Railways: The Making of a Nation season 1
Railways: The Making of a Nation season 1 episodes list:
Historian Liz McIvor explores how Britain's expanding rail network was the spark to a social revolution, starting in the 1800s and continuing through to modern times. A fast system of transportation shaped so many areas of our industrial nation - from what we eat to where we live, work and play. The railways generated economic activity but they also changed the nature of business itself. They even changed attitudes to time and how we set our clocks. Our railways may have reflected deep class divisions, but they also brought people together as never before, and helped forge a new sense of national identity. This episode looks at how you organise a rail network in a country made up of separate local time zones and no recognised timetables. Before the railways, our country was divided and local time was proudly treasured. Clocks in the west of the country were several minutes behind those set in the east. The railways wanted the country to step to a new beat in a world of precise schedules and timetables that recognised Greenwich Mean Time. Not everyone was keen to step in line, and some complained about the new world of one single time zone and precise schedules.
The railways stimulated great changes to the nation's economy. They also changed the way we do business, encouraging a new generation of mechanical engineers, skilled workers, managers and accountants! Originally, local railway entrepreneurs viewed trains as vehicles for shifting raw materials, stock and goods. But soon they discovered there was money to be made in transporting people. Places such as Derby became 'railway towns'. Derby was central to the new network, and home to the engineers who made and maintained locomotives and carriages. However, the railway 'boom' of the 1840s also came with a 'bust'. A new age of middle-class shareholders who invested in the railways soon discovered what goes up can also go down. Alongside this were stories of railway rogues and dodgy dealing. However, railway companies recovered from the crash and continued to develop as complex national business organisations - capable of building great structures such as the Ribblehead Viaduct in Yorkshire and St Pancras Station in London.
The very idea of an excursion to distant places became popular from the 1840s onwards. People were taking day trips and seeing parts of the country they had never seen before. However, it wasn't all seaside and sand. Some excursion trains were set up to satisfy the public's demand to witness public executions. Other lines transported people to enjoy horse racing and sporting events. Thousands visited resorts, spa towns and the coast. A new wave of Victorian tourists spent their cash on holidays and visited hotels at stations and beyond. The ultimate experience was often to head to the hills and sample clean air, far away from industrial grime and pollution. Working-class northerners now had access to the Lake District. However, one particular Lakeland resident, William Wordsworth, was initially not so happy about the influx of this new type of visitor.
Historian Liz McIvor explores how Britain's expanding rail network was the spark to a social revolution, starting in the 1800s and continuing through to modern times. A fast system of transportation shaped so many areas of our industrial nation - from what we eat to where we live, work and play. The railways generated economic activity but they also changed the nature of business itself. They even changed attitudes to time and how we set our clocks! Our railways may have reflected deep class divisions, but they also brought people together as never before, and helped forge a new sense of national identity. In this episode - the railways enabled us to live further and further from the places where we worked. Before the age of steam you would need a horse to travel long distances on land. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries our railways encouraged the development of suburbia inhabited by a new type of resident and worker - the commuter. In some cases, new places emerged on the map, simply because of the railways - places like Surbiton. Liz visits London and the south east of England, our nation's largest commuter zone. The Victorian rail network was never part of one, single grand plan - but emerged and evolved, line by line, over decades. For today's commuters, work is still going on to create a 'system' that serves their needs!
The railways changed what we eat and the culinary tastes of the population. Moving produce around at speed was suddenly possible - fresh meat, wet fish, dairy, fruit and veg, were now widely available. And it was in London where arguably the nation's diet changed the most. With a new system of rapid transport it was now possible for the capital to enjoy food supplies from all corners of the nation. Diets improved in terms of the variety and quality of food available. Victorian men and women developed a taste for one particular dish that would be popular with the masses for generations to come - fish and chips.
Trains reflected class divisions with separate carriages for first, second and third class passengers. Yet, seen at the time, they were also bringing people physically closer together. In the early 1800s, Britain was clearly divided between upper, middle and working classes. On the railways they shared the same stations and arrived at the destination at the same time! The trains gradually acted as a great catalyst, mixing the country up as people were travelling to regions and places for the first time. Locations, accents, culture and fashions were all new. The nation's relationship with royalty also changed. Queen Victoria was now able to venture far and wide across her kingdom and visit more of her subjects. Over time, we developed a stronger sense of shared identity and culture.