travel by train

From Tourist to Day-Tripper and Holiday Maker – the influence of the railways.

Wales was in some respects at the forefront of rail transport in Britain.

1804: The first steam-powered vehicle on rails built by Trevithick at Penydarren, Wales

1807: The first passenger railway (horse-drawn) on the Mumbles line on the Gower, Wales

Many industrial sites had railways for transporting products (slate, metal ores, coal etc), normally by horse power and occasionally by balance power or stationary steam engines which wound wagons up and down inclines.  A few tourists travelled on tramways, either for fun, or as a means of getting from one place to another.

The coming of the railways led to a major change in the way people visited Wales. Before the railways, only visitors who had plenty of spare time and money could tour Wales and many of these travelled hundreds of miles around Wales for weeks at a time while a few stayed at sea-side resorts (especially Tenby, Aberystwyth and Barmouth) for a few weeks to ‘take the waters’ and to socialise.

The introduction of passenger trains made a significant difference to the way tourists arrived in Wales: their journeys within England were much quicker (and therefore cheaper) and well before 1850 tourists took trains to Liverpool and thence by steamship to ports along the north coast of Wales as far as Caernarfon.

There were several other effects of the introduction of passenger trains:

  • the lines and bridges spoiled some views and damaged ancient sites (especially at Conwy);
  • the increase in the speed of travel and numbers of travellers seems to have reduced the number of journals written by tourists;
  • large numbers of people could visit Wales on trips lasting a day or more, while others stayed at one of the increasing number of sea-side resorts for a week or two from which they could take day trips to local attractions by train or horse drawn charabancs
  • the cheapness of rail travel enabled a different class of person to visit Wales, if only on day trips: this gradually made some places less exclusive and drove the wealthy to more isolated resorts.
  • many new hotels and other forms of accommodation were built at resorts and visitors were provided with amusements such as brass-bands, popular sea-side entertainment, theatres and boat trips.

Trains were popular because they were:

  • cheap (see below)
  • fast (saving a lot of expense because it was not necessary to stay so many nights at inns on the journey between home and the destination).
  • more frequent than horse-drawn vehicles.
  • able to transport large numbers of people, especially on chartered excursions.

Two main lines were constructed by the 1850s, one along the north coast of Wales to Holyhead, the other along the south coast to Milford Haven, to provide quicker and safer transport to Ireland. Tourists took advantage of these lines and it seems likely that those who provided alternative modes of transport for tourists (carriages, omnibuses etc), arranged to meet incoming trains, to take the travellers to more isolated destinations.

Stage coach       3d (old pence) per mile; (slow and infrequent)
Mail coach         6d per mile (fast but few seats)
Hired carriage  12-18d per mile plus turnpike charges (small and unreliable availability)
Horse-back        (difficult to estimate but the cost of feeding and stabling horses was high)
Railway            1-3d per mile

Steamers from Liverpool bringing visitors daily to view the sights [of north Wales]. Cost 3/6d now that there is competition, but it was 6/- for 60 miles. Some come by train from London to Liverpool (10 hours) and boat (6 hours).
Parry, John, (Bardd Alaw) Trip to North Wales containing much information relative to that interesting alpine country; the best mode of viewing its Sublime and Magnificent Scenery; its Mountains, Castles, Lakes and Rivers, together with the distances, names of the principal hotels, conveyances etc. (London: Whittaker and Co., Carnarvon : W Pritchard, [1839]), p. 18

T. W. Fisher, of London travelled mostly by train during a 13 day tour of north Wales. It cost an average of exactly 1d a mile, while his only coach journey cost 12d a mile.
An account of a tour through North Wales, August, 1865, by T. W. Fisher, London. ‘Journey book no 2, Beginning from August, 1865. ‘Tour through North Wales’, NLW, mss. 899 D

1830 (26.9.1830 Sunday)
[Travelled on the Manchester to Liverpool railway ‘steam carriage’, 11 days after it was officially opened. ]
Columns in the manuscript show decreasing distances from Liverpool in half miles, the time, and the time taken to travel each half mile (1 minute 32 seconds to 1m 52s) [average speed 13 mph, max 20¼ mph]
Forbes, J.D., & Forbes, Charles,Tour of Wales, 1830, University of St Andrews Library, Deposit M, Box no 1.9, p. 31

Description of the coach journey from London to Manchester (by night and day) and description of the journey by train from Manchester to Liverpool.
Letts, Thomas, tour, 1832, NLW MS 21690B

Train journey from Liverpool to Manchester {vivid description}  then return journey, mostly at 21 m.p.h. (she measured the speed with a stopwatch when observing milestones).
Sinclair, Catherine, (1800-1864), Hill and Valley, or Hours in England and Wales 1833 (1st edition, New York, 1838), p. 43-44; 2nd edition, Whyte and Co,  (Edinburgh, 1839) p. 93

It must be a subject of grave solicitude to innkeepers, waiters, chambermaids, hostlers, and boots, along the high road, to anticipate how this new system of railways will ‘work;’ and while tourists are soon to be seen flying, like birds, from one distant perch to another, these useful members of society must retire upon half-pay, or rather upon no pay at all. The rural parts of England [and Wales] will be as little frequented as in former times, when scarcely any carriages travelled at all, and the peasantry can have no more communication with strangers passing through their neighborhood than with a flight of crows over head; so that before long the country must be reduced to that state of primitive simplicity, when pedlars and beggars had the highway to themselves, and not an inn could be found for rest or refreshment, except the hospitable mansion of the neighboring squire.
Sinclair, Catherine, (1800-1864), Hill and Valley, or Hours in England and Wales 1833 (1st edition, New York, 1838), p. 43; 2nd edition, Whyte and Co,  (Edinburgh, 1839) p. 93; Sketches and stories of Wales and the Welsh, (1860), p. 51

The great London and Holyhead road, since the opening of the Chester and Holyhead railway, is nearly abandoned by travellers; but still it is in excellent preservation.
Cathrall, William, Wanderings in North Wales : a road and railway guide-book, comprising curious and interesting historical information … (1851)]

Shrewsbury to Holyhead road … perhaps the most excellent piece of work in the world … however in this age of railroads and tubular bridges it has become nearly deserted save by energetic tourists, even the solitary coach that travelled it for their convenience has been discontinued this season – a coach was still running from Llangollen to Dolgellau …
Billinghurst, H.P., A Pedestrian Ramble through Oxford, Chester and North Wales, Women’s Library, London, 7RMB/B/1, p. 155, 197-198, 237, 262, 301, 307-308

Railway travel – ‘quick travelling makes short books’. {The advantage of railway travel is that readers don’t have to suffer details of the traveller’s initial journey} ‘touching the number of milestones and turnpike gates’
Granville, A.B., The Spas of England … (1841), preface, I; p. 9

1839 Rhuddlan
A railroad to Holyhead is now being formed
Louis, M, L., Sketches of a Tour in Wales. (Liverpool. John Tompkins, 1839), p. 60

A volume containing a transcript of ‘Remarks on the Pre-eminent Natural advantages of Milford Haven as the Western Terminal Port to the Railways of Great Britain 1846’, appended to which are twenty-one pen-and-ink and pencil sketches of the South and West Wales coast, illustrating the narrative. Watermark 1856 and 1858. The text evinces the author’s knowledge of the navigational hazards of the South and West Wales coast and may be the work of David Propert, harbour-master at Milford Haven, a spirited voice in advocating Milford’s case as the western terminal port to the railways. These remarks, much condensed and re-arranged, and without the sketches, were published as an anonymous pamphlet with the same title in 1847.
NLW ms 22769D

1846 Conwy
From the top of the castle the view is indescribably beautiful and extensive. Beneath on the south side they are forming a railway which cannot but be regretted, because it takes off the calm and dignified appearance of its ancient castle, tho’ this like the unions of the Kingdoms, may tend to the universal good, yet the spoiling of their delightful scenery, add gall to the bitterness, with which the lovers of liberty, repeat with indignant sorrow the bitter lines of Gray:
Ruin seize thee, ruthless king! …
Dovaston, S., Miss, A Few Remarks on a tour to Shropshire and north Wales. Cardiff Central Library, MS 3.149, page unknown.

Arrived at Ruabon station
By train to Salt Hill? because the damage caused by the accident on the Dee bridge hadn’t been repaired. To Chester
Long, R.W.,  Notes etc of a tour of ten days among some of the beauties of north Wales in the summer of 1847, NLW MS 5912B, p. 222

{Conwy to Bangor, references to the new railway line being built}
Long, R.W., Notes etc. of a tour of ten days among some of the beauties of north Wales in the summer of 1847, NLW MS 5912B, p. 26

1848 Swansea
Asked the way to Caernarfon and was told to go to Gloucester and railroad to Bangor or by wheelbarrow!
[his total journey in miles:]
Paddington   7
Bristol       118¼
Swansea       79
Carmarthen   30
Llandovery    27
Lampeter       21
Aberystwyth  24
Winford          26
Dolgellau       9
Caernarfon   46
Llanberis and back 21
Liverpool        65
Dublin                        138
In Ireland       71
Bristol             222 (by boat)
Brixton           127
504 miles by steam packet
301¼ by rail
80 by coach
146 on foot.
Total: 1031¼ miles
Anon [signature at the end illegible, dated 21.9.1848] but identified as Charles Lucey of Clapham
(see Handlist of MSS in NLW, vol IX, (2003)), Journal of an excursion to Wales and Ireland, August, 1848 no 5, p. 10

{By railway from Swansea to Chepstow, to Tintern Abbey, to Gloucester by rail.}
Detailed description with diagrams of Chepstow railway bridge.
Diary of Sir Charles Pasley, [including a tour of Wales], National Library of Scotland (NLS), Ms 9871, f. 168r

Baily Walker kept detailed records of his expenses
Black’s Guide Book             3/9
Bus to Euston                       £0/0/8d
Rail to Shrewsbury              £1/16/0 2nd class (2.7d per mile)
Rail to Llangollen                £0/7/4  (2.9d per mile)
Rail to Bangor                      £0/2/4
28th [July]
carriage of bags                   £0/1/0
1st August
Rail to Chester                     £0/11/4 (2d per mile)
Lunch at Bangor                  £0/1/0
Dinner at Chester                £0/4/6
Rail to Shrewsbury              £0/7/0  (1.9d per mile)
Tea                                         £0/3/6
Rail to London                     £2/1/6 [possibly first class] (3.1d per mile)
[Baily, Walker], A Journal of a short walking tour in North Wales 1853, NLW MS 12044

Some of these are later editions of earlier guides. It is possible that they comment on plans for the construction of railways in earlier editions.

The Cambrian Tourist; Or, Post-chaise Companion Through Wales …
6th edition, 1828
This includes several references to tramways

Lewis, Samuel, Topographical Dictionary of Wales, Comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes, Chapelries, and Townships, with Historical and Statistical Descriptions; Illustrated by Maps of the Different Counties; and a Map of Wales Shewing the Principal Towns, Roads, Railways, Navigable Rivers, and Canals, (1833)

Parry, Edward, 1798-1854, The railway companion from Chester to Holyhead : containing a descriptive and historical account of all objects of interest that present themselves on this beautifully picturesque line; especially the monster tubular bridges across the River Conwy and Menai Straits, and the Herculean harbour of refuge at Holyhead; to which is added the tourist’s guide to Dublin and its environs, 1848;

[2] Parry’s Railway Companion from Chester to Holyhead: together with some account of the stupendous railway works.
PARRY. Edward. of Chester, (London, 1848)

[3] Parry’s Railway Companion from Chester to Holyhead: together with some account of the stupendous railway works.
Seventh thousand.
PARRY. Edward. of Chester, (London, [1855?])

[4] The Railway Companion from Chester to Shrewsbury, etc.
PARRY. Edward. of Chester (Chester, [1849.])

Anon, The Book of South Wales: the Bristol Channel, Monmouthshire, and the Wye. A companion and guide to the railways, watering places, shores, scenery, antiquities, unexplored regions, mineral districts, towns, and other objects of interest throughout the southern division of the principality; with a picture of Bristol , 2nd ed. (London, 1848)

Cliffe, Charles Frederick,
The book of North Wales. Scenery, antiquities, highways and byeways, lakes, streams, and railways.
(1st edition, 1850)

Martin, Augustus Robert,
Martin’s A week’s wanderings amidst the most beautiful scenery of North Wales: cheap and interesting route
first edition, 1850s?
Published by A.R. Martin, Bangor

Davis, William, of Llanfair D.C. A guide to Rhyl and the surrounding country : what to do and where to go with, excursions suitable for the pedestrian, equestrian, or locomotive tourist by William Davis, Master of Jesus Chapel School, Llanfair, Dyffryn Clwyd. (Chester : T. Catherall, [1852]), pp. 60, 63