1902 Encyclopedia > England > Railways. Canals and Roads.

(Part 7)


Part 7. Railways. Canals and Roads.

Far greater even than the impulse given to the country’s foreign commerce by steam navigation has been the vast progress of internal communication effected by railways. The first ordinary roads deserving the name of highways were made in 1660, and canal-building began in the middle of the following century; but though roads and canals aided materially in raising the commercial and industrial activity of the nation, their fostering agency was very slight compared with that of railways. In the half century during which England has built railways, its material progress has been vastly greater than that of the whole five previous centuries.

The first line on which carriages were propelled by steam engines, that from Stockton to Darlington, fourteen miles in length, was opened September 27, 1825. Although this little line, pioneer not only of England’s, but the world’s railways, proved a great success, it had no immediate successors of any note till five years after, when the first really important railways, connecting two great centres of commerce, was finished. This was the line from Manchester to Liverpool, opened September 15, 1830, when Mr Huskisson was accidentally killed. As yet no railway had come near the metropolis, but great efforts were made by George Stephenson and his friends to get permission for constructing a line from London to Birmingham. The bull brought into parliament for this purpose met with the most violent opposition, chiefly on the part of the great landowners, who, so far from seing that the new mode of communication would immensely enhance the value of their properties, loudly proclaimed that the substitution of steam for horse-power would be "the curse and the ruin of England." It took three years to get the bill for the London-Birmingham railway, which was passed at last in session of 1833, obtaining the royal assent on the 8th of May. The first sod of the great line was cut at Chalk Farm, London, on the 1st of June 1834. Enormous engineering difficulties had to be overcome, originating not so much from the nature of the ground as from intense public prejudice against the new mode of locomotion. Instead of following the course of the old highroad, running along valleys, the line had to be pushed, by numerous viaducts and tunnels, over hollows and under hills, so as to avoid touching any considerable towns. It took five years to construct the railways from London to Birmingham, at a cost of over four millions. Even friends of the railway presaged that such outlay could not by any possibility be remunerative; but the contrary became evident from the moment the line was opened, in 1838. The first great "trunk" line proved a striking success, and its opening settled, without further controversy, the establishment of the new system of intercommunication in England.

All the great railways system of England sprang into existence within less than then years the opening of the London-Birmingham line. Out of the latter grew, in the first instance, one of the largest of companies, the London and North-Western, while the most extensive system, as regards mileage, the Great Western, originated in a line from Paddington, London, to Bristol, for which an Act of parliament was obtained in 1835, and which was opened in 1841. In 1836, a bill passed the legislature was opened in 1841. In 1836, a bill passed the legislature erecting the "Great North of England" Railway Company, from which was developed the now third largest of English railway systems, the North Eastern. A few years subsequently various other Acts were passed, sanctioning the "Midland Counties" and the "North Midland" lines, from which sprang the present Midland system, fourth largest of English railway companies. The construction of railways, up to this time, was confined almost exclusively to England; the work was begin much later in Scotland, and still later in Ireland.

The total length of railways in the Unite4d Kingdom at the end of the year 1825, which saw the opening of the first line, was 40 miles, constructed at a cost of £120,000. Five years later, at the end of 1830, there were not more £120,000. Five years later, at the end of 1830, there were not more than 95 miles, built at a cost of a cost of £840,925, but at the end of 1835 there were 293 miles, costing £5,648,531. Thus, in the first five years of railway construction, from 1835 to 1830, the mileage doubled; while in the second five years, from 1830 to 1835, it trebled. It quintupled in the next five-yearly period, till the end of 1840, when the total length of miles of railway in the kingdom had come to be 1435, built at a cost of £41,391,634, as represented by the paid-up capital of the various companies. The next five years saw again nearly another doubling of length of lines, for at the end of 1845 there were 2441 miles of railways, created by a paid-up capital of £88,481,376. Not far from a fresh trebling took place in the course of the next quinquennial period, and at the end of 1850 there were 6621 miles of railways, constructed at the cost of £240,270,745. Nearly all the railways opened up to this date were main or "truck" lines connecting more or less busy centres of population, the traffic between which was so large as to require double lines. Unlike most was so large as to require double lines. Unlike most European countries up to the present time, England began railway building on a scale commensurate with the importance of the new mode of intercommunication, the leaders of the great enterprise foreseeing clearly the ultimate requirements of their work. It thus came to pass that double lines were made the rule, and single lines the exception. More recently, however, an increase has taken place in the construction of the latter, owing to the extension of short branches from the main lines.

The length of railways open for traffic in the United Kingdom, either with double or single lines, and the amount of authorized capital, were as follows as at the end of each fifth year from 1856 to 1876:—


Nearly three-fourths of the railways of the United Kingdom, and far more than three-fourths of the capital invested in them, fall to the share of England and Wales. The length of lines open for traffic in each of the three divisions of the kingdom, and the amount of authorized capital, was as follows on the 31st December 1876:—


Among the most marvelous effects produced by railways was the incentives given by them to the population to move from one place to another. Before the making of ordinary roads, that is, previous to the middle of the 17th century and the old era of packhorses and bridle paths, there war scarcely any movement worth the name; and the immense majority of people had to live and die in the places where they were born, simply through not being able to transport themselves elsewhere, even for a short distance. A change took place when highways came to be made, with stage-coaches rolling along them, at a rate of from six to ten miles an hour. But the accommodation afforded by these new means of traveling was necessarily limited, besides being costly, in time as well as money, and the mass of the people could not avail themselves of it. But what was impossible for "the coach" was the easiest achievement for "the train" of coaches. In "the train," placed upon two longitudinal lines of iron rails, and propelled by steams, the whole nation for the first time obtained freedom of movement. The ancient packhorses carried their hundreds, and the stage-coaches their thousands; but the railways carried their millions—and more millions than ever stage coaches carried thousands.

The railways carried their first million of passengers in 1833, the year in which Stephenson won his great parliamentary battle in getting the bill for the London-Birmingham line passed. The number of passengers carried per mile in 1832 was 4860, but before other ten years were gone, the number of passengers had not only increased in proportion with the opening of new lines, but more than doubled per mile, and, instead of being under 5000, had in 1842 come to be near 12,000. The following table exhibits the growth of the passenger traffic on the railways of the United Kingdom, giving the length of lines open, the total number of passengers carried, and the number per mile, in every fifth year from 1846 to 1876:—


The table shows, more clearly than could be expressed by any description in words only, the striking changes effected by railways in the migratory habits of the people in the course of a generation. While the number of passengers was little above 14,000 per mile in 1846, it was nearly 32,000 in 1876. The number of passengers carried on the railways of the United Kingdom in the year 1876 was equal to four times the population of Europe, and more than half the estimated population of the globe.

Considerably more than four-fifths of the passengers traffic on the railways of the United Kingdom is in England and Wales. The number of railway passengers in England and Wales, in Scotland, and in Ireland, and the numbers traveling by each class of railway, were as follows in the year 1876:—


Not included in the above summary are season-ticket holders, to the number of 394,427—345,656 in England and Wales, 26,481 in Scotland, and 22,290 in Ireland—the addition of which brings the total number of passengers to 538,681,722 in the year 1876.
The total receipts, the total working expenditure, and the net receipts of the railways in each division of the United Kingdom were as follows in the year 1876:—


The receipts of the railways of England and Wales in 1876 were derived to the extent of 55 per cent. from the goods traffic, and of 45 per cent, from passenger traffic. In 1854 the total receipts were exactly alike from the two sources, but after that year the proportion contributed by goods gradually rose, reaching 51 per cent. in 1858, 52 per cent. in 1862, 53 per cent in 1863, 54 per cent. in 1867, and 55 per cent. in 1873. In Scotland the receipts from goods traffic in recent years amounted to 85 peer cent. of the total; but in Ireland the passenger traffic furnished 53 per cent. of the total receipts.

The contribution of railways in England was undertaken originally by a vast number of small companies, each obtaining separate Acts of Parliament deemed requisite for their existence. But many years did not elapse before it was discovered that there could be neither harmonious nor profitable working of a great many systems, and this led to a series of amalgamations, by which the majority of the lines were brought under the management of a few great corporations. In the official "Railway Returns" issued by the Board of Trade, there were still 92 independent companies enumerated as existing in England and Wales at the end of 1876, but the mass of these consisted of every small undertakings. Virtually, the railways of the country were controlled by seven leading companies, as follows:—


The seven great railway companies here enumerated—which might be reduced to six, the North Eastern and Great Northern practically forming a united system—held between them 8543 miles on the 31st December 1876, representing nearly all the main lines of the country. It seems probable that, with the exception, perhaps, of two or three companies south of the Thames, possessing, in the communication with the Continent, an independent traffic, all the others will gradually follow the process of absorption, more and more strongly developed in recent years. It may be that the process will ultimately reach its furthest solution by all the railways being placed by purchase, the same as the telegraphs, under the sole control of the Government.

Tramways—The obvious advantages, quite independent of steam power, offered by placing longitudinal rails on the ground for the traction of vehicles led to the introduction, in recent years, of a modified form of railways, known as tramroads. In reality, tramroads are the oldest railways. Wooden rails exited in the mining and quarrying districts of England as early as the commencement of the 18th century, and these being liable to rapid destruction by wear and tear, it occurred to the manager of the far-famed Colebrookdale works before referred to that iron would be an excellent substitute for wood. Accordingly, In 1767 the whole of the wooden rails used on the extensive grounds over which the factories extended were taken up, and replaced by iron rails. Early as thus was the establishment of iron tramroads, over which vehicles were drawn by horses, into England, they were forgotten over steam-worked railways, and nearly a century elapsed before they were introduced again. The first tramway was laid down at Birkenhead in 1860, after American models; but a subsequent attempts to lay down a line in London, from the Marble Arch to Bayswater, and another from Westminster Bridge southwards, proved a failure. Fresh attempts, made in 1868, were more successful; and in 1870 an Act was passed by the legislature—33and 34 Vict. c. 78—to facilitate the construction of tramways throughout the country. This led to the laying down of "street railways" in nearly all the large towns. According to a return laid before the House of Commons in the session of 1878, the total length of tramways authorized by parliament up to the 30th of June 1877 was 363 miles, and the total length opened for traffic 213 miles, comprising 125 miles of double lines, and 88 miles of single lines. The total authorized capital of all the tramway companies on the 30th June 1877 was £5,528,989, while the paid-up capital amounted to £3,269,744, and the capital actually expended to £3,3,43,265. A parliamentary commission on tramways, which made its report in the session of 1877, recommended the introduction of steam as a motive power, and the probable adoption of this improvement can scarcely fail to bring "street railways," in course of time, to be a useful appendage of the ordinary railways system.

Canals.—Roads and canals, too, the oldest aids to inter-communication, are tending more and more, as far as lengthened distances are concerned, to be simple auxiliaries of railways. The total length of the canals traversing England extends over 2360 miles, and it is estimated that more than half of this length already either belongs to railways companied or is under their control, while the remainder must follow the same tendency of absorption, as the traffic on them, even for the heavy goods, is unable to withstand the competition of railways. Various attempts to introduce steam on the canals have not met with success, being opposed by the size and construction of most of them, and the hindrance of numerous locks, dividing unequal levels.

Roads.—Railways have rather aided than prevented the extension and improvement of the old highways of England, the turnpike roads, which are now acknowledge to be among the best in the world. But the "turnpikes" themselves have almost become things of the past. The system of road-building by private enterprise, the undertakers being rewarded by tolls levied form vehicles, persons, or animals using the roads, was established in England in 1663, an Act of Charles II., 15. c. 1. authorizing the taking of such tolls at "turnpikes" in Herts and Cambridgeshire. A century after, in 1767, the authorization was extended over the whole kingdom, by Act 7 George III. c. 40. In its fullness, the system lasted just sixty years, for the first breach in it was made by an Act 7 and 8 George IV. c. 24, passed in 1827, by which the chief turnpikes in the metropolis were abolished. Further Acts in the same direction followed, leading to the gradual extinction, by due compensation of the persons interested, of the old system, the maintenance of the roads being vested in "turnpike trusts and highway boards," empowered to levy local rates. The revenue of these boards, outside the metropolis, amounted to £2,302,869 in 1870, and had risen to over three millions sterling in 1876.

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