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Railway Readings
excerpts from the railway press from the 1840s to the 1990s

The purpose of this section of the IRS web site is to provide a glimpse of what the British railway press was saying about various issues in the past. Every month there will be a different selection of excerpts from the railway press from the 1990s to as far back as the 1840s, taken from the collections in the National Railway Museum Library here in York. Sometimes we will group the excerpts according to particular themes, but there will also be space for a more random selection of some interesting, entertaining, or just plain bizarre corners of the railway news of the past. We hope that you will find it interesting and illuminating. It's one way of finding out what has changed, and what has not, over the past century and a half of the railway press. Previous editions are available in an archive accessible from this page.

Next update: 1 July 2002.

June 2002
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Royal arrivals and departures, 1901-1953

In June 2002 the United Kingdom marks the Golden Jubilee of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne in 1952. In recognition of this royal event, this month's 'Railway Readings' looks at coverage from the railway press of the reigns of British monarchs in their beginnings and their endings from Queen Victoria in 1901 to Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
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1901: The Railway Times reflects on the death of Queen Victoria and remarks her early acceptance of rail travel

1901: The Railway News also reports Victoria's death, and comments on the late Queen's commitment to the welfare of railwaymen

1910: The Railway Times mourns the death of King Edward VII, an early tube traveller

1910: The Railway Times reports on the arrangements being made by the railway companies to mark the King's funeral

1911: The Railway Gazette marks the coronation of King George V, and hails the improvement in the Home Railways financial market since his accession

1936: The Railway Gazette's article on the death of King George V gives the impression that he spent much of his time opening docks

1937: The Railway Gazette on how the railways decorated their London stations for the coronation of King George VI

1952: The Railway Magazine reports on George VI's funeral train arrangements, and the shuffling of nameplates that went on to ensure that his Western Region funeral train was hauled by a locomotive bearing the name Windsor Castle

1953: The Railway Gazette on transport preparations in London for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

1953: A well-meant but probably regrettable effort at poetry from the pages of the Railway Gazette to mark the running of the new Coronation London-Edinburgh express, 'The Elizabethan'

This week the Empire has throughout its bounds suffered a sore affliction in the death of its beloved Queen, and the profound grief that has everywhere found expression is undoubtedly aroused by a deep sense of personal loss such as has probably been occasioned by no similar separation experienced by this or any other nation. The longest, as it was also the most glorious, reign of any English monarch came to a sad and somewhat sudden ending on Tuesday evening when Queen Victoria passed peacefully away after a life of great and fruitful labour for the welfare of her subjects. Every one must feel a pang of regret that the Queen was not permitted to pass the closing years of a glorious life with her beloved country at peace with all the world, as it was her special hope to do. How far the anxieties and responsibilities as well as the sense of loss of many of her brave soldiers entailed by the war may have brought her end sooner it is impossible to say, but the very first official intimation of decline in the Queen's health showed that the protracted disturbances of South Africa had put a great strain upon her. No words of ours can add to the keen appreciation of national loss lately suffered, or enhance the fame of the principal figure of the great Victorian era now gone to her rest. But we may point out that the epoch in the national history which has just closed was marked by the rise and development of industrial England, and railways may certainly be taken as the typical industry of the past reign. When the Queen succeeded to the throne in 1837 - the same year in which, by coincidence, The Railway Times was founded - the railway system of this country was in its earliest infancy. The Stockton and Darlington Railway had certainly been opened twelve years earlier and the Liverpool and Manchester nearly seven years earlier, but the total mileage in existence in 1837 was only 111 miles. Thus it may be said that the whole of the development of the iron road took place within the late Queen's reign. Her Majesty shared the prevailing reluctance to travel by railway in the early days of its career. The first trip taken by Queen Victoria was chronicled in our own columns, as the following extract from The Railway Times of June 18th, 1842, will indicate:- ‘Her Majesty made her first trip on Monday last on the Great Western Railway, and we have no doubt will in future patronise the line as extensively as does her Royal Consort.' Railway travelling in 1842 was, of course, a very different affair to what it is now, but having overcome her first reluctance to adopt railway travelling, the Queen became a regular patron and was most keenly appreciative of the special efforts made by all railway officials for her safety and comfort on her numerous railway journeys. With characteristic regard for the interest of her subjects, the Queen, in 1864, made an appeal by letter to the directors of the various companies, requesting them, in view of numerous accidents at that time, to ‘carefully consider every means of guarding against these misfortunes, which are not at all the necessary accompaniments of railway travelling.' In spite of the growing complication of railway traffic, the numerous inventions for purposes of safety have greatly diminished the risk incurred by railway journeys since 1864, and the Queen lived to see this desire of hers carried to a much nearer approach to perfection than in that year was deemed possible.

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At 6.30 p.m. on Tuesday last Her Majesty the Queen passed to the rest she had so well earned by a life of devotion to the nation's good. By no class of her subjects will she be more deeply mourned than by railway men, in whose welfare and happiness she constantly evinced her lively interest. She was a regular subscriber to the funds of the Railway Benevolent Institution, of which representative society she was a direct patroness, and lost no opportunity of expressing her appreciation of the care and devotion with which all grades of railway men watched over her safety during her frequent journeys. The railway system had its commencement and magnificent development during her glorious reign - she was six years old at the opening of the Stockton and Darlington line, and it was not until 1843 that she made her first trip on a railway. Of all the vast and beneficent developments which Her Majesty witnessed, none surpass in far-reaching effects on the national prosperity the growth of railways which has taken place entirely within her reign.

His Majesty King Edward VII has always shown as much kindly interest in railway affairs as his mother; and he will receive the same heartfelt devotion from railway men as was so freely given to Her Majesty. He presided at one of the annual dinners of the Railway Benevolent Institution, of which he, as Prince of Wales, was a patron.

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Shortly after our last issue went to press occurred the melancholy event which has tinged with sadness every hour and every action of the week now closing. King Edward VII, most revered, most beloved of monarchs, has passed away, leaving his people with a sense of irreparable loss. To them it is not quite the same England to-day that it was but a week ago, for he was at once the symbol and expression of all that is best in our national ideals. Queen Victoria had the supreme gift of winning the affection of her subjects, and her illustrious son not only retained for the throne of England the same loyal and devoted sentiment, but he became, to a degree that was unattained by any of his predecessors, the father of his people, and he reigned in their hearts as no sovereign of this or any other time has done. He mourned with them and he rejoiced with them, for not only did he interpret and express the highest aspirations of the nation, but he entered into the life and soul of the people. King Edward's ceaseless activity to promote the welfare of his country brought him into touch with practically every phase of commercial and industrial life. Railwaymen in particular will miss his genial presence, for of all monarchs he was surely the most travelled. His quick appreciation of the devoted service which attended him on every journey endeared him to railway officials of all classes and not a few of them are proud to-day to have received his recognition. His late Majesty's solicitude for the welfare of railway officers and servants was expressed as far back as 1873, when, as Prince of Wales, he presided at the annual dinner of the Railway Benevolent Institution. Speaking on that occasion, he said, ‘There is no institution that more heartily deserves our support than this'; and, again, ‘I hope you will believe that nobody feels more deeply for this institution than I do, that nobody advocates its claims more ardently than I, and nobody will continue to take a greater interest in everything connected with our great railways.' How well he fulfilled that promise was shown by his support not only of that institution, but also of the Railwaymen's Convalescent Home at Herne Bay. The last time we had occasion to refer to his late Majesty in these columns was but a month ago, when he graciously intimated that he would be pleased to extend his patronage to the latter institution's new home at Leasowe Castle, which had then only just been acquired. It may be recalled, too, that he identified himself with the inauguration of electric traction in the metropolis, opening the first section of the City and South London Railway in December, 1890, and the Central London Railway in June, 1900. The former occasion - the opening of the line between King William Street and Stockwell - was memorable as inaugurating the first deep-level tube and the first underground electric railway in the world. Public apprehension of danger from the new mode of locomotion was thus speedily allayed by the King himself travelling in the pioneer tube. That the interest displayed in the railway industry by King Edward will be sustained by his present majesty we may well believe.

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Friday being the occasion of the funeral of His late Majesty King Edward VII, and, consequently, a day of national mourning, most of the railway companies will suspend their week-day services and run practically the same trains as on Sunday. The exceptions to this rule are the London underground lines, which on that day will have to cope with abnormal traffics. The following notice, which has been sent out by the London and South Western Company, may be regarded as typical of the railways' arrangements for the day's observance:-

On the occasion of the funeral of His late Majesty, King Edward VII, the day will be observed as one of general mourning throughout the London and South Western Railway system, the general service of trains will be practically the same as on Sundays, supplemented as necessary to meet the public requirements. The offices will be closed as far as practicable, and the workshops will be entirely closed; the men will, however, be paid as for a working day. The company have supplied their staff with mourning armlets, and the drivers of their road vans with crape for their whips.

The arrangements go beyond the mere curtailment of services consequent on a general suspension of business, for the railway companies have interpreted King George's proclamation in the broadest sense and in the most appreciative spirit. On the North Eastern Railway, for instance, at the hour fixed for the King's funeral all running trains will be stopped, and they will remain stationary for ten minutes before resuming their journeys, while such of the company's servants as are required to be on duty will be directed at that hour to cease work and to stand ‘quietly and reverently' for ten minutes. Nor is the railway observance of the King's death confined to Great Britain, for the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada has issued an order for the suspension of all work as far as possible, Friday being observed as a Sunday. On the Canadian Pacific Railway system also there will be a notable act of homage to the late King. According to Reuter:

Work will be entirely suspended on the Canadian Pacific Railway from ocean to ocean for three minutes on Friday when the clock strikes three. Every train will come to a standstill, and the engines of all the lake steamships will be stopped. Operations will also be suspended in the machine shops.

It is indeed an impressive picture which is conveyed by that last message from Canada, and one which emphasises the spontaneous loyalty of the great Dominion in her desire to participate in the Empire's mourning for its Royal dead.

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The British Empire celebrates this week the solemn rite of crowning its sovereign, and a glance at His Majesty's varied activities as a traveller is not without interest. King George has already given many testimonies of that Wanderlust that is every year becoming more necessary to the Heads of our Empire, for the effect of Imperial tours in knitting together the Overseas Dominions and the Parent Isle is of very real value. The voyage round the world made by the King when Prince of Wales gave him thus not only an insight into the problems and possibilities of his Empire, but must have brought home to him as a vivid object lesson the enterprise and daring of the promoters of the great Transcontinental and other Colonial railway systems, which have preceded the ordinary highways in those dominions. King George has naturally not witnessed such an amount of railway development as King Edward, but during his lifetime there has taken place a no less striking progress in the direction of greater speed and comfort in the British Isles, whilst the development of railways in Canada, South Africa and Australia is of sufficiently recent date for much of it to have come under his direct notice. And there are vast projects in the making, of which King George, we may hope, will live to witness the triumphant completion. Amongst these ‘pathways of the pioneer' are the Grand Trunk Pacific and Trans-Australian Railways, and that heroic dream of a great Empire Builder, the late Cecil Rhodes, the Cape to Cairo Railway, whose steady advance across the whole of the Dark Continent is spreading civilisation and the British Raj amongst scenes of former slavery and human sacrifice. Even the Baghdad Railway, if the promoters of that undertaking condescend to display a little more of the spirit of hustle than they have in the past, is likely to be completed during the King's reign, and recent events make it appear likely that British capital will be associated with this railway, which at its southern extremity taps one of our spheres of influence. Finally, we may chronicle the fact that the Home Railway Market, after many years of depression, has enjoyed a welcome change for the better since His Majesty's accession. British railwaymen of every rank, in the United Kingdom and beyond the Seas, will on Coronation Day echo with one heart the prayer GOD SAVE THE KING!

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‘It is with great sorrow that we make the following announcement. His Majesty the King passed peacefully away at a few minutes before twelve.' This was the message broadcast at 12.15 on Tuesday morning, January 21, which told the world - for the first time by radio - of the death of a British sovereign. Throughout his reign, King George V understood his people and identified himself with their interests, and they responded with a deep and respectful affection which was displayed to the full in the anxious times of his earlier and last illnesses, and perhaps most of all in the enthusiastic Jubilee celebrations of last year. His was a reign overshadowed by many a crisis before, during, and after the war, but a reign also marked by tremendous industrial development in which the King always showed a keen practical interest. On July 22, 1912, he opened the great new dock (The King's Dock) at Immingham, and that occasion is also memorable for the last conferring of a knighthood in public before a large gathering, when Sir Sam Fay received that honour. The King George Dock, Hull (previously known as the Hull Joint Dock), was opened by the King on June 26, 1914, and as recently as July 26, 1933, he opened at Southampton the King George Graving Dock, the largest in the world, and the only one capable of accommodating the SS Queen Mary. These are all railway-owned docks, but a more direct contact with railways was shown on April 28, 1924, when he visited the Swindon works of the Great Western Railway and himself drove an engine there. He was titular head of State railways throughout India, his Dominions and Colonies, totalling approximately 104,000 route miles. Exactly fifty years before his death he was present, as Prince George, at the opening of the Mersey Railway - on January 20, 1886. Another Mersey tunnel, the great new road tunnel, was formally opened by him in 1934. During the quarter of the century covered by the reign of King George V, transport developments have been mainly in directions other than railway. Motorcars and motorbuses were in their infancy when he came to the throne, and aeroplanes, though actually in existence, were not then of practical use.

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Visitors arriving by rail in London for the Coronation found many of the termini transformed. The G.W.R., realising that the work of Nature can often delight the eye better than the hand of man, and perhaps inspired by the name of ‘the Lawn' by which the concourse of Paddington is known, decorated that part of the station with magnificent red, white, and blue flowering plants and ferns, some in hanging baskets and others clustered around the tops of pillars. King's Cross station was handsomely embellished with bunting and armorial bearings. In the booking hall the decorative scheme was based on the Royal Coat of Arms, supported on each side by the English and Scottish lions, and shields bearing these devices were affixed around the booking office. The interior of the station was decorated with bunting festoons between the pillars; and shields bearing the Royal monograms, the Royal Coat of Arms and the Crown occupied the centre places. The front of the station was also decorated and strikingly floodlit at night. Liverpool Street and Marylebone were also decorated for the occasion, the latter in a pleasing, dignified style. On the Southern Railway, Charing Cross bridge was adorned with Union Jacks and red and gold hangings. Charing Cross Hotel was partly floodlit. The bridges crossing Queen Victoria Street and Ludgate Hill were also specially decorated in connection with the visit of the King and Queen to the Guildhall on May 19. Euston and St. Pancras stations were gaily beflagged by the L.M.S.R.

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The body of the late King George VI was brought from Sandringham to London by rail on Monday, February 11. The special train was made up of nine vehicles, all of which were in the varnished teak livery of the former L.N.E.R., except the hearse-coach, which was painted black with a white roof. It was hauled from Wolferton (the station for Sandringham) to Kings Lynn by the ‘Sandringham' class 4-6-0 locomotive No. 61617, Ford Castle. After reversal at Kings Lynn, the train continued its journey via Cambridge, and Hitchin to Kings Cross behind the first of the new class ‘7' Pacifics, No. 70000 Britannia. The departure time from Wolferton was 12.5 p.m., and Kings Cross was reached punctually at 2.45 p.m. The body of the King was then taken to Westminster Hall to lie in state for three days.

A trial run of the funeral train from Paddington to Windsor was made on Tuesday, February 12, behind the Western Region ‘Castle' class locomotive No. 7013, Bristol Castle, in charge of Driver Albert Potter. The train gained time slightly on the 21½-mile journey, and reached Windsor two min. early.

On Friday, February 15, the funeral procession started from Westminster Hall at 9.30 a.m., and made its way across London to Paddington. The head of the procession reached the station at 11.20, slightly ahead of time, and about 25 min. later the gun carriage bearing the coffin drew up on the roadway between platforms 8 and 9, where a guard of honour had been formed. Paddington Station was draped in purple and black, and the coat of arms of the former G.W.R. above the entrance had been freshly painted. Stands for onlookers had been erected at the buffer-stop ends of platform 9 and 10. Only bona fide travellers were admitted to the station after 10 a.m., and several trains were suspended or altered in working.

The Queen's carriage was halted opposite the rear end of the hearse-coach of the train, which was waiting at No. 8 platform. The Queen, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and the Princess Royal then alighted and stood together on the carpeted platform while the coffin was carried into the hearse-coach, which was marshalled third from the engine, in front of the coach occupied by the Queens and the Princesses. The Royal Dukes travelled in the fifth coach of the train. Special trains were run from Paddington to Windsor in advance of the funeral train, and the special for mourners in the procession started from platform No. 9 at 12.20 p.m., hauled by 4-6-0 engine No. 7004, Eastnor Castle. The funeral train left at 12.35 p.m., headed [p.234>] by an engine of the ‘Castle' class bearing the name Windsor Castle, in charge of Driver Potter and Fireman H. T. Bliss, both of Old Oak. Draped plaques of the Royal Coat of Arms were displayed on each side of the smokebox of the locomotive.

The engine was not, in fact, No. 4082, Windsor Castle, built in April, 1924, which hauled the funeral train of King George V in January, 1936, but No. 7013, Bristol Castle, built in 1948. No. 4082 had been sent to Swindon for overhaul shortly before the death of the King, and was not available on February 15. It was felt, however, that it would be a fitting tribute to King George VI if the engine of the funeral train bore the same name as that used on the occasion of the funeral of his father, and the nameplates and numberplates of No. 4082 were transferred to No. 7013. The brass plates on the cab of Windsor Castle, which commemorate the occasion in 1924 when King George V drove the engine 3/4 mile to Swindon Station, also were transferred to Bristol Castle. It is understood that the substitution of the nameplates and numberplates will be permanent.

The funeral train was the same as that used for the journey from Wolferton to London, but with one coach less. Windsor Central Station, which was also draped in purple and black, was reached punctually at 1.10 p.m. Mr. John Elliot, Chairman, and Mr. V. M. Barrington-Ward, Member, the Railway Executive, and Mr. K. W. C. Grand, Chief Operating Officer, and Mr. Gilbert Matthews, Operating Superintendent, Western Region, travelled with the funeral train from Paddington.

Thus, for the fourth time in just over half a century, the Great Western Railway and its successor have been called upon to carry to its last resting place the body of a Sovereign. It was on February 2, 1902, that the funeral train of Queen Victoria, the first British monarch to travel by rail, was run from Paddington to Windsor. Some nine years later, on May 20, 1910, similar arrangements were made for the funeral of King Edward VII. The third occasion was on January 28, 1936, when the body of King George V was conveyed to St. George's Chapel for burial. In every case the funeral train started from No. 8 platform at Paddington.

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All over the country this week familiar surroundings have been transformed by the decorations which testify to the spirit of rejoicing with which Great Britain and the Commonwealth await the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. While science will bring the scenes of the ancient ceremonial and its attendant pageantry into thousands of homes, it has in no way diminished the eagerness among all who can do so to be present on the Coronation route itself, however long the vigil. To meet the needs of these spectators, services on some British Railways local lines in the London area on June 2 will begin as early as 1 a.m. Cheap tickets from more distant stations will enable travellers to start their journeys to London at any time after 9 p.m. on June 1, and special long-distance trains will run overnight from such distant points as Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Cardiff, and other cities to give early morning arrivals on June 2. London Transport rail services from 160 stations on June 2 will start as early as 3 a.m., giving a 15-min. service until 6 a.m., after which peak-hour services at 2 or 2½ min. intervals will continue all day. In addition to this movement into London, and the later return flow, British Railways will be providing special services in all parts of the country for visitors to local celebrations, and provision has been made for heavy sightseeing traffic during the month to London and elsewhere for the decorations and illuminations. Forty-two special trains will be run on the Southern Region from Waterloo to Southampton on June 15 for the Coronation Naval Review. Decorated and renovated stations and floodlighting are immediately apparent signs of how British Railways and London Transport are participating in the expression of loyal greetings to the Queen on her Coronation, but all their members are contributing no less to the spirit of the time in the good humour and resourcefulness with which they are handling the extra traffic now reaching its climax, and which for some weeks will continue to be superimposed on the normal business and holiday movement of the summer months.

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(New Coronation Express, London-Edinburgh, 1953)

Instinct with elegance and grace,
Epitomising pride of race,
A princess of the rail sets forth
In royal progress to the North.

On, on, in eager haste,
No ounce of power to waste,
Out of the gloom and grime,
The rhythmic wheels beat time,
Fleeting by field and fold,
Fleeting by weald and wold,
Fleeting by farm and fen,
Fleeting by glebe and glen,
Through many a city fair,
To where the moorland air,
Spanning the wilds between,
Comes cool and clear and clean.

On, by the lonely shore,
Where echoes evermore
The thundering ebb and surge
Of ocean's restless urge,
And; borne upon the breeze,
Sound ancient harmonies
By ageless sirens sung
Since first the world was young.

On, on, by mines and mills,
Past purple-headed hills,
By streaming watershed
Till Cheviot lifts his head,
Cloud-capped, then, with a roar,
She skims the lowland shore
To where, beside the Silver Forth,
Stands the proud Athens of the North,
And, slowly, silently,
She rests at Waverley,
Calmly content to share
Whatever man may dare
To gild another glorious page
For this Elizabethan age.

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Compiled by Dr Ralph Harrington, Institute of Railway Studies, York.

Updated 3 June 2002