Catching a Train in the Early Victorian Era

I’ve been researching railroads for my Wicked series. Isn’t my life exciting! I thought I would excerpt some passages from The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland Practically Described and Illustrated published in 1842 that describe the railway carriages that my characters might take around England.  


Birmingham and Gloucester Railroad

The first class carriages have each two whole compartments in the middle, with a coupe at each end. The middle compartments will each hold six persons, and each coupe three; altogether eighteen. These smaller compartments will, no doubt, be generally sought after by invalids, and ladies travelling alone. The length of a first-class carriage is 17 feet 6 inches, and extreme length, including buffers, 21 feet 6 inches; the width of the body is 7 feet, and extreme width, including steps, 8 feet 6 inches. The clear height of the body is 5 feet 1 inch; the height of the body and under-carriage 6 feet; and the extreme height from surface of rails 7 feet 8 inches. Each of the middle compartments is 5 feet long and 6 feet 10 inches wide, both in the clear. The seats are 1 foot 8 inches wide, and 1 foot 6 inches high from floor to top of cushion. The seats are separated by elbows in the ordinary way. Each coupe is 3 feet 4 inches long, and 6 feet 10 inches wide; both in the clear. The carriage-doors are each 1 foot 9 inches wide, and 4 feet 7 inches high. Besides the sash in each door, there are fixed side-lights, corresponding in height with the sash, and 9 inches wide; the lower part being of quadrant form. Some of the first-class carriages are furnished with imperials on their roofs, which are 8 feet 6 inches in length, 5 feet hi width, and 2 feet in height.

The carriages are painted a dark buff, picked out with black; and the arms of the Company are emblazoned on the middle doors.


The second-class carriages are in three compartments, in the usual way; but have the advantage of being closed at the sides. Each compartment will hold eight persons, or twenty-four in the whole. The compartments are open to each other above the dwarf partitions, the tops of which are 13 inches above the seats; the roof being supported intermediately by iron standards, one of which rests on each partition. The length of a second-class carriage is 15 feet 6 inches; and extreme length, including buffers, 19 feet 6 inches. The width of the body is the same as the first-class carriage, viz. 7 feet; and the extreme width, including steps, 8 feet 6 inches. The clear height is 4 feet 11 inches.

Besides the first and second-class, there a few third-class carriages, for the accommodation of the poorest class of travellers; these are without seats. In the centre portion is a closed compartment for luggage, the standing berths being at each end.


York and North Midland Railway

The carriages consist of first, second, and third class. The first class are of the ordinary form, in three compartments; each compartment will hold six passengers, as usual. The weight of a first class carriage is 3 tons 14 cwt., the cost being 4207. They are furnished with lamps at night.

The second-class carriages are each in four compartments, and are calculated to hold altogether forty passengers. These carriages are open at the sides, the roofs being supported by upright iron standards, and the ends closed. The length of a second-class carriage is 16 feet, and the width 7 feet, the weight being 2 tons 19 cwt.

The third-class carriages are altogether open, but furnished very properly with seats, which are ranged lengthwise, four to each carriage. Each seat is 14 inches wide, and the space between the seats 18 inches. The whole width of carriage is 8 feet, and the length 12 feet 10 inches.


London and Birmingham Railway

On the 1st January, 1840, the number of first class carriages was 107; of second-class, open, 137; of second-class, closed, 36; of mails, 15; of carriage-trucks, 66; of horse-boxes, 44; of parcelvans, 2; and of post-offices, 3. Third-class carriages have lately been introduced, for the convenience of the poorer class of passengers.

The first-class carriages are in three compartments, lined and stuffed within, with elbow-divisions on each seat, and furnished with small lamps by day as well as by night, on account of the numerous tunnels. Each carriage will hold eighteen persons. The total weight of a first-class carriage is 76 cwt. The length of the body is 16 feet, and including buffers, 20 feet; the width of body is 6 feet 6 inches, and including steps, 8 feet 2 inches; the body is 4 feet 11 inches high, and the body and under-frame together 5 feet 10 inches.

The second-class carriages in general use are open at the sides and closed at each end, and roofed in. These are also in three compartments, and will hold twenty-four passengers. The weight of a second-class open carriage is 51 cwt. The body is 13 feet 6 inches long, and extreme length, including buffers, 16 feet 4 inches; the width of body is 6 feet 1 inch, and extreme width, including steps, 8 feet; the height of the body is 5 feet 3 inches, and including under-frames, 6 feet 1 inch.

The second-class closed carriages (used with the night-trains) are in three compartments, and will hold the same number of passengers as the last-named; they have glass sashes, and are entirely enclosed, but have no cushions nor linings within.



10 Replies to “Catching a Train in the Early Victorian Era”

  1. My Scandalous Siblings Series takes place around London in the 1840s and is about railways too. I love researching railway expansion. So much fun and so much happening.

  2. Dear Susanna,
    Could I ask what your source is for the above information on the London & Birmingham Railway. I know of the reference of Francis Whishaw but this is published in 1842 – is this the same one or do tyou have something new and exciting here!
    Tom Nicholls
    Early Railways enthusiast and researcher

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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