'An increasing mass of heathens in the bosom of a Christian land': the railway and crime in the nineteenth century

Authors Organisations
Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-78
Number of pages24
JournalContinuity and Change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 1997
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As controversy concerning the future of Britain's railways continues to be voiced, their influence in shaping social structures in the past perhaps remains unexplained. Yet the nineteenth-century revolution in transport had a most profound effect on the physical conditions and mentalities of contemporaries. Landscapes were altered, old towns irrevocably changed and new ones created; topographical spellings and pronunciation were standardized and time itself was robbed of local variation; a new vocabulary was devised and new occupations were invented. In the construction of the railways a vast labour force, around 200,000 labourers at mid century, drew workmen from their traditional employment and often very far from their original homes. In the operation of the railways, new possibilities of travel, for business and pleasure, changed fundamentally the patterns and perceptions of mobility. Given such revolutionary developments, it is highly improbable that patterns of crime and criminality and the measures taken to counteract them would be unaffected. This article attempts to assess and to illustrate the extent and nature of the changes in these areas caused by the coming of the railway.