The Great Exhibition of 1851, in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, was the largest public event of the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom. It showed all the technical, scientific, artistic and cultural progress of the country in a structure of 1850 feet by 450 feet. It was visited by more than 6,000,000 people in 5 months, with a maximum per day of 110,000. The tickets were of one pound for the decent classes on reserved days, and one shilling for the other classes. 6,000,000 people was about 1 in 3 of the total population of England, and 3 times the population of London, which tells us that many people came from distant towns, and that a large proportion were of the lower working class. There were cases of workers in Yorkshire, who took the night train to London, visited the Exhibition the next day, returned on the next night train, and presented themselves for work the following day.
“Another instance of special purchase of food was that connected with the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, in 1851, when £75,000 was spent in refreshments, averaging £525 per day for the 144 days during which the exhibition was open, or averaging three-pence per visitor for six million visitors; when nearly two million buns were purchased and eaten, and a hundred thousand pounds weight of patés and biscuits, and a hundred thousand loaves of bread cut up into slices, and four hundred thousand pounds of meat; and when these solids were washed down with a million bottles of aërated beverages, sixty thousand quarts of milk and cream, and the drinks prepared from twenty thousand pounds of coffee, tea, and chocolate.”
(Dodd, The Food of London, 1856, p. 519)
Poster advertising a trip to the Great Exhibition from Abergavenny, 1851; People’s Collection Wales / Casgliad y Werin Cymru; http://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/9749
(First Class Fare £ 3 2s. 6d., Second Class Fare 18s. 6d.)
Abergavenny is a small town in Monmouth; it has today a population of 10,000. In the nineteenth century it was the major town in the region, and had a small clothing industry, and some agriculture. What we see is that there were enough people with 18 shillings to spare (in First Class, 3 pounds), plus the cost of eating and hotel for 7 days in London, for it to be worthwhile to organize an outing to London. The cost is per person which means that for a family of four, it would be nearly 4 pounds. The same level of price calculations would have been valid for the people who came from, for example, Lancashire or Yorkshire. A large section of the working class apparently had the possibility to save money to spend on leisure activities. This indicates that, approximately, more than half of the population had enough income to lead a satisfactory life.
The investors in the project of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway made their calculations on the basis of mainly freight carriage. But there was exceptional interest by people to use the train. In its first years it sold 400,000 tickets per year, which would be 100,000 trips of a couple, return. The tickets were 4 shillings one way, uncovered, so that a man going and returning with his wife, would spend 16 shillings, which was somewhat more than an agricultural worker’s weekly wages in Lancashire. The following year (1831), the company temporarily refitted freight wagons to be used for people, and these were used for transport to the Newport Horse Races in the summer.
There were other railway excursions in the following years. One of the earliest cases was an Excursion Trip from York to Leeds and Hull, on the Easter Weekend 1841 (3 days) (Major, 2012, p. 68).Another was from London to Bristol, Bath, and Exeter in September 1842, for 800 persons (p.70). There was a trip in 1840 from Wadebridge to Bodmin Jail, to see two murderers hanged; 800 passengers in three trains (p. 71).