The mania for railways

Our Periodicals Collection reveals news from around 150 years ago about the mania for railways that was fast spreading across Britain


Approximately 150 years ago in May 1863 there was news of the competition to design Liverpool’s New Exchange Buildings which had attracted 44 entries, and were on public display in the city’s Old Session House [1].

Church building was actively taking place, resulting in the opening of new or rebuilt churches such as the Gothic-style Daylesford Church in Worcestershire [2]. However, generating far more columns inches than these, and leaving a legacy we are still using, readapting and investing in today, were the railways.

It seems as if the nation had become seized with a mania for railway locomotion, otherwise the excursion train could not have so speedily become a recognized institution in this country.

Building News, 8 May 1863, vol.10, p.349).

In 1862, Herne Hill was a new station opened as part of the expanding network of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. and was built in the Gothic style. 



Herne Hill railway station, London. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals CollectionHerne Hill railway station in May 2013. It was Grade II listed in 1998Daylesford Church, Worcestershire. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals CollectionArchitectural details, Herne Hill railway station, London. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection


Around this time, there were also news and reports of the laying of the foundation stone of Blackfriars Bridge [3]. When the crossing was completed, the line from Herne Hill station was able to cross the Thames and connect to the eastern terminus of the world’s first underground railway, the Metropolitan line, which had only opened in January that same year.

The use of steam locomotives in the confines of a tunnel proved to be too much for some though. By May the Builder [4] was complaining of the dire state of ventilation in the Metropolitan Underground Railway: “the sulphurous fumes which escape from the tunnel are both unpleasant and unwholesome”. The journal recommended additional air shafts to improve the situation. 

There were also complaints about the impact of the new railways on cities. In the article “Railway vandalism in Ludgate-hill” it was claimed that the new Ludgate Hill Viaduct would block a view of St Paul’s Cathedral and through demolition further ruin London, “proverbially an ugly city” [5]. The viaduct was opened a few years later, but removed in the late 20th century.

A record of over one and a half centuries of architectural history, the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection holds a wealth of news, on railways and beyond. 


  1. Builder, 30 May 1863, vol.21, p.381
  2. Building News, 15 May 1863, vol.10, p.374
  3. Builder, 9th May 1863, vol.21, p. 336
  4. Builder, 9 May 1863 vol.21, p.335
  5. Building News, 15 May 1863 vol.10, p.381