The Story of a Railway Revolution
In the early 19th century, many Quakers were at the forefront of the railway revolution.
This was because many other careers and industries weren’t available to them. Their choices were restricted by various acts of parliament, Trade Guilds and their own principles of peace, simplicity and truthfulness.
This proved to be a good thing.
Edward Pease, a Darlington Quaker, with wool, coal and banking interests, provided the drive and financial backing for the world’s first commercial steam railway from Stockton to Darlington.
Three generations of the Wordsells, a Quaker family, progressed from carriage design and building for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway to managing railway companies. One family member, Thomas William (1838 – 1916), was responsible for the first tram engines designed for use on public streets. This design later gained fame as the model for ‘Toby the Tram Engine’ in the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ series.
Thomas Edmondson, a Lancaster Quaker, invented and supplied a simple but efficient railway ticket system in use on Britain’s Railways for over 150 years.
George Bradshaw, a Manchester Quaker, realised the need for clear and accurate information about railway services and began his long running guides. Before then Railway Companies were reluctant to publish train times because it meant the trains had to arrive on time. Journalist and politician Michael Portillo has presented a series of railway journeys based on Bradshaw’s Guide. And the guides even got a mention in a Sherlock Holmes story – “‘Just look up the trains in Bradshaw’, said Sherlock Holmes to Doctor Watson in the story, “The Copper Beeches” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Quaker Charles May, (1801-1860) developed and manufactured a successful method of fastening down railway track, a system that remained in use on Britain’s railways until the 1960’s.
The full story is celebrated in the Quaker Tapestry Railways panel.
Quaker Tapestry facts
The colourful tapestry panels measure 63.5cms x 53.3cms and are made using a mix of five ancient stiches and a new one, invented for the project. The ‘Quaker Stitch’ is now used by embroiderers around the world.
World traveller and writer Alexander McCall Smith, says they’re one of the ‘six best tapestries’ to see in the world.
The panels help you find out about famous scientists, engineers, bankers, botanists and non-conformists who pioneered industrial welfare, fair trade, prison reform, peace work and anti-slavery initiatives. Many were Cumbrians.
Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, they’re the work of 4,000 men, women and children from around the world. Some of the panels made journeys of thousands of miles as they passed from one group of people to another.
Love the story of our Tapestry and the families behind the railway revolution?
You can also enjoy it at home. High quality photographic prints of the railways panel are available in our online shop.