The social significance of passenger-carrying paddle steamer operations in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century

Pledger, Trew Richard Stretton (2010). The social significance of passenger-carrying paddle steamer operations in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is an exploration and analytical discussion of the socio-economic response of British society to the introduction of a revolutionary means of travel, made possible by the innovative technology of the passenger-carrying steamboat. In order to establish the technological and societal contexts, the study first sets out an abbreviated account of the technical history of steam navigation, and of the characteristics of the societies of England and Scotland. Presentation of the leading features of British society introduces one of the most significant questions raised throughout the study, which asks to what extent application of the new technology may have been associated with a social widening of opportunities to travel, in a society characterized by extremes of social differentiation. The historical account is set out so as to explain the beginning and consequential development of steam navigation in Scotland; the profitable exploitation of the technology in rapidly growing operations on the Thames; the uniquely British passion for the seaside holiday and the associated role of the steamboat; and finally the different characteristics of coastal operations. One of the most significant findings of the study, however, comes from examination of early steamer operations in the north Midlands. Contrary to accepted views of technology transfer, it has been found that, after initial applications in Scotland, the first users to put steamers into regular passenger service were not entrepreneurs in London, but businessmen at the inland port of Gainsborough. Investigation of operations there, and its significantly improved communication with Hull, has also opened up new and fruitful examination of the role of the steamboat on inland waterways linked with Northern industry, as well as new reasoning about the improvements in service and accommodation that accompanied the introduction of steam navigation.

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