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The Victorians and Edwardians on the Move – John Hannavy
“When the railways were introduced, scare stories suggested that traveling to fast in trains would cause breathing difficulties – a speed of 30 mph was even suggested as the maximum the human frame could withstand!”
On the Move is John Hannavy’s fifth book examining the daily lives of Victorians and Edwardians by studying the photos and postcards they left behind. It shares the same charm and affection for its subjects its predecessors.
Each chapter is dedicated to one of the forms of transportation of the era, starting with Shank’s Pony, which was a necessity for the poor and a luxury for the comfortable. There is a wonderful chapter on the advent of the bicycle, known as the bone-shaker or velocipede. So quickly did biking become popular with both sexes and all ages, very few towns in either Britain or the US were without an active cycling club.
Horses remained popular and beloved during this time, although they were moving in different directions – as sturdy dray animals, and as high-strung show pieces for the upper classes.
But more than any other form of transport, this was the era of the train. Rail changed the world, and nearly every aspect of life within it. Commerce was expanded, travel made affordable for all but the poorest, and communication could move at what before had been unimaginable speed.
(Of course, as with many technological advances, danger went hand in hand with progress. The first known death by train was in 1821 when a carpenter named Daniel Brook was using the tracks to find his way home in a blizzard.)
As with all of Hannavy’s books for Shire the story is in the images. Candid shots of people bustling through London workday. Groups from factories, churches, and schools dressed in their Sunday best as the go on excursions. Industrial photos used to advertise both business and progress itself. My personal favorite is on page 52 – a man standing in front of the ‘Great Shield’ used in the construction of an electric railway in 1906. Moved by both compressed air and hydraulics, it cut deep tunnels from 1890 on. The man wears a pale blue jacket and teal (!) pants, a proud figure, rather dwarfed by the rusty cavern created by the huge machine.
More romantic, and perhaps beautiful, are the boats and ships featured on pages 56 and 57. As the rails opened England and the US, sailing vessels opened the world.
“It was, arguably, the steamship which drove the nineteenth Century’s huge expansion in world trade, held the British Empire together…”
Cabs, trams, ferries, and canals all played their part in this deeply restless age. Perhaps the greatest symbol of this restlessness is the horseless carriage. Indeed, these clever ancestors even produced several electric cars, two of which claimed their machine could travel up to fifty miles before needing to recharge. Even Queen Victoria was reported to have not only owned one of these, but to have driven it herself upon occasion.
Finally, and of no little interest, there was air travel by both very early planes, and more than one type of balloon –
“Nulli Secundus [trans. Second to None], also known by the more prosaic name Dirigible No. 1, set off… on her first public appearance, flew over London, and circled St. Paul’s…” October 5, 1907.
The rest, as they don’t say, is the future.