaching era in Britain was coming to an end. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science Museum and Society Picture Library


Resource Descriptions

A painting by Norman Wilkinson for a 1930s London, Midland & Scottish Railway poster, extolling the beauties of Monsal Dale in the Derbyshire Peak District.
The master regulator clock from Euston station, London and Birmingham Railway, 1837. It was used to set guards’ chronometers and other station clocks.
A cutting on the London and South Western Railway, with telegraph lines at the left, 1845.
In 1822 the future of coaching still seemed assured. This is the London to Brighton stagecoach.
‘Past and present’. By the end of the 1840s the coaching era in Britain was coming to an end.
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