London’s railway network stands out as one of the greatest achievements of the Victorian age for it was during the 19th century that much of the railway infrastructure still in use today was first established.

St-PancrasThe first railway line in London opened in February 1836 (six years after the UK’s first line opened) and ran between Spa Road in Bermondsey and Deptford on the south bank of the River Thames. The line was extended to London Bridge in December that same year and again to Greenwich, from cross-Channel steamers left – in April the following year.

That same year – 1837 – the station at Euston opened as the final stop for trains from Birmingham (an earlier terminus as Chalk Farm was deemed too far out). It was followed by Paddington in 1838, Fenchurch Street – the first permanent terminus in the City – in 1841, Waterloo in 1848 and King’s Cross in 1850.

Having seen a boom period during the 1840s, development of new lines took a back seat in the 1850s but resumed apace the following decade with the opening of Victoria Station, connecting the city to Brighton and Dover. Stations followed at Charing Cross, Ludgate Hill and Cannon Street and alongside the grand terminus’ around the outskirts of London where trains arriving from distant destinations arrived, numerous smaller railways began to be built, such as the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway and the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway, which took passengers on only short journeys across the city (these smaller railway companies all disappeared by 1923 when the 1921 Railways Act resulted in the creation of what are known as the “Big Four” British railway companies).

And, of course, the London Underground, has its first journey in 1863 but we’ll look at that in more detail next week.

Interesting to note that there were three classes of rail travel and while first and second class passengers had seats, this wasn’t always the case in third class where, writes Michael Paterson in Inside Dickens’ London, passengers, such as those on the Greenwich line, were initially forced to stand in open topped carriages known by some as ‘standipedes’.

Naturally, with the building of the railways came some spectacular stations – among the most spectacular is the late Victorian building which stood at the front of St Pancras Railway Station and housed the Midland Grand Hotel (pictured above). An exemplar of the Gothic Victorian style, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and, following a massive recent refurbishment, is now home to the five star Renaissance London Hotel and apartments.

We can, of course, only touch on the history of the railways in such a brief article – but we will be looking in more detail at some more specific elements of the system in later posts.

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• A new exhibition of the works of renowned music photographer Harry Hammond opens at the V&A this Saturday. Halfway to Paradise: The Birth of British Rock features more than 60 portraits, behind the scenes and performance shots showing stars including Roy Orbison, Ella Fitzgerald, Cliff Richard and Shirley Bassey. Hammond’s pictures, which are all drawn from the V&A collection, chronicle the jazz and big band musicians of the 1950s like Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, visits from American rock ‘n roll stars such as Little Richard and Gene Vincent and early British rock groups – such as the Animals and the Beatles (pictured with Dougie Millings) – of the 1960s. There will also be behind the scenes shots of some of the early days of music television in the 1950s and the exhibition will be accompanied by a soundtrack by the artists depicted. Born in the East End, Hammond was a society portrait photographer before serving as a reconnaissance photographer with the RAF in World War II. It was on his return to London after the war that he started photographing people working in the music business, later becoming one of the primary photographers for the New Musical Express (NME) magazine. Runs until 3rd March next year. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: V&A Images.

• Still on a musical theme and 1930s cabaret star Leslie Hutchinson (1900 – 1969) has been honored with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Chalk Farm. The singer and pianist, better known to many as simply ‘Hutch’, lived at 31 Steele’s Road between 1929 and 1967. The Grenada-born performer lived in New York and Paris before coming to London where he became one of the most popular cabaret performers of the 1930s – one of his signatures was apparently to arrive at nightclubs dressed like an aristocrat with a white piano strapped to his chauffeur-driven car (this was despite the racial prejudice he faced which saw him being asked to enter by the servant’s quarters when performing at some of Mayfair’s grandest homes). Hutch lived at the Steele’s Road property for almost all the years he lived in London, only leaving two years before his death in 1969. The plaque was unveiled by his daughter, Gabrielle Markes, who only discovered her parentage in middle age and who subsequently proposed that the plaque be placed on the house. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.

On Now: On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Manuscript Scroll. This new exhibition at the British Library centres on Kerouac’s 120-foot-long manuscript scroll of On the Road and explores the development of the novel which, written over a period of three weeks in April 1951 using rolls of taped together architect’s paper, came to define the Beat Generation. The exhibition, which relaunches the Library’s Folio Society Gallery, will show the first 50 feet of the scroll in a specially-designed case. Other exhibits include first editions of other Beat classics such as The Naked Lunch and sound recordings featuring the likes of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Runs until 27th December. Admission is free. For more, see www.bl.uk.

• The Museum of London is calling on Londoners to submit images showing “Roman influences in London today” as part of its forthcoming Our Londinium 2012 exhibition, a revamping of the museum’s Roman gallery. In what is the largest update made to the museum’s Roman gallery since it opened in 1994, the  reworked gallery looks at parallels between Roman London and the city today and features important Roman artifacts such as a bust of the Emperor Hadrian found on the Thames foreshore (part of the British Museum’s collection, this will be displayed for six months before being replaced by a replica) alongside modern objects such as the V for Vendetta masks worn by protestors in the Occupy movement. The exhibition is being co-curated by young people from Junction, the Museum of London’s youth panel, and they’re calling on people to submit their images showing how the city’s Roman past still resonates even today (see example pictured). For details on how to submit images via email of Flickr, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/ol2012map.

Secrets will be revealed, we’re promised, as part of the City of London’s Celebrate the City: four days in the Square Mile event to be held from 21st to 24th June. Events held in the City our the four days, many of which will be free, include a musical extravaganza to launch the event in Guildhall Yard as well as exhibitions, walks and talks, a chance to explore buildings like Livery Company Halls, the Bank of England and the Mansion House, family entertainment at the Cheapside Fayre and music and activities at sites across the Square Mile including the Barbican Centre, Museum of London and churches. We’ll have more to come on this. For now, head to www.visitthecity.co.uk/culture2012 for more information.

• Architectural historian and former director of the Sir John Soane Museum, Sir John Summerson, has been honored with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home  London’s north-west. Sir John (1904-1992) lived at the property at 1 Eton Villas in Chalk Farm for more than 40 years. He was the director of the Sir John Soane Museum from 1945 to 1984. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

• Architecture students are being invited to submit designs for a new stone seating area on the City thoroughfare of Cheapside. The winning student will work with trainee masons from the Cathedral Works Organisation and The Mason’s Company with the new seating area unveiled in October. For an application pack and full brief, see For an application pack and full brief, please contact Melanie Charalambous, Department of the Built Environment, City of London Corporation, PO Box 270, Guildhall, London, EC2P 2EJ or call 020 7332 3155 or email stonebench@cityoflondon.gov.uk.

• Now On: Journeys and kinship. This display at the Museum of London Docklands showcases the creative output of a community collaboration project which involved a group of young Londoners working with visual artist Jean Joseph, Caribbean Calypso musician Alexander D Great and Yvonne Wilson from training organisation Equi-Vision. The centrepiece of the exhibition – which explores themes highlighted in the museum’s permanent gallery, London, Sugar and Slavery, on the city’s involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade  – is an artwork by Joseph entitled Sales Over Centuries, 2010, which features plaster face casts of 42 people from the African diaspora who were born in or currently live in London. In response to it, the young Londoners have created their own works including face casts, music, film and photography. Runs until 4th November. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/.