Letter describing a railway journey in 1837 from Birmingham to Stafford
Letter describing a railway journey in 1837 from Birmingham to Stafford ( Click to zoom in )

Click on image to zoom in..

Letter describing a railway journey in 1837 from Birmingham to Stafford

SRO D897/8/1-8
©Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service

This letter contains one of the earliest personal accounts of railway travel in this country. The writer travelled on the Grand Junction Railway from Birmingham to Stafford, one of the earliest lines in the country. The letter provides a detailed description of how early trains were operated. As well as ordinary carriages, the train also carried horse-drawn coaches and wagons, in which the public were allowed to ride.


Read last part first
Stafford, July 17th 1837
My dear Bessy,
I came posting from Worc[este]r to Birm[ingha]m
and thence by the Railway hither, bringing the Carriage I have
hired with me on the Railway. The travelling in this way
is such a novelty that I shall endeav[ou]r to describe it.
First of all goes the steam engine with the place for
coals behind it, neither of which are easily capable
of description. Then follow carriages chained to each
other, and within about a yard of each other. The place in
which I sat contained 6 - 3 with their faces tow[ard]s the
Engine, 3 the contrary way - I should say it is about 6
feet broad by 5 wide. Each passenger sits in a sort of
armed chair - The two nearest the outside having that to
lean against and there being arms coming out and a pro-
jection intervening between each passenger, this projection
runs up to the top and is stuffed and soft. I can just
sit in the middle seat, and there is plenty of leg room
as I think it is about a foot from my knee to the
opposite seat. There is a door and window on each side
like a common Coach, but larger and much more
commodious for passsage in and out. the inside
is very handsomely fitted up. The only thing that struck
me was that it appeared that the windows are hardly
sufficient. The same coach certainly contains other seats
and I think, but I cannot say for certain, 3 before and 3 behind.
So that each contains 12 persons. 7 coaches came with us
therefore there were about 84 passengers. The pace is
very steady and regular, and never apparently too fast, indeed
I should have fancied double as fast not too fast, yet
we came form Birm[ingha]m here, 30 miles, in an hour and 5 mi-
nutes, excluding 7 minutes lost at Wolver[hamp]t[o]n, and from that place
18 miles in 28 minutes. At present I am clear the rails
are not properly settled as in some places you clearly per-
ceive a jar at each junction, and in others a lateral motion.
The only thing in which I was deceived was the quantity of motion,
which at present is much greater than I expected, but I am
convinced will ultimately be avoided nearly altogether. It
certainly is a delightful method of getting over the
ground and noone I should think having once travelled by
it w[oul]d ever trouble horses again if he could avoid it. The
noise of the engine is by no means annoying - You may
almost fancy it the quick galloping of Horses - You
see but little of the Country partly by reason of the
rapidity, but chiefly owing to the low level of the rails,
which in many places almost touch the brooks they pass.
It is vain to try to catch the features of a person you pass
- and very curious to see how the arches you go under appear nar-
rowed in size. The seats and tickets being all numbered there
is little confusion about places and the luggages is piled on the
tops of the vehicles. i have no doubt many improvements
may still be made, but I think it good enough as it is.
If you have a carriage you may ride in that. James did so
all the way. It is I believe 110 miles
from Birm[ingha]m to Liverpool - including
stoppages 4¼ hours. A capital
means of transmitting a family
any distance in a day.
Wednesday To the credit of this
County I have nothing whatever
to do here, and I have been near
starting by the new Coach to [? Shef]field
this Morn[in]g. I am anxious and wondering
that I have heard nothing since I started.
I think you can send me a line with great expedition
in a parcel by the return Coach today, or at all
events tomorrow.
Carus Wilson is to be tried today. He defends
With best regards to all
I am your aff[ectiona]te Bro[ther]

Landscape and Townscape Trade and Industry Faith and Religious Life Uniquely Staffordshire Transport and Communication Disorder and Unrest Staffordshire People