Eagle 61 :: Railway Guide books of the Eastern Counties Railway

By Rev. Peter Barham

The University Library is a storehouse of much to interest the railway enthusiast and, while not working hard for Tripos ten years ago, I came upon their collection of Railway Guidebooks. I knew the modern guides produced by the Railway Development Society, and the reprints of earlier guidebooks published by the Big Four, but the history of railway guidebooks is far longer than that. I cannot recall ever seeing them used as source material in any railway history, and yet they cover a wealth of information.

My appetite was whetted while thumbing through the library's Supplementary Catalogues. These contain much material which was, to quote the Library Guide, "not thought to be of scholarly interest or importance". They are to be found in the corridor outside the Reading Room. 1800- 1905 is a sheaf catalogue, handwritten on to slips, 1906-75 is in a card index. A bit of detective work with the names of the Railway Companies, names of authors, and words such as "Illustrated ..." turned up lots of interesting references. The books can be ordered in the West Room, and usually arrived from the bowels of the building within half an hour.

For a librarianship qualification the year after leaving Cambridge (1984), I produced A Bibliography of the Guides to East Anglia issued by the railway Companies prior to nationalisation, and their interest to the railway enthusiast. For this I used the University Library and checked the catalogues of the British Museum. There are also two published Bibliographies of Railway material which record other material and its location:

  1. A tentative check-list of early European railway literature published by the Baker Library at Harvard, 1955.
  2. A bibliography of British railway history, compiled by George Ottley, HMSO, 1983 (ISBN O 11 290334 7) - there is now a supplement to this work.

I also approached the National Railway Museum and the Great Eastern Railway Museum at North Woolwich. The N.R.M. sent me details of G.E.R. guides they held, and the N.R.M. Museum was just opening - they replied saying that their collection was all in boxes! I phoned them in January 1996, prior to writing this article, and was told everything is in boxes as they are being closed at the end of March due to cutbacks at the London Borough of Newham.

In my investigations I found the details of 8 different guides produced by the Eastern Counties Railway Company - these are listed as an appendix. Two good background books:
East Anglia's first railway by Hugh Moffat. - Lavenham: Terence Dalton, 1987
A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Vol. 5: The Eastern Counties by D.I. Gordon. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 3rd ed., l990.

The Eastern Counties Railway Company was incorporated in 1836 to build a line from Shoreditch to Yarmouth via Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich. Their first guide was produced in 1838, giving times as far as Brentwood - in fact the first public trains ran between Mile End and Romford on 20 June 1839! Shoreditch to Brentwood wasn't open until 1840, and Colchester was finally reached in 1843. Here the line terminated, and it was left to the Eastern Union Railway to build a line further north.

The Northern and Eastern Railway Company was incorporated in 1836 to build from London to Cambridge, but by 1843 they had only reached Bishop's Stortford and they were taken over by the E.C.R.. The first line in Norfolk was the Yarmouth and Norwich which opened in 1844. West from Norwich the Norwich and Brandon Railway was projected in 1843, and they merged with the Yarmouth and Norwich in 1845 to form the Norfolk Railway. The E.C.R. extended from Bishop's Stortford to Brandon, and the through route, London to Norwich via Cambridge, was open for traffic on 30 July 1845. Fuller details are given in J. Brian Carter's article in the last edition of Eagle. The 1845 guide claims to have been reprinted from the Norfolk Chronicle, but as it's 94 pages long I find that rather difficult to believe. It is interesting that it covers the lines of two different companies - perhaps this is a hopeful sign in this modern age! The E.C.R. leased the Norfolk Railway from 1848, and eventually took it over.

If anyone has contacts at Stanford University a photocopy of Felix Summerly's guide would be fascinating! The guide to the line from Ely to Peterborough presumably links with the opening of the line in 1846 - although March is the only place en route which could conceivably be described as a "town". The 1847 Stevenson and Matchett guide is presumably a second edition of their 1845 guide - and one wonders how a copy came to be in New York public library!

The final guide on the list is available in the University Library, at classmark Cam.d.851/1. The idea for this guide was suggested by the Great Exhibition of 1851, an event for which many people travelled to London for the first time. It states that its "main design has been so to popularise the ordinary topographical data as, with the assistance of the engraver, to afford the hasty reader a more truthful and effective reflex of the scene traversed than has yet been attempted in respect to any other railway" (page3).

It was originally planned to be a two volume work, but ended up as only one, covering only the E.C.R., because of its failure to amalgamate with other companies.

I want to reproduce the first few pages as we are given the half yearly report of the Company, dated 4 January 1851. They had spent £12.99 million in the building of 326 miles of route, and in the six months prior to the report had carried 1,734,390 people. The balance sheet is as shown in figure 1.

Number of passengers Class Income
Pounds s d
226,714 1 63,386 9 5
801,541 2 83,733 19 2
706,135 3 54,360 10 8
Total 201,480 19 2
Parcels 15,392 12 6
Goods 140,172 15 0
Cattle 19,818 14 5
Mails 8,591 14 1
Locomotives 82,857 14 4
Maintenance of way 34,871 5 3
Miscellaneous working expenses 84,461 1 8
Rate and taxes 12,869 7 7
Government duty 8,558 9 2
Total 225,347 17 0
Figure 1: Extracts from the balance sheet of the E.C.R. for the half year as of 4th January 1851

The income is described, with all the pride that one would expect of a Victorian Railway Company, as "much larger than that of many a Continental state" (page 1).

The profit was £175,204 6/11, and while only a small dividend had been paid, they hoped for better in the future.

The engines of the Company had run 1,208,204 miles in those six months, and the costs had been as shown in figure 2:

Pounds s d
Coke 23,501 7 6
Grease and oil 2,707 13 11
Water 1,039 14 11
Gas 2,072 14 7
Clothing 992 8 6
Electric Telegraph 1,020 9 0
Figure 2: Costs incurred by the engines of the E.C.R.

The first chapter of the Guide introduces us to the Greatness of Railways, and we are given the history of those in East Anglia. It is admitted that early accidents gave the line a certain notoriety, but we are quoted statistics to prove that they are no worse than any of the others. The lines open are listed - there are 103 stations, with 2,933 staff.

We start our journey at Bishopsgate, which was the terminus until Liverpool Street was built in 1874, and then go out to Stratford, the position of the works and junctions. George Hudson was in favour at the time, and we are given his biography. Stratford is well described: "in another portion of the buildings the carriages are being cared for and attended to: some, first class, are being stuffed, and padded and petted, to fit every bend of the human frame; others, second class, have to be satisfied with a dose or two of paint, and a lotion of varnish; and the less-favoured third class merely get a copious application of cold water, and a liberal application of mop" (page 11).

Some more statistics: 203 engines, 164 first class carriages, 154 second, 164 third, 241 vans, 2151 goods trucks, 679 cattle trucks, 802 other trucks, 49 breaks (sic), and they employed 20 clerks, 176 smiths, 264 fitters, 67 joiners, 61 painters, 72 coachmakers, 192 drivers, and 1068 labourers. They have 75 engines in steam daily, and there are 5,416 distinct pieces per engine. Prior to Christmas 1850, 999 turkeys were despatched to London (there must be a PhD in that: 'The influence of the railways on turkey consumption in London"!).

The journey continues on to Yarmouth via Cambridge, Ely and Norwich. Each chapter heading, and this section is divided up into nine chapters, gives us the population of the main settlements and their distance from Bishopsgate. We are given much historical detail about the places we pass through - and all sorts of other information. There is a village called Ugley between Elsenham and Newport, and we are given the rhyme about the "girls from Ugley", and then assured: "the females for the most part (are) exceedingly good-looking, and contrasting most advantageously with their more Celtic visaged sisterhood of the opposite side of the island" (page 137)

- there must be a PhD in that too!

Lord Braybrooke, of Audley End, had insisted on the building of the two tunnels where the line crossed his land, but the Guidebook waxes lyrical about him: "He is considered one of the best agriculturalists of the present day, for he throws his grounds open to the public every day except Sunday, is quite agreeable to the admission of picnic parties, and is a great encourager of cricket- matches, in which he himself generally joins with pleasure, being a remarkably good player; beside being otherwise deservedly popular for the possession of all the attributes becoming his exalted station, great intellectual acquirements and active social position" (page 18).

The University of Cambridge is fully described, and the text contains many engravings, including one of the Round Church before the tower was removed (page 21). We are given the number of Resident members on 14 November 1850, and a full history and description of each of the colleges. We are also given a full picture of undergraduate life - including the bills they had to pay. "On resuming our seat in our fiery chariot the bell rings, the porters bellow unintelligible injunctions, the engine indulges in a scream or two, and after a few affected pant and convulsive struggles - a sort of make-believe that it is quite tired and exhausted, and that it is protesting vehemently against proceeding another yard, it appears suddenly to resolve upon the course it will take - and we are at once dashing along through brick yards and ploughed fields" (page 27).

As we continue across the Fens we are told the history of Fen drainage, and then reach Ely. Once again the engravings are beautiful. Across to Norwich, where we get the history of the city, a description, and useful information like Market Days. There are engravings of several parts of the city, but not the Cathedral. Having reached Yarmouth, we cover the branch to Lowestoft, where the new boat service for Hjerting and Ballum leaves. Samuel Peto was the Lord of the Manor of Lowestoft, and a major figure behind the development of the town and the railway - the branch from Reedham had opened in 1847, and come under control of the E.C.R. in the following year. By 1851 the number of vessels docking there had quadrupled from pre- railway days, and Peto's company, the North of Europe Steam Navigation Company, had established these regular sailing to Denmark. Peto's statue can be seen on Norwich station.

Peto was also a driving force behind the line from London to Colchester, which had opened in 1843, and which this Guide goes on to describe. It does not cover the line north to Ipswich, opened in 1846, or Norwich (1849) as that was run by the Eastern Union Railway. This ran into Norwich Victoria station and there was no physical connection between the two companies until 1852. The branch from Marks Tey to Sudbury, opened in 1849, was also run by the E.U.R. (they had running powers south from Colchester along the E.C.R.). The E.C.R.'s plans to build a large dock at Maldon are covered in the Guide, and the intention to build a line to Harwich (open 1854).

Back in the west of the area, the branches from Ely to both Wisbech (sic) and Peterborough are covered. The first was open from March in 1847 by the Wisbech, St Ives and Cambridge Junction Railway, and later taken over by the E.C.R.. The Peterborough line had been opened in 1846.

The engravings in this Guidebook are lovely, and the text is full of history and little snippets of information. However, they must be read with care. Gordon comments that: "an 1860 pamphleteer could still truthfully write: 'Notoriously there is no railway system in the Empire so badly worked as the Eastern Counties. There is no system on which the Passenger Trains are so few or so irregular; none on which the rates for Passengers and Goods are so excessive; and few, if any, where accidents are more plentiful" (page 31).

This is a very different picture to the one that you get from reading their Guides! In 1864 Parliament forced the E.C.R. to prepare a Bill for amalgamation with the E.U.R., and this happened in 1862 to form the Great Eastern Railway. They have produced many more Guides - many of which are in the U.L. and give for hours of fascinating reading (and some more articles for Eagle if required!).


Eastern Counties Railway guide, with the fares, and times of starting to the Stratford, Ilford, Romford and Brentwood stations by G. Mansell. - London (Borough), 1838. - 12 pages. Ottley: record 5796: held in a private collection reprinted from the "Stratford Chronicle"

A Guide to the Eastern Counties Railway, containing an account of the rise and progress of the company, a description of the works.., with engravings of the bridges, etc. with correct time, distance and fare tables printed by J.T. Norris, London, 1839. - 54 pages. Ottley: record 5800: London School of Economics

The Eastern Counties Railway Guide, a description of the first grand opening, particulars of the whole line of railway with the fares and times of starting. - 1839. - 12 pages. Ottley: record 5799; Checklist: record 1286

A guide to the Norfolk Railway, from Yarmouth to Ely, and to the Eastern Counties Railway, Cambridge line, from Ely to London. - Norwich: Stevensom and Matchett, August 1845. - 94 pages. Ottley: record 5805: held in a private collection

Felix Summerly's (pseud.) pleasure excursions; as guides for making day's excursions on the Eastern Counties, South-eastern Brighton and South Coast, South-western and London and North-western railways, with seventy four engravings by Sir Henry Cole. - London, 1847. - 76 pages; 22 cm. Ottley: record 3694: Stanford University.

A guide to the branch railway from the Eastern Counties line at Ely to Peterborough: comprising a descriptions of the line ... with ... particulars of the towns with which it connected. Norwich 1847. - 21 pages. Checklist: record 3758.

A guide to the Eastern Counties Railway (Cambridge line) from London to Brandon; of the NorfoIk railway, from Brandon by Norwich to Yarmouth; and of the Broxbourne and Hertford branch; with historic and topographic notices of the paishes and towns... Norwich: Stevenson and Matchett, August 1847. 115 pages; 18 cm. Ottley: record 5809: in the British Museum; Checklist: record 3759: New York public library

The Eastern Counties Railway illustrated guide. - London (Nelson Square): James Truscott, 1851. - 64 pages; 27 cm. British Museum; CUL: Cam.d.851/ 1; Ottley: record 5820: held in University of London (Goldsmith's library)

Eagle 61 Contents