It is hard, from a distance of nearly two centuries, to imagine the impact the coming of the railways must have had at the start of the nineteenth century. Their physical impact was dramatic enough - great mechanical horses, breathing fire and smoke and drawing impossibly heavy trains at unimaginable speeds, across a landscape transformed by the embankments and cuttings, viaducts and tunnels their passage demanded. However, they would also transform the way war was conducted and peace was maintained; prove to be one of the drivers of the dramatic industrial growth of the nineteenth century; create opportunities for many to become enormously wealthy, but impoverish many more, who invested unwisely; cause the state to think again about the policy of laissez-faire that was its default position; transform our leisure; radically re-shape our towns and cities and change our very notions of time and how we measured it.
In this book, Stuart Hylton looks at the changes wrought in the British Isles during the first century of the railway age and answers the question, what did the railways do for us?
Stuart Hylton grew up in Windsor, studied at Manchester University and has written over twenty books on historical subjects, local and national, including From Rationing to Rock, Their Darkest Hour, an alternative view of the Home Front during the Second World War, A History of Manchester, The Grand Experiment and The Horseless Carriage. He is a member of the Education Team at the Great Western Society's Didcot Railway Centre.