General History and The Royal Commission of 1846

    Railway construction in England was left to private enterprises in the latter portion of the first half of the nineteenth century. In the first instance, a number of railways were promoted for construction in the neighbourhood of London, which, by a process of amalgamation, have been reduced to the following ten main line railways systems which would have termini in London in 1905:

  1. The London. Tilbury and Southend Railway

  2. The Great Eastern Railway

  3. The Great Northern Railway

  4. The Midland Railway

  5. The London and North-Western Railway

  6. The Great Central Railway

  7. The Great Western Railway

  8. The London Brighton and South Coast Railway

  9. The South-Eastern, and London Chatham and Dover Railway

  10. The London and South-Western Railway


    The carrying of goods was its initial intent in the earlier days of the construction of railways; the great increase of passenger traffic was not foreseen. As a result, the termini of the main lines serving London was placed at some distance from the centre in order to not interfere with the heavy traffic of central London, disrupt the comfort of the residences, and take up valuable properties. Eventually some of the termini were allowed to be placed closer to the centre.

    The questions that were prominently brought forward in the earlier days of railway construction were:

  1. The expediency of constructing a great central station in London

  2. The expediency of keeping the termini of the main lines outside the thickly inhabited area

  3. The expediency of connecting the main lines by railway communication lying outside the metropolitan area

  The only authorities that existed in London at the time were the Corporation of the City of London, having jurisdiction over more than a square mile of the central area, and it was unfit and unable to deal the great metropolitan improvement issues. In the absence of an authority, the questions concerning locomotion seemed to have been left to be disposed of by occasional Royal Commissions of Select Committees Parliament, assisted by the Corporation of the City of London and the Board of Trade. The first attempt at creating a central authority was the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856; the powers and authority of this body in connection with the construction of railways were extremely limited.

    The Royal Commission of April 2nd, 1846, reported against a project for a great central station in London and recommended, “That on the North of the Thames, no Railway now before Parliament or projected be permitted to come within the limits described in our Instructions.” They found that the distance between each termini of the main lines was not long enough to justify the sacrifice of property, or the interference on the population and traffic of central London.

    The same Commission recommended that “if at any time hereafter it should be deemed advisable to admit Railways within those limits, this should be done in conformity with some uniform plan, carefully laid down under the authority of Your Majesty’s Government, and sanctioned by the wisdom of Parliament; and that under no circumstances should the Thoroughfares of the Metropolis, and the Property and comfort of its inhabitants, be surrendered to separates schemes, brought forward at different times, and without reference to each other.


    The commission also stated that a communication between the railways approaching London on the north and south sides of the River was desirable, and suggested paths in which the new railways could take to achieve this. The main objective of this suggestion was not only to accelerate the speed of the mails, passenger traffic, and more importantly, removing the transportation of goods from the streets.


About the same time the question of intra-metropolitan railways had come to the front, and in 1854 and 1855 a line was sanctioned connecting Paddington Station with Farringdon Street, which is now the Metropolitan line. The railway to be laid in an open cutting where possible, and underground where the open cutting was impracticable; the first section of this line was opened in 1863.


In 1864 a Joint Select Committee was appointed to review the very large number of railway schemes affecting the metropolitan area that were then presented before the Parliament. The Committee advised the Parliament’s sanction on the system of railways known as the “Inner Circle”, which is now the Circle line, but it will not have been completed until 1884. Under the recommendation of the Select Committee of 1863, the ” Inner Circle ” Railway system is to be owned and worked by two companies: the Metropolitan Railway Company and the Metropolitan District Railway Company. So from these railways, branches have been made into outlying districts, so that the whole system now carries a very large amount of suburban as well as urban traffic. Owing to this system having been originally planned with the object of connecting the termini of the main lines, it is not situated in the best position for dealing with urban traffic. The completion of the “Inner Circle” Railway (Circle line) marked the last of the sub-surface line, constructed with the traditional “cut-and-cover” method.

The next great step in the provision of means of mechanical transport in London was the adoption of the “tube” railway system, in which the rails are laid in an iron-lined deep level tube for the construction. This system was adopted on account of the great cost of “shallow” underground railways, such as those of the “Inner Circle”, and in order to avoid interference with the construction of such railways. All the deep level lines are worked by electricity. The first line of this class was authorized in 1884, and the first portion of it was opened in 1890; it is known as the City and South London Railway. The Central London Railway was authorized in 1891, and was opened in 1900. Many other lines are sanctioned and built in the late 19th century into the early 20th century.


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