Life on the Railway
The first steam locomotive chuffed its way down the tracks in 1804, but it was not until 1830, with the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, that the Railway Age really got under way. There followed a period of huge expansion - by the 1850s almost 8,000 miles of track had been built in Britain. Almost all the work was done by hand by the great army of navvies, living rough in shanty towns and doing phenomenally hard and dangerous work. A steam locomotive is a complex machine, requiring a great deal of skill. Conditions in the early days were harsh: footplates were open to the elements, boilers exploded, signalling was primitive - and collisions not uncommon. Station staff had a less romantic life than the men out on the tracks, but they were no less essential. The work of a station was not limited to looking after passengers: there were the goods trains to be marshalled. Another crucial area was where engines and carriages were built and repaired. It was around these that the great railways towns such as Crewe and Swindon grew up. The railways were of huge importance to the country and were major employers: as early as 1847, there were over 50,000 men at work who took immense pride in what they did: if you worked on the railway you were somebody. This is their story.
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