Full Steam Ahead
The Age of Steam was an era of extraordinary change which utterly transformed every aspect of British life – from trade and transportation to health and recreation. This series reveals how the world we live in today was entirely shaped by the railways, charting the glorious evolution of rail transportation and how it left its mark on our lives, landscape and culture. Hop aboard an old-fashioned locomotive and set off down the line to a new part of the country with the established stars of the BBC Two Farm series, Peter Ginn, Alex Langlands and Ruth Goodman who have immersed themselves in the story of how the railways made us what we are today. Our team of experts also get their hands dirty – driving the train, working in the station, manning the signal box and learning how to run every aspect of a 19th and early 20th century railway. This is a trip not to be missed.
They begin by exploring how the introduction of steam railways in the early 19th century created a domestic revolution, from the way people lived to the food they ate. Arriving at Ffestiniog Railway in Snowdonia, they find out how millions of tons of slate were moved down the mountain, while underground, Alex experiences the brutal conditions face by miners in the Llechwedd Quarry
In this episode they visit Beamish in County Durham, learning how the rail companies first realised there was money to be made in moving people rather than commodities. Then Peter and Alex live the life of navvies, the men who built the thousands of miles of tracks in all weather conditions, and Ruth finds out what impact the new railroads had on the cottage industries. She also learns about the role of the guard, and the trio learn what precautions were necessary for taking a long journey on a train that was yet to include the necessary facilities.
The historians reveal how the railways transformed the British diet, rescuing a nation that was struggling to feed itself. Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn discover how the mass transportation of livestock gave birth to the traditional British roast, and Ruth Goodman is in Whitby, which became a thriving fishing town thanks to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway supplying its kippers. Plus, Hampshire’s watercress line, which brought nutritional salad to the masses, and how the use of steam-powered engines revolutionised production at Britain’s oldest brewery.
The historians take a trip on the Flying Scotsman, arguably the most famous locomotive in the world, along its original route connecting London and Edinburgh – the two most important financial capitals of the Empire. Peter Ginn explores how the railways revolutionised the delivery of mail across Britain, he and Alex Langlands learn about the first electronic communication service – more than 100 years before the arrival of email – and Ruth finds out about the role of the wheeltapper. Plus, why do some railway clocks have more than one minute hand?
The historians explore the life of the South Devon branch line before the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. Peter Ginn joins a footplate crew and receives coal-shovelling tips from a veteran steam engine driver of 63 years’ experience, and with Alex he learns about one of Scotland’s most lucrative exports. Ruth Goodman finds out about the dangers involved in working on the Victorian railways, and how those who lost limbs were catered for by a dedicated prosthetics workshop. She also discovers how the railways came to the rescue when a deadly disease wiped out almost the entire stock of London cattle.
The team discover how the combination of increased leisure time and affordable rail transport brought a new kind of freedom for working-class Victorians. Ruth Goodman travels along the south Devon coast from Paignton to Kingswear, where she helps prepare a paddle steamer for a journey up the River Dart, while at Swanage, Peter Ginn finds out what it was like to work on the excursion trains and the impact mass tourism had on the area.