Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1825, the first passenger railway opened.

The Stockport and Darlington Railway was the first passenger track in a succession of railway developments to sweep through Britain during the Nineteenth Century.

George Stephenson was the railway’s engineer. The locomotive was the Puffing Billy, designed by William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth, a steam powered engine which used piston rods connected to a crankshaft, which drove the gears attached to the wheels. In 1826, the Puffing Billy was replaced by the Blucher, a locomotive designed by Stephenson.

The Stockport and Darlington Railway was an outstanding commercial success, leading to other entrepreneurs building railway lines. The first lines were also successful, which led to a speculative frenzy to develop new lines, with little regard for their potential for traffic. Eventually most major towns had a rail connection, and some cities had two or three. Rail investment followed a common pattern. As the value of railway shares increased, more money was invested by speculators. By 1846, 272 Acts of Parliament had been passed, setting up new railway companies.

The chief instigator of the Railway Boom was George Hudson, a railway financier, known as the Railway King, who bought up the shares of small railway companies, and amalgamated them, while continuing to build new lines. He procured investment into his companies by the simple expedient of false accounting. He inflated the profits of the companies, carrying forward losses as capital expenditure, fuelling continuing investment into railway shares.

In 1859, the affairs of the Eastern Railway were investigated and an elaborate fraud was discovered. The Railway bubble burst and Hudson was obliged to flee to the Continent to escape prosecution. The price of railway shares collapsed and numerous investors lost fortunes. However, the railways survived and provided the infrastructure for the booming Industrial Revolution.

In 1870, Hudson returned to London where he died in 1871. He is buried in his home parish of Scrayingham. [St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Scrayingham, York, North Yorkshire YO41 1JD]

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