A Late Train for Armchair Travellers

A Time-Warp Scenario

To travel is a luxury. At one time, many people made only either very small or very courageous journeys. Nowadays travel is a given. It is taken for granted.

What price then a railway timetable from 1922? To wit: the whole timetable for the British Isles. As editied by those who worked for the Bradshaw company. All those trains. Including some which rank now as museum pieces.

July 1922 had its oddities and queries too. Long before Dr.Beeching many stations were closing. Services in many places were run down. In other places, services thrived. Now in some of those places, there should be trains but there are not.

The Bradshaw for July 1922 is quite a publishing feat. Not only does it contain potential times for journeys but it also allows for the working out of relative speeds of services. Branch lines seem to function at about 15mph. Longer main line services seem to function about 30mph. Express trains seem to aim for about 40mph.

Then there is the index of watering places and hotels. Advertisements proclaim “near to Golf Links” for the decidedly robust and hearty types. On the other hand, some proclaim themselves “away from the noise of the trams”. This makes me chuckle. British trams were oft maligned and scorned in their heyday. How amusing to espy from a distance the delicate junket being eaten and just as spoon is approaching lips, suddenly the squeal of wheel on rail, the lonely gong-like warning bell, the hiss of the trolley on the wire and the dyspeptic bovine mooing of the electric motor and then, spoon, plate contents and all and all go up in the air in a spluttering and apoplectic fury of miserable interruption and ruined digestion. Ah! the days of real Schweppes Table Waters – for assured digestion.

These were the days of Separate Tables; Good Fires As Required; Our Liveried Porters Meet All Trains; Recherche Cuisine; and all vegetables from Our Own Gardens.

Take a train late on a Sunday in July 1922. Sunday is a day of slow travel. The whole railway system on Sunday awash with men-at-work, platelaying here; ballast raking there; checking fishplates and signal cables. The best train leaves Manchester (Exchange) at 10.40 aft (or pm these days). Next stop Newton-le-WIllows at 11. 5, Warrington at 11.19 for a five minute wait before setting of for Chester, arriving at 11.52.

A long wait here, so how handy that there is a thermos full of hot sweet coffee and two packets of sandwiches, ham and cheese – wrapped in paper – none of that modern cellophane nonsense – and a couple of small tomatoes also a hard boiled egg. Picnic for travellers 1920s style.

A wander around Chester (General) station, the porters and station operatives keeping a friendly eye on the travellers. A whiff of pipesmoke is caught here and there. Birds live night as day under the gaslights in the warmth of a July night. They eat the crumbs.

2.18 and the train comes in – a mail train. At 2.36 it departs for the Welsh coast, calling at Flint at 2.53 and reaching Rhyl at 3.18 for a six minute stop. The sea with a gentle cast of the moon is on our north side all the way to Colwyn Bay where one may alight only at 3H39 – the “H” handily shewing us to the “Notes” where “H” means “stops to set down only”. (In this way, insomniacs in Colwyn Bay, who might fancy a train ride on the 3.39 to Holyhead are going to be told that they cannot get on.)

Llandudno Junction at 3.51 and here, alight. Sit and look at Conway in the dawn, watch the sun coming up slowly as the 4.35 takes us in ten minutes into Llandudno for a very early breakfast, after a wander through deserted streets in a place where people went to rest and sleep peacefully.

87 and a quarter miles, six hours overall. Restful travel. A little adventure.

Did many people do that? Probably not.

Even if they didn’t, we can.

Value books.

Even ones without pictures or stories.


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