Monday, May 30, 2011

Just finished another paper

I feel like the last few days were essentially gobbled up. I copied the result below. It's answering the question (paraphrased), "How was the growth of London influenced by public tranport from 1800 to 1939?" I wish I could write right now that I have my life back, but I just looked at my tutorial assignment for this week. It might be the biggest problem set of the quarter. The topic (my choosing) is molecular physics.

The Impact of Public Transport on the Growth of London, 1800-1939

 The stories of public transport and the growth of London from 1800 to 1939 are wound together so intricately that they cannot be wholly untangled. In this period, the two grew together, both at ferocious rates.  The city was growing also in concert with the burgeoning British Empire. At the time it was the premier city in the premier empire of the world. People were flocking from near and far to live in the world’s economic center. The industrial revolution was bringing economic success to Britain and London while completely transforming transport. Organized public transport began with horses. Omnibuses became a cheaper alternative to carriages that caught on quickly with the middle classes. Mechanization of public transport may have had a slow start in penetrating the British capital, but it did not take long before the impact of the steam engine could be seen. Soon after its introduction, the landscape was physically transformed to allow for the rail routes. The tracks swept through areas of cheap housing, destroying homes and dislocating families, in order to open up commuting routes to the middle class suburbs away from the City. Electrification brought further possibilities for transport. The electric tram replaced the horses and many trains moved into underground tubes. All the while, London pushed ever farther outward in all directions. Wealth increased, and people’s lives generally improved. London’s growth, particularly demographically and economically, was strongly determined, and sometimes dictated, by the concurrent growth of public transport. The relationship between the city and the transport was symbiotic, complex, and dynamic, each continually affecting the other.

The Early Nineteenth Century

The earlier part of the nineteenth century saw neither the explosion of growth nor of public transport that London would see later, but the foundations were being laid and the effects felt. It was as London approached the half-century that public transport and population booms began feeding off of each other. The first public railroad, the Surrey Iron Railway, came to London in 1803[1], but for decades the populace generally saw railways as conveyances for inter-city transport[2]. However, a few decades in to the century, steamboats, railways, and horse-drawn omnibuses could all be found in the English capital.

The Omnibus

Francis Sheppard calls the omnibus the “first important manifestation of the [transport] revolution”[3]. Roy Porter concurs, saying that it “began the commuter revolution”[4]. George Shillibeer started the first service in London in 1829. He used “long, three-horse vehicles with benches for twenty passengers”[5]. Crucially, the omnibus, by carrying more passengers than a stagecoach, charged lower fares. Shillibeer’s business went bankrupt in 1831, but the Stage Carriages Act of 1832, which allowed omnibuses into London’s central area, guaranteed long-term growth of the omnibus companies[6]. Omnibuses were primarily for the middle class, allowing them suburban living without the expense of a private carriage. They provided a “crucial boost”[7] for the inner suburbs.

The Railway

 London met both the positive and the negative events of the passenger-carrying railway starting in 1836[8], and it was both downhill and uphill after then. By the early 1850s, “the framework of a national railway system had been built”[9], London was its hub, and, thereafter London could not avoid its effects. In the 1830s, railway cuttings carved into the northern suburban areas. Across London, “A staggering quantity of working-class housing was destroyed”[10] to bring in the railways. In 1836 alone, “2,850 homes were flattened by the building of the London and Blackwall railway”[11]. The 1840s saw the “mushroom growth of a commuter area”[12] with stations built five to ten miles from the center of London, largely in the north. At first, these brought “middle-class villas and respectable terraces”[13]. However, “this was followed in due course by smaller, cheaper properties for petty clerks and shop assistants”, and, in some cases, a “slide into slumdom”[14]. The negative effects were not to stop the railroads nor the population from continuing expansion during the subsequent decades. For “the coming of rail transport, overground and underground, was critical in keeping the metropolis moving and in permitting the city to expand”[15].

The Late Nineteenth Century

In the second half of the nineteenth century, London grew at a stupendous rate, and public transport kept pace; the growth of one drove the other. In 1875, people went on around 275 million journeys by train, tram, and bus in London; around 1895, the number tripled to one billion journeys per year[16]. The city suffered a new plague – the “insufferable congestion” of streets[17]. This brought about the first underground railway in the world, the Metropolitan Railway, in 1864[18]. The people looked to railway companies to help them alleviate the problem with suburbanization. In the 1850s, London’s suburban development was still mostly in the northwest[19], but later in the century it would spread all around London. Railroad companies escalated the rate of expansion with the implementation of “workmen’s fares” in 1864, opening trains up to the lower classes. Even as people moved into the suburbs and the official population of central London fell, its day-time population continued to climb[20]. Wherever people moved, transport into the city followed, and, wherever transport into the city was available, people also moved.

The Omnibus and the Horse Tram

The omnibus and horse tram companies did not dictate the growth of London in the way the railroad companies did, but they still grew rapidly and provided essential services. By 1900, the omnibus was serving 500 million passengers a year[21]. The introduction of the horse tram came in 1869, thirty years after the omnibus[22]. The trams had twice the capacity of the bus, allowing them to offer even lower fares[23]. This made them a lower-class institution, and, in 1972, Parliament barred trams from operating in central London because they lowered the “character of the thoroughfare”[24]. By 1875, the tramways were carrying almost as many passengers, over 48 million, as the London General Omnibus Company[25], and, by 1898 there were 1,451 trams with 14,000 horses[26]. The cheap trams “made inner-suburb living easier for those lower on the social ladder”[27].

Railways – Overground and Underground

 When they came to London, railway companies did not originally anticipate the commuter traffic that would be demanded of them, so they were not overly bothered when the aristocratic landlords kept them out of the central area of London. In the 1850s, when romantics rediscovered the country, the railways followed the residential out-migration of the middle class to the suburbs[28].
The commuting lifestyle was opened to the working classes with the 1864 Cheap Trains Act. The London, Chatham and Dover Railway, and later the South Eastern and the Great Eastern Railways were required to offer “workmen’s fares,” tickets for as low as 1d for trips before and after commute hours[29]. By the early 1880s over 25,000 workmen were traveling daily with these tickets[30]. In the same decade, “the four places with the highest rates of population increase in the whole nation were new working- and lower-middle class railway suburbs”[31].
The imposition of these fares by the government was, however, a kind of demand for reparations for the damage the railways were doing to laboring class neighborhoods. The railroads built their lines by buying cheap land in cheap neighborhoods and clearing it. According to Porter, “between 1850 and 1900 about 100,000 people in central and inner suburbia had their homes destroyed by the railways”[32].
Originally, the public welcomed the railroads clearing out blighted areas, thinking that the poor and impoverished would disappear with their homes[33]. The 680,000 workers targeted, however, depended too heavily on daily or hourly employment[34]. Instead of leaving, they relocated to nearby housing, and “pockets of overcrowding were merely transplanted from one place to another, more intense than ever”[35].
As the public realized this, they denounced the action. In 1874, the companies were mandated to provide alternative accommodations. Still, “the railways were…reluctant housebuilders”[36], and, in 1884-5, “The Royal Commissioners on the Housing of the Working Classes showed that no rehousing scheme had yet been carried out”[37]. Many places and people were permanently scarred as a result of this railway development.
At this stage, the railroads were generally responding to the demands of the people in a laissez-faire system. Nevertheless, in this period, railways became the “chief agents” in determining land use and in the sharp increase of land values[38]. This made it hard to tell where the growth of the city began and the growth of the railways ended.

Pre-World War II Twentieth Century

 While the nineteenth century had seen the coupling of London’s growth and its transport system, their relationship was only tightened in the twentieth century. Electrification electrified the relationship.  It brought electric trams and deep tube railways to London. Electrification and, later, the internal combustion engine, made transportation faster, allowing for long-distance commuting and for suburbs to spread even farther out[39]. Travel continued to increase. In 1911, the average Londoner was riding tubes, buses, and trams 210 times a year. In 1938-9, the average increased to 388 rides per year. Including railways, these numbers rise to 250 and 443, respectively[40]. For the first time, analysts and planners were called in to anticipate commuter needs and direct transport policy[41]. The 1930s became considered the heyday of London’s public transport.

Trams and Buses

As people kept moving farther out, buses and trams followed, linking the suburbs with the industrial zones and retail centers[42]. The first electric tramway came to London in 1901[43]. The electric trams were both cheaper than buses and faster than horse-drawn trams[44]. By around 1928, “almost every community of any significance in the outskirts of London had achieved some sort of bus service”[45]. In some areas of outer London, buses and trams were “determining to some extent the type of properties”[46] found there. In “tramway suburbia” it was the network of “branching and linking lines” that shaped the localities more than radial lines into central London[47]. Trips on buses were also showing people the attractions of life at the edge of the country, “inculcating many youngsters…Couples cuddling in the back upstairs seat of the Sunday bus…would survey the semi-rural landscape and dream of settling down”[48].


Electrification was also a boon to the railways. The first lines of the Underground were electrified at the end of the nineteenth century and opened in 1900[49]. The ‘Twopenny Tube,’ so called for its 2d fare, required international finance from Germany, France, and America[50]. The project brought together £3.7 million[51]. Afterwards, Charles Yerkes came in from America, raising the funds for more electrification and extensions, laying the “foundations for the underground system we know today”[52].
As in the nineteenth centuries, extensions to the railway system were paired with growth of the suburbs. The railways were accommodating commuters from five to twenty miles out of town[53] Yerkes extended the railway into the fields of Golders Green, at the time essentially unpopulated[54]. The suburban developers followed his lead. At this time, the railroad had enormous power in driving growth of the suburbs. The railway came to Ruislip-Northwood, and the population rose from 9,112 in 1921 to 47,760 in 1939, a 524% increase[55]. As in the nineteenth century, the proximity or even “any promise of new railway facilites would cause land values to rise rapidly and substantially”[56]. The exchange between London and the railways was healthily varied. “Some of the new lines preceded the major residential construction…others proceeded simultaneously…and in a few cases the railway arrived after it had solidified…”[57]
The mobility provided by railways was a boon to the economy many times over. Housing publicists used the phrase, “Station on the Estate,” prolifically, sometimes stretching the truth[58]. Charing Cross, Kings Cross, and Waterloo stations all became hot spots to set up show houses[59]. Railways would also make deals with businesses, offering free rides to select destinations to customers.
Metroland and Wembley

The most keen of many examples of the railways having a hand in the mushrooming growth of London during this period was the development of “Metroland” at Wembley. The Metropolitan Railway was the lone railway company able to both build railway stations and develop the land around them. The Railway leased a large area of land at Wembley and set up Metropolitan Country Estates Ltd, developing “Metroland” in the early twentieth century[60]. The Railway promoted an amusement park from the 1880s to the 1920s, when it was demolished to build Wembley Stadium[61]. As a result, Wembley grew by 552%[62].


The London public transport system in place by 1939 was mature and quite similar to the system seen today. Remnants of the early twentieth century have become icons of London public transport. The Art Deco buildings, topological maps, and circle-and-bar logo may lead many people to believe that the transport system originated in the early twentieth century. The truth is that the city did much of its development very quickly in the century that led up to World War II, and that development presents itself perhaps best in the public transport system. The transport system walked sometimes in front, sometimes behind, and sometimes side-by-side, but always in lockstep, with the evolution of the city. This shows itself in suburbs like Wembley and in scarred areas to the north and east. Some institutions have faded away, like the tram and the steamboat, while others have evolved, like the underground and the omnibus. The transport system today is comparatively static, mainly because London is not growing as rapidly demographically and economically as it was before. However, it used to be the case that London could also grow in response to transportation changes. As can be seen, transportation-driven growth was not necessarily desirable. The railways were physically damaging, and the life of the suburbs did not appeal to everyone. For better or worse, these were the results of many private transportation companies developing their businesses, working with the technology of their day, serving the people of their times.  That is the legacy of almost one and half centuries of transportation history.

No comments:

Post a Comment