• Railway Excursions

    Although in 1843, Adam wrote that the Gardens' "fame has now become worldwide", it was not until the arrival of the railway that visitors could go in any significant numbers to enjoy Alton Towers, and the commercial potential of such visits was realized and catered for. As with other excursion sites such as the established pleasure gardens and the developing resorts, the volume of visitors to Alton Towers as a leisure site correlates with the accessibility and affordability which the railway offered, coupled with the changing circumstances experienced under industrialism, such as increased disposable time and income. Following the general national trend in the development of the railway in the 1840s, links were being formed by the latter half of this decade between lines which eventually connected Alton to major population centres such as The Potteries, Derby and Manchester, as part of the North Staffordshire Railway's coupling to a national network.

    In 1851, White's Directory of Staffordshire records how horse drawn buses transported people between Alton Station and the Alton Towers estate, and by 1853, Butterton documents how "day tickets began to be issued on three days a week between Manchester and Alton". This stands as evidence of the location as a site of excursion. However, it was probably in 1860 when Henry, the 18th Earl, admitted the public on a regular, more organized basis.  An Alton Towers publication documents the income from admission in this year as being £116-17s-5d. 

    The partnership between the railway companies and the earls was well established by this time, and would flourish for some subsequent years, towards their mutual benefits. This poster also shows how Alton Towers was promoted alongside other places of interest in the region, such as Ashbourne and Dovedale.

    Indeed, Alton Towers then and now is situated in a stunning part of the country and surrounded by other numerous places of historical interest and beauty. Then as now, Alton Towers finds its place in context to its broader region. 

    From the 1860s, the North Staffordshire Railway ferried people in large numbers to Alton station and payments to the 18th Earl for the estate to open. Speake describes "the payments made to the Earl by the company enabled him to employ 40 men on the upkeep of Alton Towers gardens" Indeed, local employment figures of the time see a rise in the number of gardeners, presumably employed on the estates, as the commercial viability of Alton Towers can be seen to be a boon to the local economy. Public admittance was continued on a business-like footing by 19th Earl Charles John after his father's death in 1868, and then by the 20th Earl Henry John from 1877.

    The railway can be seen to be actively promoting Alton Towers through posters in the latter 19th Century which advertise the price of admission to Alton Towers as part of the price of a train ticket from outlying districts (Alton Towers Archive). The Ashbourne News Telegraph of 1893 also gives details of trains running to and from Alton station with "special cheap excursions from everywhere". Further reference, this time to local train schedules, comes from a local advertisement poster, which describes how.. “arrangements have been made with the Great Northern Railway Company to issue return tickets from Stafford at the low price of 1/6, by the 11.30, 2.27, and 4.30 ordinary trains, and on the Wednesday (General Holiday), six long specials at least, and as many more as may be needed”.

    This establishment of Alton Towers as an excursion site and tourist destination directly mirrored national trends at the time. Such services were continued for some years with Black's Tourist Guide to Derbyshire  in 1888 documenting that,  "from Derby special weekly trips are arranged on the North Staffordshire Railway at a very small charge, the ticket giving admission to the gardens and grounds" (cited by Butterton, 1992: 31). A Midland Railway advertisement from 1893 shows the railway company offering services to Alton from a range of major towns and cities as far away as London and Carlisle. Under the management of 20th Earl, an account describes how, "The gardens were open to the public every day in the summer, but except for the grand fetes which were held over several days every August, the visitors consisted mostly of people with a fair amount of time and money to travel at their disposal".

    © Dr Gary J. Kelsall, 2007