Punch and Victorian Railway Poetry

We may think that today’s trains fail to run on time, but in the 19th century, stories of train unpunctuality and railway grievances were also common. Public complaints in newspapers reflected concerns about punctuality and safety.

The Pleasures of the Rail-Road (1831) shows the perceived danger of early railway travel

Punch Magazine articles and cartoons often made jokes about the dangers of rail travel.  ‘The Railway Nursery Rhymer’, Punch, 9 October, 1852, told children of the horror of a real railway journey. In it, Punch takes four nursery rhymes and gives them a train theme. Ride a Cock-Horse and Little Bo-Peep looks at the danger of slow trains. Hush-a-by Baby explores the 3rd class experience and the potential for an accident when faster trains pass slower ones. Dickory, Dickory, Dock is about a train crash.

Air – Ride a Cock-Horse

Fly by steam-force the country across,
Faster than jockey outside a race-horse:
With time-bills mismanaged, fast trains after slow,
You shall have danger wherever you go.

Air – Little Bo-Peep

Little Bo-peep
Is fast asleep,
In th’Excursion train you’ll find him:
Oh! It’s ten to one
If he ever gets home –
For a “Special” is close behind him!

Air – Hush-a-by Baby

Rock away, passenger, in the third class,
When your train shunts a faster will pass;
When your trains’ late your chances are small –
Crushed will be carriages, engine, and all.

Air – Dickory, Dickory, Dock

Smashery, mashery, crash!
Into the “Goods” we dash:
The “Express,” we find,
Is just behind-
Smashery, mashery, crash!

Fatal accident at Rednal on the Shrewsbury to Chester Railway (1865) where an excursion train derailed

The railway companies prioritized some types of trains over others. ‘Special’ and ‘Excursion’ trains offered service to a single destination. These trains often interrupted the service of regular trains. Complaints about excursion trains and near-misses between fast trains and regular services were common in Victorian newspapers.

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