Sunday, February 26, 2012

Regency Railroads

We think of the railroad as a Victorian invention, but railroads as we know them today got their start during the Regency.

Goods and people have always traveled from one place to another. But such movement was limited to what animal power could provide (hence the term "horsepower") until the invention of the steam engine.

The first workable steam engine was the Newcomen engine, invented in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen. Better known is James Watt, who improved the Newcomen engine in 1765 and continued improvements for thirty-five years until his patent expired in 1800.

Mining played a large role in the history of the railroad. One of the Newcomen engine's first uses was to pump water out of mines and air in. Watt's improved engine harnessed steam for the locomotive, which powered the trains that transported the heavy ores from the mines to their destinations.

The steam locomotive pulling a train was a vast improvement in the hauling of freight. Trains now conveyed coal and ores, which previously depended on horse-drawn vehicles, in a much shorter amount of time and at a much lower cost

The name most often associated with the invention of the locomotive is mining engineer and inventor Richard Trevithick (1771-1833). He invented a steam engine of high enough power to move a loaded train's massive weight. He also built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive in 1799 in Cornwall. The first railroad journey took place in 1804, as Trevithick's improved steam locomotive powered a train along the tramway of the Penydarren Ironworks, in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales.

Trevithick also built the first passenger locomotive, the Catch Me Who Can. In 1808, he demonstrated it in Bloomsbury, London, on a circular track.

Advances in railroad technology continued through the years of the Regency proper (1811-1820). Starting a company lagged the technology, since Parliament had to approve every railroad proposal. In 1821, Parliament authorized the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which would haul coal from the Durham mines to the North Sea ports.

The first inter-city passenger railroad was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which was formed in 1823. The Railway opened in 1830, and the picture above (from Wikipedia) records its first journey.

I set my Regency comedy, Gifts Gone Astray in 1817 in Langley, England, south of the projected route of the Liverpool and Manchester. The planning for the railroad's proposal forms part of the plot.

Thank you all,


Hope Tarr said...

Fascinating post, Linda. Patrick O'Rourke, my hero in UNTAMED, made his money in railways. The book is set in the 1890's, post-railway boom and the speculation era when so many eager investors lost their blunt.

Suzi said...

Great post.
I also write about railways and have often been told in contests there wasn't any railway movement, men, investments etc until 1850s.
Yet so much was happening earlier.
Well done for bringing the Regency railways to people's attention.
Suzi Love

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, Hope. Railroads got their start in the Regency, but the big bucks were made in the Victorian era.

Thanks, Suzi. You're right, most people didn't know about railroads until Victorian times, so they assume they started then. The 1850's were when railroads became widespread, but they had to start out before then.

Donna Hatch said...

While I knew the train was a new thing in the Regency, I didn't realize it had started so much earlier. That's great to know.

SherryGLoag said...

Facinatng post, thanks for sharing.

Linda Banche said...

Hi Donna and Sherry. Glad you found the post informative.