Railways and Rural Development in England and Wales, 1850-1914

 

Robert M. Schwartz

Mount Holyoke College

South Hadley, Massachusetts

U.S.A.

 

 

In a recent presentation on the Sardinian cadastre of 1730, André Palluel-Guillard encouraged historians and historical geographers to apply the methods of Geographic Information Systems (système informatique géographique) to study the oldest land survey of its kind in Europe. With the powerful combination of computer-assisted cartography and data analysis in GIS (SIG), scholars could systematically interrogate known but sometimes neglected sources to yield new, important answers. The sources and technology are in place, he added, all we need now are researchers to begin the work in earnest.[1]

It seems fitting to honor my friend and colleague by responding to his appeal.  Although I cannot speak about the Sardinian cadastre and the alpine communities it so richly documents, I can illustrate how GIS methods aid the study of geographic patterns in the past. The patterns to be examined here concern the relationship between the extension of the railway system and the evolution of rural communities in Victorian England.  The essay is a report on work in progress, so exploration and initial results, as opposed to full conclusions, will predominate.

To begin the exploration, we shall look first at an example in rural Burgundy.  Here the coming of the railway breathed new life into the remote village of Thenissey over several decades, illustrating changes that occurred in many villages where the services and commercial opportunities of an expanding rail system became more or less close at hand.  With this micro history as a point of departure, we shall then journey across the channel to consider how the railways of “the first industrial nation” fostered economic development in rural areas of Victorian England and Wales.  The shift to England and Wales permits a shift in methods and scale, for GIS (SIG) methods make it is possible to explore patterns of change that affected not one or several but thousands of rural communities in the age of the railway.  In this way, we can test the common notion that coming of railways in the countryside hastened the decline of rural communities by breaking open local markets to ruinous national competition and by accelerating a rural exodus in turn. To test this idea we shall examine the alternative possibility, namely that the expansion of rail service into rural areas, by stimulating new commerce and employment, served to hold people in revitalized rural regions.  Where these changes took hold the pace of rural out migration diminished.  Such revitalization, of course, did not occur in every rural district, just as it did not continue indefinitely, so our aim is to gauge both the geographical and the temporal extent of the inter-relationship between railways and rural development.

Thenissey: Two decades of revitalization in rural Burgundy

 

In the mid 1840s, news spread among the 500 residents of Thenissey that a rail line linking Paris to Lyon was going to pass through their village. Soon surveyors appeared, followed by hundreds of workmen who prepared the rail bed and laid the track. In June of 1851 the line linking Paris and Dijon was opened in an impressive ceremony in Dijon.  The principle honored guest was none other than the new President of the Republic, Louis Napoleon, who came to cut the ribbon and salute the first trains to pass by.[2]  Meanwhile, remote and sleepy Thenissey had been transformed. The population grew by 1/3 when the rail workers were there, and even after they left, the village bustled with new business. Women took over the running of farms, freeing their husbands to take up various kinds of commerce, ranging from inn keeping to the sale of hardware brought from elsewhere by rail.  As more sons and daughters found work in Thenissey and vicinity, the population grew smartly, a change from the stagnation evident in the late 1840s.  All this continued for two decades.  Then, a different story began to unfold. Cheap wines from the South of France flooded the market, undercutting Thenissey’s mediocre vintages and setting in motion local economic decline. After the population had reached a peak in 1871, it fell steadily. The cycle of revitalization and decline was completing itself. [3]

England and Wales in the Age of the Railway

How often did this story repeat itself in rural England and Wales? The GIS I have created for to study railways and population change in Victorian England can help provide an answer. It has two components. The first  consists of spatial information that describes the rail system at four different dates (1845, 1854, 1876, and 1914) and all census registration districts for each decennial census year from 1851 to 1911.[4]  The second component is a database containing non-spatial information about the above geographic features.  For each of some 630 registration districts, these attributes—to cite two examples—include the density of rail lines at different dates and the amount of population loss or gain attributable to net migration from one census to another.[5]  The joining of the spatial information and the attribute data constitutes the GIS. The analysis can then proceed with the aim of identifying patterns in space and time. To begin let me set the scene and the context.

            The Growth of the Rail System

 

            The growth of the rail system in England and Wales was an evocative example of the conquest of space during the industrial era.  In the early years of the railway era, contemporaries were awestruck by speeding through the landscape at 25 miles per hours, two or three times the pace of the swiftest horse drawn coach. Writing of his first train journey in 1830, the Reverend Edward Stanley recalled the elation he and his companions felt.

 

No words can convey an adequate notion of the magnificence ( I cannot use a smaller word ) of our progress. At first it was comparatively slow; but soon we felt that we were GOING, and then it was that every person to whom the conveyance was new, must have been sensible that the adaptation of locomotive power was establishing a fresh era in the state of society.…

 

The most intense curiosity and excitement prevailed... and ... enormous masses of densely packed people lined the road, shouting and waving hats and handkerchiefs as we flew by them. What with the sight and sound of these cheering multitudes and the tremendous velocity with which we were borne past them, my spirits rose to true champagne height.[6] 

 

As the years wore on and the rail system grew rapidly, many Victorians saw in the railroad the reflected image of the technical and moral progress they so cherished.  Samuel Smiles was one notable example.  A self-educated man, his many books celebrated the feats of civil and mechanical engineers, and the Victorian virtues their stories embodied.  Writing in 1859, he described the railway locomotive, one of their great feats, as nothing less than a moral force for good. 

The iron rail proved a magicians' road. The locomotive gave a new celerity to time. It virtually reduced England to a sixth of its size. It brought the country nearer to the town and the town to the country. . . . It energized punctuality, discipline, and attention; and proved a moral teacher by the influence of example.[7]

 

Not everyone shared such sentiments.  Others saw something menacing in the changes ushered in by the iron roads and smoky locomotives. Such were the thoughts of the great poet, William Wordsworth, when he marshaled verse to protect Nature. One year after being named Poet Laureate of England, he campaigned to stop the opening of a line from Kendall to Windermere, at the heart his beloved Lakes District.  Dreading the inflow of careless tourists and the noise and smoke of locomotives, he denounced the scheme in a sonnet that appeared in The Morning Post, on October 16, 1844.[8]

 

 

Is then no nook of English ground secure 

From rash assault? Schemes of retirement sown 

In youth, and 'mid the busy world kept pure 

As when their earliest flowers of hope were blown, 

Must perish;--how can they this blight endure? 

And must he too the ruthless change bemoan 

Who scorns a false utilitarian lure 

'Mid his paternal fields at random thrown? 

Baffle the threat, bright Scene, from Orresthead 

Given to the pausing traveler’s rapturous glance: 

Plead for thy peace, thou beautiful romance 

Of nature; and, if human hearts be dead, 

Speak, passing winds; ye torrents, with your strong 

And constant voice, protest against the wrong. 

 

As with the coming of the industrial age generally, so with the railway, Victorians reacted strongly to the transformation that was occurring around them.  But no matter how elegant the protest, the growth of the rail system from the 1840s quickened its pace. The locomotive, powered by capitalism and the relentless search for profitable investments, proved virtually unstoppable. 

The pace of growth can be seen in the following figures for nine decades, beginning in 1832.  A surge of rail construction in the 1840s ended in the 1850s as many companies went bankrupt and feverish investment all but stopped.  After a pause in the early and mid 1850s, construction rose sharply again in the late 1850s and 1860s, continuing thereafter at a gradually slowing rate to the eve of World War I.  In the early years railway companies were surprised by the strong but unanticipated growth of passenger traffic because they expected that  freight would be the chief source of revenues and profits. As the receipts show, revenue from freight pulled ahead of passenger traffic in 1850s, but both kinds of receipts continued to climb thereafter without interruption.

Table 1. Growth of the Rail System in England and Wales

YEAR

 

Miles of rail lines open

Passengers Conveyed

Revenue from Passenger traffic in 000s £

Revenue from Freight traffic in

000s £

1832

166

 

 

 

1841

1775

 

 

 

1851

6802

 

 

 

1861

7821

145797

11246

12775

1871

10850

328553

17450

22392

1881

12807

558676

23346

30994

1891

14156

747862

29907

36765

1901

15303

1021179

39609

44895

1911

16200

1188204

46309

53921

 

Source: adopted from Jack Simmons, The railway in England and Wales, 1830-1914 (Leicester: Leicester University Press,1978), pp. 276-77.

 

            So much for the aggregate trends. What about the geography of rail service as the system expanded on the national scale?  And when did rail service become widespread in rural areas?

In its first decades of development, the expanding rail system connected major urban centers and the sites of natural resources required by industrialization. Then, from the late 1860s on, the iron roads began to reach more and more rural districts, as can be seen in Table 2.[9] Composed of data from a five percent random sample of the population in 1861, it displays representative examples of the national pattern.  In the rural district of Alton (Hampshire country), for instance, the expansion of the rail network is evident in 1854, 1876, and 1914. A more typical case is that of Rochford in Essex county where the railway arrived in the 1860s and expanded on a modest scale in the decades that followed. By 1876, all rural districts in the sample had some measure of rail service.

Table 2. Railway Development in Sample Registration Districts

Registration

District

County

 

 

 

Region

Population

1881

Persons

/Km2

1881

Kilometers of rail lines

per 1000 Km2  area

Rail

Stations

1876

1845

1854

1876

1914

Lexden

Essex

East

21775

72

55

85

103

137

3

Rochford

Essex

East

24406

65

0

0

39

97

2

Forehoe

Norfolk

East

11971

77

0

166

166

166

3

St. Giles

London

London

45382

46295

641

738

738

762

0

Lutterworth

Leicestershire

Midlands

13356

56

65

74

76

132

4

Stamford

Lincolnshire

Midlands

18344

85

0

108

243

260

8

Thrapston

Northamptonshire

Midlands

15115

67

0

56

81

87

5

Wolverhampton

Staffordshire

Midlands

145470

638

24

143

168

168

9

Haltwhistle

Northumberland

Northeast

7902

20

45

90

90

90

7

Northwich

Cheshire

Northwest

44046

174

93

94

189

215

9

Bootle

Cumberland

Northwest

12225

31

0

62

90

90

5

Cockermouth

Cumberland

Northwest

56789

82

15

29

101

113

18

Barton Upon Irwell

Lancashire

Northwest

72815

730

82

174

328

547

13

Haslingden

Lancashire

Northwest

95293

860

0

108

108

167

8

Knaresborough

West Riding

Northwest

22635

137

0

364

177

177

6

Alton

Hampshire

South

15198

60

0

4

61

161

3

Christchurch

Hampshire

South

29455

229

0

48

121

129

3

Ringwood

Hampshire

South

5488

37

0

109

162

158

2

Newton Abbot

Devon

Southwest

74996

154

0

59

102

119

9

Okehampton

Devon

Southwest

16962

32

0

0

53

75

5

Plymouth

Devon

Southwest

73863

14618

0

469

1214

810

1

South Molton

Devon

Southwest

16818

29

0

9

49

57

7

Shaftesbury

Dorset

Southwest

12662

85

0

0

56

63

1

Pwllheli

Carnarvonshire

Wales

22911

60

0

0

43

43

5

Dolgelley

Merionethshire

Wales

15180

24

0

0

86

89

10

Machynlleth

Montgomeryshire

Wales

12517

24

0

0

114

127

12

Cheltenham

Gloucestershire

West

55505

515

14

13

13

234

1

Winchcomb

Gloucestershire

West

9533

41

0

0

11

102

2

Hatfield

Hertfordshire

West

8802

72

0

80

214

214

2

Oswestry

Shropshire

West

27073

81

0

71

149

165

10

Warminster

Wiltshire

West

13840

58

0

9

77

77

3

            Source:  The Victorian Railway GIS

 

            Mapping the rail lines at four different dates displays the larger patterns of spatial and temporal change for the whole country in a more dramatic way than the table. (See Map 1.)  The geography of the system in 1845 and 1854 shows a network that linked major cities, areas rich in coal and iron, and the centers of industrial production such as Manchester and Birmingham. The rise in construction during the 1860s and early 1870s enlarged the network considerably and reached increasingly into hitherto neglected rural areas.  By 1876, as the sample figures suggested, there were relatively few rural districts in the whole of England and Wales that lacked a rail connection.

 

Map 1.  Railways in Rural England and Wales, 1854 and 1876

Railways and the Rural Economy

 

Although there were pockets of resistance to railways in the countryside at the outset, resistance soon gave way to enthusiastic approval. By the 1860s landowners, farmers, and the owners and workers in rural industry found themselves competing to secure new lines and stations for their localities, eager to reap the benefits that the railways afforded.  In the development of rural industry, rail transport opened new opportunities to mine natural resources in areas that were previously undeveloped owing to the high cost of transport in remote locations.  The stone quarries of Leicestershire, the slate quarries of northern Wales, and the lead mines of Shropshire are three examples.[10]  In the eastern Midlands, railways revitalized the mining of iron ore and led to the establishment of smaller centers of iron production in rural Northampton as the larger and older sites in Staffordshire and Derbyshire declined due to the exhaustion of local ores.[11]

            In agrarian regions, railways revitalized local agriculture by opening up distant markets and stimulating local production. By the 1870s, thanks to the speed and lowered cost of rail transport, the trade in perishable food was rapidly expanding into new and distant regions to meet the rising demand in growing cities.  Fresh vegetables such as peas from Essex and strawberries from Hampshire found there way to eager London tables, as did meat from as far away as Scotland. Railways benefited stock raising by making improved animal feed readily available, and it benefited farming by bringing fertilizing night soil from large cities to farms beyond the limits of horse-drawn carting. In addition, railways fostered viable alternatives to grain growing when the steep fall in grain prices beginning in late 1870s ended the golden age of wheat farming and ushered in an agrarian depression of long duration. The depressed state of arable farming worsened in the 1880s, and the recovery in wheat farming—the sector most affected—made little headway until the first years of the twentieth century.[12]  The growth in stock raising and the dead meat trade marked the successful adaptation to new market conditions by some farmers, while others moved into dairy farming to meet the rising urban demand for butter and especially fresh milk.  By the late 1870s, a decade or so before modern refrigeration came into general use, milk from Wiltshire and Somerset helped supply the booming London market, and by the turn of the century dairy farms in the West Country (Dorset, Devon, and Gloucestershire), made famous in Thomas Hardy’s novels, and farms in western Wales were also large suppliers of milk for London.  Similarly in the North, railways enabled Yorkshire farmers to sale their milk in Leeds, Newcastle, and Liverpool.[13]

            If these positive developments helped keep people in rural communities, there were other changes that hastened rural depopulation.  The decline of rural isolation through the improved postal service and expanded circulation of newspapers, which the railways did much to advance, meant that rural inhabitants were increasingly aware of the opportunities in towns for employment, higher salaries, and a chance at upward social mobility.  Acting on this knowledge and deciding to leave occurred more often among the children of agricultural laborers, for after 1850 the gradual introduction of mechanized reaping, hay making, and threshing reduced the number of jobs for agricultural workers.  As farmers responded to falling grain prices by converting arable land to pasture and other expedients, the demand for hired labor was further reduced.  Hence, after reaching a peak in 1850, the agricultural labor force fell steadily, declining by 20 to 60 percent or more depending on the area.[14] 

Another effect of changing economic markets was a geographic simplification in farming that began in the 1880s, with grazing dominant in the west and grain growing in the east.  So as grain prices remained low until the turn of the century, the drift from the land in the eastern counties of Norfolk, Essex, Suffolk, and Lincolnshire was quite extensive.[15] Meanwhile, in the midland and western counties, the widespread shift to grazing encouraged migration also because of the reduced labor requirements in dairy farming and stock raising.

            Although the drift from the land in rural districts as a whole was continuous throughout the period from 1851 to 1911, the level of out migration varied by decade, accelerating in the 1870s and 1880s and then subsiding gradually in 1890s and sharply in the first decade of the twentieth century to reach a period low. In 1911, the population of rural districts in England and Wales had decreased by about one-half since 1850. (See Table 3.)

Table 3. Percentage Change in the Population of Rural Registration Districts due to Net Migration, 1851-1911

 

Decade

No. of Districts

Mean Percent

Median Percent

Minimum Percent

Maximum Percent

Standard

Deviation.

1851-61

373

-9.32

-10.83

-22.08

45.05

6.97

1861-71

362

-8.75

-10.74

-38.95

50.34

8.240

1871-81

355

-10.85

-12.11

-22.62

20.16

6.41

1881-91

342

-10.89

-12.14

-31.50

38.42

5.76

1891-1901

322

-10.14

-10.43

-54.75

38.45

7.82

1901-11

312

-4.76

-5.87

-23.38

54.95

6.80

Source : The Victorian Railway GIS

           

Map 2.  Percent Population Change due to Net Migration,  1861-1901

 

As the level of rural out migration rose and subsided over the years, it also varied greatly by region, as the following maps shows for 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. (See Map 2.) The impact and adjustments associated with the agrarian depression are visible in the maps for the 1870s and 1880s.  In the 1870s, the Eastern counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex were already experiencing high rates of out migration as were the other farming areas of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, and Devon (See Map 3).  In other regions, high rates were more dispersed, touching certain districts of Lincolnshire, West Riding Yorkshire, and Northumberland in the eastern half of the country and a few scattered districts in Herefordshire and central Wales in the west. In still other regions, clusters of districts experienced lower than average rates of out migration; in a few, the population grew as more migrants arrived than left.  In both cases, these “privileged” areas enjoyed relative demographic stability, indicating the rural population’s ability to weather the storm and adjust to shifting economic forces.  Notable in this respect were certain districts in Lincolnshire, northern and peninsular Wales, and coastal Sussex.

            In the 1880s, the areas of high out migration in the 1870s continued to loose population, but the regions sutaining the heaviest losses shifted to include larger parts of Lincolnshire, North Riding Yorkshire, and, above all Shropshire and central and northern Wales in the West.  In the South and Midlands, a band of districts running northeasterly from Shaftsbury in Dorset to Daventry in Northampton, and another running southeasterly from Melton Mowebray in Leicestershire to Maldon in Essex sustained large losses as well. As in the 1870s, so in the 1880s districts with lower than average rates of out migration were scattered, as we can see along the southern edge of Hampshire and Sussex and the coast of Essex.  In the interior, a group of districts in the extended hinterland of Birmingham, with a marked concentration around Stratford on Avon, suggests that the provisioning of this industrial center anchored a solid rural economy in the surrounding region.

            The geographic pattern of the 1890s shows a mixture of continuity and change from the previous decade. Intense and concentrated depopulation persisted in the districts clustered around Woodstock in Oxfordshire and St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, while it spread anew in an arc running through Suffolk and Norfolk, reflecting the continuing hard times in eastern regions where farmers clung to grain growing while reducing their labor force through the use of machinery and the conversion of some arable to pasture. In the West Country, some concentrated losses occurred in the interior of Devon and parts of Somerset and Dorset, while in the North Riding of Yorkshire a similar concentration existed. Elsewhere in the North, in eastern Wales, and in southeastern Sussex and Kent high rates of out migration occurred in few, scattered districts.

Map 3.  Counties of England and Wales

But in many other parts of the countryside, the 1890s saw the return to greater demographic stability as out migration began to diminish.  After decades of increasing depopulation, the degree of stability reached in central and northern Wales stands out as rather remarkable. The campaign to modernize central Wales through the development of Welsh railways appears to have had the desired effect.[16]

Railways and Rural Depopulation

We can now turn to the question of central interest: how was the coming of railways in rural England and Wales related to rural population change? In the face of widespread and continuing depopulation, where and to what extent did railways stimulate economic opportunities sufficient to slow the drift from the countryside?

Table 4. Railways and Population Change from Net Migration in Sampled Rural Districts

Registration District

County

Region

Population

 

1881

Persons

/Km2

 

1881

Kilometers of rail lines per

1000 Km2  area

Rail Stations

Population Change due to Net Migration

1871-1881

1854

1876

Number

Percent change

Lexden

Essex

East

21775

72

85

103

3

-5157

-21

Rochford

Essex

East

24406

65

0

39

2

-425

-2

Forehoe

Norfolk

East

11971

77

166

166

3

-1540

-13

St. Giles

London

London

45382

46295

738

738

0

-7684

-15

Lutterworth

Leicestershire

Midlands

13356

56

74

76

4

-1843

-13

Stamford

Lincolnshire

Midlands

18344

85

108

243

8

-1358

-8

Thrapston

Northamptonshire

Midlands

15115

67

56

81

5

-1378

-10

Wolverhampton

Staffordshire

Midlands

145470

638

143

168

9

-11227

-8

Haltwhistle

Northumberland

Northeast

7902

20

90

90

7

-227

-3

Northwich

Cheshire

Northwest

44046

174

94

189

9

-813

-2

Bootle

Cumberland

Northwest

12225

31

62

90

5

1192

14

Cockermouth

Cumberland

Northwest

56789

82

29

101

18

1039

2

Barton Upon Irwell

Lancashire

Northwest

72815

730

174

328

13

8166

16

Haslingden

Lancashire

Northwest

95293

860

108

108

8

1588

2

Knaresborough

West Riding

Northwest

22635

137

364

177

6

783

4

Alton

Hampshire

South

15198

60

4

61

3

-1902

-13

Christchurch

Hampshire

South

29455

229

48

121

3

7828

49

Ringwood

Hampshire

South

5488

37

109

162

2

-462

-8

Newton Abbot

Devon

Southwest

74996

154

59

102

9

-1426

-2

Okehampton

Devon

Southwest

16962

32

0

53

5

-3563

-19

Plymouth

Devon

Southwest

73863

14618

469

1214

1

-1743

-3

South Molton

Devon

Southwest

16818

29

9

49

7

-3073

-19

Shaftesbury

Dorset

Southwest

12662

85

0

56

1

-2091

-14

Pwllheli

Carnarvonshire

Wales

22911

60

0

43

5

-439

-2

Dolgelley

Merionethshire

Wales

15180

24

0

86

10

-628

-4

Machynlleth

Montgomeryshire

Wales

12517

24

0

114

12

-1758

-13

Cheltenham

Gloucestershire

West

55505

515

13

13

1

-2812

-5

Winchcomb

Gloucestershire

West

9533

41

0

11

2

-1686

-16

Hatfield

Hertfordshire

West

8802

72

80

214

2

-1032

-12

Oswestry

Shropshire

West

27073

81

71

149

10

-2783

-10

Warminster

Wiltshire

West

13840

58

9

77

3

-2452

-16

Source:  The Victorian Railway GIS                                              

 

            For the 1870s, the evidence in the GIS shows that lower levels of rural depopulation tended to occur in districts that were relatively well served by rail transport.  One indication of this relationship can be seen in Table 4 and Map 4.  Both suggest that population loss from migration varied with the number of rail stations: the greater the number of stations, the lower the rate of out migration.  This tendency is pronounced in the eastern counties and Lincolnshire, in the Southwest, and in central Wales. In Stamford (Lincolnshire), for example, an 8 percent decline due to out migration took place in a district served by 8 stations.  This was a modest decrease compared to the 21 percent decline in Lexden (Essex) district where there were only 3 stations. (See Table 4.) Not surprisingly, some cases did not conform as well to this pattern.  South Molton in Devon is one example (19 percent decline and 7 stations), while two contrasting districts in Wales exhibit the range of variation that occurred across the country and even between two neighboring districts. In Dolgelley a loss of 4 percent was paired with 10 stations, whereas in Machynlleth to the south, a steeper decline of 13 percent occurred in a district with a dozen stations. These departures from a tight correlation remind us that depopulation was affected by many factors.  Economic factors at work included the degree of well-being or hardship, the demand for labor in relation to the size of the labor force, the chief activity of the local economy (grain growing, stock raising, dairy farming, mining, mixed, etc.), the proximity to towns with employment possibilities, and so forth.  Lacking data of these kinds, we can go forward, knowing that the results of our analysis will reflect the limitations of the evidence.

Map4.  Percent Population Change due to Migration (1871-81) and Railways Stations (1876)

To gauge the economic stimulus that railways carried into the countryside, the number of rail stations in a rural registration district seems a good measure.  After all, rail stations not only offered passenger service but, more importantly for our purposes, they served as commercial hubs of the local economy.  Just as products for local consumption were off loaded and stored near the station, so the products for sale elsewhere were brought to this hub for rail shipment to other distant markets.

In addition to stations themselves, the economic effect of rail transport depended upon the volume of rail traffic and the size of the rail network in a given district. A district with a junction connecting main trunk lines with numerous branches was a central node in the network, as compared to the district of Kingsbridge in southern Devon where the inhabitants made due with a single station at the end of a local line.  To approximate such differences in scale, we can add to the number of stations a second component, namely rail density (kilometers of track per 1000 square kilometers of area).  This measure fails to capture the volume of traffic across main lines and branches, but until further research is completed it will have to suffice.

            Another factor to consider is remoteness.  As the opening story of Thenissey serves to remind us, the revitalization there involved the integration of a formerly remote village into the regional economy and larger transport network. As in Thenissey, so across the Channel, remote communities were apt to enjoy greater benefit from the coming of rail transport than those already well connected to urban markets by virtue of their proximity to major towns. By using the powerful spatial functions of GIS, our analysis will distinguish two groups of rural districts:  those adjacent to a major town, and those that lay farther a field.[17] 

            When it comes to estimating economic well being or distress, we must once again make do with an imperfect indicator: county marriage rates in 1870.  For the bulk of the population the decision and ability to wed was strongly related to prevailing economic conditions. When times were good, the wedding bells rang out often; when times were bad, they rang out rarely .[18]  But because county marriage rates substitute the county average in place of the specific rate for each district, they serve only to index the degree of regional prosperity as opposed to the degree extant in localities.  With these numerous qualifications in mind we can turn to the statistical results.

To a modest but significant degree railways went hand in hand with lower levels of rural out migration. Table 5 summarizes the findings for the decade 1871 to 1881.  In this decade across 338 rural districts (those with fewer than 100 persons per square kilometer), approximately 13 percent of the variation in net migration is attributable to the combined effects of four variables: the number of rail stations, the density of rail lines, the country marriage rate, and remoteness from a major town.

Table 5.  Regression Analysis of Percentage Population from Net Migration, 1871-1881

Variable

Coefficients

t Statistic

Probability

Standardized coefficients

Intercept

-22.7780

 -8.5

  .000000

 

Number of rail stations in 1876

     .3050

  3.1

  .0021

  .17

Rail Density in 1876

      .0183

  2.5

  .0122

  .13

County marriage rate in 1870

    1.1356

  3.1

  .0021

  .16

Remoteness

    2.9209

  2.84

  .0048

  .15

Statistics for the regression: R= .36  = .13

The standardized coefficients indicate the relative strength and nature of the relationship between net migration and each variable.  These figures tell us that population loss (or gain) depended more or less equally on the extent of rail service as on the two other variables.

Although the explanatory power of the model is modest and reflects the limitations of our crude variables, the results are nonetheless interesting and important.  By and large, existing studies of railways, of rural history, and of migration fail to examine the relationship between the advent of rail transport and rural development in a broad and systematic fashion.  Case studies rich in local detail seem to treat the problem of railways and rural development either in passing or not at all, a characteristic one finds in studies of migration as well.[19] As this essay attempts to show, the application of GIS methods opens new ways of investigating new as well as old questions while drawing needed attention to the geography of historical change. Applying the methods in this case calls attention to a neglected problem and leads to a conclusion that further research can refine and strengthen.  The extent to which rural communities in Victorian England and Wales were able to adjust to changing economic pressures depended in part on the degree of their integration in the rail transport network.

            The tendency for lower levels of rural depopulation to occur in areas with greater rail service took root in the late 1860s and strengthened in 1870s, as the rural rail network grew rapidly. To continue the analysis into 1880s and beyond will require additional data on rail stations, rail density, and other economic measures for the respective periods. If we throw caution aside and carry forward the model and data for 1870s, the imperfect results point to a reoccurrence of the Thenissey experience.  In the 1880s, the revitalizing effects of railways in the English and Welsh countryside waned.[20]  This waning needs to be seen in the context of the decade’s worsening agrarian depression that accelerated the rate of out migration in the areas that were most affected. Under these circumstances, railways possibly conveyed a growing number of those who left to destinations that previous generations reached almost exclusively on foot.  To get a sense of this changed situation let us conclude the journey we began in the Burgundian village of Thenissey in rural Devonshire with a local example.

A counterpart to Thenissey was the district of Kingsbridge in southern Devon.  There in 1910, farmers and businessmen had their choice of six trains a day to make the 12 mile trip to the junction at Brent. From Brent they could make the short trip to the bustling town of Newton Abbot. Or they could go to the great seaport of Bristol and from there to London.  With luck and good connections, they could leave Kingsbridge at 8 in the morning and arrive in London in time for afternoon tea at 3:30. For a family holiday or day’s excursion, they could take the early morning train to Brighton and spend the day at the famous pier.  Their older sons and daughters who sought excitement or work on their own could travel to Brent, Tauton, or Newton Abbot in short order and everyday but Sunday when a motor coach provided limited service.  In the first decade of the twentieth century, this new ease of travel for work or leisure helped keep more young women and men in Kingsbridge than was true of the previous half century, both during the 1850s and 1860s before the branch line arrived and during the first decades of its existence (1870s, 1880s, and 1890s). More than likely, the fewer young women and men who left from 1901 to 1911 did not follow the footsteps of their forbearers by making their way on foot. Instead they left by train.[21] La plus ça change, la plus ça change.

 

GIS Sources and Acknowledgements

 

This essay is based on the Victorian Railway GIS that I am developing at Mount Holyoke College.  Some components come from The Great Britain Historical GIS and include the boundary files for the census registration districts and the demographic information on population, population density, and net migration from 1851 to 1911.  The demographic information comes from the British decennial census.  Data for the railways were constructed from maps.  The rail lines for 1845, 1855, and 1914 were digitized from the map at the end of Jack Simmon’s book, The Railway in England and Wales 1830-1914 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1978). The lines and stations for 1876 come from the 24 sheets of  large scale Railway and Station Map of England and Wales (London: Edward Stanford, 1876.). The statistics on rail density and the number of stations were constructed in the GIS by using the registration district boundaries to derive counts of stations and lengths of rail line for each district.  I wish to thank Humphrey Southall and Ian Gregory of the Geography Department at the University of Portsmouth for allowing me to use data from The Great Britain Historical GIS, a pioneering achievement now housed at the University of Portsmouth. To my knowledge, this is one of the largest and most advanced collections of historical GIS data in Europe.  For details on the project, in addition to their article cited in the notes, one can explore the web site at http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/gbhgis/ .

In addition to Humphrey Southall and Ian Gregory, I especially want to thank Jon Caris of Mount Holyoke College for his continuing assistance with the GIS and Frederick Musto, curator of the Yale Map Collection, for introducing me to the marvels of the collection and to the Stanford sheet maps in particular.  I also want to acknowledge the assistance of many students who have worked on the project: Jennifer Gieseking digitized the maps from the Simmons book; Lindsey Hotchkies did the more arduous work for all 24 sheets of the Stanford collection; Michelle McCutcheon, Kimberly McMahon, Mikaila Arthur, and Rebecca Perkins provided much additional assistance with the data for the GIS.  A Faculty Grant from Mount Holyoke College and a grant from the Multimedia Access Project of the Five College Consortium provided financial support.

 

Endnotes



[1]  “Un document fondamental: le cadastre sarde de 1730, » unpublished paper presented at the meetings of the Social Science History Association, November 17, 2001, Chicago, Illinois (U.S.A.).

[2] Georges Reverday, Histoire des grandes liaisons françaises, 2 vols.(Paris: Revue générale des routes et des aérodromes ,1981) vol. 1, p. 69-72 ; François Paluau and Maguy Palau, Le raile en France: Les 80 premières lignes, 1828-1851 (Paris: Imprimerie Gauthier-Villars; 1995) p. 202.

[3] Archives départementales de la Cote d’Or, census records of 1846, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1876, 1881, and 1891.

[4]. Ian Gregory and Humphrey Southall,"Putting the Past in its Place: The Great Britain Historical GIS" in Carver S (ed.) Innovations in GIS 5 (London: Taylor & Francis, 1998)

[5] Net migration is the result of the following calculation: (Population at year 2 – Population at year 1) – the natural increase of the population from year 1 to year 2.

[6] Blackwoods Magazine, November 1830.

[7] Self Help; With Illustrations of Conduct and Perseverances (London, 1859), p. 78. 

[8] The copy I consulted is kept at the Public Record Office (National Archives of Britain) at Kew in Surrey.

[9] In this paper rural districts are defined as those with population densities of less than 100 people per square kilometer.

[10] David Turnock, An Historical Geography of Railways in Great Britain and Ireland. (Aldershot: Hampshire England, and Ashgate: Brookfield, Vermont, 1998). pp. 272-73.

[11] Turnock, p. 280-81.

[12] The fall in wheat prices and the agrarian depression were also connected with steam-powered transport revolution in the form of steam ships and railways that a flood of cheaper wheat from Canada and the United States beginning in the late 1870s.

[13] Turnock, pp. 254-55; Philip S. Bagwell, “The Decline of Rural Isolation,” in G.E. Mingay, ed., Rural Life in Victorian England, 2 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1977) vol. 1, pp. 36-37. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) contains a vivid literary depiction of this situation in the thriving dairy farm where Tess finds employment and (mostly) good companionship. Tess’s later travails digging potatoes in a dismally bleak village, far from the prospering dairy crowd, portrays the dark side of the rural landscape where poverty went unrelieved by the transport revolution.

[14] W.A. Armstrong, “The Workfolk,” in Mingay, vol. 2, p 493-4; Richard Lawton and Colin G. Pooley, Britain, 1740-1950 : an Historical Geography (London ; Edward Arnold, 1992), p. 141.

[15] Prince, “Victorian Rural Landscapes,” in Mingay, vol. 1, pp. 19-20.

[16] Jack Simmons, The Railway in Town and Country, 1830-1914 (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1986), pp. 315-317.

[17] Because the population density data available pertains to registration districts rather than individual communities, “towns” were identified in districts with a population density of 500 or more people per square kilometer.  This procedure is appropriate because census registration districts were defined so as to have a market town at their center.

[18] Southall, Humphrey R, and David Gilbert. "A Good Time to Wed? Marriage and Economic Distress in England and Wales, 1839-1914." The Economic History Review 49 (1996): 35-57, and "The Tramping Artisan Revisits: Labour Mobility and Economic Distress in Early Victorian England." The Economic History Review 44 (1991): 272-96.

[19] John Saville, Rural Depopulation in England and Wales, 1851-1951 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957); Kevin Schurer, ´The Role of the Family in the Process of Migration,” in Colin G. Pooley and Ian D. Whyte, eds., Migrants, Emigrants and Immigrants. A Social History of Migration (London and New York: Routledge, 1991); Barry Reay, Microhistories: Demography, Society and Culture in Rural England, 1800-1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Dudley Baines, Migration in a Mature Economy : Emigration and Internal Migration in England and Wales, 1861-1900 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Colin G. Pooley and Jean Turnbull. Migration and Mobility in Britain Since the Eighteenth Century. London.: UCL Press, 1998). The best treatments the effects of railways in the countryside are Simmons, pp. 299-335, and Turnock, pp. 247-292.

[20] The regression analysis for 1881-91 is flawed as explained above; to the extent that it is indicative at the direction of change, it shows that influence of rail service on out migration had weakened considerably and that the model’s explanatory power is much reduced as well. Appropriate data for the 1880s would no doubt show different results, although the weakened effect of rail service in distressed agrarian regions would doubtless remain much in evidence.

            Proximity to a major town might effect migration in surrounding districts in two contrary: it might induce migration through the attraction of urban jobs, or it might retard migration because of the demand for food and other goods coming from nearby districts.  The predominance of one or the other effect would depend on specific local conditions.

Table 6: Regression Analysis of Net Migration 1881-91.

Variable

Coefficients

t Statistic

Probability

Standardized coefficients

Intercept

-18.4547

-6.64019

.000000

 

Number of rail stations in 1876

.1476

1.44848

.148424

.080237

Rail Density in 1876

.0280

3.72491

.000229

.203309

County marriage rate in 1870

.5660

1.70046

1.49493

.135879

Remoteness (more than 30 kms. from major town)

2.7557

2.58936

.010038

.136579

 

Statistics for the regression :  R= .28  R²= .079

 

[21] This paragraph is based on the timetables in Bradshaw's April 1910 Railway Guide; a New Edition of the April 1910 Issue of Bradshaw's General Railway and Steam Navigation Guide for Great Britain and Ireland, (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1968), pp.  22, 29, 33, and 54.  The decline of out migration from 1901 to 1911 is clear in the following figures for the district of Kingsbridge from the Victorian Railway GIS.

Decade

Density of Rail lines per 1000 square km

Total Population at the beginning of the decade

Total change from net migration

Percent change in population due to net migration

1851-61

 

21377

-3696

-17.3

1861-71

 

19394

-1739

-9.0

1871-81

31.70

19706

-2652

-13.5

1881-91

31.70

18844

-2591

-13.8

1891-1901

31.70

17715

-2334

-13.2

1901-11

31.70

16133

-406

-2.5