The only thing that could have made train travel in Victorian times more harrowing was if Thameslink had existed. Image: Shutterstock

Think train travel’s a headache? You should have tried it in 1862 — a time when on board smoking was rampant, lethal accidents were commonplace, and the taxi rushing you to the station was only one-horse-power. That said, some things appear not to have changed much in over 150 years.

The Railway Traveller’s Handy Book was a thorough, if jauntily written, companion to train etiquette, aimed at wet behind the ears travellers. We found a copy while rummaging through the London Library. Here are some of our favourite extracts, howling misogyny and all.

A typical Victorian women getting ready for a train journey. Image: Shutterstock

On choosing a high-performance taxi…

If you have but a short time to reach the station in, be careful to choose a cab with a fresh-looking horse attached to it.

On the ‘fair sex’ getting ready…

We hope that we shall not be accused of a want of gallantry when we declare that when there are ladies in the case, it is absolutely necessary to allow a wider margin for the preparations for departure than is ordinarily assigned. The fair sex must complete their toilet to their entire satisfaction, whatever the consequences may be… if the time-table sets down the departure at 1.20, they instinctively read 1.45.

On being burdened by one’s family…

There certainly cannot be a more ludicrous sight than that presented by a man vainly endeavouring to catch the train. If he be burdened by many packages, and accompanied by a wife and a numerous family of young children, the picture is considerably heightened.

Third class: just say no. Image: Shutterstock

On quite possibly dying…

A person may perhaps venture on a railway for the first time in his life, and meet with an untimely end. One of the characteristics of railway accidents is that the injuries sustained are for the most part severe, and when not fatal, frequently incapacitating the sufferer from pursuing any active business during the remainder of his life-time.

On being stingy…

Some persons, attracted by the lowness of the fare… have an inclination to ride by third class. They may be destined to pass the next few hours of their existence tightly compressed between two rough specimens of humanity.

On sensible headgear…

…If the traveller be wedded to the chimney pot style of head covering, he had better provide himself with a “gibus”, or compressible hat, which admits of being easily stowed away when not in use.

If you take once of these, make sure it’s foldable. Image: Shutterstock

On sending seven-year-old boys to London unattended…

There was an account of a little boy… despatched alone from York to London, a label, inscribed with his name and address and destination was attached to his clothes. We do not altogether advocate such a mode of despatch as this.

On pretending the seat next to you is taken…

There is a certain etiquette in connection with the retaining of seats which it is considered both rude and unjust to disregard. Thus the placing of a coat, a book, a newspaper, or any other article, on the seat of a carriage, is intended as a token that such place is engaged.

On that person in front of you, taking forever to buy a ticket…

We have no doubt that every one of our readers has in his time had his patience tried by some obstructive old lady bound for Putney or elsewhere.

(This quote is preceded by a lengthy tale about said obstructive old lady, in which she rummages through the ‘unfathomable chasm’ of her purse.)

The Victorians invented this trick. Image: Shutterstock

On sussing out your fellow travellers…

When you are going on a long journey… scan the features of the persons already in possession of the carriage, with a view of ascertaining whether they are likely to prove pleasant travelling companions or the contrary.

On not making conversation with fellow passengers…

With regard to conversation, the English are notoriously deficient in this art. Generally speaking, the occupants of a railway carriage perform the whole of the journey in silence.

You need a throat sheathed with iron to drink this stuff. Image: Shutterstock

On the days before hot coffee lawsuits…

Beware of taking hot refreshments; whether it be by accident or design we know not, but certainly the fluids supplied are so excessively hot, and so long in forthcoming, that it is utterly impossible for a person to swallow them, unless his throat be sheathed with iron.

On not getting your block knocked off…

The proper place for a head is inside, not outside the carriage, and so long as it is kept there, the chances are that it will remain whole.

Chickens: your only form of entertainment in provincial stations. Image: Shutterstock

On the very real danger of being molested in a tunnel…

In going through a tunnel… it is always as well to have the hands and arms ready disposed for defence, so that in the event of an attack, the assailant may be instantly beaten back or restrained.

On being at a station that’s not in London…

It sometimes happens that a person has to await the arrival of the train at a station of some little country town. Under such circumstances, time hangs most heavily, and an hour appears as along as a day… There may be a few cocks and hens in the adjacent poultry-yard, but they are probably lazy or replete, and their movements are of the most commonplace and uninteresting description.   

You can find a copy of the book in the London Library, or peruse it online as an ebook.

seo London

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