Introduction: The Railways, a Victorian Industry

  • T. R. Gourvish
Part of the Studies in Economic and Social History book series (SESH)


WHILE the ‘railway’ has a long history, stretching back to ancient times, the railway in the modern sense was very much an innovation of the mid-late 1820s. The Stockton and Darlington (opened 1825) and the Liverpool and Manchester (opened 1830) combined the essential features — specialised track, mechanical traction, facilities for public traffic, and provision for passengers. And the industry was established in the next half-century or, more exactly, in a series of promotion ‘manias’ in the late 1830s, mid-1840s and mid-1860s. By 1875 over 70 per cent of the final route mileage had been constructed. Although historians have recently attempted to play down the economic effects of this new transport technology, there is no doubting its tremendous impact on Victorian society. Bringing a transformation in the speed and comfort of personal travel and a marked improvement in the reliability of freight movement all over the country, the railway inspired universal admiration. Charles Dickens, for example, amazed by his London — Paris journey in eleven hours in 1851, could only bless the South Eastern Railway for ‘realising the Arabian Nights in these prose days’.1


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Copyright information

© The Economic History Society 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. R. Gourvish
    • 1
  1. 1.University of East AngliaUK

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