Early Development of the Railways (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Early Development of the Railways

Q1: Describe the development of rail transport between 1750 and 1825.

A1: In 1750 railroads were used to transport coal to the waterways. At the beginning of the 19th century railroads were used for the first time to transport freight (1803) and passengers (1807).

Horse-drawn railroads were extremely slow and so attempts were made to develop a steam-engine that could pull wagons. The first person to do this was Richard Trevithick but his locomotive was not popular because it kept on breaking the cast iron rails.

George Stephenson also began experimenting with locomotives. By 1812 he had produced a locomotive that was good enough to transport coal from the colliery to the nearest port, six miles away. During the next few years Stephenson continually improved his locomotives and by 1825 they were hauling weights of eighty tons at speeds of 15 miles an hour.

Q2: Compare the different ways that the locomotives are being used in sources 1, 4 and 7.

A2: The locomotive in source 1 is being used to carry coal, whereas the locomotives in sources 4 and 7.

Q3: Study source 7. Explain how the London and Greenwich Company tried to make money from the railway.

A3: The London and Greenwich Company made most of its money by transporting passengers and their luggage. The company also rented out the 878 arches as warehouses, shops and homes.

Q4: Select information from the sources in this unit that suggests that people were surprised by the speed achieved by Stephenson's locomotive.

A4: Sources 2, 3 and 6 all contain information that indicates that people were surprised by the speed achieved by Stephenson's locomotive. The Quarterly Review claimed in 1825 that it was ridiculous to suggest that "locomotives will travel twice as fast as stage coaches". However, source 5 shows that by 1830, locomotives were travelling over three times the speed of stage coaches. William Hinton was so surprised by the speed of the first locomotive he saw that he fainted. Henry Booth argued (source 6) that the speed of the new locomotives were so fast that it changed people's "ideas of time and space... what was quick is now slow; what was distant is now near."

Q5: Not everyone in Britain had the same views on the Manchester and Liverpool Railway. Explain why people held different views on this subject.

A5: Some groups of people obtained economic benefits from the Manchester and Liverpool Railway. This is especially true of the shareholders who received an average annual dividend of £10 for every £100 invested. Merchants and manufacturers from Manchester and Liverpool who used the railway benefited from cheaper transport costs. Whereas it had previously cost 15 shillings per ton to move goods between the two cities, the Manchester and Liverpool Railroad Company reduced it by a third. It was also much quicker - 4 or 5 hours instead of 36 hours. The railway provided employment for large numbers of workers and understandably these people were in favour of the line being built.

Some groups did not benefit from the building of the Manchester and Liverpool Railroad. The owners of the Bridgewater Canal fought against the building of the railway. Other groups, such as the Turnpike Trusts and the coach companies also opposed the Manchester and Liverpool Railroad because they were worried that it would cause their profits to fall. The workers from these companies were also concerned about the consequences of a competitor that could offer a quicker and cheaper service.

At first, farmers also tried to oppose the Manchester and Liverpool Railway. They were afraid that the noise of the locomotives would upset their animals. Later, most farmers changed their minds when they realised that the railways could be used successfully to transport their produce to the growing number of people living in the industrial towns.