Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Drive: Train Travel in Victorian England

[England & Wales With its Railroads & Canals, v1855, J. Archer. Found on]

Cousin Randy Seaver has a Saturday Night Genealogy Fun post every week on his Genea-Musings blog and everybody is welcome to join in.* Last night the theme was "Who Is Your Most Recent Immigrant Ancestor?" and Randy's offering was:
"My most recent immigrant ancestor is my great-grandfather, Thomas Richman/Richmond (1848-1917) and his mother, Hannah (Rich) Richman (1824-1911). They immigrated into the United States on 14 November 1856 in New York City, arriving on the ship Osprey out of Bristol in England.  The passenger list included:
*  Hannah Richman - age 32, female, a wife
*  James Richman - age 7, male, a child
*  Thomas Richman - age 6, male, a child
*  Louisa Richman - age 4, female, a child
*  Elizabeth Richman - age 3, female, a child
*  Ann Richman - an infant, female, a child 
James Richman (1821-1912) had come to America on the ship Calhoun from Liverpool in England on 22 October 1855.
The Richmans had lived in Hilperton in Wiltshire, near Trowbridge, until they emigrated.  I don't know how they went from Hilperton to the ports - Liverpool is fairly far away from Wiltshire.  Perhaps they went by wagon or coach.
It was the last paragraph with Randy's speculation of how they may have reached Liverpool and Bristol that caught my attention because I think there's a a strong likelihood that his ancestors traveled by train** instead.

The English were railroad pioneers and by the time the Richman family set out for America in 1855-56 there were thousands of miles of track in Britain and every town of any size had its railway line. As the BBC History Magazine explains:
"At first, train travel was too dear for the average working man but fares gradually came down thanks to competition and William Gladstone’s 1844 Railway Act, which obliged every company to supply at least one train daily at the cost of no more than 1d a mile. Meanwhile, the growth of excursion trains and the Great Exhibition of 1851 stimulated vast numbers to use the railways for the first time. 
By the end of the 1850s, passenger numbers had risen beyond all expectations. In 1854 alone, 92 million journeys were made in England and Wales alone, on a network stretching 6,000 miles. The magic of train travel had caught the public imagination and the rapid expansion of the iron road left few aspects of life in Victorian Britain untouched."
According to A History of the County of Wiltshire,***  railway service reached Trowbridge by 1848. 

[Wiltshire Railways and canals, Source: British History Online]

National Museums Liverpool has an Information Sheet (PDF) describing 19th and 20th century emigration. The section titled "Awaiting Departure" gives us an idea of what James Richman's experience there was probably like in 1855.
"Emigrants were not allowed on board their ships until the day before, or the actual day of sailing, so this meant that most emigrants usually spent between one and ten days waiting for their ship in a Liverpool lodging house. In the mid-19th century emigrants passing through Liverpool were liable to harassment and fraud by local confidence tricksters, known as 'runners'. Runners frequently snatched the emigrants' luggage and would only return it if the emigrant paid a large fee. In the late 1840s and 1850s, lodging houses were often inhospitable, dirty and overcrowded."
For general information about British trains, I suggest you check out the National Railway Museum. We visited it when we were in York last year and it is amazing!

*I added my 3rd great grandfather William T. Slater, the English deserter from the War of 1812 in the comment section of Randy's blog last night.
**And of course, the trains would have been pulled by steam locomotives. If you want to hear and see what they sounded like the obsessive trainspotters of England have puts lots of videos on YouTube. (Unfortunately none of them are short.)
***'Railways', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 4, ed. Elizabeth Crittall (London, 1959), pp. 280-293 [accessed 21 November 2015].

© 2015 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.


  1. Well done, Pat! You did the homework that I should have done.

    Thanks -- Randy

  2. I loved the railroad museum in York! I got to go into the locomotive! Very sad that the rail system in England was dismantled and is now nothing like it was even 50 years ago.