MEANS OF TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATION
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
There was a remarkable improvement in the social life of England during 19th century.
Regular feature of English social life during the period includes:
Exchanging social visits;
Visiting relatives and friends in near and distant places;
Going to holiday or health resorts;
All communicating with kith and kin through letters.
All this was possible because of the tremendous progress in the means of transport and communication.
The most important means of transport in the Victorian period was the railways.
It was the outcome of experiments conducted to find the best method of moving coal from the mines to places where it was required.
As Trevelyan puts it “the railways were England’s gift to the world”.
George Stephenson invented the first railway engine which he named “Active”.
The first railway line between Stockton and Darlington was opened on 27th September 1825.
Few years later he invented a more powerful engine which could pull the train at a speed of thirty miles per hour.
This engine was called “Rocket”.
It pulled the train along the railway connection Liverpool and Manchester.
It was opened on 15th September 1830.
At the opening of this railway, a former Cabinet Minister William Huskisson was killed.
Within a decade longer railways were built.
London was connected by railways with Birmingham, Brighton and Manchester in 1838.
The thirty five years between the first two Reform Bills was the Railway age.
Great improvements took place in this field during this period.
Fast-moving engines were invented and better compartments and other facilities were provided.
Many railway companies were started, the most important one was started by George Hudson.
George Hudson was popularly known as the Railway King.
In about fifty years England was covered with a network of railways.
In 1843 there were about 2,000 miles of railways in Great Britain (but the coverage rose to 5,000 in another short period of five years).
In 1860 the mileage was just over 10,000 miles, but in 1890 it was nearly 20,000 miles.
The Government took various measures to ensure efficient administration of the department.
In 1844 the Cheap Trains Act compelled the railway companies to run at least one train a day in each direction at a reasonable fare of one penny a mile.
In 1873 to the Board of Trade was attached a Railway Commission (which had power to fix the rates for the carriage of goods and merchandise).
The popularity of the railway sounded the death-knell of roads and canals.
The public mail coach and the heavy family coach disappeared from the roads.
However, they continued to exist on by-roads connecting the railway stations and the towns.
The roads regained their importance only when the motor vehicles came into use.
One thing that helped the roads to regain their long lost importance was the fashionable use of the bicycle.
The common use of the motor car and motor-bicycle was yet to come when Queen Victoria died in 1901.
The rapid growth of the railway was accompanied by the development of English shipping.
Iron instead of wood was used for the making of ships and steam replaced sails.
As early as 1847, the English steamships were few and small, but in the eighteen-fifties and sixties big ocean-going ships were made.
They were made first of iron and afterwards of steel and were increasingly propelled by steam.
In 1855 a third of the world's sea-going ships were on the British register.
An outstanding development in the means of communication was the establishment of the penny post in 1840.
It was the result of the tireless efforts of Sir Rowland Hill (who was originally a teacher by profession).
Prior to the introduction of the penny post, sending letters was a costly affair (something which the poor could not afford).
The Government revenue too was small.
Rowland Hill's proposals were based on the following:
A lower rate of postage would increase the revenue of the State by increasing the volume of mail;
All postage rates should be the same without any regard to distance; and
All mail should be prepaid.
In connection with the last principle he suggested a device which was subsequently known as the postage stamp.
In putting his programme into effect he had to face a lot of opposition from the indifferent statesmen and uninformed civil servants.
Carlyle, in one of his letters to his mother, expressed anxiety that the art of letter writing would deteriorate.
Nevertheless the system was a boon to many.
It enabled the poor for the first time in the history of mankind to communicate with their loved ones (from whom they were separated).
When the new postal system proved to be a success in England, it was initiated in every civilized country in the world.
The same decade witnessed the inauguration of the electric telegraph which was based on the invention of Samuel Morse.
After many initial difficulties he was able to build in 1843 the first telegraph line in the United States from Baltimore to Washington.
The next year he sent the first message on this line: "What bath God wrought".
As telegraph lines spread, the inventor was amply rewarded by many Governments of Europe.
The electric telegraph originated as an adjunct of the new railway system.
By about 1848 over 1,800 miles of railways were already equipped with telegraph wires.
The Electric Telegraph Company formed in 1846 had seventeen offices in London by 1854.
The first successful cable was laid in 1866.
In the 1870’s Stearns and Edison developed methods of sending more than one message over the wire at the same time.
The telephone, the most popular and easiest means of communication, was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
In 1856 he exhibited an apparatus embodying the results of his studies in the transmission of sound by electricity.
This inception with modifications constitutes the modern telephone.
Two years later when Graham Bell visited England, he demonstrated his invention before Queen Victoria, partly because of the patronage given by her.
The first telephone exchange was opened in London in 1879 with seven or eight subscribers.
Several telephone companies were organized in Great Britain in the course of the next few years.
Social History of England by Louise Creighton
An Introduction to the Social History of England by A.G.Xavier
A Short History of Social Life in England by M B Synge