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A first journey by rail

Taken from the Greville Memoirs for 18 and 25 July 1837.

By the autumn of 1838 about five hundred miles of railway line was open to the public The growing interest in the new railway phenomenon is reflected by Charles Greville's contemporary description of his first experiences of travel by rail. He stayed at Knowsley Park, the seat of Lord Derby, during his visit to the north of England. Knowsley is between Liverpool and St Helens. The line that Greville travelled on was the recently opened Grand Junction Railroad that linked Birmingham to Warrington, where a line connected with the Liverpool - Manchester line at Newton Junction. The total distance to Liverpool was 97¼ miles and the scheduled time for fast trains was 4½ hours with six intermediate stops.


Knowsley, Tired of doing nothing in London, and of hearing about the Queen, and the elections, I resolved to vary the scene and run down here to see the Birmingham railroad, Liverpool , and Liverpool races. So I started at five o'clock on Sunday evening, got to Birmingham at half-past five on Monday morning, and got upon the railroad at half-past seven. Nothing can be more comfortable than the vehicle in which I was put, a sort of chariot with two places, and there is nothing disagreeable about it but the occasional whiffs of stinking air which it is impossible to exclude altogether. The first sensation is a slight degree of nervousness and a feeling of being run away with, but a sense of security soon supervenes and the velocity is delightful. Town after town, one park and chateau after another are left behind with the rapid variety of a moving panorama, and the continual bustle and animation of the changes and stoppages make the journey very entertaining The train was very long, and heads were continually popping our of several carriages, attracted by well-known voices, and then came the greetings and exclamations of surprise, the 'Where are you going?" and How on earth came you here?" Considering the novelty of its establishment, there is very little embarrassment, and it certainly renders all other travelling irksome and tedious by comparison. It was peculiarly gay at this time, because there was so much going on. There were all sorts of people going to Liverpool races, barristers to the assizes, and candidates to their several elections. ...

I remained at Knowsley till Saturday morning, when I went to Liverpool, got into the train at half-past eleven, and at five minutes after four arrived at Birmingham with an exact punctuality which is rendered easy by the great reserved power of acceleration, the pace at which we travelled being moderate and not above one half the speed at which they do occasionally go; one engineer went at the rate of forty-five miles an hour, but the Company turned him off for doing so.


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