THE MIDLAND RAILWAY.*
MR. WILLIAMS'S history of the Midland Railway gives us, with great particularity and detail, an account of the precise state of• * The Midland Railway ; its Rise and Progress. A Narrative of Modern Rater rprise. By Frederick S. Williams. London: Strahan and Co. things as regards locomotion and the transit of goods in the days before Railways, of the opposition which was offered on all sides to the new system, of the triumph which its pioneers ultimately achieved, and of the enormous benefits which we, their children, derive from their achievements. He takes, as it were, one single chapter of the "History of Modern Enterprise," and tells it thoroughly, thereby contributing in no small degree to a right understanding of the entire subject. Whenever that history comes to be written, it will, in some important respects, require a historian of other and higher gifts than Mr. Williams, but we are sure that no future historian will find himself at liberty to neglect the store of information which our author has so laboriously and, on the whole, so effectively put together.
Our author is an enthusiast, and his book has all the merits and many of the faults of an enthusiast. He and the Midland Railway were, he says, born about the same time and near the same place ; he appears to have resided in its " territory " all his life, and to have passed no inconsiderable portion of it in travelling to and fro upon it. Whenever and wherever a new branch line, or "link," was projected, fresh extensions conceived, amalgama- tion suggested, or opposition to any of these to be concocted, there was Mr. Williams, with his note-book. Enterprising managers, bland directors, obstreperous shareholders, engineers, station-masters, surveyors, lawyers, must all be tolerably familiar with him by this time, for he has allowed nothing to escape him. From Carlisle to St. Pancras, or from Swansea to Normanton, he has the whole of the line at his fingers' ends, and nothing seems to have occurred, from a landslip to a banquet, from the "caravan" on Blea Moor to the committee-room of the House of Commons, without the presence of the indefatigable annotator, questioning and cross-questioning, suggesting, admiring, recording, and finally, printing it all.
The Midland Railway was "born," to use Mr. Williams's phrase, on the morning of August 16, 1832. On that memorable occasion, a group of plain, practical men met in the parlour of the Sun Inn, at Eastwood, in Nottinghamshire, to devise means of conveying the coals of the district to the county town of Leicester. At a second meeting, held some ten days afterwards, a sum of 132,000 was subscribed by the coalowners, and some £15,000 by three others. Little could those excellent men have supposed that they were setting in motion a force which would create in about forty years a property that has cost £50,000,000 of money, that brings in a revenue of 15,000,000 a year, and that numbers a con- stituency of some 20,000 shareholders. And as little, we may add, would they suppose that the history of their doings and the doings that sprang from them would be told in the goodly volume of 700 pages now before us. It is impossible, not to be struck by the simplicity, we might almost say the modesty, of the early pioneers of Railway enter- prise. They had no idea that they were about to initiate a change so great that it would affect the whole social life of the country, that they were revolutionaries of a most determined and virulent type. They had no idea that they or their successors would so chop up the face of the country that it would hardly be recognisable for the same in less than half a century, that they would efface land-marks and boundaries, obliterate distinctions, eradicate prejudices, and in many of these cases create totally fresh ones. All they wanted—it is the same story over and over again—was a wider market for their wares. It is, therefore, not surprising that all that these respectable gentlemen at Eastwood desired at the first was the conveyance of coal and minerals from one part of a limited district to another. As it began, so it has gone on. There was nothing spasmodic or artificial about its growth. First, a short line to connect two or three villages and a coal district with each other and the county town, then a con- necting-branch to another big town or two, and afterwards to Birmingham. All these branches and links and loops were to "supply obvious wants," and in response to the demands of the great Midland district. Then we hear of a comprehensive amal- gamation, and the Midland Counties Railway takes its place among the respectable provincial lines ; then it takes another step, and tries to get up to town, but very tentatively and gradu- ally, forming an alliance with its old rival, the Great Northern, for the purpose. Finally, throwing off all leading-strings, and by "leaps and bounds," making, as it were, a spring on the metro- polis, and building for itself the most splendid of all the railway palaces of London.
Such is a rough outline of the story which Mr. Williams tells us in his entertaining volume, it would be impossible for 118 to
follow his narrative very closely, but we propose to point out a few of the considerations which have most struck us in perusing it.
One matter arises out of what has just been said with regard to the traffic of goods. When we speak of the days before railways, we are apt to think mainly, if not exclusively, on the delays and inconveniences to travellers, and of the stay-at-home habits and modes of thought engendered thereby. But an equally important matter, and one probably even more widely appreciated, was the hindrances to business by the want of facilities for the transit of goods. Few people probably required to travel from Leicester to Plymouth or York, but everybody at Leicester was interested that its worsteds and stockings should find their markets all over the country. Mr. Williams very graphically sketches the state of things when "the only modes of conveyance were three,—the canal, the fly-waggon, and the coach." It took two days for wool to travel the fifteen miles between Leicester and Harborough, and the expense was ed. per cwt. The charge for haberdashery from Lincoln to London was /2 15s. per ton by canal, es. per cwt. by waggon, and id. per lb. by coach. The canal communication between Leicester and Birmingham was double the distance of a direct route, and the land carriage cost 30s. per ton. The delays were equally prejudicial to business ; parcels had to be sent by all manner of curiously round- about routes,—goods from Plymouth, for instance, had to come by sea to London, and Leicester fabrics going north had to travel by water by way of Nottingham to Gainsburgh, and thence to Leeds and the West Riding generally, the voyage occu- pying from twenty-four days to a month. Here we may fitly compare with this state of things the picture which Mr. Williams draws in another place of the "inwards" platform of the St. Pancras goods station, where "we find cases of hardware from Birmingham, casks of shoes from Leicester, hampers of lace from Nottingham, agricultural implements from Lincoln, crates of earthenware from Staffordshire, skips of lint from Chesterfield for Guy's Hospital, boxes of biscuits from Reading, sacks of seeds from Wisbeach, hats from Luton, mangles from Keighley, ale from Burton, castings from Leeds, tins of butter from Liver- pool, whisky from Glasgow, trusses of canvas and bales of hides from Leith, and last, but not least, 'mild-cured Cum- berland bacon' direct from the United States." And yet we are told again, and for the hundredth time, that it was the towns which opposed the railways quite as much as the landowners. It was the tradesmen, quite as much as the Dukes, who were so frequently "one too many ". for the engineers, and who caused the detour or entire avoidance which had subsequently to be rectified at so great and so unnecessary a cost. Even to-day, if we cast our eyes over a Bradshaw map, we can " spot " town after town which, having been, in deference to its own shortsightedness, left on one side of what proved to be the main stream of life and affairs, is either now paying the penalty in its own comparative obscurity, or has to remedy past default in a "white sheet." But these are the common-places of railway history.
Mr. Williams devotes considerable space to the endless squab- bles and recriminations of rival lines and their projectors, particularly to the "scenes" in the Parliamentary committee-rooms. These undoubtedly have a certain interest, but it is one that might be satisfied, we think, if the eloquent speech of Mr. Denison, Q.C., and the spirited rejoinder of Mr. Venables, Q.C., together with the caustic observations of "Sir" W. Vernon Harcourt, Q.C., were printed in an appendix. The speeches of learned counsel, unless they are of the very highest order of merit, and even then, except on special occasions, are apt to fall flat twenty years after date. According to Mr. Williams, railway directors are, as a rule, the victims of the most unscrupulous suspicion and opposi- tion in nearly every direction. His eyes discern in them a sort of committee of beneficence, when, to ordinary spectators, they are simply cogitating how best to increase and develop the value and extent of their property. We put it thus plainly, because it is a point of view to which Mr. Williams appears generally oblivious. To say that railway directors reduce their fares, or repair their permanent way, or provide occasionally situations for their maimed and crippled servants, is simply to state that they are engaged upon their very obvious and generally well-requited duties. But Mr. Williams announces their decisions after this fashion. "Reasons," he says, "of high policy won the day, and tens of millions of passengers, who have since been borne swiftly and comfortably through the land, have been grateful that instead of the narrowness and greed so commonly and so often attributed to railway administration, a statesmanlike and philanthropic temper has prevailed and triumphed." And we can hardly fancy the astute Mr. Allport refraining from a quiet smile at our author's expense, when he reads his declamation about his "humanitarian and elevated spirit and policy." Nor can we imagine him defending himself before a meeting at Derby, such as that described on page 250, in the language of the letter to Mr. Williams printed on page 280. To .aPartiaan of the class of Mr. Williams, who does not care to conceal his partisanship, the Directors of the Midland Railway have always been men of such transparent honesty and unselfishness, that it is treason to doubt or question their proceedings or intentions. Woe betide the- unfortunate town which, like Sheffield in 1863, indulged in a trifling flirtation with a rival line, intended obviously enough to heighten the value of her, attractions in the eyes of the Midland Board. "The Midland Board," says Mr. Williams, "could hardly believe their ears," and forthwith, thirteen years afterwards, outpoured are all the vials of his wrath on the unfortunate "Sheffielders." And he has evidently similarly enlarged views of what, if he were writing to-day, we imagine he would call "territorialisation," for after describing, not a whit too glowingly, the magnificent prospects of the Nottinghamshire coal-field, he declares, "to the Midland Company this district rightf ully belongs!" Occasionally, but only very seldom, it is true, what we have de- scribed as his enthusiasm for his subject runs away with him. When an ordinarily grave writer describes a branch line of rail- way as the "coy and reluctant Brecon and Neath line," or de- scribes the "graceful and bounding appearance" of a railway- engine, or iron bridges in a landscape as being as "strong as they are beautiful," or professes his delight in standing in a roadside station while the night-mail passes, we differ from him, and. forgive the aberration.
We have only a few words of criticism to offer on one or two. points, that may be amended, possibly, in future editions. In regard of the illustrations, Mr. Williams would add immensely to the attraction and popularity of his book with the general public, It he would spare a few of the viaducts, tunnels, cuttings, and bridges, and give us a few more of the manor-houses he enumerates so enticingly in the preface. The views of Nevistead, Westwood,. Wollaton, and the hie are really charming;' and as far as we have observed, all the " cuts " are well executed. His historical and genealogical lore is frequently somewhat vague and uncertain, but he is never dogmatic about it, and usually gives us the option of choosing between two or three accounts of the matter in hand. Nor are personal details a strong point with Mr. Williams. It is, to say the very least of it, a loose way of putting it, to say that Sir Robert Peel declined a funeral in Westminster Abbey. It could not have been Queen Charlotte, with whom in 1725 Whiston discussed scientific matters. The title of the eldest son of the "Marquis" of Westminster isnot "Viscount Belgrave," but Earl Grosvenor. It appears that this volume is published by subscrip- tion, and after an obsolete fashion, the names of the subscribers. are printed at the end. In this list, there are more mistakes or misprints than we ever before observed in a document of similar length. It would require quite a company of revisionists.
But these, after all, are small matters, and may be easily mended. It would be a poor acknowledgment of the pleasure we have found in Mr. Williams's company to part with him without warm thanks, and urging our readers to make his acquaintance He has told a tale that was worth the telling thoroughly well.