by Mary Lydon Simonsen
"From hence (Warrington), on the road to Manchester, we pass'd the great bog or waste call’d Chatmos... The surface, at a distance, looks black and dirty, and is indeed frightful to think of, for it will bear neither horse or man, unless in an exceeding dry season, and then not so as to be passable, or that any one should travel over them." Daniel Defoe, A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, Divided into Circuits or Journies (1724)
In my novel, Becoming Elizabeth Darcy, Beth Hannigan travels from modern-day New Jersey to the Regency Era in 1826 where she meets the master of Pemberley, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Because she comes to Derbyshire from 2010, Beth is able to provide Mr. Darcy with a glimpse of the future:
"One final purchase [in the town of Lambton] was a copy of a London newspapers containing an article about the building of a possible railway tunnel between Liverpool and Manchester.
"'It will never happen,' Darcy assured her. 'It would require crossing Chat Moss, a vast peat bog that lies between the two cities.'
“'You are wrong, Will. The railway will be built… Any town of any size in Great Britain will have a railway station in it. It will change everything.'”
As Beth Hannigan knew, a few years distant, railways would begin to crisscross the land. However, such modern marvels required great leaps in technology, including overcoming the difficulties in crossing Chat Moss, a vast peat bog lying north of the River Irwell and across the direct route between Manchester and the port city of Liverpool. Initially, all proposed routes between the two cities detoured around Chat Moss, but chief engineer, George Stephenson, believed it was possible to cross the bog.
“John Dixon was recruited [by Stephenson] as resident engineer. He believed it would be possible to use a floating raft to support the four-mile track bed across the bog. Over 200 men were employed to lay drains on each side of the track area. Although this worked in the shallower parts, it made no impact on the deeper areas of the bog… One of the men on the site, Robert Stannard, suggested laying timber in a herring-bone fashion. Although progress was slow, the track across Chat Moss was finished in December, 1829. On 1st January 1830, the Rocket successfully hauled a one-ton carriage train across the four-mile section.” (Excerpted from Wikipedia and The Birth of the Modern, Paul Johnson, Harper Collins, 1991.)
As Beth Hannigan had predicted in Becoming Elizabeth Darcy, the railway would change everything. Before Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy celebrated their golden anniversary, England would be in the midst of “railway mania,” and people would be on the move. Travel that once took weeks might now take only hours. A long weekend excursion from Pemberley to London for some shopping was now possible. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy could take their children to popular seaside resorts or visit Bath and Dover Castle on a whim. In Darcy’s old age, there would be a railway completed in 1850 between London and Aberdeen, opening the formerly inaccessible Highlands of Scotland.
During the Railway Era, fortunes were made and lost; boom and bust cycles were common. But I imagine that the serious and intelligent Mr. Darcy would be able to avoid the pitfalls, thus providing him with a handsome income and the ability to maintain the great estate of Pemberley as well as a house in London. The Darcys had married on the cusp on the modern era and would reap the benefits.