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Dyspepsia on the Railways: Eating practices, complaints and rebelling bodies in Britain in the Nineteenth Century

Recorded on 4 February 2021

Speaker: Chloe Shields (University of Strathclyde and National Railway Museum, York)

n the nineteenth century, the railways roared into Britain and transformed Victorian society. Transport historians have explored the ways the railways changed how Victorians viewed time, from anxieties around punctuality to the speeding up of their daily lives. However, railway consumption practices have mainly been a footnote in this narrative. This paper hopes to explore how the speed of the railways affected passengers' eating habits and how they felt about it. Until 1879, there were no official en-train dining facilities on the railways in Britain. Travellers had a few options, including trains making scheduled stops, so passengers could 'scramble' to the refreshment rooms for sustenance. The scheduled stops varied in length depending on both company and route, however, they were generally short, and passengers rushed meals resulted in dyspepsia. Travellers were aggrieved by both the quality of the food and the bouts of indigestion. Authors from Dickens to Trollope used the inadequacy of railway refreshments as a source of inspiration. Whereas, members of the public made complaints through one of the only widespread public platforms available to them: The Letter to the Editor. This paper will use a range of sources including literary texts, and letters to the editor to explore passenger experiences and anxieties around railway consumption practices and to argue that travellers used their dyspepsia to show resistance to both the speed of their eating habits and their daily lives.

IHR Seminar Series: Food History