[May 12 2007]
There was something very magnificent about the L.S.W.R. West of England express. It was much better than any ordinary train on other lines originating south of the Thames, for unlike its southern neighbours, the South Western took corridor trains seriously from the beginning of the century. … The colour scheme was without parallel. While the upper panels were officially described as “salon”, and were rather like tinned salmon when new, they weathered into a terra-cotta brown after about a week … There was splendour even in the bright brass handrails inside corridor windows; the first-class carriages with their blue broadcloth and profusion of gold lace, even on the window straps and slings, were truly gorgeous, the brown plush seconds, which like the firsts could be identified from afar by their lemon-yellow window fames, were admirable, and the thirds, though dowdy were solidly comfortable.
Away we went, out into the green fields, which began at Raynes Park, through the heath of West Surrey, into Hampshire and past Farnborough with its prodigious new airship shed. More mysterious even than the anxious-looking airship which, on a red-letter day, might be butting into the wind overhead, was the line which here passed under ours at right-angles…
Then came Basingstoke and the Great Western, regarded as a quaint and exotic neighbour, and then the rolling chalk. … and so to Andover. Now Andover was a very remarkable place indeed; it was the southern terminus of the midland and South Western junction Railway, of which the other extremity, improbably but truly, was Andoversford in the Cotswolds.
Beyond Andover, a new magic came into those long-ago journeys. We had entered Wessex, and something older than Wessex; the mysterious Plain was about us as we raced along high embankment or white chalky cutting. As Grately flashed past, close to the railway there was a hill with a Celtic fort on the summit; somewhere out on the Plain beyond the lonely Amesbury branch was Stonehenge – we called it simply The Stones – unmarred by gaunt hangar or mean hutment; as yet unprofaned by the heedless Motoring Many.
Then there was Tunnel Junction, with Sarum’s spire showing over the skyline; there was the tunnel itself, followed by the violent reverse curves into Salisbury station …
Salisbury was where we left the express. With a fresh engine it disappeared into the unknown West. Later days brought experience of crimson Devon earth, of the magnificent climb from Seaton Junction to Honiton Tunnel, of the two Exeters, of Dartmoor and the great Meldon Viaduct, and of remote Padstow, a sort of railway Hy-Brasil beyond the sunset. As yet we were for the local train, an amiable caravan serving all stations to Exeter, a train that should pause at Milborne Port, linger by Sherborne and dally with Sutton Bingham and Crewkerne, places which the express ignored exce0pt to yell at their distant signals. Our local sat all leisurely in the bay until the express had cleared Wilton. A friendly train; … its carriages had the faded gentility of an early Victorian parlour in the deep country, for there was buff velveteen in the first class and a delicious smell about it.
Where the express had raced, the local ambled; where the express had played something like Schumann’s Arabesque on the railjoints, the local played a gentle pavane. It gave you time to study the outline of Wilton’s great Italianesque church, the thatched roofs of Barford St. Martin, the solemn line of the downs and the lovely, lovely valley of the Nadder. And when at last we left it, there would be the same pony-trap with the same brown mare, the same ride to the same three-centuries-old house with the pomegranate tree on the south wall.
[From The Trains We Loved, by Cuthbert Hamilton Ellis, George Allen & Unwin 1947]
©Cuthbert Hamilton Ellis 1947 All rights reserved