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Speaker: David Turner (York)

Christmas was a period of great mobility for Edwardian Londoners. In the week before Christmas Day, hundreds of thousands left the capital. The paper explores how the railway companies policies were influenced by and responded to festive travel, opening up a window onto the interrelations between mobility patterns, culture and the actions of transport providers.

The first half of the paper considers how railways advertised travel in the festive season, and their appeals to different market segments. Armstrong argued that just before the First World War the modern practice of spending Christmas at the seaside was perceived by some to threaten Victorian festive traditions focussed on home and family. Yet, common as this discourse was, most travellers were returning home to reaffirm the bonds of family and friendship. Through a survey of railway adverts in high-end magazines and pictorial posters, the paper will show how advertising consequently reflected and reinforced these anxieties and trends. Nonetheless, it highlights that in a period when railway advertising practices were evolving, companies adopted varied approaches that reflected their trading environments, mobility patterns, and management strategy.

The second half of the paper examines railway companies’ operational responses to Christmas traffic. The corporate ideal that London’s terminals were models of efficiency and passenger regulation were tested to the maximum in the week before Christmas Day. In an attempt to bring greater order to apparent chaos, companies enhanced service provision, offered tickets in advance, and employed extra staff, but ultimately they never could fully regulate the behaviour of the crowd. Christmas was therefore a time when the rationalising ideals and processes of railway companies were partially undermined. The station crowds also gave rise to concerns over the decline of the festive spirit, yet good cheer was maintained.

IHR Seminar SeriesTransport & Mobility History