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.

• 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.

Sixteen London Underground stations were this week listed as Grade II heritage buildings. The Tube stations – several of which were designed by Leslie Green, known for his pioneering use of ‘ox-blood’ red tiles on the exterior of stations to create a consistent brand for the stations – include the now-closed Aldwych (pictured) along with Oxford Circus (originally two stations), Covent Garden and Russell Square as well as Belsize Park, Brent Cross, Caledonian Road, Chalk Farm, Chesham, Perivale, Redbridge, St John’s Wood, West Acton and Wood Green. Three other stations – Arnos Grove, Oakwood and Sudbury Town – have had their status upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*. These three were all designed by modernist architect Charles Holden for the extension of the Piccadilly Line in the 1930s. The new listings were made by Tourism and Heritage Minister John Penrose on the advice of English Heritage.

A new permanent exhibition showing would-be sailors what it is like to fight at sea opens at the HMS Belfast this weekend. Gun Turret Experience: A Sailor’s Story, 1943, is an immersive experience using lights, imagery, sound, smoke effects, movement and smell to recreate the atmosphere and conditions of a gun turret tower when a crew was at battle stations. Visitors are encouraged to follow the story of a young sailor on Boxing Day, 1943 when the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst is sighted leading to the Battle of the North Cape. The Gun Turret Experience, housed within the original triple gun turrets overlooking the quarterdeck, was developed with the help of Royal Navy veterans and eye-witness accounts from the Imperial War Museum (of which the HMS Belfast is part). Entry is included in normal admission price. For more information, see www.hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk.

• Now On: See the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore when she was married to Prince William in April at this year’s summer opening at Buckingham Palace. The gown, which features a nine foot long train, will be displayed along with the Halo Tiara until 3rd October in the palace ballroom (the same room used for the newly married couple’s reception). The exhibition features video footage of designer Sarah Burton, explaining how the dress was made. This year’s summer opening also features a display of the work of Carl Faberge – including his magnificent jewel-encrusted Imperial Easter Eggs as well as bejewelled boxes and miniature carvings of favorite pets of the royal family. More than half a million people are expected to visit the exhibition. For more information, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=30