The Armstrong Whitworth Company

The Armstrong Whitworth Company was the product of Victorian era entrepreneurs using their ingenuity & problem solving skills coupled to the ever-growing engineering advancements of the Industrial Revolution.
William George Armstrong, born Newcastle upon Tyne in November 1810 finished his early education by becoming articled to a firm of solicitors. After becoming a partner and a good friend of the owner Armstrong’s free time was spent exploring the world of mechanics, particularly the use of waterpower to drive machinery. In April 1847 with financing from close friends land was leased at Elswick, a factory constructed, crane building being the principal activity, the profits from which financed much of the research into other fields. Bridges and their opening mechanisms followed, contracts being received from I K Brunel no less.
Included in the varied research was the invention of the breech loading gun – Armstrong received his knighthood in return for surrendering the patents to the government. The Elswick factory workforce branched out further into the construction of ships, locomotives and armaments.

Joseph Whitworth was born in Stockport in 1804, apprenticing as a mechanic at an Ambergate cotton mill. Further training followed in London & Manchester with a strong desire to improve and enhance the existing mill related technology. His dedication and attention to detail led to the production of precision instruments and the machines & tools required to create them. Whitworth’s claim to fame was the ‘Whitworth thread’ – the mass production of taps & dies, allowing the supply worldwide of standardised nuts & bolts. And as Armstrong’s industrial facilities increased its output of items so Whitworth’s Manchester area factories expanded their production into many products, including guns.
In 1887 Whitworth died, a multi-millionaire in today’s terms, his empire was sold to Armstrong and the company renamed the Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd. Lord Armstrong was also a very wealthy man, in 1894 he purchased Bamburgh Castle, having the majority of it rebuilt. He died in 1900 whilst the castle’s restoration continued.
Further amalgamation occurred in 1919 with the Siddeley Deasey Company, and in 1927 with Vickers, when the greater part of the Armstrong Whitworth company became Vickers Armstrong.
And of course in September 1919 Armstrong Whitworth became a Sulzer diesel engine licensee.

During early 1932 a prototype shunting locomotive was constructed by Armstrong Whitworth that perhaps could be considered the joint precursor (with English Electric demonstrator 7079 of 1936) of a vast fleet of 0-6-0 diesel electric shunters for British Railways.This locomotive was fitted with the same engine that went into the three heavyweight railcars produced just prior to this locomotive – a 250hp 6LV22 engine. The main generator and single traction motor were provided by Laurence Scott & Electromotors, the traction motor was frame mounted within the wheelbase using a jackshaft drive with rods to power the wheels. Length over buffers was 29ft, height 12ft 3in, width 8ft 6in, wheelbase 13ft and maximum tractive effort was 24,000lb.
Essentially the locomotive was built as a demonstrator, not having an immediate buyer, and spent much of 1932-1933 working at several LNER goods yards in the Newcastle area.
Extensive tests were completed by Armstrong Whitworth prior to the handing over to the LNER on June 10th 1932 for testing in their Forth Goods yard.
At the controls for a short time was the LNER
CME Mr H N Gresley, who was impressed by the results. An agreement followed with the locomotive taking up shunting duties from July 11th 1932 at Forth marshalling yard, then in the yards at Blaydon & Heaton. Loads at the Forth Yard were upto forty wagons totalling 600 tons, whilst the Blaydon Yard with its gradients permitted a maximum load of 750 tons. After a month at Blaydon it moved to Heaton Yard. Here it was challenged by taking 800 ton loads up the 1 in 150 Benton Bank. Fuel consumption with this type of working was about 2.5 gallons per hour. Availability for this period was 98.5%, (for the engine it was 100%), the general availability being affected by a derailment and brake troubles. It was noted that although scheduled for three eight hour shifts six days a week, the locomotive actually spent just under one third of that time idling! The LNER trials ended on October 30th 1932.

Breakdown of the trials spent on the LNER:
Forth Yard: July 11th 1932 – July 24th 1932
Blaydon No.3 Pilot: July 25th 1932 – July 31st 1932
Blaydon No.2 Pilot: August 2nd 1932 – August 21st 1932
Heaton No.2 Pilot South: August 22nd 1932 – October 16th 1932
Heaton North: October 17th 1932 – October 30th 1932

After the LNER returned the shunter to Armstrong Whitworth it undertook other trials. These included two months spent on the Southern Region, at Bricklayers Arms, Eastleigh & Norwood Junction. Then followed trials on the Hartley Main Colliery Railway, Northumberland, which ended with the locomotive being hit by a loaded runaway ballast wagon which caused considerable damage to the cab. The locomotive returned to Scotswood for repairs.
Further trials then followed at Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight and with Ribble Navigation at Preston Docks. The locomotive then returned to Scotswood, remaining there until March 1935 when it was purchased by Ribble Navigation. It was named ‘Duchess’ and worked alongside the company’s steam shunters.
Its thirty four years in service saw very few changes to its appearance. At some point the vacuum brake pipes & hoses mounted on the buffer beams were removed.
It remained in service until 1969 when it was withdrawn following the arrival of new diesel shunters.

Source :


Britain’s First Restaurant Car

The age of the restaurant car has now passed on Britain’s railways. While full meals can still be eaten on the east and west coast routes, presumably with the help of a microwave or re-heating, no cooking is done from scratch anymore. The last train to provide such a service was the 19.33 from King’s Cross on 20 May this year. Passengers were served a meal of ‘Smoked Haddock Arnold, Bennett crepe’, rib-eye steak, leg of lamb or fillets of trout, followed by blue cheese, apple and walnut strudel or ginger and rhubarb pavlova. Consequently, this train ended a 130 year tradition in British rail travel. Yet, it is interesting to note that the first and last restaurant services in Britain started at the same place, London’s King’s Cross Station.

The restaurant car first appeared in Britain on the 1 November 1879 on Great Northern Railway’s (GNR) route between King’s Cross and Leeds. Railways in the United States had had restaurant cars since 1869 and because of this the GNR’s were built by the Pullman Company, based in Detroit. The Ludgate in 1897 described this advancement as one of the ‘greatest comforts for travellers that had been thought of since the Rocket made its trial trip from Manchester to Liverpool.

The first journey of the new restaurant car was actually a trial run on Monday 27 October 1879. The York Herald and The Graphic both described the layout of the carriages. Firstly the two carriages that made up the service had platforms at each end which were linked together, rather precariously, by a wooden bridge. The cook’s galley was at one end of the carriage where a dedicated chef prepared ‘all sorts of good things for the delectation of hungry travellers. Passing through a short corridor, a door opened into the pantry in which cupboards were neatly arranged to hold ‘stores, plates, glasses, decanters etc. There was also a sliding hatch, so that meals could be passed from the kitchen to the pantry for arrangement on plates.
The other carriage contained the restaurant area which had six ‘snug little tables, each adapted to accommodate two guests.’ The seats were stuffed and covered in velvet and were mounted on a conical pivot for steadiness. Indeed, the whole train was praised for its smoothness, The Graphic stating that ‘the oscillation of the carriage was scarcely noticeable. Beyond the restaurant area through a corridor was a ladies’ dressing room, a smoking room with nine seats and a male lavatory. A swing door prevented any smoke from the smoking room entering the dining area. There was also hot water heating and electric bells next to each table to alert the steward when a passenger required something.

The menu on that first train consisted of six courses and nineteen passengers could be accommodated by the carriage at any one time. The staff and waiters were provided by the company’s ‘Great Northern Railway Hotel’ at Leeds, and consisted of a cook, a steward who doubled as a waiter, and a boy to serve in the smoking room. Given the opulence of the service it is unsurprising that its guests were first class passengers. However, unlike in later decades, when passengers moved to the restaurant car from their seats through inter-connecting corridors between the carriages, in 1879 they stayed in the carriage for their entire journey.

In the press the restaurant cars’ arrival received much coverage and they were fitted into prevailing narratives surrounding the quality of British railway food. Invoked in good measure was the refreshment room described in Dickens’ 1866 story Mugby Junction, where the food was poor and the service rude.
The Standard stated that while not every station refreshment room was as bad as this fictional example, ‘we are still far behind all civilised countries’ in the matter of railway catering. Indeed, Punch published a poem that included the lines ‘no more Mugby Junction Bar; no more tough ham and chicken; Nor passenger pickin’; For the minxes behind the bar. The Graphic echoed these thoughts, stating that ‘most travellers have had sad experience of the station refreshment bar…to obtain possession of a basin of scolding-hot soup or cup of coffee.’ Yet ‘this condition of things is no longer to prevail on the Great Northern Railway.
Ultimately, the introduction of restaurant cars did nothing to change the standard of British railway food. While the GNR was pioneered their use, and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway purchased some in 1881, it was not until the late 1890s when companies’ were competing ruthlessly for traffic that they became more widespread. By 1897 the GNR, London and North Western, Midland and Great Western Railways had them.
The reasons for their slow introduction were two-fold. The York Herald in 1879 stated that they cost £3000 to buy (and presumably they were expensive to build later), and for many companies at the time the expense was seen as unnecessary. Furthermore, they were also incredibly heavy and this made them uneconomical to run in the 1870s. Thus, it wasn’t until the 1890s, when companies introduced them as a unique selling point and more powerful locomotives were available, that they became a common feature of long-distance rail services in Britain.


The Early British Station Master

Late Victorian and Edwardian Station Masters are perceived to have been highly respected individuals. They commanded the stations at which they were based, and were pillars of the community; respectable, authoritarian and honourable. However, in the case of station masters before 1870 these attributes are not necessarily applicable. Without established promotional trees, standardised rules and regulations, and with vetting procedures for new employees not being set in stone, Britain’s pioneer station masters were a very mixed bag, to say the least.
Firstly, the term ‘station master’ was not a universal one in the period, although it was certainly around. A London and South Western Railway rule book from 1845 called them ‘station clerks’, and in many cases this is what they were, simply clerks in charge of a station. Indeed, the Great Northern Railway omitted the word ‘station’ altogether, calling officials in these positions ‘clerks-in-charge’ in 1856.

Nevertheless, it seems that other railways used ‘clerks-in-charge’ interchangeably with ‘station master’, as shown in the East Lancashire Railway’s 1856 rule book. The most common alternative to ‘station master’ in the period was ‘station agent’, and the London and South Western Railway, after disposing of ‘station clerk’, retained this title right until the 1900 for all except those individuals administering large stations. It was only in the 1860s that ‘station master’ became far more common and part of common parlance.
However, whatever early station masters were called, the individuals filling these posts came to the railways after being occupied in a vast array of other occupations. In a survey of the professions 400 London and North Western Railway workers between 1830 and 1860 had prior to being employed by the railway, thirty-nine of the sample were station masters or ‘agents’. Their previous occupations were diverse, including farmers, journeymen, sailors, civil servants, bookkeepers and porters. Seemingly, most sectors of the mid-Victorian economy were represented amongst the thirty-nine, and it suggests that it would not be wise to pigeonhole early station masters as having one or two types of employment background.
However, it is unsurprising that with men from many backgrounds filling these posts, not all were well behaved. In 1858 George Reeves, Station Master at Lowdham Station on the Midland Railway, pleaded guilty to embezzling the company out of an unspecified amount. In passing sentence the judge stated that he Reeves had been placed in a position of ‘great confidence and trust,’ and while he showed remorse, he was sentenced to six months hard labour. In 1861 the cash held at the London and South Western Railway’s Windsor Station was found to be deficient. While no officials were found to be at fault, it is odd the management would then ‘break up the staff’ throughout the line and remove the Station Master, John Madigan, to Petersfield with a reduction of salary. Lastly, in 1865 at the Usk Quarter Sessions, Alfred Brown, station master at Hengoed Station on the Rhymney Railway, was charged with indecently assaulting Mary Ann Griffiths in a railway carriage.
Of course, the majority of station masters in the period were honourable and did their job satisfactorily. Indeed, most had to have favourable references to be appointed. The Great Northern Railway’s ‘General Instructions and Regulations for the executive department’ stated that ‘experienced clerks’, who I presume were frequently appointed as ‘clerks-in-charge’, were required to have references from their ‘last employer’ and ‘one from each of two housekeepers of an undoubted respectability.’
Furthermore, after around the mid-1850s it was highly unlikely that an individual would be appointed directly as a station master, as railway companies increasingly preferred these posts to be filled by individuals who had risen through the ranks. Thus, by this time potentially poor station masters were usually weeded out before they reached that post.

The Fall and Rise of Britain’s Tramways

It was a time when towns and cities across Britain were provided with rapid efficient transport second to none. The tragedy of their removal is made all the more poignant when one considers that they have been replaced by millions of motor cars which have settled on our society like a plague of flies.
Tramways proliferated across Britain from the late Victorian period and by World War One they were universal throughout the country. Many of the systems were enormous.
At its peak Glasgow had 1,200 vehicles operating 133 miles of track whilst the maximum extent nationwide was 14,481 cars running over 2,554 route miles of track and 184 local authorities owned tram systems. The graceful infrastructure of the tramways was an endless fascination. Ornamental tram poles, spider’s webs of complex wiring and track formations all laced by a vast array of ornate signage.
The principal tram builders were Dick Kerr of Preston and Brush of Loughborough although some municipalities built their own. The integration of trams with the society they served is evidenced by the fact that many systems carried mail and parcels and Manchester had a special fleet of vehicles for this purpose.

The tramways appealed to people because their tracks formed the stitches which bound the nation’s principal industrial, commercial and residential conurbations together. Activity was grouped around these tentacles; the system was easy to relate to and disciplined in its structure.
Quite apart from the sheer good sense of moving people effectively, trams were aesthetically pleasing and friendly; a whole folk lore has sprung up around them captured so magnificently in Ian Yearsley’s classic book ‘The Manchester Tram’ (The Advertiser Press, 1962).

Trams flourished amid a world of city centres, factories, corner shops, tenement housing, residential estates, horses and hand carts and unrestricted cigarette advertising and the few motor cars which were seen were usually painted black.
It was a world where people could cross the road diagonally or even pause for a chat. The adage ‘always a tram in sight’ was vigorously attempted – a watchword on the pulse of the city.
Many tramways joined up with neighbouring ones to create widespread integration in areas of high population. An excellent example of the joining up of different municipal systems occurred in Manchester where the tramways of Salford, Oldham, Hyde, Bury, Rochdale, Ashton under Lyne, Stockport, Middleton, Stalybridge and Altrincham were all connected.

An increasing burden
As the twenties developed, maintenance of the tramways became an increasing burden specially when competition from rival buses was taken into account. This competition saw closures as early as the 1930s as track and equipment wore out. Trolley buses became the obvious successor.
Newcastle and Portsmouth were among the early closures and by the mid 1950s most systems had vanished. But error is seldom universal and the tragedy of Britain’s lost tramway networks was not repeated by other European countries.
Neither was it in Hong Kong where the congestion busting system covers nineteen miles on six different routes. Hong Kong’s trams carry almost a quarter of a million people every day – this is ‘people moving personified’. They are the last double decker trams left in world service and predictably are British built.

The dismantling of the nation’s tramway network was a national tragedy. The disembodiment of the close knit social, commercial and structured fabric of British cities. No sooner had the trams gone – the last system being Glasgow in 1962 – the iniquitous Beeching era commenced the decimation of the railway network which, despite some historic competition with the tram network, interfaced with them; a smooth transition from heavy to light rail. Only Blackpool retained its trams and primarily as a visitor attraction.
In an ideal world one would make a case for the return of the trams as they once were but a tangible rebirth is now in evidence following the lead of Croydon, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Sheffield and Manchester. Nottingham and Edinburgh can be added to the list.
The glory of Britain’s tramway heritage continues unabated at the National Tramway Museum in Crich, Derbyshire, with its period street and working trams. Crich is a must to visit; it is one of Britain’s finest visitor attractions, albeit that the running speed of the working trams is infinitely more sedate than was the late night tram from Stoneygate back to Leicester.


The Rise and Fall of the Second Class Passenger

These days we only have one numbered class of travel, first class, and what was originally known as third is now designated ‘standard.’ What happened to second class, given that the mere fact that we had first and third must denote that at some point we had a second.
Before the railways arrived, the two main modes of transport were stagecoaches and steamships, and these only employed only two classes of travel. Apart from the mail coaches, which charged a premium for travel, most stagecoaches had two classes of passenger. Those paying the higher rate were carried inside, while those on the outside, who were forced to brave the elements, paid a lower rate. Similarly, those travelling on steamships either had ‘cabin’ or ‘deck’ accommodation.
Yet, a glance at some shipping adverts show more nuance in pricing. The steam packet service to the Channel Islands, while offering both ‘cabin’ and ‘deck’ accommodation, also offered ‘fore’ and ‘main’ cabins at different prices. Additionally, the ship to the United States offered steerage accommodation with or without ‘provisions.’ While these adverts would suggest there were three classes, in reality there were only two, and individuals could simply pay more for additional services while travelling. Indeed, there were not three distinct levels of service quality, each different from the other.

Initially, the railways copied this two class system. In 1830 the first inter-city railway in the world, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, had first and second class accommodation. Indeed, like on the steamships and stagecoaches, first class travel would be enclosed, whereas second class would be open. The two-class system was quickly transferred to other early railways.
However, by the late-1830s the three class system had become the norm for all new and existing railway companies, even though third class carriages were not necessarily attached to each train. The railways could do this because the speed at which trains conveyed passengers meant that they could offer a range of services which were of varied quality.
The three classes of travel would continue undisturbed until the 1870s. First class passengers always had the best accommodation, their compartments containing soft furnishings and window glazing. Initially, second class carriages had roofs and padded seats, but were usually still open to the elements on either side. However, this latter feature did become less common up to the 1860s. Lastly, third class passengers travelled in little more than open trucks with wooden seats. On the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway’s opening in 1838 a reporter suggested these carriages would be ‘preferred in fine weather.’ Nevertheless, by the 1860s most third class carriages had been covered. Ultimately, all that could be said about changes in carriage design before 1870 was that they had got longer.
It was in the 1870s that the decline of second class travel began. On the 1 January 1875, after adding third class accommodation to every train in 1872, the Midland Railway abolished second class travel completely, while lowering the price of third. Furthermore, they downgraded the quality of the second class carriages by removing the leather backs of the seats, while also improving the quality of the third class accommodation by covering the seats with the same material and padding. In addition, the company introduced carriages on its new Settle to Carlisle route which were twice as long as contemporary designs, had improved ride comfort because of swivelling bogies and which combined first and third class compartments.
The Midland undertook this pioneering action because of the forces acting on its business. Whereas in 1859 32.23 per cent of all railway passengers in the British Isles were travelling by second class, by 1874 the proportion was only 15.12 per cent. Furthermore, over the same period, the proportion of individuals travelling by third class rose from 49.92 per cent to 76.66 per cent. Indeed in the Midland’s case, the proportion of passengers travelling second class dropped from 23.37 per cent to 11.24 per cent, lowering the profitability of carrying them. Therefore, eliminating second class accommodation reduced the cost of carriage construction and marshalling for the Midland. Furthermore, the improved third class accommodation would entice customers who would normally travel third class from competing railways. Indeed, to try and capture more of the quickly growing third class market was a shrewd business move.

It is unsurprising that many other railway managers protested at the Midland’s changes, presumably because of the precedent they set. Furthermore, those passengers that were not wealthy enough to purchase first class tickets, but purchased second to avoid the ‘rowdiness’ of the third class environment, also reacted with dismay. Nevertheless, the Midland’s actions naturally meant that the other companies started examining the viability of their own second class accommodation, as well as increasing the size of their rolling stock. Indeed, the larger carriages constructed after the 1870s included higher quality third class compartments which attracted increasing numbers of people to this class of transport.
Consequently, this helped second class travellers to diminish in number from 22.2 per cent of all passengers in 1870 to only 6.0 per cent in 1899.

Therefore, for many companies offering second class accommodation was increasingly less profitable and more companies abandoned it. The Great Northern Railway, Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire and Cheshire Lines Railways only offered second class travel on long distance services in the 1880s, and in the early 1890s the North Eastern, Great Eastern Railways and all Scottish Railways abandoned it completely. The Great Western Railway abandoned second class in 1910.
However, those companies who derived a higher proportion of their revenue from passenger traffic held on to second class for longer, given that they made healthier profits from this traffic. Indeed, in 1881 a report to the London and South Western Railway’s board by the General Manager, Archibald Scott, stated that he felt the reductions in second class accommodation on the northern railways were a mistake. Indeed, given that second class traffic remained an important source of the company’s income, constituting 25 per cent of passengers and one sixth of all travellers, he recommended that it should remain, which it did. Indeed, his successor, Charles Scotter, also argued in 1894 that second class should be kept on the London and South Western given that it still ‘paid.’ However, he did recognise that the company’s case was ‘exceptional’ given that on other companies it did not so.
Ultimately, however, the even the companies dominated by passenger traffic also stopped offering second class accommodation as the proportion they carried fell. Thus, the London and South Western and South Eastern and Chatham Railways preserved it on main line services until 1918 and 1923 respectively. Indeed, the latter was the last company to provide it on a British trunk line. The last vestiges of second class were to be found on London and North Eastern Railway suburban services until 1938 and Southern Railway boat trains until 1948.
Overall, second class had been killed by the higher quality of third class accommodation and ever-increasing numbers of third class passengers. With fewer and fewer people using it, the railways, driven by profit, no longer felt the need to provide it.

The Victorian Excursion Train

For Temperance, the Beach and Sport

The excursion train was an important part of British leisure pursuits in the Victorian period. Social, political, leisure and work groups made agreements with railway companies, or through intermediaries that soon became known as travel agents, to convey them to and from a place in a day for cheaper fares. This reduced the cost of travel for the passengers, while providing the companies guaranteed with income.

It is unsurprising that the first excursions were on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), Britain’s first intercity line, in 1831. In first year the company had offered some of the first special trains in the country. Two weeks after the line was inaugurated, in October 1830, individuals could travel from Liverpool to the Sankey Viaduct and back in the Duke of Wellington’s coach for five shillings. This was followed by a special train for visitors to the Liverpool Charity Festival a few days later.
However, the first real excursion was run in May 1831 when the company agreed through an independent promoter to take 150 members of the Bennett Street Sunday School from Liverpool to Manchester and back again for one third of the regular fare. This set the pattern for all excursion trains from then on.
Excursions soon grew in number and popularity with groups being conveyed to race meetings, church bazars, or just to visit cities for a day out. The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent reported in April 1841 that during that year’s Whitsuntide Holidays the North Midland Railway would operate ‘an excursion train from Sheffield to Derby, when no doubt that thousands of our townsmen will take the opportunity of visiting that pleasant town and its arboretum.’ Probably the most interesting excursion train of the period was arranged by Bodmin and Wadebridge for a public execution in 1836.
Furthermore, it was in this period that Thomas Cook began as an agent arranging excursions. The first he organised was on the Midland Counties Railway in 1841, and took 570 temperance campaigners to a rally at Loughborough. His business grew rapidly and by 1850 it spread as far as Scotland and North Wales. However, he was one of many travel agents that appeared in the period.

However, with locomotive technology limited, and with carriages small in capacity, excursion trains were huge in size and have been described as ‘monstrous.’ An excursion train from Sheffield to Leeds in September 1840 was pulled by five locomotives and possessed seventy carriages. Another in September 1844 from Leeds to Hull carried 6,600 passengers in 240 carriages pulled by nine locomotives. Indeed, such was their size that in the period excursion trains usually arrived late at their destinations. This meant that the passengers only had a short time at their destination, given they had to rejoin the train to return soon after.
The Great Exhibition between 1 May and 15 October 1851 was the high point for the early excursion trains. By this time many small lines had been absorbed into larger networks that had terminals in London. Consequently, travel agents and groups were able to arrange excursions to the Exhibition from as far afield as Yorkshire. Indeed, some groups even set up ‘exhibition clubs’ to arrange the trips. Thus, all companies serving London experienced considerable traffic increases when the Exhibition was open. The Great Western Railway’s passenger traffic increased by 38.3%, the London and South Western’s by 29.9%, the London and Blackwall’s by 28.5% and the South Eastern;s by 23.8%. Furthermore, Thomas Cook claimed that, acting as agent, he had brought 165,000 individuals to Euston. Thus, most concluded that the railways and excursion trains contributed to the exhibition’s success.

Excursions by this point were an accepted railway activity, even though many railway companies, for example the London and North Western Railway, were not entirely certain they were profitable. Indeed, after the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 the number of excursions exploded and they took vast swathes of people to large religious gatherings, coastal resorts, race meetings, cities, sports events, the boat race and to fairs that many organisations ran. Furthermore, the National Sunday League, which was a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1855 to pressure for museum and park openings on Sundays, began arranging their own excursions from the 1870s. After a small start, by 1914 the League organised 540 such excursions in that year. Furthermore, large companies, such as Bass in Burton and the railways themselves arranged day trips for their workers, principally to the seaside. The GWR’s annual ‘Swindon Trip’ drained the town of half its population, giving a day out to around 26,000 people.

Ultimately, the growth in excursion train numbers after the late 1860s was spurred on by people possessing greater free time and the increased range of available leisure activities. However, the exact number of people using them across the period is unclear. A Royal Commission on Railways between 1865 and 1867 found that the L&YR, L&NWR and Midland Railway carried 1,140,000 excursion passengers in 1865. This constituted 3% of their passenger revenue. This proportion possibly grew and in the period between 1901 and 1909 excursion trains contributed 10% of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway’s income from passengers. However, the latter company served principally passenger districts, whereas the three former companies did not, and the samples were from different periods in the history of the excursion train. Thus, the comparison is not really fair.

Nevertheless, the excursion train added to the cultural life of the country in the Victorian period, and allowed many to experience much that they wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise. Thus, for the people of Britain, the excursion train was a great success.

Compiled by Turnip Rail