Images of heroes and heroines on horseback or riding in grand carriages are part of what I love about writing books set in Regency England. So it is daunting to me to know that the beloved characters in my books are about to experience a radical change in their mode of travel. On their horizon is railway travel and in the wink of an eye posting inns and mail coaches are about to be replaced.
Regency people certainly must have known about steam engines and railroads. The the late 1700s, railways in Great Britain served the mining industry, carrying only freight. In 1808 a steam locomotive called Catch Me Who Can was run on a circular track as a sort of novelty exhibition in Bloomsbury. The exhibition closed after a derailment caused by the relatively brittle cast-iron rails breaking.
The early 1800s were a time of great invention and innovation in the development of steam engines and in improving rails. Early steam engines included the Rocket, the Puffing Billy, the Salamanca, and the Blücher. The Salamanca was named after Wellington’s victorious battle at Salamanca in 1812. The Blücher was named for the Prussian general whose arrival at Waterloo secured the victory for Wellington.
In 1825, shortly after the Regency officially ended, the Stockton and Darlington Railway opened. It was 26 miles long and carried passengers as well as freight. In 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened as the world’s first inter-city passenger railway. One of the passengers on the train on opening day was the Duke of Wellington.
By the 1840s there were dozens of competing companies building and running railroads to all parts of Great Britain. By 1900, carriage travel became a nostalgic relic of the past.
But carriage travel still lives on in our Regency romances, whether for a leisurely turn in Hyde Park or a mad dash to Gretna Green. We can still enjoy it vicariously.
What do you think Regency people thought of the first railways?
What do you find most romantic about carriage travel?