Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Father of the railways

‘Twenty years ago these projects, or rather that from this coal district, was of much interest to my mind and its completion in 1825 may be said to have given birth to all others in this world.’ So reflected Edward Pease, who died 160 years ago today, in his diary about the start of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Pease is sometimes dubbed ‘The Father of the Railways’ because of the crucial entrepreneurial role he played in launching that first public railway. Although his extant diaries do not start until 1838, long after that particularly historic event, they are nevertheless interesting and informative. They are also freely available online.

Pease was born in Darlington, Yorkshire, in 1767, and was educated at a Quaker school in Leeds. By 14, he was already working with his father, a wool merchant; eventually, though, he became a successful merchant in his own right. Around the age of 50, he turned his attention to the idea of a horse-draw railway line to link the coal mines in County Durham with the port at Stockton-on-Tees, in northeast England. In 1821, he won approval for the plan from the British Parliament. He then met with the engineer George Stephenson (often also called ‘The Father of the Railways’) and Nicholas Wood, a colliery manager. It was agreed that the project should be a ‘railway’, i.e. protruding rails, laid on sleepers, for wagon wheels to wrap around (rather than a groove in the ground, tramway-style, for carriage wheels to slot into). And, it was at this meeting that Stephenson convinced Pease to use a steam-powered engine rather than horses. A new Act of Parliament was then required to accommodate the changes.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened on 27 September 1825. Here is what Joseph Tatlow, author of Fifty Years of Railway Life in England, Scotland and Ireland (available at Internet Archive), says about it. ‘The day brought an immense concourse of people to Darlington, all bent on seeing the novel spectacle of a train of carriages and wagons filled with passengers and goods, drawn along a railway by a steam engine. At eight o’clock in the morning the train started with its load - 22 vehicles - hauled by Stephenson’s ‘Locomotion’, driven by Stephenson himself. Such was its velocity that in some parts of the journey the speed was frequently 12 miles an hour. The number of passengers reached 450, and the goods and merchandise amounted to 90 tons - a great accomplishment, and George Stephenson and Edward Pease were proud men that day.’

Pease himself, however, did not attend the great event, since his son, Isaac, had died the day before. He and his wife Rachel Whitwell had had three other sons, two of whom became MPs. Pease himself, though, carried on doing good works in his retirement, supporting the anti-slavery movement, for example, and Elizabeth Fry’s prison reform campaign. He died on 31 July 1858. Further information is available form Wikipedia, Spartacus, Darlington Borough Council.

Pease seems to have kept a diary for much of his later life, although the only extant volumes date from 1838, when he was already in his 70s (earlier ones having been destroyed), and continue through to his 92nd year. It was to be half a century, though, before they were edited by his great grandfather, Sir Albert Pease, and published by Headley Brothers (1907) as The Diaries of Edward Pease, the Father of the English Railways. The book is freely available online at Internet Archive. Apart from the diaries, the volume contains detailed biographical sketches and lots of appendices with titles such as ‘A Quaker Wedding’, ‘Edward Pease’s Fruit Trees’, ‘A Labourer’s Letter on the Start of the First Railway’, and ‘Growth of the Port of Middlesborough’.

‘The journals,’ says Albert Pease in his Introductory Note, ‘are full of entries dealing with his spiritual state and self-examination. This manner of writings seems to have been the common practice in this and the preceding periods of Quakerism. [. . .] There are, however, in these diaries, touches of genuine human nature and allusions to matters of local or national interests that, I think, justify me in giving as much as appears in the following extracts. Without giving those entries which deal with the inmost working of his soul and with his most private feelings, it would impossible for those of his descendants who read these pages to get so true an impression of his character and of his life as I desire to give them.’

Here are several extracts.

30 March 1841
‘A day of great bustle and unsettlement from the opening of the Great North of England Railway. Twenty years ago these projects, or rather that from this coal district, was of much interest to my mind and its completion in 1825 may be said to have given birth to all others in this world. For the cause of humanity, at least, I believe them to be useful and being in the permission of infinite Wisdom hope they may not be wrong, but I desire to acknowledge with thankfulness that my mind is broken off or weaned from all new schemes.’

31 July 1841
‘Went to Southampton and had a welcome reception from my cousins, Rolles Driver and Sarah. Had to regret in this family a departure from simplicity in speech, furniture and attire. Whilst much of sincerity of desire may dwell in the bosoms of those who possess and do these things my belief is that the spirit of truth as lived in and obeyed, would do away with all connected with this part of the pride of life and so refine the spirit that its enjoyment would be, etc.’

24 September 1841
‘My dear daughter Sophia and her two girls, my dear Joseph and Emma with their four daughters and five sons, also dear Henry dined with me. When I looked round my table and beheld so many of my descendants so healthy and so happy my heart was filled with gratitude. The prayer of my spirit is that all these dear children may be preserved in simplicity, that they so walk in those principles and maintain those testimonies of the truth, that they experience the comfort and safety there is in them and the glorious hope which faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the revelation of his Spirit can give.’

15 November 1844
‘The Stockton and Darlington Railway are now opening some iron foundry works at Middlesbrough, and several Friends are about to be employed as managers and workmen so that the erection of a Meeting-house is spoken of, . . . Except the Lord, build, keep and watch the city, vain is all human effort.’

3 November 1845
‘Mournful account of the dreadful speculation that exists in Railway Shares. A young Friend (about twenty-three) of Bristol married about eight months ago, had so involved himself that in a fit of despair he leaves his bride and in a note tells her she shall never see him more, etc. . .

This day completes the forty-ninth year since my happy union with my long lost Love.’

17 September 1847
‘A very busy scene at the horticultural Show. I did not feel free to attend, as some of the nobility were expected, and I anticipated the exhibition of some unwise crouching to aristocracy, entirely at variance with the simplicity of Christ. All that I anticipated of mutual insincere flattery, so common among the great, and an uproar and various cheering was exhibited - the presence of my dear fellow professors does not entirely accord with my views of the narrow way.’

23 October 1857
‘I leave the record of this to me eventful and rather trying day until it is closed.

Noon. Called upon by twenty, mostly my fellow [townsmen ?] to present me with an address commending my early exertions respecting Railways and Engineering, also my Sons. While to be useful in our day and live in their esteem is to be gratified, yet the Address presented is quite too full and above all our services.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 31 July 2008.

The Diary Junction

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