In the Beginning of the Railway in Birmingham

By H R Wilson

The locomotive supplants the old stagecoach. Railway making was in the 19th century, lines between Birmingham and Liverpool, and between Birmingham and London were in the locality. The first was opened in 1837 and the latter in 1838. The Aris’s Gazette of July 1837 comments “At the early on Tuesday morning the town of Birmingham was in a state of great commotion and excitement owing to the opening of the Railway. Soon after five o’clock streets leading in the direction of Vauxhall were crowded with persons of all ranks anxious to be witnesses of the first public travelling on this most important line of railway. At seven o’clock the bell rang and the opening train started, with eight carriages with different names.”

The coaches now coming into Birmingham had to keep to a strict timetable to connect with the train chosen. Curzon Street Station and New Street Station were used. Curzon Street and Lawley Street were the first termini. Some coaches with horses went to Curzon Street station, as seen at the beginning of this text on a typical picture of the day.

Although Curzon Street and Lawley Street were the first termini, they were not to the City Centre. They were inconvenient for travellers or for goods from the other side of the city and the time taken from the termini to the city centre was disproportionate to the length of the journey to Birmingham. Consequently New Street and Snow Hill were developed to meet the demand.

Railway travel initially was only envisaged for long distances, much as our inter-city trains run today. Commuter services were not considered, so that virtually no suburban stations were built. However, it was soon realised that large numbers of workers could be moved quickly over relatively short distances, and additional stations were opened. This helped to pave the way for urbanising villages round Birmingham. Indeed, towards the end of the 19th century, lines purely for suburban use, such as ‘The Birmingham West Suburban’, were built. By 1900, except for the North Warwickshire Line, the railway network within Birmingham had reached its maximum coverage.

Picture postcards, first published in Britain in 1894, became most popular in the 1902-1914 period, and railway subjects were extensively covered. It is possible, for instance, to locate cards featuring the majority of stations in the Birmingham area at a time when they were a focal point for local communities. Local publishers such as Frank Nightingale and George E. Lewis are but two names that are readily sort after. After the First World War, more privately produced cards by railway enthusiasts emerged.

(The above article is an extract from a book by John Marks published March 1993)

©QLHS 2000 - H R Wilson

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