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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

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 (coming from The Wild Rose Press on June 29, 2011), 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,


Alyssia said...

Linda, my heart stopped and started when I saw you posted about railroads today. I'm currently editing a novel for an online press, and the majority of the plot takes place in Middlesbrough, where I created a fictional train depot. It's smaller than the Stockton/Darlington, but a bit more convenient to the local farmers, miners, etc. Like you, I found the research on steam engines and locomotives utterly fascinating! Some of the stories where the engines blew, sending metal and boiling water in all directions--in one case, metal bits were found a quarter mile away, near a church building--were horrifying! But altogether interesting, too.

I can't wait to read your book! Adding it to my Kindle wish list right now. ;)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Fascinating post, thanks. I had an article published in The Highlander recently about James Watt as he was from my home town!

Love the sound of your book and will look out for it.

Donna Hatch said...

I knew railroads were just starting around the time of the Regency Era, but I thought they were more of a curiosity instead of working. That's so great to know!
Can't wait to check out your book!

Linda Banche said...

LOL, Alyssia, great minds think alike! Sounds like some fascinating information you found. Thanks for your kind words.

Thanks, Rosemary. Wow, you grew up in James Watt's home town! Lots of history there.

Thanks, Donna, I thought railroads were Victorian, too, until I looked them up.

Vonnie said...

Excellent article, Linda. And for those of us who are not only railway buffs but Regency buffs as well (me, cough) it is fascinating. Thank you.

Linda Banche said...

You're welcome, Vonnie. My husband likes trains, too.