X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

By the book

A tale of HS2 cities

2 February 2013

9:00 AM

2 February 2013

9:00 AM

The route was unveiled this week for phase two of HS2 — and those who got hot under the collar about phase one (London to Birmingham) are furious again, on the same economic or environmental grounds. But perhaps they might rediscover some of the joy of a fast train if they read a little Dickens.

In 1851, when Britain’s railways were being developed on rather a larger scale than today, Dickens wrote a short article about his trip from London to Paris by what was then considered to be high-speed rail. ‘A Flight’, as he called it, fizzes with excitement:

[Alt-Text]


‘Here we are — no, I mean there we were, for it has darted far into the rear — in Bermondsey where the tanners live. Flash! The distant shipping in the Thames is gone. Whirr! … Whizz! Dust-heaps, market-gardens, and waste grounds. Rattle! New Cross Station. Shock! There we were at Croydon. Bur-r-r-r! The tunnel.’

If travelling at a mere 50 miles per hour reduces Dickens to nonsensical whirrings and burrings, then just the thought of HS2’s proposed 225 mph would render him speechless — unlike those of you who protest so vociferously. And if he was amazed at being able to get from London to Paris in 11 hours, surely he would be flabbergasted at the prospect of getting from London to Birmingham in a mere three quarters of an hour. While Birmingham doesn’t quite hold the glamour of Paris, Dickens was very fond of the city and indeed gave the first public reading of A Christmas Carol in Birmingham’s Town Hall.

But, as a well-read HS2 anti might point out, Dickens avoided high-speed rail travel in his later life. His experience of the 1865 Staplehurst train crash, in which ten passengers died and another 49 were injured, left him shaken, although physically unscathed. When he wrote to a friend about the crash a few days later he said that even ‘in writing these scanty words of recollection, I feel the shake and am obliged to stop’. He had been travelling with the manuscript of the final instalment of Our Mutual Friend, but after the crash his writing was halted to such an extent that it wasn’t until four and a half years later that he began another novel.

Dickens’s opinion on HS2 might have depended on whether you asked him before or after 1865, but on one subject  he remained consistent: the importance of good food at the train station. As Mrs Todger in Martin Chuzzlewit says, ‘There is no such passion in human nature as the passion for gravy among commercial gentlemen.’ Perhaps Birmingham’s Curzon Street station will need an (untaxed) pasty stall. In any case, let’s hope the establishments there will be rather more pleasant than the ‘Mugby Junction’ refreshment rooms, ‘what’s proudest boast is, that it never yet refreshed a mortal being’.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close