Tag: History of Railways

A railway journey through time

A railway journey through time

From the 19th century on the achievements and inventions of the human race transformed the world. Suddenly there were new ways to communicate and move around. So began a railway journey through time. Up until the age of steam engines, most people lived in the area where they had been born and rarely went further than a day’s journey from home.

The first railway journey

Steam was first used in engines for the emerging factories of the Industrial Revolution. Then later it was used to power boats. But only when the engines became smaller could they be used on wheels and the idea of railways developed. George Stephenson engineered a railway from Liverpool to Manchester using his son, Robert’s engine called The Rocket. It opened in 1830.

The Stephenson’s then built a longer line connecting London and Birmingham. The excitement caught on and soon the pair were helping other countries develop railways. This led the chairman of the modern British Rail to comment that the whole world travels on a branch line of the Liverpool to Manchester original.

No stopping the railway

Once the railways came, there was no stopping their momentum. They carried goods to and from factories and eventually displaced the canal system of transport. They carried people to cities for work and business and the ordinary folk to seaside locations for recreation. The countryside was linked by the networks and huge viaducts built to span gullies and rivers. Railways brought prosperity to isolated towns and scenic coastlines. Everyone wanted to take a railway journey.

An ode to the railways

Another son of a Stephen, Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island book fame penned a poem, an ode to railways. It is called From a railway carriage and starts like this.

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches.
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

I love the pace and the rhyme. Quite catchy as poems used to be before free verse. I used part of this as a header for one of my chapters in my historical series novel, Time Heal my Heart. It seemed apt for the time of the early 20th century when railways moved to the suburbs. Before people had cars they moved around on bicycle, tram, bus and train.

Railways take priority

Let’s continue our railway journey through time. Once railway networks extended anything in their way had to move. They seemed to have priority. The whole of the St Pancras cemetery had to move and be relocated for the Northern London line. Thomas Hardy before he was a famous novelist worked on this project. he positioned all the gravestones around a giant oak tree that is now known as The Hardy Tree. This story features in my novel Whispers through Time.

Likewise, when Sydney some years later had to build a suburban network, the Devonshire Street cemetery had to be moved to allow for the Central Station. Today many bodies still lie below the bustling station. The moving of a cemetery is very disrespectful. Corpses in various stages of decay are hauled from their resting places to a new site of mass burial. Headstones were left behind.

So, as you see there was no progress like rail progress. Today we see a similar process as green energy transmission lines take precedence and crush all in their path as they proceed through farmland and towns. I wonder what history will make of this in years to come.

Railways in America and Europe

The railway journey craze spread to America and Europe.  Following the example of Britain, they forged ahead with steam driven rail networks. The American pioneer Colonel John Stevens (another son of Stephen!) oversaw the first rail carriages pulled by horse and wagon. A faster and wider form of transport was sorely needed in such a vast country as America.

Europe was not far behind. France, by 1832, had a line between St Etienne and Lyon. Originally intended to transport coal it turned to passenger transport as well. Belgium and Germany followed with industry then passenger transport as the rage caught on. Politics and commerce spurred on even greater railway building projects. The vast continents of Africa and Russia benefited like America from this new form of transport. Ports could be linked to cities and one end of an empire connected to another. So developed the Trans-Siberian network and parts of the trans-Africa network. Terrain and colonial acquisitions stopped this latter vast project from succeeding.

The famous Orient Express

Europe being smaller concentrated more on passenger services. The idea of linking Paris to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) resulted in The Orient Express. It was the baby of a Belgian, Georges Nagelmackers who had already launched an international line from Ostend to Brindisi in Italy. But for the orient line the railway had to cross six nations. Not so easy plus the line was nearly 3000km long. It would cross Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria on the way to where east meets west, Constantinople.

It first left Le Gare de l’Est on October 4, 1883 on its way east. The last part of the journey was by boat though because the line was yet unfinished. Six years later it finally made the whole trip in three and a half days. That was marvellous in itself but what captivated the public was the sheer opulence of the train. Its sleeping compartments panelled with teak had marquetry inlays and water faucets. Guards for each compartment saw to all their passenger’s needs. Hot showers were available in a rear coach. There were also dining cars serving cocktails and fine cuisine, a smoking room and even a library.

The trip was very popular as it was much quicker than the boat alternative. The Orient added other routes to Milan and Venice plus from Constantinople you could connect to transport to Syria and Baghdad. Agatha Christie took this trip in 1928 after her traumatic marrige ending. She ran off and had a fantastic adventure which fuelled a few novels like Death on the Nile and Death in Mesopotamia. She met her second husband, Max Mallowan on a dig on a second trip there.

The Blue Train to the Riviera

Another glamorous train in France was Le Train Bleu which linked the port Calais with Paris then to the Riviera. In the early 1900s this was a favourite with socialites who would disppear to the Riviera for the season. Coco Chanel loved this train. It had blue sleeper cars with gold trim, hence its name. Only during the war years did it stop the night service to Marseilles, Nice and Menton.

Eventually with the desire for fast travel, trains grew out of vogue and air travel was the go.  But some services like The Orient Express are so popular for romance and nostalgia reasons that they are making a comeback. The Orient Express is due to travel again this year.  

Everything old is new again! If you love the Riviera, read my novel, The Last Hotel set there. A modern tale with old fashioned glamour and romance. Trains feature in all my books. I love trains so have my characters moving around on them. In my historical novels they have no choice.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published books. See more on her website.joniscottauthor.com

Whispers Through Time- Full Steam Ahead

Whispers Through Time- Full Steam Ahead

Whispers through Time- Full Steam Ahead

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches
Robert Louis Stevenson (1885), The Railway Carriage.


Before the age of railways most people stayed in their hometowns and could not envisage travelling faster than a horse could gallop. Even the humble bicycle was not an everyday travel luxury until the 1870’s. The world changed forever when in 1830, another unrelated Stevenson, (spelt differently), namely, George Stephenson engineered the first railroad line from Liverpool to Manchester. He used the steam powered Rocket engine developed by his son, Robert.

Railways not only revolutionized the transport of goods but people. As newly constructed rail lines connected town after town, the world opened up for pleasure and business travel. All classes of people could suddenly travel to the mountains, the seaside, to spas and resorts. Thomas Cook, a great enthusiast for changing horizons, offered trips and tours across England then later, The Continent and Egypt culminating in a round-the -world tour offer of 222days in 1872.

Travel for travel’s sake, a new trend

Travel for travel’s sake,’ became the fashion. Tourism was born. The elegant and well-off young completed the Grand Tour of Europe as a rite of passage. Along with their chaperones, they marveled at the beauties and art of Rome, Paris and Florence. Guidebooks such as Bradshaw’s (UK) and Baedeker’s (Germany) became essential companions, offering information on journeys, timetables and hotels.

However, for every invention, there is a flow on of good and bad. Railways, for all their benefits, tore up the countryside and polluted landscapes with soot and noise. Without trains, men and supplies could not have reached the more sinister destination of The Western Front of WWI. Railways were powerful agents for change, fueling the progress of the Industrial Revolution as computers have powered The Digital Revolution of today.

Many of you, like me may have watched Michael Portillo’s wonderful series on Railways of the world where he uses his Bradshaw to educate us on the delights of this form of travel, past and present, whilst wowing us with his colorful wardrobe.

Whispers Through Time

I like Michael love to learn about the past. I feel I definitely was born in the wrong time in history. The digital age holds little fascination for me. A romantic dreamer, I would have liked to live in my mother or grandmother’s era. But then again, I could have been unlucky to be poor and spent my life at a washing board bearing child after child like my great grandmother did. She had ten children, eight lived, one being Winfred my grandmother.

My historical novel, Whispers Through Time, the first book of my Time Trilogy, follows the early years and romances of two young sisters, Winifred and Francesca and their voyage to Australia just months after The Titanic sinking. Whilst researching their lives, I studied the development of the railways in London. I could not have them travelling from one place to the other if the line had not opened yet.

The railways firstly extended above ground until The Underground was built in 1863. My grandmother would have witnessed the protest in her hometown of Hampstead Heath when an underground under The Heath and an extensive residential estate were proposed in 1903. Fortunately, due to ‘green’ activism, developers halted construction of the estate and underground. The station tunnel already dug 60 metres below Hampstead Hill was never used. Instead, London authorities extended The Heath for public use.

In the sequel, Time, Heal my Heart, the railways still feature, and I couldn’t resist putting a Bradshaw in the hands of one of the characters!

History is so interesting! Read more each week in my history snippet blogs on Whisperingencouragement.com. Follow me on Insta.@authorjoniscott.

Books available online via websites, https://joniscottauthor.com

Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.


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