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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 61

The British Capital

The British Capital.

Seven years prior to the opening of the London and Birmingham Railway, that is in
1831 the population of London was 1,474,000
1841 the population of London was 1,948,000
1881 the population of London was 2,362,000
1881 the population of London was 3,815,000
and at the present time it is stated to be over 5,000,000.

London, in 1881, had 11,260 cabs plying for hire and 1,620 omnibuses, which did between them a carrying trade for the year of 73,000,000 passengers.

Manchester and Liverpool are closely approaching a population of a million each; and a few other centres are also rapidly increasing. This great massing of the population in a few centres I believe to be an evil that has few if any redeeming features

page 59

Let me now try and show how the differential rating system has been mainly instrumental in bringing about this state of things.

All the great companies had for their chief object the bringing into connection with London one or more of the large centres of population, or some great seaport, their idea being to secure all they could of the trade with the ever increasing masses of the metropolis, and in order to do that, they gave differential rates in favour of the great city. That is to say, they would carry any class of freight to London at a less rate than they would charge for greatly shorter distances to any other town along their lines.

Perhaps I should state that when the English Parliament first empowered private companies to construct railways, it was not contemplated that they should act as carriers. They were simply to charge tolls for the use of their road and engines, and the users were to provide their own vehicles.

In the Stockton and Darlington Act, power is given to the Company to charge tolls, not exceeding sixpence per mile, "for every coach, chariot, chaise, car, gig, landau, waggon, cart, or other carriage, which shall be drawn or used on the same railways or tramroads for the conveyance of passengers, or small packages and parcels."

Had it been possible to carry out this idea, many of the ills we complain of could not have arisen, but it was not possible.

The clause quoted gives us a vivid idea of the curious notions held about railways in 1823. It is also amusing to remember that when the railway companies were first asked to carry coal, they indignantly refused to do so, and when at length they commenced the trade, they took every possible precaution to conceal it, by carefully covering their coal trucks with tarpaulings, and discharging them behind huge hoardings, so that the public should not see what they were about.

It must be borne in mind that, as the British railways belong to private companies, the only object their directors and managers had in view was to make them pay the largest possible profit, and the public interests and convenience were only considered in so far as they tended to that end, otherwise, as Vanderbilt more forcibly than politely observed, the public might go to a place not mentionable to ears polite.

The companies granted through rates for two reasons. First, it would pay any company to carry goods, say 100 or 200 miles straight on, at considerably less rates than they could carry them for shorter distances. Next, the companies were wise enough to page 60 know that if they could establish a system of massing up the supplies in a few large centres, that they must ultimately get the work of distributing them again from those centres at full rates, and thus goods would pass twice along the lines, whereas, if equal rates were charged, in most instances they would pass only once.

It is not within the scope of my paper to-night to attempt to point out all the evils of this system, but as anything that tends to depress or destroy the trade and commerce of a country, must also have a depressing influence on the social well-being of its inhabitants, it is necessary that I should, to some extent, show how in Great Britain it operates