What with all the fervour surrounding the Royal Wedding, I thought that I would look through some 19th century newspapers for evidence of how the Victorian railways played a role in royal weddings of the past.
The first wedding I encountered was Princess Victoria’s (Queen Victoria’s Daughter) marriage to Prince Frederick William of Prussia on the 25th January 1858. This took place at the Chapel Royal in St. James’ Palace. After the Wedding Breakfast at Buckingham Palace, the couple left for Windsor. In 1858 Windsor had two stations owned by two companies, and the couple were carried by the Great Western Railway (GWR) from Paddington Station. Leaving the station at 5pm, they arrived at Windsor at pm and were greeted by dignitaries, fireworks, the firing of a canon and a guard of honour. A few days later the couple travelled back to Paddington, and then by the South Eastern Railway (SER) to Gravesend where they were to depart for Prussia. All through their journey crowds gathered at the stations they passed to cheer them on, and on arrival at Gravesend Station they were greeted by speeches and cheers.
At the same time, many from around the nation wished to celebrate the wedding and excursion trains were provided to London. Indeed, this was a period when the railway industry was just starting to exploit large events for financial gain by running 'specials' to them. Thus, it is known that the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) provided special excursion trains from Southampton to ‘enable sight-seers to witness the preparations for the marriage ceremony.’ Other instances of special trains have not, however, been found. Yet, it is plausible that they did exist.
In July 1862 another of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Alice, got married to Prince Louis of Hesse at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Because of the death of Prince Albert in December 1861, the Royal Family was still in mourning. For this reason the wedding was not common knowledge amongst the public. After the event, the couple travelled from the pier at Gosport to Vauxhall by the L&SWR. ‘So little did the public know about the event’ reported The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, that when the 5pm Southampton to London express train was shunted into a siding to let the royal train pass, the passengers had the strong impression that there had been an accident ahead. Indeed, when informed of the purpose of the stoppage they refused to believe it. Yet, reassurance came when they saw the royal coaches ‘with the visitors at the wedding seated in it, all at mourning.’
Prince Edward, Queen Victoria’s eldest son and the future King Edward III, was married on the 10th March 1863 to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Alexandra had arrived only four days previously at Gravesend and had been conveyed by the SER to the Bricklayers Arms Station. She was then transported Windsor by the GWR from Paddington. After the wedding the couple departed for Southampton via Basingstoke by the GWR. Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported that ‘the passage of the train from Windsor was welcomed at every station through which it passed by a display of flags, words of welcome and floral decorations.’ On arrival at Southampton the royal carriage was detached from the train, and to the sound of cheers six horses pulled it into the docks. It was from here that they took the Royal Yacht to the Isle of Wight and Osborne House.
Unlike the wedding of Princess Alice, Edward’s wedding, like Prince William’s, was celebrated by many around the country. Naturally, some people wanted to visit Windsor and special trains were laid on by the GWR from Paddington. However, the number conveyed is unknown. In addition, festivities were held nation-wide. In Edinburgh bonfires were lit, famous buildings and monuments were illuminated and fireworks were let off. As such, special trains were run to the city from Newcastle, Dundee and Glasgow, with return workings run after the illumination had finished. Thus, special trains were laid on throughout the country to transport individuals to regional events.
Overall, Britain’s railways clearly played a role in broadening the appeal of royal weddings and making royal couples into celebrities in early Victorian Britain. Stations, particularly, were the focal points for the celebrations, as they were the only places where many people could see the royal couples personally. Indeed, in all of these cases, bar that of Princess Alice’s marriage, royals were subject to celebrations at either end of their journeys, as well as at the stations through which they passed. Additionally, railways had the effect of allowing those that lived far away from the weddings to celebrate where the ceremonies were, or at regional festivities. Thus, while not all weddings were located in easily accessible places, like Windsor, the special trains detailed here indicate that there was significant interest in them. Thus, I have to ask, did the railways start the hype around the royal weddings that we have today?
 The Essex Standard, and General Advertiser for the Eastern Counties, Wednesday, January 27, 1858; Issue 1415
 The Bristol Mercury, Saturday, February 6, 1858; Issue 3542
 Daily News, Friday, January 22, 1858; Issue 3647
 The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, Thursday, July 03, 1862; pg. 4; Issue 2412
 Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc, Saturday, March 7, 1863; Issue 3309
 Jackson's Oxford Journal Saturday, March 14, 1863; Issue 5733
 The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, Wednesday, March 11, 1863; pg. 7; Issue 2626
 Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, March 8, 1863; Issue 1059