Variant Set 001 ~ You May Travel by Steam

Variants of Bar030 ~ The Opening of the Liverpool and Birmingham Railway


A drawing by John Cooke Bourne from a collection of views on the construction of the London & Birmingham Railway. The rural setting suggests that this depicts either the opening of the section from Euston the Hemel Hempstead in 1837 or the temporary arrangements made for the coronation of Queen Victoria

Historical Context

This set of variants show how a ballad could move around the country in a relatively short space of time and that printers took the opportunity to copy and resell broadsides with minimal alteration. The variations in the texts are described below.
Several railways were opened during the late 1830s. The following chronology lists events that enable discussion of the history of these variants.

9th March 1835 -  Newcastle and Carlisle Railway opened from Hexham to Blaydon. This is the subject of Bar272~The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, A New song. See Narrative Set NS001~Newcastle and Carlisle Railway

1st March 1837 - Newcastle and Carlisle Railway opened from Derwenthaugh to Redheugh. References to ‘the Queen’ in both Bar350 and Bar502 exclude the possibility that either of these were the original texts.

20th June 1837 – Victoria became Queen

28th June 1837 – Victoria crowned.

4th July 1837 – Birmingham and Liverpool Railway opened. Bar030~A New Song on the Opening of the Birmingham and Liverpool Railway is almost certainly the original song. It was printed in Birmingham and correctly cites 4th of July as the day the line opened. It uses the local vocabulary to refer to towns in the area:  “Hampton” (Wolverhampton), and “Wedgbury” (Wednesbury).

20th July 1837 – The first section of the London and Birmingham Railway opened from Euston to Hemel Hempstead (i) This may have been the event that prompted the printing of Bar301 ~ Opening of the New Railway in London The use of Midland geography given in Bar030 and the misspelling of Bilston as Bilstos suggest that this is a copy of Bar030.  The printer James Catnach was famous for the speed with which he could produce copies newly published work. In 1820, he produced a pirate copy of the first instalment of Pierce Egan’s ‘History of Tom and Jerry; or the day and night scenes of life in London’ less than 12 hours after it was published. (ii)  The 15 days between the opening of the Liverpool-Birmingham on 4th of July and the opening of the first section of the London-Birmingham on 20th would have been more than sufficient for his purposes; even if we allow five days for a copy of the source ballad to be carried from Birmingham to London. The stage coach did the journey in one or two days 

18th June 1838 – First train ran the full length of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway. This is almost certainly the event that prompted the printing of both Bar350~The Railway and Bar502~The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway.

17th September 1838 – London and Birmingham Railway officially opened. This would have been a second opportunity to sell copies of  Bar301 ~ Opening of the New Railway and it may have been this rather than the opening of the Euston the Hemel section that prompted its printing.

21st June 1839 – The Newcastle and North Shields Railway opened.  This may be the event that prompted the printing of bar350 ~ The Railway. Alternativley, it would have provided a second opportunity to sell copies of a broadside printed for the opeining of the Newcastle and Carlisle in the previous year.

1839 – Sunderland was connected to Durham in 1839 and thereby gained a rail route to London. (iv) . This may be the event that prompted the printing in Sunderland of Bar269 ~ The New London Railway however, more information about the history of railway construction in the area is required before a more reliable estimate of the date can be made.

The Songs

All the variants retain notable features.

  • The chorus ‘You may travel by steam, so the folks say /  All over the world, upon the Railway’ is common to all with the minor difference that the chorus of Bar030 runs ‘You may travel by steam, or so the folks say’. All the variants will fit the tune suggested for Bar030.
  • They all make reference to "tunnels for miles you have to go through". Before railway travel, bargees were the only people familiar with travelling through tunnels. The excitement associated with travelling through tunnels is the subject of railway songs into to the 20th century.


Bar030~A New Song on the Opening of the Birmingham and Liverpool Railway. All the evidence points to this as being the original song from which the variants are derived.

Bar301 ~ Opening of the New Railway was printed in London misspells Bilston as “Bilstos”. The use of Midland geography and the erroneous spelling of Bilston suggest that this is a copy of Bar030.

The first verse mentions flying:

Now folks I will tell you although I’m no clown / By steam you may ride with speed up and down
Now that’s all the go, and I’ll tell you for why / The people are eager for to learn to fly

This may be an allusion to the feats of the pioneer balloonist Charles Green(1) who made 200 ascents between 1821 and 1835. In 1836, he set a major long distance record in the balloon "Royal Vauxhall", flying overnight from Vauxhall Gardens in London to Weilburg in Germany a distance of 480 miles (770 km). (iii)  

In order to take advantage of the traffic generated by the coronation of Queen Victoria the company opened the north end of the line, between Birmingham and Rugby, and the south end from London to a temporary station at Denbigh Hall near Bletchley (~40 miles) with a stagecoach shuttle service linking the two parts to allow through journeys to London. (iv)  so the broadside may have been printed for that occasion.

This variant omits  the verse 

The cobbler left the old shoes in the shop / Old men on crutches were seen for to hop
The tailor his customers would not obey / But rode on his goose to see the railway

But adds three verses not found in Bar030, about the Birmingham and Liverpool Railway.

What a treat for young lovers to see Gretna Green / The blacksmith will tie the not (sic) for them by steam
With his hammer and anvil he’ll make them obey / And pack them off snugly upon the railway.

Talk of ships on the sea – that is all stuff / By water or land you may ride far enough
If you have got money, your passage to pay / You may ride far and near upon the railway

To see them come in how the people do flock / To accommodate all there’s lots of fine pop
And the ladies dress’d up in their costume so fine / Partake of good ale and whiskey so fine.

269 ~ The New London Railway Was printed in Sunderland. It repeats the misspelling of “Bilston” as “Bilstos” found in Bar301 and introduces a new error; spelling “Wedgebury” as “Wedgeburry”. Spelling changes aside, the text is identical to that of Bar301.

350~The Railway changes “Black Sal from Walsall” to “Black Sal from Sandgate”; suggesting that the song was probably printed in the Newcastle area. A new character called “Mrs Bustlerump” is introduced”

How pleasant it is to see them indeed
The long train of carriages go with such speed
O dear Mrs Bustlerump, here is your daughter
She will be ruu (sic) over with the boiling hot water

Several lines were opened between 1837 and 1839 so the broadside may have been sold to celebrate one or more of the events.The line was extended Scotswood to a Newcastle terminal in 1839 and eventually reached Newcastle Central station in 1851 (v)  leaving open the possibility that it was printed for one of those two occasions. The opening of Newcastle Central Station in 1850 is the subject of Bar645 ~ The Queen’s Second Visit

Bar502 ~ The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway printed by Stephenson of Gateshead is almost identical to Bar350 save for the fact that the verse referring to Mrs Bustlerump is not included



(ii) Hindley, Charles;  The Life and Times of James Catnach : (late of Seven Dials), ballad monger