Thursday, 31 July 2014

Complaining about the habits of Victorian railway passengers

It seems that the gripes Victorian railway travellers had about their fellow passengers were very similar to ours...

London Bridge, 1858
"Once I found myself racing north alone with an elderly spinster of forbidding aspect. She had long since left the “springs of fifty years” behind. She was gaunt, grey, and bony, She wore gleaming spectacles. She was like the elderly Englishwoman dear to Parisian caricature. And the first words she uttered of sepulchral tones were these: “I always travel in a ladies’ compartment when going even the shortest journey, for you never know what might happen!” This prudent spinster, it will be seen, was gifted with that priceless possession, a vivid imagination. With her, I remember, I was moved to formulate my views as to the Ideal Train. I argued that the whole classification of passengers required immediate rearrangement. There should not only be separate carriages for children, but compartments for the newly-wed, for men who smoke inferior cigars, for schoolboys, for people who want to discuss their private affairs, for folks recovering from dangerous illnesses, for ugly people, for “engaged” couples – or those who ought to be – for young ladies who giggle (there is no form of nerve-torture to compare to this on a long journey), and for people who regard railway travelling as an excuse for gnawing chicken-bones, drinking, potent-smelling liquors, and strewing themselves and everybody else with crumbs."

Miss Hepworth Dixon, Ladies Pictorial, August 1896

Monday, 14 July 2014

"No sound is heard in the cold air" - Observations on the arrival of trains in 1849

No sound is heard in the cold air but the hissing of a pilot engine, which, like a restless spirit advancing and retrograding, is stealing along the intermediate rails, waiting to carry off the next down-train; its course being marked by white steam meandering above it and by red-hot coals of different sizes which are continually falling from beneath it. In this obscure scene the Company's interminable lines of gaslights (there are 232 at the Euston Station), economically screwed down to the minimum of existence, are feebly illuminating the damp varnished panels of the line of carriages in waiting, the brass doorhandles of the cabs, the shining haims, brass browbands and other ornaments on the drooping heads and motionless backs of the cab-horses; and while the blood-red signal lamp is glaring near the tunnel to deter unauthorised intrusion, the stars of heaven cast a faint silvery light through the long strips of plate-glass in the roof above the platform. On a sudden is heard — the stranger hardly knows whence — the mysterious moan of compressed air, followed by the violent ringing of a bell. That instant every gaslight on and above a curve of 900 feet suddenly bursts into full power. The carriages, cabs, &c. appear, comparatively speaking, in broad daylight, and the beautiful iron reticulation which sustains the glazed roof appears like fairy work.

Sir Francis Head, Stokers and Pokers, 1849