The visitation of York

The days of Redfellow Hovel are coming to an end.  The Lady in his Life and Malcolm are contemplating moving on and out of Cobbett’s —

… great wen of all. The monster, called by the silly coxcombs of the press, “the metropolis of the empire”

Where to go?

A strong probability is York.

Thanks to its ecclesiastical heritage, the centre of York, within the ancient walls, is a place of persisting character. Thanks to the rise of nearby industrial cities, York missed out on the grime of the industrial revolution. Thanks to George Hudson, it remains a major transport hub — a couple of hours in either direction from London and Edinburgh, or across the Pennines to Manchester. Thanks to Joseph Rowntree and Terry’s, there was some successful local industry. Thanks to tourism, facilities, entertainment, trade and shopping are excellent to this day. In 1617 James VI and I received a petition to establish a university at York, and it duly arrived in 1964.

The problem is finding a house of some character. Anything ‘period’, especially within the walls, is quickly snapped up — which raises the questions of whether a significant property bubble is puffing up (in London that needs an affirmative “yes”),  how long can it last, and what comes thereafter?

The Railway Magazine, No. 1, Vol. 1 (July 1897)

Here we find W.J.Scott, BA, recounting his personal experience of The Race to Edinburgh, 1888 — the Last Day. That needs some background, perhaps.

The two competing railway routes between London and Scotland are the East and West Coast. The West Coast Mainline (as it now termed) is the more difficult, particularly the climb over Shap Summit, built by the engineer Joseph Locke for the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway. The East Coast route, by comparison, is far easier, straighter and faster.

On 2nd June 1888 the West Coast announced a nine-hour (down from ten) schedule for the express to Edinburgh: thereby, for the first time, matching the schedule of the North-Eastern Railway.

On 18th July the North-Eastern reduced the timing from King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley by half-an-hour.

From 1st August the London and North-Western brought the Euston to Princes Street West Coast schedule down to the same 8½ hours. This was achieved by splitting the express at Preston, so reducing the weight to be slogged over Shap. In passing, gentle reader, you are now apprised of why Edinburgh had two major stations.

Ha! The NER had one in reserve. Two days after what was seen as the L&NW’s last throw, the NER announced the 10 am express would be in Waverley by 6 pm. Not so: on 6th August the L&NW were promising an eight hour timing for the Euston to Princes Street run. Finally, with train crews lionised and up for the competition, unofficial times were notched down day-by-day — eventually to the concern of the railway hierarchy. Peace broke out with the NER settling for the 5:45pm arrival, and the L&NW for an eight-hour trip. The Caledonian Railway, responsible for the final stretch from Carlisle to Princes Street, had a new Drummond single-wheeler, number 123, and wanted to show its mettle/metal: so consistently 123 (and she’s still gorgeous) hauled into Princes Street well ahead of  the timetabled 172 minutes for the run.


This was the first “race to the North”, and made newspaper headlines in Britain — and even in the United States.

W.J.Scott, BA, goes to York

Mr Scott didn’t make the whole trip: he baled out at York (and the 10 am from King’s Cross reached Waverley at 5:27 pm that evening). Let him dilate:

For the most part, towns on the Continent are more picturesque and interesting than those in England, though the country in Britain is far more beautiful than any we find across the Channel; but York can hold its own for quaintness and grandeur with almost any town of like size in Europe. Under a bright mid-day sun, the old city with its girdling walls and crown of towers looked very beautiful: despite some stir of life, and the jingle of tram-cars, it seemed very still, its river slipping by as great Emperor Constantine saw it glide in the self same channel, lapping the walls of houses that stood where the houses one looks at from Lendal Bridge or Ousegate Bridge stand today. Never a “buried city”: a Roman capital, a chief city of the North English kingdom, and of the kindred Danes which over-ran that kingdom; a seat of Government, the “Council of the North” in mediæval days, and now metropolis of Northern England (though the Scottish Lowlands have thrown off the yoke of the English primate), and a railway capital behind London alone in importance, Eboracum, Eoforwic, Iorvik, York, in the year 200 AD  or the year 1900, from Severus and Paulinus to Dr. Maclagan — and should we say George S. Gibb? — she still “sits a queen”. Only three and a half hours from London; but how utterly unlike London is the tongue one hears spoken — that strong, if sometimes rough, North English, which Southerners always call “Scotch”, though at least five English shires share it with the Lowlands across the border. In the garden of the toll-house of “Lendall Brigg” — since done away with — a small boy is trying in vain to catch a white rabbit.”Tak’ it up by lugs, bairn, tak’t up by lugs!” cries his elder brother, much to the bewilderment of a tourist from the south who stands listening.

You don’t get away with paragraphs, even sentences that complex any more. For the record:

  • Severus was the Roman Emperor who attempted to reoccupy the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, invading Caledonia in 208, and dying at York in 211.
  • Paulinus (died 644) was the first Bishop of York, one of the second group of missionaries sent by Pope Gregory I.
  • The Most Rev. Dr William Dal­rymple Maclagan was Archbishop of York between 1891 and 1908.
  • Sir George Stegmann Gibb was the innovatory General Manager of the North Eastern Railway from 1891 until, in 1906, he went on to become Managing Director of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London (running the four main London underground lines). Gibb introduced statistical analysis and American business practices, but also applied collective bargaining and independent arbitration when dealing with his employees.

Oh, and all those timings involved a twenty minute wait at York for “dinner”.


Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, History, leisure travel, London, railways, Scotland, Yorkshire

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s