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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

module:The growth of the railways

Expansion and impact of the railways on Victorian Britain

page:Introduction


The growth of railways frontis

'Tring Cutting', Hertfordshire, 17 June 1837. picture zoom © NRM/Pictorial Collection/Science & Society Picture Library

The growth of the railways was one of the most dramatic developments of the nineteenth century. But the story of the railways in this period is both one of engineering marvels and the way in which these technological changes helped to transform society.

The railways enabled and made possible the emergence of a new urban and industrial Britain from a world previously dominated by the countryside and small town.


The construction of the Forth Bridge, Scotland, 1888. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

We tend to take for granted the engineering works and the larger and much faster trains. The new engines that pulled these enormous weights, their relatively fast speed and the huge engineering works required to build the lines and railway stations made the railways an awesome symbol of a new world.

The railways were exciting in themselves but they also enabled many other developments. This included the rapid growth of industrial towns through the transport of bulk food, raw materials and the fuel needed for industrial and domestic use.

Railways established a world based on mass use of coal. They made closer integration of the economy through concentration of production and wide-scale distribution possible. Large-scale imports and exports could be moved cheaply and quickly by rail.


'Skegness is so Bracing', postcard, produced for the Great Northern Railway (GNR), 1908. picture zoom © National Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Without the railways, Britain could not have become the workshop of the world. They also made possible much more travel, whether in the form of daily commuting, migration, long-distance travel or opportunities for holiday.

In short the railways were one of the great transforming influences on Victorian society, and recognised as such by contemporaries. Few technological developments of the period had such a great impact on the majority of the population as the railways. This tutorial examines the growth of the railways and then considers the enormous impact of this development.


Stockport Viaduct, London & North Western Railway, 1848. Shows the viaduct crossing the River Mersey. picture zoom © Science Museum / Science and Society Picture Library


Resource Descriptions

'Tring Cutting', Hertfordshire, 17 June 1837.
The construction of the Forth Bridge, Scotland, 1888.
'Skegness is so Bracing', postcard, produced for the Great Northern Railway (GNR), 1908.
Stockport Viaduct, London & North Western Railway, 1848. Shows the viaduct crossing the River Mersey.
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