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The readiness with which Queen Victoria took to railway travel was of great importance in helping the railways to be accepted. In an age accustomed to space travel, it is difficult to conceive the prejudice andjear that the concept of railway travel aroused among the more impressionable and irrational members of the public. The more hysterical sceptics thought the new mode of travel so unsafe that the chances of survival were limited, that the fleeces of sheep would be ignited from the sparks and buildings burnt to the ground. The knowledge that Her Majesty was sufficiently confident in the new invention to use it reassured the fainthearted. Prince Albert, when still Queen Victorias suitor, travelled from Slough to Paddington in November 1839, and made frequent use of the railway after his marriage in the following year. The Great Western built a royal saloon in anticipation of Her Majestys conversion which came injune 1842 when she travelled from Slough to Paddington with Gooch as driver and Brunel on the jootplate. Thereafter Her Majesty used the GWR constantly when travelling between Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

It was common during the early years of railways to request that a member of the royal family open or inaugurate a work of outstanding importance. In 1846, for example, Prince Albert launched the SS Great Britain, andfrom the opening of the High Level Bridge at Newcastle in 1849, illustrated here, to the opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890 by the Prince of Wales, opening ceremonies were often performed by royalty. Work began on the famous High Level Bridge across the Tyne at Newcastle in 1845, thefirst pile being driven under the supervision of Robert Stephenson in April 1846. Carrying three lines of railway and, 20ft below, a 20ft roadway flanked by two 6ft footpaths, the bridge was opened by Queen Victoria on 28 September 1849. Her Majesty was so delighted with the reception she received from the Geordies, that she agreed to return the following year to open john Dobsons magnificent Central station and the final link in the East Coast main line, the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick. A toll was payable on the road across the High Level Bridge, collected by NER employees. The High Level Bridge was the only rail bridge at Newcastle until 1906 when the King Edward Bridge was opened.


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This page was created by Julia Lee '99. It is maintained by Professor Robert Schwartz of the History Department, 
Mount Holyoke College.