Victorian London - Transport - Railways, above ground - Perception of - Poor Conditions.


To Travellers

    THE existing railway arrangements render it imperative that you should provide yourselves with a large stock of philosophy to enable you to put up with certain inconveniences, which you will be sure, to a greater or less extent, to encounter on most lines, and whereof a classification is hereby appended for your benefit.


THE chief inconvenience peculiar to this class, is, that your fare will be about twice as much as you ought in fairness to pay. You run, perhaps, rather less risk in this class than in the others, of having your neck broken; but you must not be unprepared for such a contingency.


    In travelling by the second class, you will do well to wear a respirator, unless you wish to be choked with dust and ashes from the engine close in front of you. Also, if you are going far, you are recommended to put on a diving-dress, like that used at the Polytechnic; because, if it should rain much during your journey, the sides of the carriage being open, you will have to ride in a pool of water. Your dignity must not be hurt, should you have for your next neighbour a ragamuffin in handcuffs, with a policeman next him. The hardness of your seat is a mere trifle; that is the least of the annoyances to which you are judiciously subjected, with the view of driving you into the first class train.


Make up your mind for unmitigated hail, rain, sleet, snow, thunder and lightning. Look out for a double allowance of smoke, dust, dirt, and everything that is disagreeable. Be content to run a twofold risk of loss of life and limb. Do not expect the luxury of a seat. As an individual and a traveller, you are one of the lower classes ; a poor, beggarly, contemptible person, and your comfort and convenience are not to be attended to.


     Punctuality may be the soul of business, but suppose not that it is the spirit of railways. If you do not care whether you keep an appointment or not, make it on the faith of the Company, by all means; but otherwise by none. Regard starting, or arriving at your destination, only half an hour too late, as luck. You pay nothing extra to attendants for civility, so you must not hope for it. Remember that you are at the mercy of the Company as to where  you may stop for refreshments; for which, accordingly, be not surprised if you have to pay through the nose. Beware, if you quit the train for an instant, leste it move on; you have paid you money, the rest is your own look-out. and, you may depend will be no one else's. For loss and damage of luggage, and the like little mishaps, prepare yourself as a matter of course; and if at the end of your journey you find yourself in a whole skin - thank your stars.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1844

see also 'Railway miseries' from Punch, 1846

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1849


    What a wonderful improvement has taken place in the temper of the British Public! To such a proficiency have they attained in the virtue of patience, that they will now not only put up with any injustice or imposition, but submit to be treated with the greatest contempt and insolence into the bargain. They are content to travel in railway pens, like sheep to the slaughter, injured, deluded, derided, and only bleating in return....
    Ah! there was a time, very considerably within the memory of man, when this public, so tame now, could not be put upon at so little expense. If merely swindled by a playhouse manager, it would deface ornaments and tear up benches. What would have happened, in those days, if free~born British passengers had been systematically delayed, endangered, and moreover mocked and set at nought, by boards of unscrupulous, avaricious, dividend-grasping, screwing, bloated railway directors? But now, as the public no longer takes the law into its own hands, and does mischief, it ought to insist upon legal damages in the event of accident or stoppage.

Punch 1852


(Perfectly at the Service of any Railway Company)

Delays are dangerous.
A Train in time saves nine.
Live and let live.
Between two Trains we fall to the ground.
A Director is known by the Company he keeps.
A Railway Train is the Thief of Time.
There is no place like Rome—but the difficulty is to get there,

The farther you go, the worse is your fare.
It’s the Railway pace that kills.
A Railway is long, but Life is short—and generally the longer a
railway, the shorter your life.

Punch 1853


JUDY grieves to say that her notice has been frequently called, of late, to certain cads, to be met with on most railways, especially on the Metropolitan. She may thus classify them:-
1. The cad who whistles or hums obtrusively
2. The cad who makes a horrid noise with his heel or stick, probably to convey the idea that he's of a musical turn. JUDY, who travels much herself, and knows the miscreant but too well, hopes he will take some other way of expressing himself.
3. The cad who spits. This is a very low specimen.
4. The cad who talks noisily to his friend, to the intense exasperation of all in the carriage. This is often a foreigner, who doesn't know better; but JUDY is ashamed, sometimes, to hear an Englishman so offend. The best excuse she can make for him is, that the train probably started before he could reach the third class. She trusts this warning may prove sufficient.
5. The cad who smokes where such proceeding is sure to annoy passengers, either at the time, or after he or his nasty cigar has gone out. This person generally uses very cheap tobacco.
6. The cad who wipes his dirty feet on the opposite cushion, and so leaves it. This is a cad one often sees.
7. The cad who writes on the window with a diamond, or some cheap imitation of the same. A very dirty trick!
8. The cad who cuts the cushions or straps, or otherwise injures the fittings of the carriage. JUDY hopes to see him caught oftener. Any one may kick him.

Judy , 1872



PART I.-The Company, the Station, the Ticket-Office.

Q. What is a Railway?
An ingenious and complex contrivance for extracting as much money as possible from the travelling public and giving it the least possible amount of convenience and comfort in return.
Q. How is this managed?
By means of that Cuttlefish of Commerce, a Company.
Q. What is a Company?
A composite partnership for the annihilation of conscience and the minimising of responsibility.
Q. How is this achieved?
By the devices of division and distribution.
Q. Can you explain the processes?
It is an admitted maxim that what is everybody's business is nobody's business. The principle applies with peculiar force to "business" involving questions of conscience or of responsibility. Some organisms are only multiplied by division, each section forming a complete and independent creature. It is precisely the reverse with conscience and responsibility. A divided responsibility has no appreciable weight, and a distributed conscience does not work. There is nothing so conscienceless as corporate responsibility, nor so irresponsible as corporate conscience.
Q. You spoke of a Company as a cuttle-fish. Would you liken a Railway Company to that creature?
It is more like it than any other Company.
Q. How so?
Because it reaches it victims through so many arms and suckers while it is so difficult for its victims to get at its head.
Q. Illustrate this.
In one way among myriads. In pursuance of some autocratic, irrational and unannounced bye-law from head-quarters a hundred ticket-collectors at a hundred stations may be ready at any moment to mulct you in excess fare. It will take weeks of correspondence to bring the surcharge home to the "Corporate Conscience" in its hidden lair.
Q. What is a Railway Station?
It may best and most briefly be described as a place of public torture.
Q. What are the kinds of torture therein inflicted upon the Public?
They are so many and subtly varied as almost to defy exhaustive classification. They may, however, for purposes of illustration, be ranged under various heads, as, for example
1. The torture of Difficult Access.
    2. The tortures of Labyrinthine Complexity and Maze-like Muddle.
    3. The torture of Hurry-scurry.
    4. The torture of Noise.
    5. The torture of Imperative Stupidity
    6. The torture of Clownish Incivility
    7. The tortures of Dirt, Deprivation, and Physical Discomfort generally.
Q. How is difficulty of access secured?
A. By many ingenious devices, such as the multiplication of steep slopes and precipitous staircases, the careful laying out of intricate passages and complicated corridors, the artful adjustment of numerous narrow wickets and the sedulously maintained mystery of many and capriciously used platforms. Perhaps, however, the most successfully tormenting of these devices of delay is the great Ticket trick.
Q. What is the special purpose of this device?
A. To make the procuring of the necessary pasteboard-pass as difficult as possible to the would-be passenger.
Q. For what reason.
A. Reason has nothing whatever to do with it Railway regulations.
Q. How is it managed?
A. First, by refusing to issue the ticket for a particular train until that train is about to start, and a long, close-packed, and agitated queue of passengers is in waiting; secondly, by making the species of port-hole through which the tickets are issued so small that only one passenger at a time can obtain a ticket, and that slowly and with exceeding difficulty.
Q. What are the results of these singular arrangements?
A. Uncomfortable hurry, great confusion, needless waiting, and frequent missing of trains. A traveller arriving in good time, must watchfully linger in a dreary and draughty corridor until it pleases the haughty young gentleman within the rabbit-hutch to raise the hatch thereof. A traveller arriving rather late, must take his place at the end of a long "tail" of eager and angry applicants, with much probability of getting his ticket just in time to lose his train. In any case, he has to stoop and shout his instructions through a little square hole into the reluctant ears of an austere being who is the victim of constitutional superciliousness and chronic disgust. This Diogenes in a box is generally hard of hearing, slow of understanding, and much readier with rude questions than with civil answers. When he deigns - after the delay due to his dignity - to understand you arright, he "chucks" your ticket at you in a manner suggestive of lofty contempt or deep resentment. If you require change, he "dabs" it down in a scattered heap, leaving you, if you are nervous or considerate, to claw it up hastily; or, if you are dogged or selfishly indifferent, to count it carefully. In the former case you may possibly be cheated. In the latter case you will certainly be hated - by the impatient crowd waiting behind you for their turn at the port-hole. In this dilemma, the printed notification, that you are requested to count your change before leaving, as no correction can subsequently be made, will probably strike you as sardonic, if not impertinent.
Q. But has this painful process always to be gone through before you can obtain a railway ticket?
A. Not in its entirety. At slack times, or in little-frequented Stations, you may escape certain of the worst passages in the ordeal. You will wait, of course; you will probably rap repeatedly and vainly at the wicket; you will certainly have to bow your head to the awkwardly-placed hole, and your spirit to the awkwardly-tempered ticket-clerk. But the hurried crush, the angry and sometimes militant crowd, the lost change, and the missed train - these, as the cream of the great Ticket Distributing Joke, are commonly reserved for the Stations you are most likely to have to attend, and the seasons when you will most probably be compelled to attend them.

Punch, September 2, 1882