The Railway Revolution
The railways saved York from stagnation. Rail travel was still in its infancy when the first train left York in 1839.
The first inter-city line in the world had been built by George Stephenson only nine years before. Stephenson went on to plan a line from Newcastle to London. Crucially, York's own railway king, George Hudson, convinced him to build the line through York rather than bypassing it on the way to Leeds. And no one could have predicted the profound effect that this new form of transport would have on the city.
In 1840 the first train ran direct from York to London. By the 1850s, there were 13 trains a day between the two cities, carrying 341,000 passengers a year. In 1877 a new station, the largest in the country, opened to accommodate them. By 1888 there were 294 trains arriving daily.
The impact of the railways on York was dramatic. The stage coaches declined, but much of the rest of the city was rejuvenated. The rail revolution allowed people and products to be transported to and from York faster than ever before. Entrepreneurs were given access to new markets.
Tourism boomed: within two years of the first train steaming into York, excursions to the historic city were arriving from Manchester, Nottingham and London. Theatregoers came from miles around to see productions at the Theatre Royal, rebuilt four times in the 19th century. Two Fine Art and Industrial exhibitions in 1860 and 1879, at York Art Gallery, attracted a total of nearly 870,000 people, demonstrating the new mass mobility of the railway age.
It also revolutionised communications. By the mid-1860s York had two postal deliveries a day; a letter posted in London before noon was delivered in York the same evening. York’s main post office in Lendal was built in 1884.
The railways also brought heavy industry to the city for the first time.