The period from 1844 to 1847 is often called 'Railway Mania'. It was a time in which the number railways grew on a scale never known before. Why did this boom take place and what effect did it have?
Wooden railway tracks had been used in coal mines since the 17th century. Then, in 1767, Abraham Darby II successfully made rails out of cast iron. In 1781 James Watt invented a steam engine that had a rotatory arm for driving machines in factories. It seemed only a matter of time before someone mounted a steam engine on wheels to make a locomotive.
However, this did not happen until 1804, when Richard Trevithick built a locomotive called 'Catch-Me-Who-Can' which was built for pulling coal carts in mines. His work was to be copied and improved by several men. The most important of these was George Stephenson.
In 1821 coal from South Durham was still being taken by road to Stockton. Because this was expensive the coal owners decided first to build a canal and then later a railway. They asked Stephenson to be their engineer. He persuaded the Company to build a railway that used steam locomotives rather than horses to pull their carts. This first railway opened in September 1825 and was called the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
Source A: The opening of the Stockton to Darlington Railway.
Even though the Stockton to Darlington railway was successful people were frightened of the locomotive or steam train. Some people believed that if you travelled too fast then you would not be able to breath! In 1830 the Liverpool to Manchester Railway was opened, again it was the work of Stephenson. In 1829 the Rainhill Trials were held to test the safety and efficiency of the locomotive. Stephenson's Rocket won the competition with an average speed of 15 miles per hour (25 kph).
Source B: Modern replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, 1989
The Liverpool to Manchester Railway was a big success. Other railways were soon followed. In 1838 Robert Stephenson built the first inter-city line between London and Birmingham. Then in 1841, Isambard Kingdom Brunel completed the Great Western Railway, which linked London with Bristol. Between 1844 and 1847 Parliament gave permission for 9,375 miles (15,000 km) of railway to be built. By 1850, over 6,000 miles (9,600 km) had been built.
Source C: Growth of Railways in Britain 1845, 1851 and 1872.
Source D: 'The Age of Railways', 1970
Why did the railways come? The answer, of course is: because of the
Industrial Revolution. The new factories, the new towns, the larger population, the increased volume of goods that had to be carried created the need for a faster means of transport. The Railway Age began on 15 September 1830, the day on which the first railway, the
Liverpool to Manchester was opened.
Activities: The Railways
1. The table below shows the key events of the history of the railways up to 1850.
The sentences have been mixed up. Copy the table and correct the sentences.
1767 Abraham Darby II
1781 James Watt invented a
1804 Richard Trevithick invented
1825 the first railway opened it was
1829 Stephenson’s Rocket won
1830 the Liverpool to
The period from 1844 to 1847 has
By 1850 over 6,000 miles
Manchester Railway was opened.
called the Stockton to Darlington Railway.
made the first iron rails for use in coal mines.
(9,600km) of railways had been built.
been called ‘Railway Mania’ by historians.
steam engine that could power machines.
The Rainhill Trials.
a locomotive called ‘Catch -Me-Who-Can’.
Do not tick or mark the statements with pen or pencil.
2. Choose 2 key events from your table and explain why you think that they are important.
3. Look at Sources C. Does it agree with the idea that from 1844 to 1847 there was a rapid
growth in the railways called 'Railway Mania' ? Why?
4. How is the period of ‘Railway Mania’ illustrated (shown) in the figures in this table?
Number of new Railway Acts submitted to Parliament
Length of the proposed new railway lines.
Cost of the proposed new railway lines.
5. Look at Source D. What reasons does the historian give for the growth of the railways?
6. According Source D which was the first railway to open?
7. Was the historian in Source D correct about which railway was the first to open? Why?
8. What can you learn from your answer in question 7 about the reliability of secondary
1. Do you think that Railway Mania would have happened if the Liverpool to Manchester
Railway had been a failure? Explain your answer.
2. What modern form of travel has partly replaced the railways as a form of passenger
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