An immutable law of nature has decreed that whatever attains to
perfection is doomed to perish, for

“The world exists by change, and but for that
All matter would to chaos back,
To form a pillow for a sleeping god.”

Thus it came to pass that in the period 1825 to 1835, when the main
roads of Great Britain were at their best, when the then mode of
travelling, though on a limited scale, had, as regards speed,
punctuality, and organisation, reached the highest possible pitch of
perfection, a little cloud like a man’s hand, presaging the new order of
locomotion, arose at the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway,
and overshadowed the old method. So effective was the competition of the
“iron horse,” that in lieu of the fifty-four splendidly equipped
vehicles which in 1835 carried His Majesty’s mails throughout England,
not a single coach left the General Post Office, St. Martin’s-le-Grand,
in the year 1844; while the kings highways had become almost deserted.

Though this was barely sixty years ago, railways have evolved themselves
out of their embryonic state into a condition approaching the fateful
one of perfect development.

In early days, first-class passengers were boxed up in replicas of old
stage-coaches, the second-class in open carriages exposed to the
weather, and the third-class huddled together in seatless cattle-trucks.
Contrast this with our luxurious Pullmans, and our corridor and
vestibule trains for all classes, warmed throughout, lighted by
electricity, and provided with lavatories, dining-saloons, buffets, and
sleeping-cars. “With what further improvements can we allure the
public?” ask anxious directors. One answer only is possible. “By
bringing the mode of locomotion up to date.”

This means, in the case of old-established railway companies, a complete
and costly transformation, or an independent mono-rail track for long
distances; under any circumstances entailing much hardship upon the
shareholders. For at the moment when railway-engineers–improving so
vastly upon George Stephenson’s venerable engine,[1] built in 1822, and
still at work for the Hutton Colliery, its weight only fifteen tons, its
speed ten miles an hour–have constructed such magnificent locomotives
as the “Greater Britain” for the London and North


Western Railway, or the ten-wheeled giant[2] for the Great Northern
Railway, fifty-seven feet over all, weighing 100 tons, and capable of
reeling off its 65 miles an hour with ease, electricity steps into the
field, displaces the stately engine–resplendent in red, blue, green, or
chocolate paint, glossy as the coat of some highly trained racehorse,
and gleaming with polished brass and steel, finished in all its parts
with exquisite accuracy, the very embodiment of energy under perfect
control–and from some unpretentious-looking building afar off, drives
our trains with unseen but resistless force, at the rate, if desired, of
a hundred miles an hour!

The construction of an ordinary steam locomotive is an intricate
operation, necessitating machine-shops, erecting-shops, foundries,
forges, etc., covering acres of ground, as at Crewe, Doncaster, Derby,
or Swindon. Not a hundred engines are exactly alike in pattern, and each
one is supposed to be composed of over five thousand different parts,
all of which have to be stowed away in a necessarily limited space.

“How is steam utilised by the locomotive?” is a question asked again and
again (and not by children only) ever since Stephenson’s engine started
on its triumphant progress from Stockton to Darlington and back, and
which, I venture to affirm, only a small percentage of travellers, even
in 1903, can answer “right away,” as our American cousins would express

Briefly, then, as follows: Raised up on high is the mighty boiler.
Remove its plates, and running through its entire length will be seen a
cluster of some two or three hundred brass tubes, in diameter that of a
penny-piece. At the rear of the boiler, on a lower level, is the fuel
fire-box, with its grate and ash-pan, while in front is the smoke-box,
surmounted by the familiar chimney or funnel, called in the United
States the “smoke-stack,” in British engines reduced to a minimum of
height. Water from the tender surrounds the brass tubes, and when the
fire is burning, flames, smoke, and heated gases rush through them,
escaping _viâ_ the chimney, but in their passage converting the boiling
water into expanding steam, which, when the regulator is opened, is
directed by valves into the hollow cylinders–sometimes placed below the
boiler, but generally visible outside–forcing by its pressure the
pistons backwards and forwards alternately, and, by means of
intermediate machinery, transferring its energy to the driving-wheels.

The exhausted steam, after accomplishing its work, joins the smoke in
the smoke-box, escaping up the funnel by jerks, which creates a forced
draught through the brass boiler-tubes, and hastens the generation of


Contrast this with electricity, the definition of whose exact nature is
a task I must of necessity leave to others, but its adaptation to the
purposes of traction can be thus broadly explained:–

Dynamos or generators are situated at some fixed station, more or less
distant, generating electrical energy, whence the current is transmitted
along a central steel rail, or, in the case of some tramways, _viâ_
overhead wires, returning to its place of birth by another rail or
cable, and completing its circuit. It is “picked up” by a small
locomotive fitted with motors that work the driving-mechanism, and thus
propels the coaches or cars behind it at varying speeds.

The rotation of the dynamos is effected either by a torrent, waterfall,
or swift-flowing river, absorbed by turbines, or by steam supplied from
ordinary boilers.

In other words, we convert our water and coal into steam, and,
indirectly, the heat in the steam into electrical energy; and the heavy
locomotive that used to carry its own fuel, and manufacture its steam as
it tore along with the train behind it, now leaves tender and boiler at
home, and has its driving power, in the form of electric current,
forwarded to it per centre rail, to be drawn upon when wanted.

The system is beautifully simple, and the machinery compact and
uncomplicated. Smoke defilement is unknown, and the trains are
comparatively noiseless. In short, electric traction is the refinement
of mechanically applied power.

Now let us visit an electrical power station–a small one–and I have in
my mind that of the Waterloo and City Electric Railway.

Hidden away behind a bewildering labyrinth of railway arches, in a
_cul-de-sac_, approached from a back street, not a hundred miles from a
great railway station, is a plain, very plain brick building, wherein,
for aught one knows to the contrary, such prosaic articles as pots and
pans, or cardboard boxes, may be in course of manufacture. Pass through
a door, always on the swing, and an unpretending office is reached,
furnished in the usual manner, and occupied by clerks engaged upon the
ordinary duties of their vocation.

Access to the engineer-in-chief being granted, he courteously conducts
us to the power room, whence issues the energy that drives the trains.

Imagination had pictured a great hall, filled with ponderous machinery
whose component parts are cranks, steel rods, shafts, and toothed
wheels, a wilderness of metal, moving with bewildering rapidity and
thunderous power, in an atmosphere redolent of lubricating oil, a vision
of whirling wheels, an Ezekiel vision of wheels in the midst of wheels,
instinct with life, such as the prophet saw 600 years B.C., by the River
Chebar, in the land of the Chaldean.


_By permission of_ _Willans and Robinson, Ltd., Rugby_]

Nothing of the kind! One portion of a moderate-sized apartment is
devoted to the “fitting” of the motor locomotives, and at the other end,
enclosed within a low railing, resting upon a bed of great solidity,
and occupying but little space, is the machinery in duplicate, as a
safeguard against breakdowns.

It consists of a vertical compound engine, supplied with steam from an
adjoining boiler-house, whose cylinder is coupled direct to the
fly-wheels of the revolving dynamos that are partly sunk into the
flooring. These, with their electro-magnets, are so shut in, and so
little can be seen of the working, that it all looks very mysterious and
incomprehensible to the uninitiated.

In large power-producing machinery an iron staircase leads up to a
platform above the dynamos, giving access to the loftier parts of the
apparatus, which then, in its general appearance and compactness,
somewhat resembles a modern marine engine. On the walls are endless
dials, recording the amount of current generated, localising the exact
position of the trains on the line at any given moment, and checking the
quantity of current picked up by each engine. There is absolutely no
smell, no outward indication of resistless power, while almost Arcadian
quiet reigns in the neighbourhood of the machines.

That these small dynamos are capable of driving heavy cars filled with
passengers at the rate of many miles an hour seems incredible; but
faith, “the evidence of things not seen,” must come into play.

The craving for mere size, however, will be amply gratified when the
great power house at Chelsea, built to supply the Metropolitan,
District, and other railways, is completed (_vide_ Chapter V.).

But what on earth is a kilowatt, or a volt, an ohm, or an
ampère?–expressions that are rapidly becoming as familiar as the word

Well, “horse-power” was a term invented long ago by engineers, who
blandly asked one to imagine that an ordinary horse was capable of
lifting a weight of 33,000 lbs. (or some 14½ tons) one foot high per
minute. Now, electricity is a very exact science. There is no mere
theory about it; and a unit is a definite quantity of power, known in
that science as a “kilowatt hour.” Thus, a kilowatt, or 1,000 watts, is
the equivalent in measured work of 1⅓ horse-power, equal to the lifting
of 44,000 lbs. per minute, or the doing of so many units of work, either
electric lighting, heating, machinery driving, or traction.


Electricity as a locomotive force is being presented to the public in
various forms. There is the ordinary railway, like the Underground,
that, cleansing itself, amending its ways, and becoming converted to the
new order of traction, has been granted a new lease of life. Then there
are new lines laid down, intended from the first to be electrical, with
specially designed cars, diving beneath the Thames, and connecting the
north and south of London. These are our metropolitan pioneer electric
railways. There is also the system of railways specifically and
popularly known as Tubes, most important factors in the travelling world
of modern Babylon. Another division is the system known as Overhead
Electric Railways; that is to say, rails laid upon iron girders
supported by columns above the roadway, a notable example of which is
the Liverpool Overhead Electric Railway.

Electric tramways are with us in Greater London for good and all, with
their network of lines in every direction. Some are locally worked by
the various Borough Councils; others on a comprehensive scale by the
London County Council, who now strongly advocate also another system,
the Shallow-Underground, by which the cars run in a kind of open trench
just below the surface in the middle of the street.

Next we have endless provincial and urban council electric tramways,
including some very extensive systems for feeding the enormous traffic
of cities and large towns in the Midlands and North of England.

Electric Light Railways, originally intended to be worked on rails laid
down upon the ordinary highway, form a special class by themselves to
serve short-distance traffic in country districts; but to all intents
and purposes they are rural electric trams.

Lastly, we have motor-cars, carriages, omnibuses, cabs, vans, and
cycles, that with electricity as their means of propulsion, will
possibly ere long supersede every other form of traffic in our streets
and along our roads and lanes.

To individualise these various outcomes of electrical traction spread
over the length and breadth of Great Britain is impossible. Their names
and their statistics are enrolled in _Garcke’s Manual of Electrical
Undertakings_, a work that, like _Kelly’s London Directory_, grows
bigger and bigger every year.

I propose, therefore, only to notice some of the principal ones; and,
naturally, the pioneer railway lines should have the place of honour.

“A worthy pioneer.”–SHAKESPEARE.


In the month of March, 1883, by the opening of the Giant’s Causeway,
Portrush, and Bush Valley Railway, the sister island achieved the honour
and glory of showing the way to the “predominant partner” in the matter
of electrical traction enterprise; winning, however, only by a head, for
in August of the same year the Brighton Beach Electric Railway was

Who amongst us can say they know Ireland well? To the average tourist it
still remains an unexplored country. The travelling American, however,
as a rule, does it from end to end. Commencing with Dublin, “doing”
Killarney, and working round the magnificent west coast, he returns
_viâ_ the North Channel, always taking _en route_ on the coast of Antrim
the Giant’s Causeway, thundered upon by storms from the wild Atlantic.
There, almost within hail of Britain, are those strange groups of
basaltic columns so familiar to geological students, intensely
interesting, invested with many an old and mystic Celtic legend, yet
until recently difficult of access, as other striking regions in
Ireland–an island abounding not only in awe-inspiring scenery, but in
sequestered spots of sylvan beauty; a fair land of mountains and hills,
lakes and waterfalls, crystal streams, and splendid harbours; truly
called the Emerald Isle; where the grass is greenest, and rare coniferæ
flourish; where the myrtle needs no shelter, and the arbutus blooms and
fruits to perfection, and flowers are everywhere, for every little
enclosure in due season glows with the brightest of flax and potato
blossom; and lanes and open country are gay with star-like marigolds,
shamrock, violets, honeysuckle, meadowsweet, catsear, scabious, large
purple bugle, and such-like lowly but welcome plants.

[Illustration: FIG. 3. THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY.

_By permission of_ _Thos. Cook and Son, Ludgate Circus_]

From Portrush it is easy to reach the Causeway, though once there, one
often has to wait for favourable weather before proceeding to explore
its cavernous wonders by water.

The present length of the railway is 8½ miles of single line, its gauge
being 3 feet. It is worked partly by steam and partly by electricity on
the overhead system, the current being derived from a generating station
three-quarters of a mile away, where three hydraulic turbines, fed by an
adjoining waterfall, operate the dynamo. Although the railway is out of
the way and on a small scale, the attractions of the Causeway and the
surrounding district result in a respectable passenger traffic of over a
hundred thousand per annum.


Under the sanction of the Brighton Town Council, the Magnus Volk Co.,
Ltd., now work the Brighton Beach Electric Tram-railway, which at its
opening was regarded as a great novelty and curiosity, constituting an
additional attraction and amusement to “London by the sea,” and tens of
thousands must have taken a ride in its little open cars since it came
into existence twenty years ago. The gauge is but 2 feet 8½ inches, the
“feeders” are underground, the propelling system is electric, with a
third rail, and its speed is about 12 miles an hour. Starting from the
west pier, opposite the Royal Aquarium, it sets out on its one mile and
a half route of single line and dips beneath the level of the Marine
Parade to a level a little above the beach, passing _en route_, though
hidden from view, many landmarks of old Brighton, such as Park Place and
Gardens, Royal Crescent, Marine Square, and Lewes Crescent, and
terminating at a point near Black Rock.

This was the eastern end of Old Brighton, noted for many an original
character in the “twenties” and “thirties,” not the least interesting of
whom were old Martha Gunn, queen of the bathing-machines, and Sak Deen
Mahomed, a native of the East, who introduced the art of shampooing into
the town, and lived to become a centenarian, his fame being enshrined in
verse by James Smith, one of the authors of _Rejected Addresses_, who
humorously predicted his longevity as follows:–

“Sprung doubtless from Abdullah’s son,
Thy miracles thy sire’s outrun,
Thy cures his deaths outnumber;
His coffin soars ’twixt heav’n and earth,
But thou, within that narrow berth,
Immortal, ne’er shall slumber.”

Many have been the changes in Brighton since those days. Arundel
Terrace, Kemp Town, Ultima Thule in the east; Adelaide Crescent with
Palmyra Square, its western boundary. From the fields to the north of
that square could be seen, a mile or so off, the village of Hove, the
intervening space being dotted with farms. No one could have dreamt that
a great railway-station would be built there, with minor ones at Kemp
Town, West Brighton, and Hove. Old residents could not have pictured a
Grand Aquarium, a Western and Eastern Pier, nor the destruction of their
familiar Chain Pier. They would be amazed at the spread of Brighton in
every direction, the springing up of palatial hotels like the
“Métropole” and “Grand,” and the increase of the population to some
hundred and fifty thousand; while the coaching world, headed by the
popular Sir St. Vincent Cotton, prince of amateur whips, and all the
confraternity of coachmen and hackney-coach drivers, would have thought
anyone a lunatic who had dared to prophesy that one day a conveyance
drawn without horses or steam power would carry passengers along the
Brighton beach!


For many years prior to 1890, in Gracechurch Street, at a point near its
junction with Eastcheap, could be seen every day of the week numerous
omnibuses arriving between nine and eleven a.m., and departing between
five and eight p.m., for the suburbs over the water. These ’buses
regularly plied between London and Kennington, Walworth, Camberwell,
Stockwell, Clapham, and Brixton (a few journeying to Dulwich and
Peckham), for the special accommodation of dwellers in those favourite
localities engaged in business during the day. Wealthy “principals” of
mercantile and brokers’ firms drove to and from their comfortable Surrey
villas in well-equipped carriages, the junior members in smart traps or
dog-carts; but the small merchants and smaller brokers, the head clerks
and the rank and file who do all the hard work, had to make use of these
omnibuses, and when exceptionally bad weather prevented the vehicles
running, they had to get to and from their offices as best they could on
foot. To the working man, living, say, at Brixton, and engaged upon a
City job, the fares–4_d._ to 8_d._–were prohibitive. The time wasted
in these conveyances was great, and at the best it was an unpleasant way
of travelling; overcrowding was common, and the “fight for the trams” in
1903 is as nothing compared to the frantic rush for those omnibus seats;
while on wet days the sight was piteous.

It is true that City men could use the London, Chatham, and Dover
Railway, to reach these suburbs, but this involved a walk to Blackfriars
Station, and the facing of the crush on its dangerous platforms. There
were also the alternatives of crossing Blackfriars Bridge and using the
London Tramway Company’s horse-cars, or of forcing one’s way over
London Bridge, tramping or “bussing” it along the Borough High Street,
and, emerging at the “Elephant and Castle,” there tapping the trams.

As a matter of fact, these ingenious alternative routes were seldom made
use of. At the close of business, men of all ranks want to get home as
fast as they can, and from some station not far from their
counting-houses. Therefore, in the days I am describing, how could any
of those gentlemen clad in irreproachable frock-coats and new glossy
hats, who each day of the week issued from snug offices in Austin
Friars, Drapers’ Gardens, or Copthall Court, whose business was
transacted over the way at the “House”; how could the brokers of Mark
Lane and Mincing Lane, the underwriters at Lloyd’s, the ship-brokers and
ship-owners round about Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street, the
flourishing bill-brokers of Broad Street, and the smaller mercantile
fry; how could any of these, if resident on the Surrey side, be expected
to go to and from business by way of Blackfriars?

However, this unsatisfactory means of communication was hardly likely to
escape the notice of such astute experts as Mr. J. C. Mott, doyen
director of the Great Western Railway, and his far-seeing friends. They
took counsel together, and, after the usual hard task of _persuading_
people, plans were matured, and in 1884 an enterprise was organised and
incorporated as the City of London and Southwark Subway Company, to
construct a line of railway from King William Street to the “Elephant
and Castle,” with an intermediate station at Marshalsea Road.

This was the initial stage of the present well-known railway.

At the outset, three points had to be considered. How was the subway to
be constructed? What motive power should be employed? And how was the
deep level to be reached by the passengers? A subway under the Thames
was no novelty. The directors of the new line were not the “first that
ever burst into that silent sea” of mud and gravel at the bottom of the
swift-flowing river. Brunel had been long before them with his costly
Thames Tunnel, and Barlow had years ago laid upon its oozy bed the Tower
Subway of iron.

It was decided that a tube, or, rather, two independent tunnels of
cast-iron rings, should be driven side by side beneath the bottom of the
stream, a little to the west of London Bridge, and continued on the
Surrey side.

On this system the work was begun by the contractors, Siemens Brothers
and Mather and Platt, and proceeded with quite out of public sight. It
was accompanied with many disheartening delays and seemingly
insurmountable difficulties; but they were all successfully overcome,
and the tubes were brought to a temporary end at the “Swan,” Stockwell,
to which charming retreat, by an Act of Parliament, 1887, an extension
of the line had been sanctioned, making its length a little over three

The motive power eventually selected was electricity, steam being
impracticable, and the funicular or cable system considered unreliable.
Access to and from the trains was to be obtained at the stations by
means of capacious twin-lifts capable of holding many people at a time.

Then the problem of how best to utilise the ample “power,” generated at
the Stockwell Station, for hauling the cars, had to be seriously
tackled. It was not a question of a toy line like that on the Brighton
beach, but of the driving at fair speed, say 15 miles an hour, of
comparatively heavy coaches laden with passengers, and at frequent
intervals. Altogether it was a new departure in electric traction.

How the motor locomotives were effectually to pick up the current was
the puzzle which had to be solved, or the enterprise might at the last
moment collapse and the subscribed capital be lost.

After an infinite amount of anxious experimenting on the part of Mr.
Mott and his scientific advisers–the narrative of which, as told me by
that veteran, sounded like a romance–by a happy inspiration _the_ way
was hit upon; and all other technical difficulties overcome, the line
was pronounced to be in working order (1890), after a series of trial
trips, at one of which the writer had the privilege of being present.