The Railway Revolution

Railway Revolution

About the Author

York resident and regular contributor. Fascinated by this historic city and always keen to promote local, independent businesses. The man taking the photographs and tweeting from @Jorvik

York Pass

19th century York, along with the rest of the UK, was turned around by the onset of the railways. Life changed ever increasingly in line with the rail network’s development; the impact on the population, who had to learn to adapt, was striking. The bustle of stage coaches in York’s narrow streets diminished and the steam railways shunted York forward into the industrial age. Personal, social, and working lives changed for ever; the city and its population was revitalised.

George Hudson, York’s ‘railway king’, financier and director of the North Midland Railway, was influential in the opening in 1839 of The York and North Midland Railway.  In 1840 York had its first direct rail link to London; in 1850 thirteen trains a day ran between the two cities, transporting around 341,000 passengers each year.

This new mode of transport meant that only two years after the first train arrived in the city, visitors streamed in to York from the Midlands, the North and London, eager to view the County town’s historical buildings and sample its many refreshment establishments – which meant more supplies were required. For these there was no waiting with the railway on the doorstep. In line with increasing demand businesses shot up, bringing employment opportunities. Families could pick up threads in relationships long abandoned due to poor transport.

In 1852 the North Eastern Railways (NER) built a hotel on the station site re-naming it the Royal Station Hotel after Queen Victoria had dined there en route to Balmoral in 1854.

By 1865, the railways brought two postal deliveries a day to York. The existing station, incorporating George Hudson’s boardroom, was becoming inadequate in coping with the increasing rail surge.  In 1877 York’s new station, the hub of the NER, designed by Thomas Prosser, opened, with 13 platforms – the largest in Britain, and its 295-lever manually-worked signal box was also the largest in Britain.

An unprecedented number of people, around 870,000, visited two Fine Art and Industrial exhibitions at York Art Gallery in 1860 and 1879, signifying the success of the new form of transport.

By 1888, 294 trains were powering into York each day (increasing to 350 trains a day by 1910). With the advent of the NER came work opportunities as never before. Local industries such as Cravens, Terry’s and Rowntree’s whose development coincided with that of the railway, were now looking at national access for their products, and were better able to access raw materials and employees.

The repair of railway stock was a new industry – one vital to York’s economy. By the 1880s the NER was the city’s biggest employer, constructing a railway carriage building works which spread to 45 acres thirty years later. In line with Victorian ideals the NER built the Railway Institute in 1889.

Rail travel radically changed the speed of movement, and inevitably daily life, from one gauged in single miles an hour to one gauged in scores of miles an hour, representing a far-reaching transformation in the lives of the ordinary citizen, as well as commerce and industry.

York Station was, and still is, central to the city – making it convenient for visitors, the public and businesses alike.

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