Early Victorian Railway Excursions: ‘The Million Go Forth’

I was at the York Railway Station, on Tuesday afternoon, when an excursion train was about to start for Newcastle. The train consisted of four first-class, two second-class, and three third-class open carriages or tubs, which are only a fit conveyance for pigs and sheep. Several of the passengers had tickets for covered carriages, but were forced into the open tubs by the officials, and were thus obliged to travel eighty-five miles on a wet night, exposed to all the inclemency of the weather. (York Herald, 27 September 1856)

Conditions such as those experienced above, riding in an open wagon on a wet night for three or four hours are unimaginable today, but these failed to deter the working classes from seizing the new opportunity to travel cheaply for leisure on the new railway excursions over long distances for the first time and return home.

Tickets from our archives - examples of excursion tickets

From our archives – examples of excursion hand bills

My new book on railway excursions was published in November 2015 by Pen and Sword Books Ltd. Based on my doctoral research with the Institute of Railway Studies at the University of York/National Railway Museum, it explores the way that ordinary people in Britain started to take advantage of the new railway excursions in the middle of the 19th century.

Using contemporary newspaper evidence from the British Library and excursion handbills from the National Railway Museum, the book looks at how these excursions were shaped and the experiences of working class travellers during this period, demolishing a number of clichés and myths endlessly reproduced in traditional railway histories. It highlights for example the very minor role played by Thomas Cook in mass mobility at the time, when compared to other agents (such as Henry Marcus), companies and organising groups. Two men, Charles Melly from Liverpool and a clergyman, Joseph Brown from London, also played an intriguing part.

A depiction of an excursion train (SSPL images)

A depiction of an excursion train – ‘The River Wall at Wylam Scars, Newcastle & Carlisle Railway, 1836’ by H Griffiths (SSPL image 10301481)

In the early days the sight of a ‘monster excursion’ train arriving was viewed as a huge spectacle. A press report on a Sheffield excursion to Leeds, in October 1840, described five engines and sixty-one carriages full of Sheffield mechanics, ‘the most extraordinary cargo that ever left the smoky region of Hallamshire’. It attracted a large audience with ‘exclamations of wonder and delight’ as it passed the assembled thousands’. The scene was remarkable, ‘on each side the line as far as Brightside, the fields were lined with spectators, who in spite of rain and mud, patiently awaited the magnificent sight’. This particular trip suffered a common failing, when the large number of passengers and carriages caused traction problems and the weary passengers didn’t return until one o’clock the following morning.

Surprisingly roof travel featured on some excursions, leading to awful accidents when heads collided with railway bridges. To add to the problems, excursionists complained bitterly that they were often treated like animals and there was a tendency for them to bleat or bellow when carried in open trucks, to demonstrate their feelings about these.

The book draws upon many intriguing reports in the press. At Whitsun in 1849, a young man on an excursion from Preston to Liverpool was reported to have equipped himself ‘from ‘top to toe’ with a splendid suit of clothes, which were stolen from him during the trip and as a result he travelled home (20-30 miles) ‘almost, if not entirely in a state of nudity’, arriving there around 3am.

An advertising campaign in 1855 caused a few unexpected problems. The Midland Railway complained to Sheffield Magistrates about tailor and clothier Moses and Son, which had branches in the North of England. Moses had distributed advertising material in the form of realistic looking Midland Railway excursion tickets, which some members of the public had successfully used for trips between Sheffield and Rotherham.

A promotional shot of me in the museum's Bodmin and Wadebridge open carriage

A promotional shot of me in the museum’s Bodmin and Wadebridge open carriage

With a foreword by Professor Colin Divall, the book is fully referenced and has an index and colour plates with maps and illustrations. I’ll be talking about it at an event at Clements Hall in York on Friday 5th February at 7.30pm – it would be great to see some blog readers there!

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How much of Flying Scotsman is original?

As the locomotive’s overhaul nears completion, this is a perennial question asked of us, and really, the answer is ‘not much’. Over the course of its 90 plus year history as a working locomotive, parts have been replaced at every overhaul – plus of course the locomotive was rebuilt from A1 to A3 specification. It is more of an assemblage of parts bearing the name and taking the familiar outline that is known and loved by so many.

Flying Scotsman just after refurbishment in April 1928 at Doncaster Works (Image from National Railway Museum Collection)

Flying Scotsman just after refurbishment in April 1928 at Doncaster Works
(Image from National Railway Museum Collection)

Working locomotives are often compared to Grandad’s hammer – which has had three new heads and two new handles – but it’s still Grandad’s hammer. Even locomotives which have been part of the museum for over a century are not original to how they came out of the works: our history files are full of recorded and some unrecorded alterations. For example in the 1950s and 60s when the National Collection was being drawn up, the policy was to ‘build back’ locos to the condition as close as was possible to when they were new. That is how some of the locos came to acquire wooden fittings and other compromises were made to try and fit the requirement of making the exhibit appear as it did on the day it came out of the works.

This is why the Midland Compound has a Somerset & Dorset Railway class 7F loco tender and its history file refers mystically to ‘numerous cosmetic changes’ without actually specifying what those changes were! Ironically, famously the former Highland Railway locomotive Ben Alder, set aside for preservation in the 1953 was sent for scrap in 1966 as it was felt to be insufficiently original to allow a sympathetic restoration to take place.

Scotsman looking quite different in wartime black in 2011at the museum

Scotsman looking quite different in wartime black in 2011 at the museum

Over Flying Scotsman’s working life, it has had several changes of boiler, wheels, cylinders and tenders. Many components were interchangeable, not just between the A3 class, but also the V2s such as Green Arrow and so it is with our two locomotives in the collection. There are A3 parts on the V2 certainly. In addition, when Alan Pegler bought Flying Scotsman for preservation in 1962, he had it overhauled and some parts were put on the engine from other A3s. In 1966 Pegler bought the boiler off sister engine Salmon Trout, and the latter’s cylinders were also acquired for spares and eventual use on Flying Scotsman. A photograph of a very sorry looking Salmon Trout exists showing it after stripping and it is basically wheels, frames and a tender – everything else was taken off it.

To make Flying Scotsman more useful for heritage use, Pegler also had the tender swapped for one from a sister A3 named Harvester, as this was one fitted with a corridor to allow for crew changes – and footplate guests on occasions. As initially preserved, the locomotive was already not as it had been when new in 1923 through a combination of use, overhaul and restoration. Changes of number and colour have followed the machine throughout its working life and are well documented in the history books.

Scotsman being worked on in Bury just last month.

Scotsman being worked on in Bury just last month.

In the ensuing 50 years of Flying Scotsman’s life as a heritage item, more pieces have been repaired or replaced and even the nameplates are not the ones it first carried when new. The story goes that when Alan Pegler hit financial difficulties during the locomotive’s sojourn in the USA, the nameplates were sold to provide much needed assistance in a difficult time.

The most recent overhaul is probably the most comprehensive ever undertaken on a steam locomotive outside British Railways service and more worn components found to need renewal, including the bufferbeam, which had not been off the engine in five decades.

So the question of much of Flying Scotsman is original? Well, it mainly consists of the rear two thirds of the frames, part of the cab sides and some parts of the motion and possibly the driving wheel splashers.

Perhaps most importantly there’s name itself. With the same basic outline and the associations that it has built up over nearly a century, and the history which it continues to write.

Scotsman is coming backfind out more about our 2016 season.

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Discovering the First World War through our archive

This post is written by Claire Marston, our Learning Partnership Co-ordinator.

In the last month, staff from the National Railway Museum learning team have had a fantastic time working with local schools on our First World War learning programme.

We were very kindly invited into Tadcaster Grammar School, Sherburn High School, York High School and Canon Lee School to work with their Year 9 students (aged 13-14) on some of our fantastic archive materials related to the First World War ambulance trains. The students warmly welcomed us and were a credit to their schools.

Tadcaster Grammar School students working with archive materials

Tadcaster Grammar School students working with archive materials

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Bullet train, Chinese locomotive and the rail renaissance

When George Osborne came to the National Railway Museum earlier this month to launch the National Infrastructure Commission he gave his speech in front of KF No.7 built for export to China and only a couple of steps away from the only ‘Shinkansen’ outside of Japan. Once again the National Railway Museum provided potent symbols for a ‘big idea’.


George Osborne launching the National Infrastructure Commission in our Great Hall a fortnight ago. Evening Star is in the background and the KF-7 on the left.

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‘A high entertainment standard’ – films from our archive at the 2015 Aesthetica Short Film Festival

This post was written by Tim Procter and Angelique Bonamy of our Collections and Research Team.

We are dealing with a type of film that is in every respect far removed from the ‘feature’ film production of the Elstrees, Denhams and Hollywoods of this world.

So wrote William Brudenell of the London Midland & Scottish Railway’s Film Services in the company magazine in November 1936, hardly geeing the staff up for a thrilling cinematic experience. But he was perhaps being deliberately modest, as the film unit was still only two years old.

From the November 1936 edition of the LMS Magazine

From the November 1936 edition of the LMS Magazine

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Back to Irk Valley with the L&Y signalling school

Our Lancashire & Yorkshire (L&Y) signalling school, the world’s oldest operating model railway, returns to home territory this coming Saturday (7th November) with a look at the Irk Valley crash of the 15th August 1953.

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Eccentric Engineering: discoveries from the branch lines of railway technology

This blog was written by Tania Parker and Jack Garside, our archive volunteers.

Like all modern technologies, the railways have come a long way from their origins. The evolution of railway engineering has not just been a linear triumphal march from Richard Trevithick’s first steam locomotives to today’s cutting-edge Maglev trains. Throughout railway history engineers have come up with all manner of ideas which in hindsight look rather implausible and wacky. These were nonetheless born out of a desire to improve current technology and solve practical problems facing the railways. During our work in the museum’s archives we have come across some great examples of alternative solutions to engineering problems faced by the railways throughout their history.

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