The Early Development of Railways in England
Yesterday, I boarded an early morning train from Ashford, itself a railway town, to Canterbury. My ticket, a season ticket, was one of the earliest railway developments, introduced on the Canterbury-Whitstable line in the 1830s.
Richard Trevithick, having developed the steam engine in 1804, attempted to sell the idea to road builders to replace the horse and carriage with trains, and to mining companies in his native Cornwall. He was unsuccessful, and later emigrated and died in poverty.
George Stephenson, however, was more successful in spreading railways. His Stockton-Darlington line prospered, and then, with the ‘Rocket’, the result of his genius and his son’s, the Liverpool-Manchester line flourished.
All of a sudden, the ‘iron horse’ led the way. Companies, at first almost solely under Stephenson’s direction, built lines linking major parts of the country with not-so-major parts– the London Bridge-Greenwich line in 1836, the London-Birmingham in 1837-1838, and Brunel’s masterpiece, the Great Western Railway line from London to Bristol. Allowing for rapid transit by Brunellian steam, one could then travel from London to New York!
The 1840s saw the emergence of the railway works, where companies built their own engines instead of relying on Stephenson at Darlington or his rival, Timothy Hackworth at Shildon. Engines were built at Crewe (1842), Swindon (1840s), Derby (1845), Brighton (1846) and my own borough of Ashford (1847).
In the 1850s, many of the smaller lines began to develop, particularly in East Anglia to serve trade such as sugar beet, and in the north-east. Companies began to expand into each other’s territory; for instance, a local example would be the London, Chatham and Dover Railway built a line to Ashford, duplicating the existing South-Eastern Railway line.
Finally, we move to the 1870s, with the emergence of locomotives still in use ninety years later (for instance, William Stroudley’ A!/A1X ‘Terrier’ for the London, Brighton and soth coast Railway. It is fascinating to think about the early development of the railways, and the fact that, in 1963 as in 1873, the branch to Hayling Island near Portsmouth was still traversed by the aforementioned ‘Terriers’ and a few coaches.