Swansea University historian presents brand new BBC Two series, Full Steam Ahead: How the Railways Built Modern Britain

It’s Full Steam Ahead for Dr Alex Langlands, a history lecturer at Swansea University, as he joins historians Ruth Goodman and Peter Ginn as they bring the railways back to life in six epic episodes on BBC Two this July.

A lecturer within the Department of History and Classics in the College of Arts and Humanities, historian Dr Langlands has previously presented and produced programmes for the BBC and Channel 4, including Victorian Bakers, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm, and Time Team.

This series will show how the Victorian Railways were instrumental in building the modern world. They influenced the first electronic mail system, created mass-produced goods and the consumer society, gave us our national dish of fish and chips. They also introduced Scotch Whisky to the world, revolutionised our homes by replacing thatch with slate, gave us Greenwich Mean Time and created the seaside holiday.

From Ffestiniog Railway in the wilds of west Wales, Strathspey in the Scottish highlands to the Bluebell Line in leafy West Sussex and even a trip on the Flying Scotsman service, the team explore how the railways touched every aspect of British life imaginable, completely revolutionising the way we live.

Within only a matter of decades, the nation had been totally transformed – from the food we ate, how we communicated and even the way we spent our leisure time. The railways spurred the industrial revolution and were responsible for speeding up the pace of life, in a way only comparable to the internet today.

Full Steam Ahead ‌Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman and Dr Alex Langlands

Dr Langlands and Peter are put through their paces discovering what life was like for the railway navvies, the men that built the railways and who crushed 3000 tonnes of stone to support every mile of track they laid – which reached 20 000 miles upon completion!

Dr Langlands, said: “Historians are always interested in change and transition in societies and, arguably, in no other period does our island experience such profound change – with the railways at the heart of it all.”

One of the most challenging experiences for Peter involved the gravity train at the Ffestiniog railway, “Hurtling down the side of a Welsh mountain, legs hanging off the side of a railway truck, feet knocking against the objects we whizzed past, I didn’t realise the Victorians were such adrenaline junkies!”

Ruth was delighted when given the go ahead for this series, she has been enamoured with the railway since working for British Rail in the 1980s, where, as a young woman of only 25, she was in charge of 50 staff – all male! Some of her favourite moments on the series included driving a train up the steepest adhesion standard gauge railway in Britain and hand-milking a South Devon cow, a breed which, thanks to the railways, came to the rescue when a deadly disease wiped out almost the entire stock of London cattle.

For Series Producer and Director, Stuart Elliott, Full Steam Ahead has been a career highlight, ‘It was fantastic to get the dream team of Alex, Ruth and Peter back together for this series. The on-screen chemistry between them is fantastic, and they all bring so much to the project.”

The first episode of Full Steam Ahead will be broadcast on BBC Two on Thursday 21 July at 8.00pm (8.30pm on BBC Two Wales).

Full Steam Ahead is produced in partnership with The Open University.

How did the railways transform the British Isles since their introduction in the 19th century? What impact did they have on lives, work and travel for people living in the Victorian era and nowadays? Find out the answers to these questions and much more by ordering this free, double-sided poster produced by The Open University.