Railways and the Victorian Imagination

Freeman, Michael
Date published: 
September 1999

This book offers a new cultural history of the railway age in Britain. As the newly constructed railways transformed the landscape and the economics of nineteenth-century Britain, they transformed the very culture itself, and this richly illustrated account records and illuminates that transformation.

From geological studies to the walls of the Royal Academy; from rapidly growing atheism to innovative games for children; from Darwinism tot he temples of capitalism - almost every aspect of human endeavour was informed by and related to the developing railway. Musical scores that sought to mimic the rhythms of steam locomotion, and libraries of books devised to be read on trains and sold at station book stalls were simply one consequence of feats of physical engineering that exceeded all previous undertakings, and of joint-stock companies larger by far than the East India Company or any other previously in existence. Completely new attitudes to time, to distance and consequently to employment, to lesiure and to life itself were brought about by these developments, and this lively book recovers through its images, its anecdotes and its arguments the life and the world that the railways made.

The cultural dimension of the railway age is often overshadowed by its mechanical and physical elements. Here the very centrality of the railway in the literary, artistic and imaginative life of the nation is set side by side with its financial, speculative and economic dimension to provide a highly original and fascinating insight into the realities of Victorian life.