Eating On The Go: Cultures of Consumption and the Railway in Britain, 1880-1948

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: History


Charting the rich history of dining on the rails, this project brings an interdisciplinary perspective to the story of food in Britain, one that underlines the important interconnections between industry, health, technology and popular culture. Focusing on the so-called 'golden age' of the railways, from the late nineteenth century up to the middle of the twentieth, this research draws on the history of design and technology, as well as scholarly work on diet and nutrition, and the history of consumer culture, to examine the untold history of eating on the railways and its role in the making of modern Britain.

This innovative PhD project investigates the rich history of dining on the railway. Historians have long recognised how food and eating are framed by broad social, economic and political structures, but far less has been said of their important link to work and travel. From the beginning, train travel involved consumption: from elaborate meals served in the restaurant car and well stocked cocktail bars for first-class passengers, through to the invention of the pre-packed sandwich and the innovation of the trolley service, the development of the railway has been shaped -at least in part-- by the demands of the stomach. Structured around different sites of consumption, this project looks to uncover the material and sensory experience of eating on the rails over a sixty-year period: how it was shaped, perceived and represented. Catering technology, what it made possible and what it prohibited, will be key to mapping the cultural and social evolution of eating on the rails. Seeking the fullest possible picture of these sites, the researcher will work across the disciplines of industrial, design, health, literary and cultural history, drawing on a wide range of archival sources, ephemeral materials, print media and museum objects.


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