History KS3 & KS4/GCSE: Life before railways

Dan Snow explains how the roots of modern railways can be traced back to the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Coal was central to the story, it was extremely valuable, but only if it could be transported from the inaccessible hills and valleys where it was mined to the cities and factories where it was needed.

Dan shows how early engineers built railroads for horse drawn wagons, but these were still not enough to satisfy the demand for coal.

Canals also carried coal, but these would freeze over in winter and dry out in summer.

There was a need for a system of transport which could overcome the weather, the terrain and nature itself.

This clip is from the series Locomotion: Dan Snow's History of Railways.

Teacher Notes

The teacher could provide flat templates of spirals, available on the internet, for pupils to fill in with notes and illustrations, showing how the initial demand for coal led to changes in transport, with each stage being linked to the next.

When cut out, these could be displayed by hanging from the ceiling.

Half the class could make similar spirals looking at the development of steam power from the first simple engines to steam locomotives.

Curriculum Notes

This clip is suitable for teaching History at KS3 and GCSE/KS4 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and National 4 and in Scotland.

More from Locomotion: Dan Snow's History of Railways

How to build a railway
Liverpool to Manchester - the world’s first modern railway
The Stockton and Darlington Railway
The world that railways made