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No. 16.-OCTOBER 1, 1832.-Vol. IV.
THE LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM RAILWAY.
We look upon the Rail-road as one of those grand applications of science to the practical concerns of life, which exert a decided and lasting influence upon the general welfare of the community. If we were called upon lo express in one word all the benefits which are to be expected from such an improvement, we should say, that word was--concentration. Few persons who have at all reflected upon the workings of civilized society, and the mode whereby its individual members are made to partake of the various enjoyments which it produces, will hesitate, at once, to allow that the machinery by which all this good is effected, consists, to express it generally, in an universal co-operation, a mutual interchange, of the produce of each man's bodily labour and of each man's mental thought; and looking to experience, it will be found, that a country is prosperous and powerful precisely in proportion as this interchange of labour and knowledge is unrestricted. But the intercommunication which we speak of will be obviously greater or less as men happen to be near to or distant from one another; and upon these plain truths we found our expectations of the great advantages of the Railway, when established generally throughout the country ; since, by diminishing more than one half the time now required to go from one place to another, it will virtually reduce the present distances between all places within its limits in the same proportion. Its advantages, however, do not rest here: not only does it, as we have observed, in effect bring more than halfway closer together all places which it connects, but, at the same time, it affords a power greater than any
hitherto employed, for the transportation of commodities, of whatever bulk or weight, without any sensible abatement of speed. To obtain an accurate idea of its advantages, therefore, it is necessary to keep this combination of properties in view; speed, namely,
more than double that hitherto known, joined to an unlimited power, at least for all practical purposes, of carrying along all bodies whether heavy or light. The extent to which such powers may be applied in the concerns of a country like this, is positively incalculable. We will state a few instances, furnished from the experience of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which, as our readers well know, has been in active operation only since Sept. 1830, and runs but a distance of thirty miles. That distance is traversed in an hour and a half on the average, the extreme time consumed being two hours, whilst on several urgent occasions a single hour has sufficed. For example: a regiment of soldiers with their baggage, proceeding to Ireland, has been launched on the Railway at Manchester, and two hours thereafter they were engaged in the act of embarking on board the transport that shipped them across the Irish Sea. Again, on the occasion of the late elections, voters have been sent for to Manchester from Liverpool, and been conveyed to the latter place within the space of įtwo hours, reckoning to and fro. It is now common for traders to start in the morning from Liverpool or Manchester, transact their business at either place of destination, and return back to their respective houses, with ease, in the compass of a forenoon. These examples may suffice to form an idea of the speed and saving of time which may be realized in practice upon the Railway; and we must not omit to state, that at the same time the fares of passengers are reduced one half; and if we add to this saving the gains which doublespeed must obviously bring with it in a variety of ways, it is most probable, that Railway travelling will be effected in less than half the time and at one third of the cost of the present mode. The great increase of communication between the people which will infallibly ensue upon such increased facilities of travelling, will, according to our views, eventually afford the chief benefits to be hoped for from the Railway; but they are, perhaps, not so obvious nor immediate as the commercial advantages which take place at once, in the shape of a calculable per centage of profit. Thus, for instance, the carriage of cotton, the chief article of commerce passing from Liverpool to Manchester, has been reduced one third, and a saving has by that means been effected to the manufacturers of Manchester, within the short period the Railway has been worked, of £20,000 per annum; some individual houses having saved £ 500 per annum in carriage alone.*
These facts are striking enough in themselves, but the short run of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and the peculiar kind of traffic to which it is subservient, chiefly the supply of the
* Our facts are taken from the evidence brought before the Lords' committee, on the London and Birmingham Railway Bill.
raw material to the Manchester manufacturers, cannot possibly furnish the requisite variety of facts, to enable us to form a positive judgment upon the capabilities of a more inland and extensive track of road, running through or near some of the richest counties in England, and connecting one of our first manufacturing towns with the metropolis. We, of course, allude to the projected London and Birmingham Railway. Here, more extended facts and inferences must be called in. Every one knows that the chief manufactures of the coarser kinds of hardware in the kingdom are got up in Birmingham and its immediate neighbourhood, and that they form a principal article of our foreign commerce; but it may not perhaps be so generally known, that the Port of London is the great outlet for those articles. This it is that renders a speedy and certain communication between London and Birmingham so invaluable both to the manufacturer and the merchant. The increasing competition of manufactures abroad, added to the numerous restrictions which foreign governments have imposed upon our trade in most parts of the continent, and more particularly in Germany, have had the effect of cramping our foreign commerce very considerably of late years, and in no branch more so than in that of Birmingham and Sheffield wares; still British energy has in this, as in most enterprises, availed itself of the utmost of the means at its command, and has made dispatch in the delivery of goods, joined to superior excellency of workmanship, in some degree, counteract the obstacles we have adverted to, as well as others of a more general nature: but the superiority which our merchants thus attain depends upon their keeping up this race of competition, so to speak; for any temporary flagging would most likely take the game irrecoverably out of their hands, at least, under the existing system of trade. Now dispatch, as we have intimated, is essential to the success of our continental trade, or even to its retaining its actual position, which is at present a very precarious matter. To cite an example of what frequently occurs : —the London merchant receives from his correspondent abroad, an order to ship a certain assortment of goods for Portugal, Spain, or the Baltic, as the case may be; in order to reach their destination within the appointed time, they must be put on board some particular ship, and for that purpose, they must be ready for shipment by some fixed day at the latest; the merchant, calculating on ordinary chances, and finding the order a profitable one, engages himself to execute it by the time prescribed, and, it may be, contracts with the shipowner for its freight; at the same time, he sends down directions to Birmingham and Sheffield for the procural and speedy transmission of the goods. The goods, we will suppose, are too bulky and heavy to admit of their being sent either by coach or waggon, which is mostly the case. They must, therefore, travel by canal, and are liable to some one or other of the following mischances :
the canal may be under repair, of which no notice has been received; or some accidental stoppage may occur to the navigation, to which, from its being confined in one narrow undeviable track, it is of course peculiarly liable; or it may happen to be cleansing time at some part of the line, which is a necessary operation at stated periods; or lastly, in the winter season, the canal may be suddenly frozen. Any of these impediments, and one or other of them is by no means of rare occurrence, lays an embargo upon the order of greater or less duration : in the meanwhile, the vessel, which is chartered for some certain day at the the latest, must set sail on that day whether the goods arrive or no; the foreign correspondent is disappointed and disgusted; the ship-owner comes upon the luckless merchant for the freight which he has contracted to pay, who, after all this loss, has at last the satisfaction of seeing the goods arrive to lumber up his warehouse until he can get rid of them, very probably not without a further loss. These untoward events happen quite often enough to throw a damp upon trade; but see how easily and completely they would be obviated by the Rail-road. The merchant, as soon as he had read his order, which for the sake of illustration we will suppose of an urgent nature, would have but to throw himself or his travelling-clerk upon the next locomotive, and six hours thereafter he might be at Birmingham, issuing the requisite orders for the making up of the assortment; in most cases, he might at once calculate to within half a day, and that an early one, the time of the arrival of the goods on the wharf ready for shipment; and that done, he might quietly return to his counting-house the next morning.–But it would be ridiculous to display a laboured argument on the advantages which a rapid and powerful transportation of commodities must impart to the Birmingham or any other trade, whether for the purposes of foreign or inland consumption; they may be summed upin two words, despatch and certainty combined; and no man capable of thinking on the subject will refuse his assent to their important nature.
Of all branches of commerce, however, or to avoid any obscurity of phrase, we will say of mutual interchange of productions amongst the people, the supply of food is undeniably the most important, in comparison with all others; it is, as regards the great bulk of the community, like the end to the means. In this quarter the rail-road will do inestimable good. At present the inhabitants of England, of all classes and descriptions, are bound by act of parliament to get their meals from some place or other within the four corners of Great Britain; at least, if they order any thing from beyond its limits, they must pay an exorbitant score for their entertainment. And a good enough ordinary too! we have heard many say. They forget, or they do not choose to reflect, that the abundance or scantiness of a feast depends not alone on the number of dishes on the table,
but also on the eaters, or would-be eaters, who sit around it. Now, here we do not mean to say but that the dinner by itself is a very good dinner, but then the guests are not a few. And somehow it happens, that, after those at the head of the table have been helped, little enough remains for those unfortunates who sit at the bottom. This is a state of things which, in our days, cannot last long without earnest efforts being made to alter it for the better. What the
proper remedies to meet the causes of the evil in its fullest extent may be, and how they should be applied or graduated, are questions which must be grappled with before long, but which do not fall within the direct scope of our subject, and we are not inclined to go out of our way at present to discuss them. Suffice it to say, that the distress of the lower orders which we have adverted to, and which unfortunately is so notorious as to be beyond controversy, must eventually, if curable at all, be removed or mitigated by means aiming at one or both of the two following results: either there must be increased means of subsistence placed within the reach of our labouring classes at home, or they must betake themselves to other countries, where those means are certain and plentiful. Now, the railway will be a grand available instrument in both
To take a fair view of this part of the subject, we must not confine our speculations within the limits of the intended Birmingham Railway, but we must anticipate the time which, as we are sanguine enough to believe, will, before many years arrive, when rail-roads will be carried through the heart of the manufacturing districts, connecting them with our great agricultural and pasturing counties. Whenever this shall take place, provisions of all kinds will be nearly as cheap at any point of the line of road as at the place where they are produced or reared. At the same time, the reciprocal benefits to the land owners and land cultivators will be immense. No one needs to be told that provisions are, almost without exception, bulky and quickly spoilt. At present, their bulk renders a rapid carriage impracticable from its cost, whilst a slow one, by spoiling most articles, would be only a mode of throwing them away. To the driving of cattle, sheep, or pigs, indeed these impediments do not apply in the same shape, but they do in another. When fatted, they can only be driven a limited number of miles, and that at a considerable expense, and with very great loss of weight and deterioration of quality. It will hardly be believed that the mere loss of animal substance from the cattle and sheep alone driven to Smithfield market, expressed in money, exceeds the annual sum of £600,000 !
Now the rail-road possesses precisely the properties required to supply the foregoing deficiencies. Upon it all bulky and unwieldy bodies may be conveyed with nearly equal facility and speed as the lightest. Any number of oxen, calves, sheep, or