It had taken a few years to understand that passengers wanted somewhere to gather or buy newspapers and oranges. When the London and Greenwich railway opened in 1836 there had been no shelter at all at the start of the railway’s elevated viaduct of 878 arches at London Bridge. Out of pity, the company directors spent £27 10 shillings on tarred canvas (an old sail) to serve as a storm shelter. Wolmar is good at deploying details that prevent his introduction to London termini becoming a generalised essay.
Perhaps a love of detail for its own sake goes with the territory. I’m not sure I needed Wolmar to tell me that the company that provided refreshments at Waterloo was founded during the Australian gold rush of 1850. However, the incidentals are usually well chosen. A young Thomas Hardy found work exhuming graves for the construction of St Pancras. Waterloo, King’s Cross and Victoria all fell prey to “trunk murders” — a 1920s vogue for depositing murder victims in left luggage. The Eastern Counties Railway company spent £15 14s on firearms during its incursions into the dangerous Shoreditch slums. If you find people applying mascara on trains annoying, be thankful no one is cooking a herring.