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Posted in Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Railways, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about the railways originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 244 published on 17 September 1966.
The Grand opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway by Harry Green
15th September, 1830, was a great day for Liverpool and Manchester. The Duke of Wellington had opened the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first railway to connect two English cities entirely by steam engine.
The previous year, while the track was still being laid, the directors had offered a prize of £500 for a locomotive which they would judge to be the most suitable for hauling trains on the new line. Among the nine engineers who entered for the competition was George Stephenson, who had built the engines for the much shorter Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825.
Only five locomotives were ready for the trials, which lasted for seven days. Stephenson’s “Rocket” won the prize after hauling a train at a speed of 12¬Ω miles an hour: so on 15th September, 1830, it was the “Rocket” which proudly drew the first train from Manchester to Liverpool, carrying passengers, including the Duke of Wellington.
The great occasion was, however, marked by tragedy. A talented member of Parliament, William Huskisson, was run over by the “Rocket” and killed. He was the first man in history to be killed by a train.
The building of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway solved many problems of main-line railway construction. In all, 63 bridges were built; a cutting two miles long and 100 feet deep was dug out; a tunnel 2,240 yards long was bored under Liverpool; and track had to be laid across the famous bogland called Chat Moss.
Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History, Railways, World War 1 on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about the First World War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 241 published on 27 August 1966.
Everything happened so swiftly that Private Jim Roberts, the hospital train orderly, had no time to think. At one moment he imagined himself alone in an empty coach on the train; the next he was engaged in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle with an Arab train robber.
The year was 1917; the place, Mesopotamia. A British Expeditionary Force was fighting against the Turks, who had been driven back beyond Baghdad. British communications stretched back to Sinbad’s city of Basrah, at the head of the Persian Gulf.
The coach, with Private Roberts in charge, was going up to Amara overnight to bring back fever cases from the front line. He’d been making up the cots and had almost finished his task when some slight noise prompted him to spin round. He was just in time to see a brown hand dragging a blanket through one of the wide-open windows.
Roberts, lithe and wiry, hurled himself forward and managed to grasp one corner of the blanket as it snaked out of the window. He wound it round his wrist, grabbed hold with his other hand, and tugged.
The Arab on the footboard had to use one hand for clinging to the side of the train, but he was a powerful fellow, and Roberts was only slightly built. A fierce tug-of-war followed for the raider was determined not to let go; the orderly was equally determined to hang on.
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Posted in Disasters, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Railways on Thursday, 18 April 2013
This edited article about disaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 228 published on 28 May 1966.
The railway disaster at Gretna Green in 1915 by Clive Uptton
About 6.45 a.m. on the morning of May 22, 1915, the signalman at Quintenshill box, one mile north of Gretna Green, shunted a local train from the up main line on to the down main line. There it was to stay until the Euston to Glasgow express had passed through. This was always done if the express happened to be running late, but the signalman forgot to set warning signals.
At 6.55 a.m. a troop train carrying the 7th Battalion Royal Scots from Glasgow to London ploughed into the stationary train, and both were flung off the track in a tangled heap of wreckage. The soldier and passengers who survived the crash immediately set about extricating the injured and rescue was at its height when, to crown the tragedy, the London-Glasgow express thundered down the track into the wreckage of the two crashed trains.
The impact was heard three miles away as the express splintered into matchwood the timber coaches of the troop train, killing scores of those who were helping the injured. The torn woodwork of the wrecked coaches caught alight from the fireboxes of the overturned engines. Coach after coach became a mass of flame. The fire-engines arriving from Glasgow and Carlisle found the fire almost burned out, leaving only a twisted mass of steel coach-frames.
The Gretna Green collision was the worst accident in British railway history, with a total of 227 dead and over 200 injured. A court of inquiry held the signalman responsible. He was later sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Railways, War on Friday, 22 March 2013
This edited article about the American Civil War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 208 published on 8 January 1966.
Troops tearing up a railway during the American Civil War
Puffing and clanking, the Confederate locomotive Texas thundered wildly down the tracks, its funnel-shaped smoke-stack shooting angry red sparks up into the morning sky.
It was April 12, 1862, and one of the most fantastic train chases in American history was taking place along Georgia’s Western and Atlantic Railway.
The Civil War had been raging for a year when twenty Yankee troops, led by Union spy James J. Andrews, set off on a daring mission. They planned to strike a death-blow against the railway – a vital Confederate Army supply line – by capturing a southern train and burning down bridges along the route. Success could have shortened the war.
Posing as loyal Southerners, they boldly infiltrated into Georgia from their own Northern-held lines in Tennessee. On the dawn of April 12, the raiders bought tickets at Marietta station, Georgia, and boarded a northbound Confederate train called the General. Wearing civilian clothing and armed with concealed revolvers, they mingled freely with the other passengers.
When the General puffed into Big Shanty station 45 minutes later, the crew and passengers hurried to a nearby hotel-restaurant for a routine twenty-minute breakfast stop.
Momentarily, the train was unattended. The raiders, who knew the schedule perfectly, swung into action. One team boarded the engine. Another group stealthily uncoupled all but three boxcars. The lone sentry on watch thought they were railroad workmen. Not a shot was fired.
At 6.05 a.m. the General abruptly chugged off down the tracks, leaving crew and passengers behind. Picking up speed, the now much abbreviated train swung past an unsuspecting Confederate Army Camp. The Southern troops waved a greeting.
The raiders were confident of success now. They knew there were no other engines at Big Shanty to pursue them. And the nearest telegraph station was thirty miles distant.
The General’s conductor was twenty-five year old William Fuller. When he dashed out of the restaurant, he viewed the scene with stunned disbelief. The General – with its powerful gleaming engine and bright red cowcatcher – was his pride and joy! But his pride and joy was disappearing into the distance.
Angrily he set off along the track on foot. The locomotive was already just a puff of black smoke upon the horizon. Spectators began to laugh. Fuller, a small, stocky man with a youthful beard, looked a ridiculous figure racing down the single-track line.
“You’ll have to move to catch her,” someone called out derisively. Everyone knew that the General was the fastest locomotive on the line.
But Fuller closed his ears to the jibes. His legs kept pumping like pistons. His face was grim with determination. And, spurred by his courageous example, another railroad official, Anthony Murphy, started running, too.
The chase was on! It was destined to last nearly five harrowing hours; and it has lived on in history from then until now.
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Posted in Actors, English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Railways, Shakespeare, Theatre on Thursday, 21 March 2013
This edited article about the English theatre originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 207 published on 1 January 1966.
The Sunday “train-call” was a theatrical institution, when the railways carried hundreds of actors all over the country – previously they had travelled by stage coach or or foot
Twice in its long and stormy history, the English Theatre has enjoyed a Golden Age. The first and greatest was in Shakespeare’s day. The second began in 1871, when Henry Irving, later to become the first theatrical knight, triumphed in The Bells, and it continued until the outbreak of the first World War in 1914.
Though a second Shakespeare did not appear during this period, Bernard Shaw established himself as a major playwright; his fellow Irishman, Oscar Wilde, wrote his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest; and a number of authors, headed by Sir Arthur Pinero, wrote well-made plays which kept audiences entertained and amused.
But the Theatre at this time was dominated by a group of actor-managers who, inspired by the example of Irving, formed their own companies and brought glory to their profession, as well as fame and fortune to themselves.
The very word “Theatre” had a glamour about it, and an excitement that it has never had since. As in Shakespeare’s day, every class of society flocked to the theatres. All too often, in the centuries between Shakespeare and Irving, the Theatre had been an upper or a lower class entertainment, with the middle classes staying away.
The Music Halls flourished, and their greatest stars – Dan Leno, Marie Lloyd and a host of others – were national figures. It was also the age of Gilbert and Sullivan; of Melba and Caruso, the famous opera singers; of the Gaiety Girls; of “The Merry Widow” and tuneful musical comedies. Add the sound of hansom cabs, the flicker of gaslight and the swirl of the waltz, and it is hardly surprising that the Theatre of those days seems touched with magic.
Nor was it only the London Stage which prospered. The railways carried companies of travelling actors to play in the hundreds of theatres which then existed all over Britain. The cinema was in its infancy and, with no radio or television, the Theatre had no rivals.
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Posted in Cars, Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Railways, Ships on Thursday, 21 March 2013
This edited article about the Victorian age originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 206 published on 25 December 1965.
Brunel follows the progress of his ambitious design for the largest steam ship in the world, the Great Eastern, as she is being built in the shipyard
The coming of the railways enabled goods from the manufacturing centres to be taken more rapidly to the ports for export overseas. When they arrived there they were put on ships that were as much a novelty as the trains that had brought them. Not long before, at the beginning of the century, all ships were propelled by sail, but now steam began to come into its own. Indeed, the steamship at first made more rapid progress than the locomotive.
The first British steamboat was launched on the Clyde in 1811, and before long trails of smoke marked every sea-coast horizon. In thirty years over six hundred steamships were built. In the year after Queen Victoria came to the throne the first iron vessel crossed the Atlantic, and four years later the Great Western steamship arrived one June morning in King’s Road, Bristol, from New York, having performed in twelve and a half days a passage which until then had normally taken a month. The first liner, in a strict sense, was the Britannia with which the Cunard Company began a regular fortnightly service to New York. The world of which industrial Britain was the centre was daily growing smaller.
As in so much else at the time this was only a beginning. In 1843 the Great Britain was provided with a screw-propeller, and then gradually iron gave place to steel. Later still the turbine engine, an invention scarcely less remarkable than that of the screw-propeller, was brought out.
The Royal Navy was slow to change from sail to steam, and when the Crimean War broke out in 1854 the entire British fleet consisted of wooden sailing ships, except for a few warships fitted with auxiliary engines and a number of steam tugs. What makes this the more astonishing is that since the introduction of the shell gun twenty-five years earlier, the wooden battleship had become so vulnerable as to have no fighting value at all.
One change led to another. As the ships grew larger the docks had to be made bigger, and this gave great advantages to the seaports where this was possible. Liverpool and London were the principal gainers.
In the eighteenth century Bristol had been a rival both to Liverpool and London, but such was no longer the case in the Victorian era. The city lay ten miles up a narrow and winding stream, and was the chief town of a rich valley in the West; its position in a fruitful agricultural district gave it a distinctly inland atmosphere in spite of its old and honourable connection with the sea. Its interests, too, were numerous, and by the end of the Victorian Age the manufactures of Bristol were more important than the commerce.
Liverpool, on the contrary, was a seaport and nothing much else. To the Liverpudlian the sea united rather than divided, and especially had this been the case before the coming of the railways when he looked on the River Mersey as his outlet to the world, rather than the muddy tracks which led from Liverpool across the bleakest of countrysides to other centres of population in Lancashire. As we have seen, the growing size of ships called for the enlargement and perfecting of the dock system, and by the time that Queen Victoria died, the Liverpool docks had become one of the wonders of the shipping world, while of every ten ships that sailed the seas one hailed from Liverpool.
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Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Railways, Trade, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 20 March 2013
This edited article about Victorian railways originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 205 published on 18 December 1965.
The comfort of the Pullman coach of a late-Victorian passenger train by Harry Green
The great advance which marked the Victorian Age would not have been possible without the development of a more rapid means of travel. On land this was due to the railways, which had the same influence upon people’s lives last century that the motor-car and the aeroplane have upon our lives today. Before they came, people moved about at much the same pace as they had done at the heyday of the Roman Empire fifteen hundred years earlier. For example, when Sir Robert Peel, the statesman, had to come at very short notice from Rome to London in 1834 it took him twelve days to get to Dover. In 1827 Dickens made one of his characters leave London by coach at 7 a.m., reaching Bath, a hundred miles away, over twelve hours later.
The railways got off to a slow start. Short railways worked by horses had long been known, and a few steam locomotives had been built, but they had met with little success. In 1814 George Stephenson succeeded in inventing a locomotive engine which was cheaper than horse-power, and after that things began to move more rapidly. In 1825 a railway was opened between Stockton and Darlington, and five years later another between Liverpool and Manchester.
The directors of the company operating the latter line offered a reward of £500 for the best locomotive that could be made. Four engines were entered for the competition, but Stephenson’s Rocket was the only one that could move, and it proved able to travel at the rate of thirty-five miles an hour.
At the official opening of the Liverpool-Manchester line, William Huskisson, M.P. for Liverpool, was knocked down by a train and killed – the first person in England to lose his life in a railway accident – but it seems that this tragedy did more to attract attention to the power of the locomotive than to discredit it.
Naturally there were a lot of people whose interests were adversely affected by the coming of the railways, and they raised all sorts of objections. Poets like Wordsworth thought railways hideous, and farmers complained of frightened horses and cattle: complaints came from the people whose pockets were going to be affected, such as keepers of posting-houses, stage coachmen, and canal proprietors. They found a doughty champion in Colonel Sibthorpe, M.P. for Lincoln, who “abominated all railroads soever,” and made it his business in the House of Commons to oppose every measure which favoured them. But before Queen Victoria had been ten years on the throne the railway network was roughly what it is today.
For many years the countryside was covered by armies of “navigators” or “navvies” employed in making cuttings, embankments, and tunnels, and in laying the permanent way. In 1848 nearly 200,000 labourers, many of them Irish, were engaged in this vast task. With their rough habits and speech, high wages, and fondness for steaks, plush waistcoats, and whisky – which they called “white beer” – they alarmed the people in every place where they camped.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Politics, Railways, Royalty on Wednesday, 20 March 2013
This edited article about the Victorian age originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 204 published on 11 December 1965.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arriving at Paddington Station by Ron Embleton
Victorianism is rather a dreary word these days, and to call anybody or anything “Victorian” is almost a term of abuse, suggesting that they or it are thoroughly out-of-date.
Yet there is another side to the picture, for the Victorian period, whether we like it or not, is part of Britain’s history, and it must be studied as such. The more we study it the more we realize that it was an age of great beginnings. Most of the things in life today that we take for granted had their origin at that time.
The period takes its name from Queen Victoria who was on the throne from 1837 to 1901, and who had been born in 1819. Perhaps the easiest way to realize the changes which took place in her lifetime is to make some comparisons between the state of affairs in her youth and when she died.
Take communications first of all. In 1837, if the Queen had wished to go to Balmoral she could not possibly have reached Aberdeen by coach in less than two days: when she died she could have covered the 540 miles in twelve hours. The reason for the contrast is, of course, that in the interval the railway had made its appearance. In fact the whole Victorian period was dominated by the railways, though by the time that the old Queen died the motor car had begun to make its presence felt.
It was the same at sea. When the Queen was born men still crossed it in sailing ships, and even by 1840 the steamers belonging to England numbered a mere 600 as compared with nearly 9,000 at the time of her death, when the Atlantic had become a mere pond.
Until 1837 there was no telegraph, let alone telephones or wireless, and it took the best part of twelve months to get an answer to a letter sent from London to China or Japan: in that year the electric telegraph was patented. By 1846 it was possible to send a telegram inside the country at the rate of twenty words for a shilling.
The Victorian Age saw no greater change than in leisure and recreation. When it began these were the privileges of the few, but by the end of the nineteenth century they had been widely extended to other classes of the community. This was made possible first by the railway and then by the bicycle. A great stimulus was also given to holiday-making in 1871 by the Act of Parliament which established Bank Holidays. Even the Christmas holiday as we know it today was largely the creation of the Prince Consort and Charles Dickens.
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Posted in Africa, Animals, Historical articles, History, Railways on Thursday, 14 March 2013
This edited article about African animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 192 published on 18 September 1965.
Huddled round the camp-fire, the African labourers strained their ears fearfully for any sound in the darkness beyond the barrier of thorn fencing. Then it came . . . a deep, reverberating roar far out in the bush, dying eerily away into the night.
In a moment a terrified native was on his feet, eyes rolling, yelling, “Beware, brothers! The devil is coming, the devil is coming!”
Pandemonium broke out among his fellows as guns were grabbed from tents, drums banged, and more wood heaped on the glowing fire to keep the “devil” at bay.
But by dawn next morning the thorn fence had been breached and yet another native was missing. The man-eating lions of Tsavo in Kenya had struck again.
It was no wonder that natives and Asians working on the Mombasa-Uganda railway across East Africa in the 1900s believed the lions were “shaitans” – that is, devils, in disguise.
Thick, thorny barriers which only an elephant could penetrate had failed to keep them off. Blazing fires, gun-bursts and the rattling of tin cans had all proved useless against these particular predators.
For over a year the labour camps along the Tsavo section of the line through Kenya suffered the repeated, extraordinary attacks of the lions. At first only one lion attacked, but then two began raiding at once, surmounting the stout fences like silent ghosts and seizing a victim each before making off as swiftly as they had come.
News of the reign of terror by the “devils” of Tsavo spread across the world. In 1900 the British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, announced in the House of Lords that the whole enterprise of opening up the East African interior by rail was being seriously hampered by the attacks of these lions.
When twenty-eight Asians and many more Africans had been carried off and devoured by the beasts, things came to a head and the bulk of the labour force walked out in a panic. Construction of the railway ceased for a month.
If the railway was ever to be finished, the lions must be destroyed. Tracking was impossible in the local thorny scrub, and all traps, however ingenious, had failed.
Then Colonel J. H. Patterson, the engineer in charge of constructing the railway, decided upon a scheme which, it seemed, must be successful.
He and the local medical officer lay in wait one afternoon in a goods van which had been shunted into a siding in the neighbourhood in which the lions had last been reported. The top of the van door was open, and the lower half was locked. Opposite the door was a thorn-fenced “camp,” containing tents and cattle as bait.
The idea, as Colonel Patterson explained in his book Man-eaters of Tsavo (Macmillan and Co.), was to wait inside the van until the lions entered the mock camp, and then, guided by their noise, shoot them as they dragged away dead cattle.
Slowly the long afternoon passed and dusk fell. An uneasy restlessness among the cattle in the camp eventually gave the men an indication of the lions’ presence.
Suddenly a lion sprang – not at the camp but straight at the half-opened door of the van. Taken by surprise, the two men fired simultaneously and succeeded in scaring off the lion with the din of the double report, thus saving themselves, but allowing the lion to escape.
In the end it was Colonel Patterson who bagged both the man-eaters. A long, lonely vigil, crouched by night in a tree-top platform, led to the shooting of the first lion. He used the same means to catch the second lion, but this one was only badly wounded and had to be tracked down and destroyed.
On December 26, 1901, the first truck rattled through savannah and highlands to Lake Victoria in Uganda, from the port of Mombasa, Kenya.
Posted in Anniversary, Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London, Railways, Transport, Travel on Monday, 14 January 2013
Here are three of our best pictures of the London Underground, showing its construction and the first journey taken by the directors, bankers, shareholders and distinguished guests.
The construction of the London Underground by Harry Green
Another dramatic picture of the construction of the London Underground.
The River Fleet broke through a huge cutting’s brick wall during the construction of the London Underground by Harry Green
The great and the good take a ride in open carriages on the first London Underground line.
Railway Directors, shareholders and special guests at the grand opening of the London Underground on 9 January, 1863, by Harry Green