Today if you were to look at a railway map of the British Isles, London is the place that draws in the lines from all corners of the map, making it clear this is the place for a great place to start a journey or a great place to end one. The Victorians behind so much of the industrial landscape of Britain did not disappoint in laying down the great railways of Britain. Not only did they lay down the track that we rely on today, they in part pushed the industrialised evolution of the trains, carriages and stations too.
London and Greenwich Railway (L&GR)
The London and Greenwich Railway (L&GR) was the first steam railway to open in London between 1836-1838 for passenger services. The stand out feature of the line that the track was in the main raised above the ground, a first of its kind, known as elevated railways. What a site this must have been in Victorian London, both from the roads looking up and from the train looking down.
(Linked image from Wikipedia)
The London and Greenwich line ran from Tooley Street in the London Bridge area of London, Spa Road which is thought to be the first rail station to be built in London, opening in February 1836, the track went on to Deptford and on to the terminating station at Greenwich.
London Bridge Station also in Tooley Street opened 10 months later marking it as one of the oldest still operating stations in London.
’Underneath the Arches’ – the long relationship between Rail and Small Business
Colonel Landman had the idea of using the space beneath the arches of the grand railway bridges for commercial purposes, such as renting out as workshops or shops. The idea survives today from a Porsche garage to a boxing gym can all be found under the arches towards London Bridge. The Victorians often developed these common sense solutions. Bud Flanagan wrote the well-known song “Underneath the arches”, a song referring to the railway arches giving shelter to the homeless men during the depression of the 1930s.
London and Croydon Railway (L&CR)
In 1839 the London and Croydon Railway (L&CR) also using Tooley street and a road that is Rotherhithe Road today. Its station was between London and Greenwich thought to be around London Bridge.
London & Birmingham line (L&BR)
The beginning of The first Inter-city rail stations began at Euston which was built by engineers George and Robert Stephenson, of the London & Birmingham line (L&BR). The station was designed by Philip Hardwick and built by William Cubitt, opening the doors in July 1837
London and North-western Railway company (merging of LNWR and L&NWR)
In 1846 The London and North-western Railway company was set up by merging other lines and companies (LNWR and L&NWR) their headquarters was at Euston railway station. It connected London to towns up north that already had a train network and industries such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Chester, Crewe. Euston Station was expanded further during this era with a striking structure featuring an iconic arch, referred to as “The Great Hall” and was designed by Philip Charles Hardwick. The Great Hall opened in 1849.
By 1859 Euston could connect trains to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth. This was a limited mail service with a few coaches for passengers. 1873 the first sleeper coach was rolled out and ran from Euston to Glasgow, again on a limited mail train for 3 nights a week. This soon increased to every night by 1874.
Pause for a thought there, on a Friday evening in 1874, someone’s great great great grand parents took the sleeper from London to Scotland. What a trip that must have been, rolling through the heart of Victorian Britain.
The Birth of the Train Time Table
George Bradshaw produced train timetables and travel guides they released these in 1839 and continued to be reprinted till 1961.* Michael Portillo’s TV series about train journeys are inspired by the Bradshaw books.
The Arrival of Londons Underground
The Victorians were else busy underground, or for the most part digging up streets laying a tunnel and putting the lid back on. Either way the impressive London Underground was taking shape. The service launched with the Metropolitan railway in 1863 between Paddington & Farringdon* The lines that follow the path of today’s Metropolitan line, Circle and Hammersmith and City line.
The City and South London Railway
The City and South London Railway operated electric underground trains that now form part of the northern line in 1890* Transport museum.
Victorian railway Architecture
7 Mainline Rail Services today
- Great Western Railway
- Southwestern Railway
- Stansted Express
- Gatwick Express
- Heathrow Express
16 London Mainline Stations still running today
The boom of the railways took force in England from the late 1830s and into 1840s, so much so that in 1840 the HM railway inspectorate was set up and the 1840 Act for Regulating railways.
London has many magnificent stations :
- London Bridge: Opened initially at Tooley Street 1836
- Deptford: 1836
- Spa Rd into Greenwich: 1836
- Euston: 1837
- Paddington: 1838 Expanded across from old site 1854
- Fenchurch Street: 1841
- Waterloo: 1848
- Kings Cross 1852
- Victoria 1860
- Cannon Street: 1866
- Charing Cross 1864
- St Pancras: 1866
- South Bermondsey 1866
- Liverpool St 1875
- Blackfriars 1886
- Marylebone 1899
British Rail And the Post Victorian Era
The United Kingdom, the home of rail, ran its state-owned railway under the name British Rail from 1965 to 1997. The rail operator not only ran the rail infrastructure, stations and trains, they also became involved in train development. Possibly the most infamous train being the HST 125 and the train that didn’t see production, the APT 125 or better known to the public as the Tilting Train. British Rail also ran the Dover Cross-channel Hover Craft.
The end of British Rail in 1997 would change the ownership structure of the railways, with the restart of the great railway company names forms the past and the creation of Network Rail who would own and operate the rails.