Victorian Railways

COPY 1/408 Paddington, 1892

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 4

Time period: Victorians 1850-1901

Curriculum topics: Crime and Punishment, Industrial Revolution, Victorians

Suggested inquiry questions: What do these documents reveal about police methods of investigation in Victorian times? Did the railways make criminal activity easier?

Potential activities: Creative writing for a newspaper report on the first railway murder in 1864; research other original sources which illustrate the social impact the railway network

Did they create more crime?

In Victorian times, Britain’s railway network grew rapidly. In the 1840s ‘Railway Mania’ saw a frenzy of investment and speculation. £3 billion was spent on building the railways from 1845 to 1900. In 1870, 423 million passengers travelled on 16,000 miles of track, and by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign over 1100 million passengers were using trains.

The railway system offered new chances for travel, holidays, transporting goods, developing businesses and the growth of towns and cities. The distance between town and countryside was erased. Dairy produce and fish could be delivered easily to different parts of the country within hours. Increased communication allowed for the spread of ideas and national newspapers. A standardized time was introduced across Britain as trains were timetabled. The mobility of labour and maintenance of law and order were made easier. Of course, the railway network also stimulated the coal and iron industries but led to the decline of the canal system.

However, with more people and goods on the move, trains and railway stations arguably, offered new opportunities for crime. The first carriages were unlit and unconnected by corridors, so there were cases of lone travellers being robbed or attacked. Railway stations were often packed and busy which made theft easier. The first railway murder took place in 1864 on train travelling from Fenchurch Street towards Hackney on the North London Railway and caused a great deal of public concern about travel safety.

Use this lesson to explore sources relating to criminal activity based around railways.


Tasks

Look at Source 1

Extract from a report about pickpocketing at Kings Cross Station written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway. All railway companies had a Board of Directors, which received various reports railway business, 1867 (Catalogue ref: RAIL 236/299/11)

  • What type of document is it?
  • Who has written it?
  • What is the report is about?
  • What happened to the women involved in the crime when they went to court [Middlesex Sessions]?
  • What do you think of their sentence?
  • Why do you think these women were punished like this?
  • What is the style/tone of the report?
  • Why would a railway station offer opportunities for crime?

Look at Source 2:

Two entries from a Home Office Criminal Register (Catalogue ref: HO 27/147)

 How have the women in Source 1 been punished?

  • Why do you think the Home Office kept a criminal register?
  • How could this type of source be used by historians studying 19th century crime?

Look at Source 3

Extract from a report about the theft of a copper tap at Leeds Station written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway. (Catalogue ref: RAIL 236/299/11)

  • What type of document is it?
  • Who has written it?
  • What is the report is about?
  • What was age of the boy concerned?
  • Why do you think he carried out this theft?
  • Does this source give any insight into police methods at the time?
  • Why do you think this boy was punished like this?
  • Do you think sources 1 & 3 suggest that crime increased because of the railways?
  • Can you think of other reasons why people turned to crime in the 19th century?
  • What other sources could you use to find out?

Sources 4-8

The following sources taken from police files at the time, concern the first railway murder in 1864 of a man called Thomas Briggs. Discover what the documents reveal about police methods of investigation in Victorian times.

Look at Source 4

Front page from a pamphlet sold about the murder of Thomas Briggs on the North London Line in 1864. Read the background notes for information on the crime. (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76 p1.)

 What type of document is it?

  • Who has written it?
  • What does this document suggest about public reaction to the crime?

Look at Source 5

Metropolitan Police Special Report Division K, 17th September 1864. (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76)

  • Who has written this report?
  • What does the report reveal about the way the police have carried out their investigations?
  • What are the similarities and differences with how a similar crime might be investigated today?

Look at Source 6

Police report from the Division at Islington & Hackney concerning a witness who had travelled on the same train as Mr Briggs. (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/75)

  •  What type of record is this?
  • What does it show about police methods of investigation?
  • Are you surprised by any of the information supplied by the witness?

Look at Source 7

A list of policemen involved in the case and their duties from the Detective Department. (Catalogue reference, MEPO 3/76)

  • How long did the investigation last?
  • What does this source infer about police methods of investigation?

Look at Source 8

Letter to the Commissioner of Police from the Home Office at Whitehall about rewards for certain policemen who worked on the case, 6th February, 1865. (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76)

  • What type of record is this?
  • Can you find out what is the connection between the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police?
  • What does this letter reveal about the police response to the crime?

Can you suggest reasons why the investigation was so intensive? [see Source 4 again]

Look at source 9

Extract from ‘The Daily Telegraph’, July 13th 1864.

  • What has been the impact of the crime on the public according to ‘The Daily Telegraph’?
  • What three suggestions does the extract make about improving safety for passengers using the railways?
  • How would you describe the tone/attitude of this article?

Background

Thomas Briggs, a sixty-nine year old banker was found severely injured on the railway tracks of the North London Railway line near Hackney. He had been travelling in a first class carriage from Fenchurch Street to Hackney, and his compartment was found soaked in blood. When he was discovered and examined, it seemed that Briggs had sustained several serious blows to the head and he later died from the attack. His hat and gold watch with chain were missing and after an intensive police investigation, the prime suspect, Franz Muller was caught by British police who arrested him in New York. Muller was extradited and charged with murder. In Britain, he faced trial and was found guilty then publically hanged.

The crime revealed that in terms of safety, wealth and position made no difference, the assault on Mr. Briggs took place in an isolated first class carriage. The Daily Telegraph, dated 13th July 1864 seems to capture sense of public panic: “There is one general feeling which this dark crime has excited among the population there must be an end put to the absolute imprisonment…which railway travelers endure”

In order to improve train safety, a bill was introduced in 1866 for the use of communication cords in railway carriages to enable passengers to stop the train at any sign of danger. This was later made compulsory by the Railways Regulation Act of 1868.


Teachers' notes

This lesson is designed to introduce pupils to different historical sources to find out about crime on the railways and explore how the records can used to understand more about police methods and crime detection.

Pupils use two railway crime reports and a Home Office criminal register to find out about pickpocketing at Kings Cross Station and the theft of a copper tap at Leeds station by a young boy aged 10 years. The reports were written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway. All railway companies had a Board of Directors, which received various reports railway business and the day to day running of the railway.

The other sources included in this lesson relating to the investigation of the first railway murder in 1864 represent the tip of an iceberg. They come from two police folders on the case which contain a vast collection of hand written witness statements made in police stations all over London including Clapham Junction, Kennington and Tottenham for example, letters to the police advising them about their investigation, and how to improve rail safety, newspaper clippings collected by the police commenting on the investigation and court proceedings and so on.

Please note there are further examples of crime associated with railways in our Crime and Punishment website. In addition you could also ask students to consider what other sources they could use to find out more regarding the social context of crime. For example, census returns, newspapers, letters, criminal depositions and photographs available on this website focus on issues of 19th poverty and social deprivation.

For this lesson, pupils can work in pairs or small groups to study each sources and report back to the whole class to discuss the answers to the questions. Alternatively, pupils can work through the tasks independently.

Sources:

Source 1: Extract from a report about pickpocketing at Kings Cross Station written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway. All railway companies had a Board of Directors, to which groups or individuals would send reports on the business of the railway, 1867 (Catalogue ref: RAIL 236/299/11)

Source 2: Extract of Home Office criminal register (Catalogue ref: HO 27/147)

Source 3: Extract from a report about the theft of a copper tap at Leeds Station written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway (Catalogue ref: RAIL 236/299/11)

Source 4: Front page from a pamphlet sold on the murder of Thomas Briggs on the North London Line in 1864 (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76 p1.)

Source 5: Metropolitan Police Special Report Division K, 17th September 1864 (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76)

Source 6: Police report from the Division at Islington & Hackney concerning a witness who had travelled on the same train as Mr Briggs (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/75)

Source 7: A list of policemen involved in the case and their duties from the Detective Department (Catalogue reference: MEPO 3/76)

Source 8: Letter to the Commissioner of Police from the Home Office at Whitehall about rewards for certain policemen who worked on the case, 6th February, 1865 (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76)

Source 9: Extract from The Daily Telegraph, 13th July 1864 (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/75)

National Curriculum links:

Key Stage 4: GCSE Schools History Project thematic studies offered by Edexcel, & OCR based on Crime & Punishment.

Key Stage 2: Aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066; changes in crime and punishment from the Anglo-Saxons to the present- Teachers may wish to adapt this lesson or use some of the sources as appropriate to the needs of their pupils.


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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 4

Time period: Victorians 1850-1901

Curriculum topics: Crime and Punishment, Industrial Revolution, Victorians

Suggested inquiry questions: What do these documents reveal about police methods of investigation in Victorian times? Did the railways make criminal activity easier?

Potential activities: Creative writing for a newspaper report on the first railway murder in 1864; research other original sources which illustrate the social impact the railway network

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