James Drake: The London and Birmingham Railway

In 1838 James Drake, a Birmingham printer, published his first “Road Book” of the Grand Junction Railway, which connected Birmingham to the Liverpool-Manchester Railway. The book was a great success and quickly went into a second printing. Thus emboldened, Drake produced a similar volume for the London and Birmingham Railway in the following year.
Travel guides were not new, but the speed and relative cheapness of railway travel quickly opened up a new demand.  George Bradshaw, the Manchester cartographer, had a similar idea at this time and his guides and timetables became more famous.
Drake’s technique is to describe the scenery and the outlying villages as he journeys from London to Birmingham and throw in a few interesting facts. It is still a rural world he sees. Newport Pagnell, with a population of 3,385, is by far the largest town in North Bucks.
He makes assumptions about his readership that could not be made today. There are several allusions in the text that assume a classical education and a knowledge about history, literature and religion. I have provided footnotes to explain where I can.

Here follows the Wolverton section, describing in 1839 an entirely new phenomenon.

THIS being the central, and consequently the most important station between London and Birmingham, the buildings connected with it are on a scale of unparalleled magnificence. In addition to the loco­motive engine house on the left, where these immense machines are manufactured, repaired, and kept in store, there is an extensive depot for goods on the right, and an area of several acres set apart for the re­ception of cattle. The style of architecture chiefly employed is the Doric; the beautiful simplicity of which harmonises well with the character of the build­ings. But no useless ornament is employed: all is simple, grand, and imposing. Those passengers who wish to take some refreshment after a ride of fifty-two miles, have here ten minutes allowed them for that purpose. The town of Wolverton, hitherto unnoticed on the map of Great Britain, is now rapidly rising into importance; houses are springing up on every side, streets are being laid out, and a large and busy popu­lation is rapidly gathering; whilst its fame as the birth­place of English fire steeds is spreading through the civilized world. Previously to the commencement of the railway, it contained only 417 inhabitants; but now, the railway company alone give direct employ­ment to nearly a thousand hands.
This station will be found the most favourable for travellers proceeding to the towns of Stoney Stratford, Buckingham, Newport Pagnel, and Olney. The first of these places stands on the banks of the Ouse, one mile south-east of the station, and contains 1,700 inhabitants. It is celebrated in English history as having been the place where Richard III., when Duke of Gloucester, seized Edward V. It has suffered greatly from accidental fires, 53 houses having been burned to the ground in 1736, and 113 in 1742. Prior to the introduction of waggons, it was a noted place of rendezvous for pack horses conveying goods to London, and the traffic through it is still very great.
Eight miles south-west of Stoney Stratford, is the ancient county town of Buckingham. Respecting the derivation of its name, etymologists differ widely; but it appears most probable that the Saxon Bucca, which signifies a stag, lies at the root, since, in the early ages, the neighbourhood abounded with forests when stocked with deer. It is pleasantly situated on the river Ouse, which nearly encompasses the town, and is crossed by three stone bridges. The trade chiefly consists in the sorting of wool, the tanning of leather, and the manufacture of lace. The church stands on the site of an ancient baronial castle. It is a hand­some structure, with a square embattled tower, and is internally elegantly fitted up in the Grecian style of architecture. Two miles west of Buckingham is Stowe Park, the magnificent seat of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The mansion was originally built by Sir Richard Temple, K.B., who died in 1697; it was enlarged by his son, Lord Cobham, and was brought to its present state of unrivalled magnificence by the late Marquis of Buckingham. The gardens or pleasure grounds of Stowe are more celebrated than even the mansion itself: they comprehend a space of more than 500 acres; and contain a broad lake, a beautiful cascade, and a noble monument to Lord Cobham; together with a profusion of statues, temples, and every species of architectural adornment. A building in the flower gardens contains the mineralogical and geolo­gical collections of the Abbe Hauy[1] and an immense number of specimens in every branch of natural history collected by the Duke of Buckingham,
Newport Pagnell is a well built market town, lying six miles north-east of the station, and containing 3,385 inhabitants. The latter part of its name is derived from the family of Paganell, to whom the manor descended from the powerful baron, William Fitzansculf, who held it at the time of the conquest. The church stands on an eminence which affords a fine prospect of the surrounding county; and in the churchyard may be seen the beautiful epitaph, written by Cowper, on Thomas Abbott Hamilton.
The other town which we mentioned as lying at a convenient distance from the Wolverton station, was that of Olney. This town lies ten miles north-east from the station, and, in common with the two last mentioned places, stands on the banks of the Ouse. It has a population 2,418. The bridge over the Ouse is a handsome structure, consisting of five large arches, and two smaller ones. In the church, which is a large and ancient edifice, an unusually large number of celebrated literary personages have regularly officiated; amongst whom we may notice Moses Browne,[2] author of Piscatory Eclogues; John Newton,[3] the popular preacher and writer; Thomas Scott, the celebrated biblical commentator; and Henry Gauntlett,[4] who wrote on the Apocalypse. Of all the great names, however, that are associated with Olney, there is none which recalls so many pleasing remembrances as that of the poet Cowper.[5] It was to this place that he retired to seclude himself from intercourse with a world, the rude gaze of which was alone sufficient to frighten his timid spirit; and here, under the pastoral care of the Rev. John Newton, referred to above, he was in some measure relieved from that deep religious despondency into which he had fallen, and was enabled to form truer conceptions of that Divine system of religion which professes to be to all mankind glad tidings of great joy. Should our traveller be visiting Olney, we would sincerely recommend him to pay a visit to the house and garden of this amiable poet; and if he has ever dropped a tear on the grave of Byron’s dog, in Newstead Abbey, perhaps he may not he unwilling to bestow the same tribute of sympathy on Cowper’s hare, in his garden at Olney; for, although Puss may not perhaps have been bewailed in elegiac strains quite so pathetic as those inscribed on Boatswain’s tomb,[6] yet her memory, also, is preserved in immortal verse, and future ages will hear of her inno­cent attempts to divert the melancholy of her sorrowful master.
UPON leaving Wolverton station, we behold directly before us the lofty steeple of Hanslope church, which, in point of conspicuousness, may almost vie with that of Harrow church. The delightful prospect which is now unfolded before us in every direction, includes Brad­well Wharf, Linford, and Mill Mead, on the right, and the village of Wolverton on the left. After crossing the Grand Junction Canal by a handsome iron bridge, and the Newport Pagnell and Stratford road by one of a more ordinary description, we arrive at the stupendous viaduct over the Ouse valley. This magnificent struc­ture consists of six arches of sixty feet span, besides six smaller ones placed in the abutments; and, to a spectator in the valley below, presents a most noble appearance. The view of the surrounding country, from the viaduct, is also exceedingly interesting. That on the right is thus beautifully described by a hand more graphic than ours :_
            ” Here Ouse, slow winding through a level plain
            Of spacious meads with cattle sprinkled o’er,
            Conducts the eye along his sinuous course
            Delighted. There, fast rooted in their bank,
            Stand, never overlooked our favourite elms,
            That screen the herdsman’s solitary hut;
            While far beyond and overthwart the stream,
            That, as with molten glass, inlays the vale,
            The sloping land recedes into the clouds;
            Displaying on its varied side the grace
            Of hedge-row beauties numberless, square tower,
            Tall spire, from which the sound of cheerful bells
            Just undulates upon the listening ear,
            Groves, heaths, and smoking villages remote.”
One could almost imagine that the poet had written these lines while leaning on the parapet of the viaduct, and viewing the distant spire of Haversham church, and the pretty cottages of Mead Mill. On the left the scenery is not less interesting. There also-
            The Ouse, dividing the well-watered land,
            Now glitters in the sun, and now retires
            As bashful, yet impatient to be seen.
And not far distant is the stupendous embankment and cast iron viaduct by which the Grand Junction Canal is carried over the valley; the towers of the two churches at Stoney Stratford rise above the viaduct; Wolverton is seen among the rich foliage on the ex­treme left; whilst the village of Cosgrove appears a little more in advance, and Castle Thorp in the distance. After the termination of the Wolverton embankment, we pass through a short cutting; and then proceed along another embankment, through some finely wooded country, with a fertile valley on the left, and the village of Hanslope, with its lofty church spire, which now appears to the greatest advantage on the right.

[1] 18th century French priest and scientist (1743-1822) who became attracted to the study of mineralogy and determined the laws of crystallization.
[2] Church of England priest and writer, 1704-1787. He was appointed vicar of Olney in 1753, although he held other stipends.
[3] John Newton (1725-1807) was a former slave trader who converted to evangelical Christianity in the mid century. He was appointed Curate at Olney while Browne was managing his other benefices.
[4] Henry Gauntlett  was curate at Olney (1811-15) and vicar (1815-34). He was succeeded by his son, also Henry (1805-1876) who was a well known hymn writer.
[5] William Cowper (1731-1800) was one of the most popular poets of his day, although his reputation has faded since the 19th century.
[6] Byron’s dog.
[7] From “The Task” by William Cowper