Friday, 25th September 2020

This Month's Magazine
Train Spotting

Train Spotting

Loved by young and old alike, British Steam Trains never really went away

The British are well known as a nation of nostalgics and among the top scoring items guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of even the most world weary, are steam trains.

Very few people are unmoved by the sight of a steam locomotive in full steam. Countries all over the world have had, or indeed still have, their own steam trains, but there can be no denying that the image remains predominately British.

You only have to cast your mind back to some of the classic British films in which steam trains or famous stations played staring roles; Celia Johnston and Trevor Howard conducted a whole poignant, clandestine love affair in the unlikely setting of the fictional Milford Junction station and its quaint tea rooms. The railway Children, a succinctly British story, is remembered first and foremost for the steam trains and carries throughout an unarguable Britishness.
The classic and disturbing David Lynch film “The Elephant Man” captured its superb atmospheric detail, not only by being filmed in black and white, but by using the older parts of Waterloo Station as a backdrop to many of the films scenes.

There are of course many other films and books, in which the message of “Britishness” is carried across by using steam trains and famous stations as suggestive and few can forget the brilliant Alec Guiness meeting an absurdly comic end in the fantastic 1955 classic “The Ladykillers” (hit on the head by a railway signal!)




All over Britain today there are preserved steam railways in some glorious settings. These are mostly funded by charity, but do have a huge following among the public and as a result, are largely self sufficient. Some of the bestl known are The Bluebell Railway in Sussex, The Severn Valley Railway in Shropshire and The Nene Valley Railway in Cambridgeshire.

The Bluebell was started back in 1960 and has the distinction of being the first preserved standard gauge railway in the world, plus under its guardianship the largest collection of steam trains in the world, with the exception of The Railway Museum in York. The Nene Valley Railway has a full size replica of “Thomas the Tank Engine” and being fairly close to London and easily accessible is a great favourite with visitors both young and old.

The best way to appreciate the sheer size and majesty of full size steam trains is a visit to The National Railway Museum at York. The NRM contains a collection of over 100 locomotives and nearly 200 other items of rolling stock, together with many thousands of other items of railway historical interest (down to a lock of Robert Stephenson's hair) displayed in three large halls of a former motive power depot next to the East Coast Main Line, near York railway station. The permanent display includes "Palaces on Wheels", a collection of Royal Train coaches from Queen Victoria's early trains to those used by Queen Elizabeth II up to the 1970s.

The NRM was established on its present site in 1975, when it took over the former British Railways Collection located in Clapham, and the York Railway Museum located elsewhere in the city. Since then the collection has continued to grow. It is now the largest museum of its type in the world, with 750,000 visitors annually. You don’t really need to have any sort of knowledge of steam trains to enjoy looking at them or do you need to be male, although, maybe I shouldn’t say this, it certaintly helps if you are British!

Visit: The National Railway Museum  -  -        

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