Steam comes to Richmond

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We rightly connect steam with the railways, but the vertical steam engine was invented much earlier to meet commercial needs of the industrial revolution. The Kew Bridge Steam Museum, which opened in 1975, was originally Kew Pumping Station, built to supply water to London and opened in 1838. Its oldest steam pump is the Boulton and Watt engine, which came to Kew in 1840.

However, the first use of steam locomotion in Richmond came with the arrival of the paddle steamers in 1816. These steamers provided a quicker and generally safer form of travel to and from London than on the road, particularly because of the danger of highwaymen, though the boats’ boilers sometimes blew up, causing terrible accidents. By 1840 there were three steamers each way. The coming of the railways actually gave a boost to the river steamers, because with cheap railway fares, the public had a much greater opportunity to travel. Bank Holidays Act of 1871 allowed people more time off and on the Bank Holidays they made even more use of pleasure steamers. The Times on 5 August 1890 commented that on the previous Bank Holiday the owners were able to double their prices and the boats were queuing up to get to the piers. The article noted that Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill were among the most popular destinations. Richmond and Twickenham were about as far as the steamboats could travel from London as they were not able to get through Teddington Lock.

The London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) built the first railway line to Richmond, opening in 1846, and a second line in 1869 – running from Addison Road station, (now Kensington Olympia), to Richmond over Kew Railway Bridge. The line from Ravenscourt Park still exists today, because the Metropolitan District Railway, (now the District Line), was allowed to use this part of the line when they opened their own line from Mansion House in 1877. The District Line’s competition proved too much for the L&SWR and the Addison Road – Ravenscourt Park line closed in 1916, which was also when most of the railways around Richmond became electrified. The biggest social impact of the trains was that Richmond residents could now easily live in one place and work in another. According to two censuses, the population of Richmond rose from 9,255 in 1851 to 25,777 in 1901. The age of commuting had begun.

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