Saturday, 11 October 2014

15 Fascinating UK Railway Facts You Might Not Know

UK Railway History

Steaming at Alresford on the Mid-Hants Railway          Photo: Charles Moorhen

Not Many People Know That!

Throughout every walk of life events happen which, when put together, create history. And so it is with Britain's railway network. Since George Stephenson's locomotive 'Rocket' rattled along the rails at the Rainhill Trials in October 1829, many of the events occurring on the railways have been recorded.

Here are fifteen interesting examples:

Although the 'Iron Duke' - hero of the Battle of Waterloo - officially opened the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830, he was not a fan of this radical form of travel. He stated publicly that because of the railways, sedition and revolution would easily spread throughout the country by the 'lower orders'.

Never on a Sunday:
The ultra-religious Victorians disagreed strongly with rail travel happening on Sundays. On one particular Sunday in 1883 a group of protesters tried to prevent fish being loaded onto a train. 
Ten people were arrested during the ensuing skirmish who, when released, were hailed as heroes by their fellow villagers.
By 1889, eight thousand members had joined the 'Anti-Sunday TravelUnion', who had nearly sixty branch offices up and down the country.

A Day Out for Everyone:
With the advent of the railways, Victorian working-class families were at last able to take advantage of a cheap one-day holiday. Such was the popularity of these inexpensive excursions that, in 1848, thousands of people travelled on special trains to Liverpool in order to witness, at first-hand, the public execution of an infamous murderer.

Letting the Train Take the Strain:
With the coming of the railways the number of people travelling on the network increased to an extent that could never have been imagined. In 1842, over 24 million passengers had used the railways. By 1850 numbers had risen to a staggering 73 million!

Queen Victoria on the Rails:
Although Queen Victoria travelled quite regularly on the railways, she was never completely comfortable with the idea.

Her first journey by train, from Windsor Castle to Buckingham Palace on the 13th June 1842, was not taken by personal choice but as a result of two assassination attempts two weeks earlier. Her advisors believed she would be less vulnerable in a railway carriage than in the traditional horse-drawn carriage.

On the footplate of the locomotive used for this trip was none other than the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Don't encourage the working classes”:
In the early days of rail travel there were three classes of accommodation. First class travellers enjoyed a good measure of luxury; a glazed door to each compartment, armrests, padded upholstery, oil-lamp lighting etc. Second class passengers were only slightly worse off, but third class passengers were treated no better than animals.

As no railway company provided dedicated third-class carriages the unfortunate travellers rode in goods wagons completely open to the elements, sitting on backless wooden benches with holes drilled in the floor to allow the rainwater to escape.

Karl Marx didn't get the job:
Described as the father of modern communism, Karl Marx, who famously pronounced that, "the workers have nothing to lose but their chains", failed to get a job on the Great Western Railway - his handwriting was simply not good enough!

The Biggest of the 'Big Four':
In 1923 the London Midland & Scottish Railway was the largest of the 'Big Four' railway companies; the other three contenders to the title being the Great Western, the Southern, and the London & NorthEastern.
The 'LMS' employed a quarter of a million people; operated across 7,000 miles of track, had 3,000 goods depots and 2,000 railway stations. Before the nationalisation of the railways in 1948, it was the biggest private transport company in the world moving 85 million tons of coal a year.

"Good Morning Campers":
Railway camping coaches were a popular form of holiday accommodation in the 1930's, with the railway companies placing old vehicles on disused sidings in attractive places and equipping them with kitchens, toilets and washing facilities.

The peak weekly rental charged by the London & North Eastern Railway (L&NER) was around £2. Since its coaches could take up to six holiday-makers, this was a bargain price when the cost was shared between individuals.

On one particular occasion the company was quick to make a profit.
During 'Coronation Week' in 1937 - when London was invaded by sightseers - the LNER placed 52 camping coaches at various sites around London, charging £10 per coach - five times the normal rent!

A Grave Incident Indeed:
When the plans for London's St. Pancras station were drawn up, it emerged that the approach lines would pass right through an old cemetery. As nothing could stop the rapid advance of the railways, it meant that the area had to be completely cleared.

Reports in newpapers soon reached the general public that gravestones were being ripped up and placed in piles; the bones of the dead being scattered on the ground. Perhaps the most deplorable act perpetrated by the railways builders was that others were being sold to local bone-mills to be ground up for fertilizer.

The slum dwellings that were on the site, where the station now stands, were demolished. The inhabitants were simply evicted - all 10,000 of them!

One Drink Coming Up Sir!
When the railway companies built their lines they invariably constructed a large number of railway hotels near to their stations in the larger towns and cities. The first, a very basic establishment known as the 'Victoria' close to Euston station, opened in 1839.

One of the most popular railway hotels was the 'Queen's' in Birmingham, opened by the London & North Western Railway in 1854. Some of the guests that came through its doors included Queen Victoria, General de Gaulle and Roy Rogers accompanied by his horse 'Trigger'.

Many people visited the hotel not only to spot the rich and famous, but to witness the hotel's famous barman, 'Flash' Battersby, at work. Battersby was able to slide a drink along 6 metres (20ft) of bar top, bringing it to a stop directly in front of the customer in question!

The Station of the Stars:
Due to its location at the London end of the railway line from Southampton, Waterloo station was ideally situated to bask in the publicity generated by the numerous celebrities visiting Britain from America. 
When the famous piano-playing entertainer Liberace arrived at Waterloo in 1956, he was met by thousands of fans who had laid a carpet of pink paper rose petals along the platform in his honour.

The Railways Go To the Movies:
It was inevitable that the railways would in time attract the attention of movie-makers. In 1895 the French Lumiere brothers made the first railway film; a 15-minute film of a bustling station and the arrival of a steam train pulling four coaches. The film was screened in Paris on 28th December 1895 as part of the world's first public cinema show. The railway movie had been born!

On the 9th July 1864, elderly London bank clerk, Thomas Briggs, boarded a train at Fenchurch Street station bound for Hackney. Sadly he never reached his destination. He was found at the side of the tracks between the two stations by the locomotive crew of a train heading into London, and died the following day from the massive head wounds he had received.

Following information received, Inspector Tanner of Scotland Yard quickly established robbery as the motive for the murder, and a likely suspect was named - Franz Muller.
Before the murderer could be apprehended he left England for America aboard a sailing ship. However, his escape plan failed when he was arrested in New York.

Returned to England, Franz Muller stood trial at the Old Bailey on 27th October 1864 for the murder of Thomas Briggs. Found guilty, Muller was publicly hanged on 14th November 1864 outside the walls of London's Newgate Prison, in front of an estimated crowd of 50,000 people.

Women on the Railways:
Up until 1914, fewer than 5,000 women worked within the British Railway network. Those that did were employed in the more traditional female roles of the time such as in refreshment rooms, railway company laundries etc.

However, with the outbreak of WW1, this situation changed drastically. To offset the shortage of men, women were employed to undertake jobs previously denied to them.
They loaded heavy mail bags onto trains, acted as porters, collected tickets, served as dining-car attendants and undertook such dirty jobs as carriage and locomotive cleaning while others laboured in the coal yards.

By the end of WW1 there were no fewer than 55,000 women working on the railways.
The role of women in the workplace had changed forever!

A selection of railway videos from 'Along These Tracks'
UK Railways - Banbury Trains 16 June 2014 Video 
UK Railways - Trains at Gravesend March 2014 Video
UK Railways - Class 321 and 319 EMUs at Northampton 1999
UK Railways - Freight Through Northampton May 1999 Video
UK Railways - Class 58018 Heading a Ballast Train at Finedon
UK Railways - Banbury Trains at Night Video
UK Railways - Trains at Basingstoke Station 12 August 2013
UK Railways - 375 and 395 EMU's at Martin Mill and Ashford International
UK Railways - Freight Trains Through Northampton May 2013
UK Railways - Virgin Pendolinos Through Bletchley May 2013
UK Railways - Class 350 Desiro EMU Trains at Northampton May 2013
UK Railways - Class 390 Virgin Pendolinos Through Wolverton 2013 Video
UK Railways - Class 350 'London Midland' EMU's at Wolverton 2013 Video
UK Railways - Chiltern Railways, First Great Western, XCountry DMU's at Banbury 2013
UK Railways - Class 222 Trains DMU's at Wellingborough Apr 2013
UK Railways - Class 43 IC125 Trains at Wellingborough Apr 2013 Video
UK Railways - Class 222 Trains, DMU's, at Wellingborough Apr 2013 Video
UK Railways - Class 321 EMU Snakes into Bletchley Sidings 1990's
UK Railways - Class 321 & 350 EMU's at Wolverton Video
UK Railways - Class 321 Network South East leaves Bletchley Video
UK Railways - Class 321 Silverlink Trains EMU leaves Wolverton Video
UK Railways - Class 325 Royal Mail EMU Passes through Rugby Video
UK Railways - Class 350 127 EMU Passes through Rugby Video
UK Railways - Class 321 418 Silverlink EMU at Wolverton
UK Railways - Class 60 015 Diesel Locomotive approaches Wolverton
UK Railways - Virgin Pendolino Class 390 041 EMU at Rugby Video

Photo of Class 67017 Arrow Diesel Locomotive at Leamington Spa

Class67017 , seen here in EWS livery, hauling a Chiltern Railways train, was photographed at Leamington Spa station . A number ...