The Railways and Society from the Victorians to Dr Beeching


The railways transformed urban and rural society in so many ways, from changing the economics of production, to expanding the movements and experiences of ordinary people. 

In this day school, four leading experts on railway history will examine the impact of the railways on different aspects of everyday life over a broad sweep of time from the railways’ heyday in the Victorian era to the line closures of the 1960s.

Nicola Kirkby will start us off by looking at railways in the mid-Victorian female imagination, via the work of the Manchester novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. 

Mike Esbester, drawing on his research for the York Railway Museum’s Railway Work, Life and Death Project, will turn to the many risks railways posed for those who worked on them.

David Turner will examine the social meanings of railway stations in the inter-war period.

Finally, Charles Loft will shine an expert light on the social cost of closing railway lines in the mid-1960s, a change that still  impacts us to this very day. 

This day will be an ideal opportunity for railway buffs to learn from experts in the field and to network with each other, and for those new to the topic to discover more about the great significance of the railways within English social history.

Programme details

9.45am: Registration

10.00am: Railway infrastructure and locality in Elizabeth Gaskell’s fiction.

DR NICOLA KIRKBY, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English, Royal Holloway University of London

11.15am:  Coffee/tea

11.35 am:  Into the Jaws of Death: working and dying on Britain’s railways, c.1890-1947

DR MIKE ESBESTER, senior lecturer, University of Portsmouth

12.50pm: Lunch

2.00pm: The changing meanings of the station: differing perspectives on best-kept station competitions, 1919-1939.

DR DAVID TURNER, lecturer in Railway Studies, University of York

3.15pm: Coffee/tea

3.35pm: Dr Beeching and the death of rural railways?

DR CHARLES LOFT, Author, Last Trains - Dr Beeching and the Death Rural England.

4.50pm: Course disperses


Description Costs
Tuition - in-person attendance £80.00
Tuition - virtual attendance £80.00
Baguette £5.50
Full Hot Lunch (3 courses) £15.70


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Mike Esbester


Senior Lecturer in History, University of Portsmouth

Dr Nicola Kirkby


Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English, Royal Holloway University of London

Dr Charles Loft


Author, Last Trains - Dr Beeching and the Death Rural England.

Dr David Turner


Lecturer in Railway Studies, University of York


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then plesae contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email for details of availability and discounted prices.

IT requirements

You can opt to attend this hybrid teaching event either online (via a livestream) or in person at Rewley House, Oxford. You will be given the option of how you wish to attend during the enrolment process. You can only pick one option. If your preferred attendance format is fully booked, you can email us to be put on the waiting list.

For those joining us online

The University of Oxford uses Microsoft Teams for our learning environment. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Teams interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

If you have not used the Microsoft Teams app before, once you click the joining link you will be invited to download it (this is free). Once you have downloaded the app, please test before the start of your course. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, you will also be offered the option of connecting using a web browser. If you connect via a web browser, Chrome is recommended.

Please note that this course will not be recorded.