Travel in 1850’s Scotland

I’ve recently been reading an account of the trial of Madeleine Smith, which took place in Glasgow in 1857 – in essence Madeleine Smith was accused of poisoning her lower class lover because of her upcoming more respectable marriage to a well known business person. Madeleine was tried for murder on the basis of fairly compelling circumstantial evidence, but the jury held the case to be not proven, a Scottish verdict meaning that the prosecution’s case was not compelling enough.

As in all such Victorian murder cases, there is the suspicion that if Madeleine was not daughter of one of the great and the good of Glasgow society she would have hung for it – to slightly misquote Weir of Hermiston ‘she would hae had a fair trial and then be hanggit’.

The Madeleine Smith case was major newspaper event of the time and inspired  Not Proven, a long out of print three volume mid Victorian novel by Christina Broun Cameron. The way that the events and correspondence between Smith and her lover were reported in the newspapers may have also partially inspired Wilkie Collins’ adoption of an epistolatory style for his early crime novels.

But  I digress. When the railway service between Edinburgh and Glasgow began, trains were infrequent and expensive, but roughly fifteen years later, at the time of the trial,  L’Angelier, the victim, who was a warehouseman in a seedsman’s business was able to  travel by train between Glasgow and Bridge of Allan and from Glasgow to Helensburgh to meet Madeleine when she was staying at her parents house outside of Rhu.

I have no idea what a warehouseman in mid Victorian times earned, but a Google search for Victorian wage rates suggests that L’Angelier would be doing well if he had an income of sixty pounds a year.

A third class railway ticket between Glasgow and Helensburgh would possibly have cost a shilling (GBP 0.05). I’m saying possibly, as I don’t know, but other railway fares advertised on different lines suggest that this isn’t a wildly stupid estimate.

So, affordable if not cheap.

Bridge of Allan is a little further than Helensburgh from the centre of Glasgow, but not remarkably so, again making the journey affordable for L’Angelier.

At the same time the Clyde paddle steamer network was already well developed offering travellers the alternative of getting the train to Greenock and then crossing to Helensburgh, or getting a ferry all the way from the Broomielaw quay in central Glasgow.

The fact that these competing routes all managed to stay in business suggests that all were well enough patronised to be profitable.

So, just as the railways invented punctuality, cheaper and more frequent trains allowed poorer people to travel, if not on a regular basis, frequently enough, just as Ryanair and EasyJet opened up cheaper air travel in Europe.

And this had all sorts of social effects. Poorer people could now get out of the city. Wealthier people could afford to summer on the Clyde estuary yet could still travel up to town for business for a few days every week or so. and of course lovers could meet for lochside assignations …

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About dgm

IT professional, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical and medieval historian ...
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