The Victorian Society’s online talk series explores what can be learnt from 19th Century railways and their legacy today

Railway Architecture and Society in the Victorian Age – The Victorian Society’s Online Autumn Talk Series 2023

25 October – 6 December 2023

Image: 1905 LONDON G.E.R LIVERPOOL STREET RAILWAY STATION CONTINENTAL TRAIN POSTCARD by mark’s vintage topographical postcards is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

The railways are more in the news today than for decades. They are the key to securing low carbon transport for the future, but strikes and lack of investment hold them back. As the The Victorian Society fights to save one of London’s great cathedrals of steam, Liverpool Street Station, and the former Great Eastern Hotel in London, from destruction and disfigurement, it is the perfect time to take a look at 19th Century railway architecture and society and what can be learnt for today.

When the The Victorian Society was founded in 1958 the railway system inherited from the previous century was still largely intact. Though much has since been lost, the railways of the period retained their fascination, both for their buildings and for their wider importance in forging the Victorian world. The autumn talk series will revisit the society’s valiant campaign to save Euston station, the world’s first long-distance railway terminus. It will also explore some of the diverse and surprising ways in which the railway preservation movement has since found new homes and fresh uses for many less monumental buildings. Other talks present new discoveries on railway company architecture, and on the distinctive work of C.H. Driver. Framing the architectural subjects, two talks by leading scholars reassess the growth of the Victorian railway system and the liberating opportunities presented by the railway excursion. The series concludes with a panel discussion about Liverpool Street station, a great Victorian building currently threatened with ruinous redevelopment.

SPECIAL OFFER: Buy one ticket and get all 7 talks for the price of 6! Book the special offer here

Each talk is £6 and includes a recording that you can access at any time.

Who Built the Victorian Railways and Did They Get it Right? by Colin Divall

Wed 25 October 7 – 8:30 pm

Colin Divall, Professor Emeritus of railway studies at the University of York, guides us through the profound impact of railway expansion on Victorian Britain. Inspired by Simon Heffer’s acclaimed work High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain, he will explore the role of moral purpose in shaping railway development. Discover how Peel and Gladstone drove progress, forever transforming society’s landscape. This talk will reflect on both the triumphs and shortcomings of the Victorian railway system and contemplate the relevance of strategic planning in today’s context.

The Rise and Fall of Euston Station, 1835 – 1962, by Dr Steven Brindle

Tue 31 October 7 – 8:30 pm

Join historian Steven Brindle as he delves into the rise and fall of Euston Station – the first long-distance railway terminus. Euston was built by the London & Birmingham Railway, around 1835-8. Its famous Doric portico celebrated this epic engineering achievement, and landmark in history. However, the early railway builders could not foresee how their industry would grow and change, and the original layout proved inadequate. Euston grew immensely, but it was constrained by its context and original design. This complex history was brought to an abrupt end by the destruction of the entire original station in 1961-3, the subject of one of the greatest of all conservation battles, a crucial moment in the establishment of The Victorian Society. Dr Steven Brindle worked for English Heritage for 27 years. He was involved in the post-fire restoration of Windsor Castle, 1993–7. His publications include Brunel, the Man who built the World.

The stations of the London Brighton & South Coast Railway in the 1860s – advanced architectural ideas for the common people, by Benny O’Looney

Wed 8th November 7- 8:30 pm

Join us for a captivating talk on the architectural legacy of Britain’s railway stations. Discover the collaboration between talented architects and railway companies, from Brunel and Wyatt’s work at Paddington Station to Charles Henry Driver’s unique “house style” for the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR). This talk stems from a ten-year project to restore Peckham Rye Station, designed by Charles Henry Driver for the LB&SCR. Benedict O’Looney, the lead architect involved in the restoration, will share the story of Driver’s architectural style and the restoration project, placing it within the context of other Victorian railway architects. As a respected architectural professional and preservation advocate, O’Looney’s insights will enrich our understanding of Victorian railway architecture and its restoration.

The Smaller Victorian and Edwardian Railway Station Reappraised, by John Minnis

Wed 15th November 7 – 8:30 pm

Studying railway architecture on a company or regional basis has obscured interesting connections between the buildings of different railway companies. Recent research has brought out previously unnoticed similarities between railway buildings across the British Isles and Europe. It has identified examples of identical or very similar buildings built for companies that were unrelated other than for their choice of engineer. This research also allows for different interpretations of some well-known structures.

John Minnis FSA is a retired Senior Investigator with Historic England. He undertook a national assessment of signal boxes in association with the NRM and Network Rail. His published works on railway architecture include Southern Country Stations: South Eastern & Chatham Railway, Britain’s Lost Railways and The Railway Goods Shed and Warehouse in England.

Buildings in Motion: the Creative Reuse of Railway Structures in the Preservation Era, by Simon Bradley

Wed 22nd November 7 – 8:30 pm

Britain’s preserved railways have secured the future of many Victorian station buildings and numerous other distinctive structures from the age of steam, such as signal boxes, goods sheds and footbridges. More than this, they have given new homes and uses to a wealth of other structures that would otherwise have been lost. This talk explores the preservation world reveals some of the challenges and rewards of keeping these buildings in active use. Along the way we meet some old friends, including the footbridge from Kings Cross train shed and the old Rewley Road terminus from Oxford, a precious survival of Sir Joseph Paxton’s modular system of prefabricated iron and timber, as used famously at the Crystal Palace.

Simon Bradley is series editor of the Pevsner Architectural Guides. He has a longstanding interest in Britain’s railways and their history, and is author of The Railways: Nation, Network and People (2015).

Women on the Move: Working Class Railway Excursions in the Early Victorian Period by Susan Major

Wed 29th November 7 – 8:30 pm

Working-class women’s leisure opportunities in early Victorian Britain have received little attention. This was a time of great change, as industrialisation drew many thousands of people from the countryside into towns. The fast-developing railway network enhanced the potential mobility of the working classes. Early railway excursions gave women the opportunity to travel far away from home in crowded railway wagons, a cheap freedom, which they enjoyed, despite risking offensive behaviour by men. This talk uses evidence from contemporary newspapers and 19th century literature, to offer glimpses of the leisure activities of ordinary women from the 1830s to the 1860s.

Susan Major completed a PhD with the Institute of Railway Studies & Transport History at the University of York in 2012. Her book, Early Victorian Railway Excursions: ‘The Million Go Forth’ (2015), based on her doctoral research, was shortlisted for the Railways and Canal Historical Society Book of the Year Awards 2017. Susan has featured in a number of TV programmes: Railways: the Making of a Nation (BBC), Tony Robinson’s History of Britain (Channel 5), and Secrets of the Railways (UKTV).

A Panel Discussion about Liverpool Street Station

Wed 6th December 7 – 8:30 pm

Liverpool Street Station and the former Great Eastern Hotel, which was recently upgraded to Grade II* following the Society’s application, are one of London’s great railway set pieces. They are now under threat from partial demolition and a huge tower which will be cantilevered over and through the hotel. This is the second time that Liverpool Street has faced demolition. The Society was part of a campaign to save it from total destruction in the 1970s. The campaign’s success at public inquiry led to the sensitive conservation led scheme that we have today. Join the Director of the The Victorian Society, Joe O’Donnell, who will chair a panel exploring the issues that this looming battle raises and what the scheme, if approved, will mean for heritage protection in London and the UK. Panellists include Robert Thorne, author of the 1978 book on Liverpool Street Station (Academy Editions), who will reflect on what the fundamental problems of the station are, what was achieved at the 1975-6 Public Inquiry and how the Nick Derbyshire scheme furthered that achievement, and The Victorian Society caseworker, Guy Newton, who will talk about the current plans.

The Victorian Society is chairing the reformed Liverpool Street Station Campaign (LISSCA) which stopped the station’s total demolition in the 1970s – read more here. Our hastags for LISSCA are #SaveLiverpoolStreetStation #SeeitSaveit

The Victorian Society and the LISSCA Committee are now fundraising to cover the legal costs of a possible public inquiry – donate to The Victorian Society’s fighting fund here.

Our events provide vital funds to support our work fighting to save our Victorian and Edwardian heritage.


National News

Join The Victorian Society.

The battle to save Victorian and Edwardian buildings is far from over.

Members can read our membership magazine, enjoy priority booking for our events, be part of our regional groups across the country and with many more benefits.

More information