Opening Ceremonies

Main Themes and Motifs

  • Admiration of the technical achievement
  • Opportunity to travel offered by the railway
  • The people attending the ceremony
  • The extravagance of the ceremony


1830-39 030; 272; 359; 643
1840-49 135
1850-59 225
1860-69 156


Historical Background

Railway openings attracted large crowds. When the Stockton and Darlington opened the local newspaper reported that
"The whole population of the towns and villages within a few miles of the railway seem to have turned out, and we believe we speak within the limits of truth, when we say that not less than 40 or 50,000 persons were assembled to witness the proceedings of the day."
[Durham County Advertiser 1st October, 1825]
Large crowds in holiday mood were just what broadside sellers wanted and . The Birmingham and Liverpool opened in 1837; a celebratory broadside includes the names of nearby towns probably to encourage visitors to buy.
A new railway was the occasion of lavish celebrations. Aristocrats, financiers, company directors and contractors who sat in the places of honour were themselves part of the spectacle enjoyed by crowds of ordinary people who came on foot from the surrounding area. Members of the establishment received the most lavish hospitality but sometimes ordinary folk were included. When the Somerset Central Railway opened, the navvies¹, wearing white smocks and carrying banners reading 'Where There's A Will There's A Way' and 'Railway and Civilisation' processed through the abbey grounds before joining the working classes of town in a free dinner.
The navvies were often included in the celebrations but, in line with the social demarcations of the time, were kept safely away from the delicate sensibilities of the company shareholders. In 1860 at the opening of the Inverness & Rossshire; navvies assembled with dignitaries and processed through Inverness. "these admiral specimens of navvies…were dressed in white jackets, they shouldered spades, and pick axes and kept up an incessant chaf with the admiring public in the streets" at night they enjoyed a "sumptuous repast of beef bread and ale in a booth erected for their use. When Mrs Matheson of Ardross, the chief guest, came to depart, she pressed £20 into the hand of contractor George Meakin for distribution amongst the men" (Inverness Courier 20sep1860). With an astonishing lack of foresight, the directors of the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock provided 90 gallons¹ of whiskey for the navvies but failed to arrange for fair distribution of the drink among the approximately 350 men. According to the Paisley Advertiser 'A general battle followed'.