June 13, 1842
Queen Victoria took her first train ride. Victoria, whose reign as British monarch lasted 63 years altogether, was also the first in that royal lineage to ride a train. Her inaugural ride took her from the Slough railway station (near Windsor Castle) to Bishop’s Bridge near Paddington in London.
The name of the locomotive was the Phlegethon, and it pulled the royal saloon with Victoria aboard as well as six other railcars. These vehicles had been provided by Great Western Railway. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the noted engineer who created that railway, accompanied Victoria and her husband Albert that day. The person operating the train was Daniel Gooch; he had been hired by Brunel about five years earlier to serve as “Superintendent of Locomotive Engines.”
Victoria wrote about the train ride in her diary. She noted, “It took us exactly 30 minutes going to Paddington, & the motion was very slight, & much easier than the carriage, also no dust or great heat – in fact, it was delightful and so quick.” (For the record, however, various contemporary news accounts instead reported that the train ride took only 25 minutes.)
Victoria’s inaugural train ride impressed her so much that she subsequently used rail transportation on a regular basis to visit her subjects. Her final train ride took place only about two months before her death in 1901. That mode of transportation – coupled with other innovations like the increased use of photography – allowed Victoria to be seen by an unprecedented number of people over a long period of time.
Victoria’s high-profile use of rail transportation also epitomized the significant strides being made on her watch as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The Victorian Age was a time in which major advances were made in rail and water travel as well as a nascent means of transportation known as the “horseless carriage.” Victoria, in such ways as train travel, did more than her fair share to encourage all of this technological progress. In some respects, however, she remained the product of an earlier time. When she heard that electric lighting had been installed in the royal saloon she customarily used when traveling by train, for example, Victoria insisted that the more traditional oil lamps be brought back for use there.
On June 13, 2017, Queen Elizabeth II commemorated the 175th anniversary of her great-great-grandmother’s historic train ride by recreating that journey between Slough and Paddington. Elizabeth traveled in a prototype intercity hybrid train, and those accompanying her included her husband Prince Philip and descendants of Brunel and Gooch. This train ride took only 19 minutes.
For more information on Queen Victoria’s pioneering 1842 train ride, please check out the 13 June 2017 Telegraph article available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/13/queen-recreates-first-ever-royal-rail-journey-175-years-train/.