The Socio-Economic Impacts of the Coming of the Railways to Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire 1838 - 1900
Newman, Friedrich Rudolf Johannes
This research presents a demographic investigation into the effects the development of Britain’s railways in the Victorian Era had on the largely rural counties of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. A ‘gateway’ to London, this region was traversed by many lines with a wide range of impacts. Railway historiography has questioned the extent to which railways affected national development; contemporary views of their central importance giving way to more critical opinion. Local rural studies have been recognised in addressing this; these at present are, however, few. Comparing and contrasting the three counties, the findings were used to create hypotheses of rural impacts, subsequently tested for accuracy and applicability by comparison with individual settlements. They demonstrated that occupations became decreasingly agricultural; railways having varying involvement. Sometimes a key factor, mostly they were of a supporting nature triggering knock-on effects. Land use became more urbanised but this was not railway originating; contrarily land use affected rail development itself. Railways, nonetheless, actively boosted urbanisation and industry by 1900, and in cases even supported agriculture. Population changes were assisted by railways, particularly rural-urban migration, but while aiding later in the period, railways did not initiate the process. A case study of Wolverton (Buckinghamshire), the first planned ‘railway town’, reveal exceptional differences even down to the appropriateness of the broader historiography. Limited prior research on this settlement type had been undertaken, and this study revealed their development was more complex than at first glance. As a result, a new structural framework was created to explain how they could transform from company tool to independent town. The contribution of this research is thus threefold. In analysing a new region, another area is added to a growing number collectively building a national understanding from a local level. As a rural region yet close to London, this shows that while current historiographical ‘facilitator’ views are correct, variation was rife. The hypotheses present a starting point for future rural rail studies – a method for comparing regions alongside a list of investigable aspects. Lastly, the proposed model for ‘railway town’ development provides a framework for comparison not just of these settlements but potentially other forms of planned ‘company town’. While railways were one factor among many, their importance should not be underestimated.