Geriant Thomas

BORNE, J.C. A series of lithographed drawings of the London to Birmingham Railway (London, 1839)

The book: J.C Borne, A series of lithographed drawings of the London and Birmingham Railway: Parts III and IV(London, J.C Bourne and Ackerman & Co Strand; 1839), is divided into two parts. The first part is a collection of lithographed images of the London and Birmingham Railway, of which at the end is a list of the lithographed images from the entire three volumes of the series in topographical order. The second part of the volume is a historical section giving Historical and descriptive accounts of the origin, progress, general execution and characteristics of the London and Birmingham Railway. For this exhibition I shall be looking at three images taken from the first part of the volume while giving some historical and technical information relating to the images.

The London and Birmingham Railway was not the first railway to have been built in the British Isles, with that honour going to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway built by Robert Stevenson. Yet, the railway was one of the earlier to have been built in Britain with construction starting in late 1833 and opened to the public in September 1838. The railway stretched 112.5 miles from outside of Buckingham to Birmingham, linking the Royal Town to one of the major cities of the midlands.

Lithographed printing of images had been invented at the end of the 18th Century; rather than the traditional method of etching or wood carving, lithographed printing used a number of chemicals to create the image on the printing plate1. This process was discovered in the search for cheaper and faster methods of producing printed images as there had been little advancement in the past few centuries.

Title Page - Euston Station


The first image I shall be looking at in great detail is the title page. The title page of the book is an image of Euston Station with the title written across the top of the image. As show in the image here, the picture can be dived into three areas; the first is the border, the second is the primary image of Euston Station and the final section is the corner images. The border is an ornate fern like pattern with the company’s Coat of Arms positioned at the top of the image within the border. The primary image depicts the arrival and departure sheds with fervent activity. The four corner images within the border represent the stages of construction of the railway. The top left image shows the survey working being conducted at the start of the project in 1830. The top right image shows workmen clearing the route that the railway is to take dated four years later in 1834. The bottom left image shows the construction of the railway, with a viaduct under construction being depicted, however it is undated. The final corner image on the bottom right shows a celebration at the bellow a railway embankment with a steam locomotive running along it.

Let us first look at the imagery in the corners; it is clear that these are showing the development and stages of the railway. While the third image is not dated it is depicting the construction stage of the railway. The fact that these are dated can help give a timescale of the speed of the construction of the railway. If that is the case; it took around four years to survey the route combined with deciding which route is best, clearance and the construction combined took around three years to complete along the entire length.

The central part of the image is that of Euston Station arrival and departure sheds. This gives a rare glimpse of a period in history where Euston Station was built grand in the pre-Victorian style just before Queen Victoria’s coronation in June 1837. The image shows that Euston Station was a terminal with four tracks of which two were accessible via the platforms. The two tracks alongside the platforms are active with people loading/unloading the two trains. The centre left track has an idle train with no activity and the centre right track is unoccupied. Unlike majority of stations today the architecture is aesthetically pleasing.

Camden Town Locomotive Shed


The second image I shall be looking at is the fourth image in the book, with the image portraying the entrance to the locomotive shed in Camden Town. The image shows two locomotives with one leaving the engine shed, while the other visible through the entrance of the building. Bulk of the image shows the architecture of the engine house. The building has a single track leaving through an arch which slips on a point just in the bottom left foreground of the image. The locomotive leaving the shed appears to be waiting for the points to be changed. The same locomotive is numbered “32” upon its funnel which can be interpreted that there are at least thirty two locomotives operating on the railway. Through the archway the other locomotive is facing the opposite direction and appears to be being serviced.  A trio of men leaving the shed are carrying burning material, presumably coal, towards a location unseen on the image. It is interesting to be able to observe the workings of the railways when they had only just come into being. Sadly the image does not display the interior of the locomotive shed it still shows the manner of how it operated.

Buckingham Station


The third and final image I shall be looking at is the nineteenth image within the book, portraying the entrance of Buckingham Station. The focus of the image is a three storey ornate building, presumably the station offices, with four large columns stretching from ground level to the roof. Either side of the building is a large arch. A number of terraced buildings are connected to the archway on the right of unknown usage, the arch on the left joins a number of gates that lead to the station platforms. Visible through the gates are the station buildings and the arrival/departure sheds where there are a number of workmen loading/unloading items within the sheds. There is a large number of people and a single carriage leaving the archway on the right, presumably the station exit. Rather than through the other archway, a number of people are entering via the open gates on the left of the image with a carriage in the distance, leading to the conclusion that this is the station entrance.

These images are part of a collection looking at the London and Birmingham Railway, one of the earliest to document an industrial landscape in such a manner. The quality of the images can arguably rival that of modern photography. 


J.C Borne, A series of lithographed drawings of the London and Birmingham Railway: Parts III and IV (London, J.C Bourne and Ackerman & Co Strand; 1839)

1. M. Twyman, Lithography 1800-1850: The techniques of drawing on stone in England and France and their application in works of topography (London, Oxford University press; 1970) pg1-11


Geraint Thomas