According to the Wikipedia article on milk (referring to transporting milk to London by rail),

The Great Western Railway was an early and enthusiastic adopter, and began to transport milk into London from Maidenhead in 1860, despite much criticism.

The nearest footnote link (47) makes no mention of this. This article on the Great Western Railway offers no clues, nor doea Freight Operations - Non Passenger Coaching Stock - Milk (though it goes into a lot detail on transporting milk). Another, on British railway milk trains only starts with 1923. The British Railway Milk Tank Wagon article mentions a potential problem - milk 'self-churning'.

Was the criticism of the early transporting of milk due to a problem with the quality of the milk upon arrival, or was there some other reason for this criticism?

  • 2
    I guess you could say they really... railed against it!
    – corsiKa
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 17:31

2 Answers 2


The Agrarian History of England and Wales E. J. T. Collins, Joan Thirsk Cambridge University Press, 2000 page 993:

Retailers complained that railway milk was not as fresh as town milk, and a difference in price reflected this fact.

The European Cities and Technology Reader: Industrial to Post-industrial City, David C. Goodman, Psychology Press, 1999, page 81:

'railway milk' began its journey frequently mixed with water, uncooled and contaminated with bacteria

The Growth of London's Railway Milk Trade, c. 1845–1914, Peter J Atkins, Durham University

One might have thought that a potentially promising new form of transport such as the railway would have been exploited with enthusiasm and alacrity by traders in London as a means of importing milk from areas better suited to its production than the cramped and costly urban cowsheds. In fact, the volume of ‘railway milk’ consumed in the capital grew only slowly for the first 20 or 30 years of its potential availability, and one aim of this paper is to explain the nature of the trade in these early decades. ... A key factor throughout the period was the highly perishable nature of the milk itself. This was the main reason why milk had been produced in and around the city since time immemorial, and it also accounted in large part for the nature of subsequent changes in supply. In hot weather milk was often sour and therefore unsaleable within a few hours of leaving the cowshed, and this remained a restriction on the location of its production until a way could be found either to reduce the deleterious effect of heat and therefore inhibit the souring process, or to provide a very rapid and suitable means of transport to the place of consumption.

  • 6
    Very good answer. It might be a good idea to edit in a summarization all this in a sentence or two at the top, but that's a minor quibble.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 16:35
  • 3
    Maybe hence that pseudo-famous French policy, "Qu'ils mangent du fromage !" (i.e. "Let them eat cheese!"). I heard that dairy production in Normandy really started with the introduction of the railway (to Paris). Before there's a means of transport (to export it), a rural family can't consume (because there's too much for their own needs) the milk produced by even a few cows.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 20:17
  • First answer around here... fan-tas-tic.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 15:39

The reference to "self-churning" seems to point pretty clearly at a quality issue with the delivered milk. "Churning" means making butter from cream by agitation (try taking a hand mixer with whisks to a bowl of cream and watch what happens after a couple of minutes). Milk these days probably was not homogenized (treated so cream does not separate out), so the separated out cream might indeed have been churned into butter (thinning the milk in the process) when transported in the wrong kind of container and subject to vibration. Now why nobody loaded milk in one place and delivered butter to another that way remains a mystery :)

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