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Trains, Lanes and Spatial Planes: The Evolution of Railway Commuting into London 1940-1914

Citation: Gager, Duncan (2021) Trains, Lanes and Spatial Planes: The Evolution of Railway Commuting into London 1940-1914. Doctoral thesis, School of Advanced Study.

Duncan Gager PhD Thesis Complete Final Revision_Gager Duncan.pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Railway commuting is today a mundane and routine necessity, yet for the Victorians it was a novel experience. It opened up new possibilities of living at a remove from the crowded urban centre, but still connected to its places of work. This thesis examines its development both chronologically and spatially. It explores both the supply side of the commuting equation; the suburban railway network and the demand for a commuter service. The thesis fits within the inter-disciplinary field of historical mobility. This perspective offers a new line of enquiry from previous historical studies of the social and economic impact of the railway. It places the activity of commuting and the commuter centre stage, rather than focusing on the transport infrastructure or suburban environment of the commuters.

Methodologically it adopts both a quantitative and qualitative approach. The former centres on the mapping of commuting patterns for a variety of occupational groups working in central London in both the Victorian and Edwardian eras. These groups cover the full social spectrum, with an emphasis on middle-class occupations, as these groups were the earliest to embrace commuting by rail. The thesis aims to provide an explanatory narrative for these patterns from different viewpoints. There are individual chapters on: the providers of the transport infrastructure, the railway companies; the commuting experience itself; and the relationship between the railways, the commuters and their suburban communities. A concluding section considers the inter-relationships between these elements.

The research highlights that railway commuting developed at an uneven pace, both chronologically and geographically. The thesis argues that the action, or conversely inaction of the various railway companies serving the London suburban market was a significant factor behind these patterns. They performed a gatekeeper role to the growth of railway commuting through their control of fares and services. Yet they were often reluctant to promote their suburban services due to competing business priorities. Commuters, both actual and potential, were initially deterred by the slow investment in the suburban railway infrastructure, with concerns over its reliability, safety, comfort and cost. Suburban communities, particularly on London’s periphery, were similarly constrained by the quality of their railway connection to London. These impediments were only gradually overcome. Long-distance railway travel was commonplace by the mid-Victorian period, but it was a much longer and slower journey before short-distance commuting into London became ubiquitous.

Creators: Gager, Duncan and
Subjects: History
Keywords: Transport History, London history, Trains, Suburban History, GIS
Divisions: Institute of Historical Research
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
  • March 2021 (accepted)


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