Edinburgh to London for a funeral. Complication: 1890s.
April 12, 2018 12:33 PM   Subscribe

A historical fiction scenario: The year is circa 1895. A man is in Edinburgh when his mother and sister die, suddenly, in London. I assume he could be notified within a day by telegraph, but could he travel by train in time to attend the funeral?

It comes down to two questions: How long would it take to make the journey, and how much time typically elapsed between a death and a funeral in that time and place? Assume a man of moderate wealth who could afford to travel by the fastest possible means and would, upon hearing the news, drop everything and begin immediate preparations. Could he, and would he, be reasonably expected to attend?
posted by Faint of Butt to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Train service between those cities first ran in 1862, with trains taking about nine or ten hours, it seems, by the 1890s.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:42 PM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Travel between Edinburgh and London was actually pretty fast in the 1890 - in the neighborhood of 9 hours (see The Race to the North).
posted by mskyle at 12:43 PM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh and as for the timing of the funeral, I think he would have had a couple of days at least, unless their were cultural/practical reasons for a quick burial (e.g. if the deceased were Jewish, or had some kind of communicable disease maybe). Embalming was reasonably popular, and refrigeration was possible, so you didn't have to worry about immediate decay of the body. Queen Victoria's funeral in 1901 was more than a week after her death; so were Gladstone's and Disraeli's.

I don't suppose an ordinary person's funeral would take quite so long to plan as a big state funeral, but unless the rest of the family deliberately wanted to exclude your guy from the funeral, the funeral could be delayed until he arrived - it doesn't seem like that would be a practical or etiquette problem. I think it was pretty common to print funeral invitations/mourning cards and/or put funeral notices in the newspaper in the 1890s, and that must have taken a day or so.
posted by mskyle at 1:10 PM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had no idea rail travel was so fast at that time. (Or maybe, being an American, I'm just accustomed to thinking about longer distances.) It seems that, absent a very good excuse (e.g., a complete failure to notify him that a cable had arrived), he would have been able to make it to London in plenty of time. Thanks!
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2018

The first sleeper cars running between Edinburgh and London started running in 1873 - (often they were tacked on to night mail trains) the carriages looked like this. So - just as is the case now - there would not have been a problem with your character catching the sleeper south and arriving the next morning in time for the funeral. By the 1890s this was, in fact, less of a niche way of getting to London than it is now.
posted by rongorongo at 6:46 AM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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