Fresh from the success of designing The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (see our earlier post here), in 1855 Sir Joseph Paxton came up with the idea of building a covered elevated railway “girdle” which would circle parts of central and west London and alleviate traffic congestion.

Great-Victorian-WayThe proposed 10 mile long, eight track railway – which would feature trains propelled by air pressure (an “atmospheric” system) rather than conventional steam engines and included  “express” trains which would only stop at select stations – was to be constructed inside a vast, 108 foot high glass covered arcade which would also contain a road, shopping and even housing.

The trains would travel at such a speed that to get from any one point on the “girdle” to its opposite point would only take 15 minutes.

Paxton presented his proposal to a Parliamentary Select Committee in June 1855 – he had already shown it to Prince Albert whom, he said, “gives it his approval”.

He estimated the cost of his proposal – which he thought would carry some 105,000 passengers every day – at some £34 million – a figure which parliament, which had initially been supportive of the idea, found a little hard to stomach.

This was especially thanks to the fact they were already dealing with the costs of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s vast sewer system (see our earlier post here), created as a result of the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858 when the smell of untreated human excrement and other waste in the Thames became so strong, parliament had to act.

As a result, the project – which would have crossed the Thames three times, once with a spur line that ended near Piccadilly Circus – never eventuated but the Underground’s Circle Line today follows roughly the same route Paxton’s railway would have.

Advertisements

Canaletto’s image of Greenwich Hospital from the north bank of the Thames (1750-52) is among almost 400 paintings, manuscripts and objects selected to be part of the National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition, Royal River: Power, Pageantry & The Thames.

Curated by historian David Starkey, the exhibition, part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, focuses on the use of the river across five centuries covering events including Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession and Admiral Lord Nelson’s stately funeral through to the evolving Lord Mayor’s pageant and the ‘Great Stink’ of the mid-1800s.

Highlights include the oldest known copy of Handel’s Water Music, the sixteenth century Pearl Sword (which the monarch must touch on entering the City of London), a stuffed swan, treasures from the City’s livery companies, and another Canaletto work – this time his famous view of the river filled with boats getting ready for the Lord Mayor’s Day, seen as an inspiration for this year’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant and on show in the UK for the first time since its completion.

As well as celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, the exhibition also marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the National Maritime Museum by King George VI on 27th April, 1937. The king’s speech from that day and his Admiral of the Fleet uniform also feature in the exhibition.

WHERE: National Maritime Museum Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark); WHEN: Daily 10am to 5pm (opening times may vary during the Paralympic and Olympic Games) until 9th September; COST: £11 adult/£9 concession/family ticket £24.50; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk.

PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London