Although my family couldn't afford a family holiday away, we children did
have our annual one-day outings by train to Southend-on-sea, run by the
Sunday School, and these were as good
as far as we were concerned. Off my brothers and I would go, carrying our packets
of sandwiches, full of excitement, to meet our friends.
Going on a train was part of the treat, as we hardly ever travelled long
distances, and it was all
the better because we were with our friends.
A busy train station in the early 1900s. An enhanced detail of a photo
in the Steam Museum at Swindon.
At the big London station, it was
lovely to look around, and see the trains arriving, looking so majestic and
important, then letting off their steam with a deafening blast.
When a train
came to a standstill, porters were always at the ready, in the expectation of
a tip, to carry passengers' baggage. They had
two wheel trucks for
several cases and four wheel
trolleys for heavy luggage.
The train drivers and the firemen
The drivers and fireman would climb out of their cabins, wiping their brows
to cool themselves off from the heat of the coal fires that they had kept burning
all journey-long by shovelling in more and more coal to feed the monster engine.
I liked to watch the trains leaving the platform. Each train had a guard
with a flag and a whistle to give the all-clear for the train to start moving.
Then the train would snort away as it picked up steam.
As it was summer, families would be bustling along the platforms for their
holiday, with children carrying buckets and spades and Dad carrying the cases,
all made of a dark brown fibre, like very thick cardboard and coloured to imitate
leather. Children would stop a the Nestles chocolate machine and put a penny
in the slot and out would come a bar of chocolate. All part of their holiday.
Yet there were quite a few sad faces left on the platform from people
seeing off friends and relatives after a visit.
Rock, a colourful sugary sweet sold mainly in seaside
towns, with the name of the town embedded in colour all through its
Families getting off trains, coming back from their holidays would have seashells
in their buckets, and various Dads would be carrying the cases and sticks
of rock that had been bought for aunties, uncles and grandmas, mostly of peppermint
flavour. I remember that when my
grandmother Cole came back home from holiday she bought me a net of sweets
that looked like seashells. I had never seen anything like them and thought
they were wonderful. She and my
grandfather Cole were better off than our family.
On the train
When we got on a train ourselves, it was just as much fun.
The trains changed little between the early 1900s, as described here by my
mother, and the mid 1900s when I remember them. On the mid 1900s pages, there
are illustrations of compartments and corridors,
windows that lowered using a
leather strap and steam from the engine.
Pat Cryer, webmaster
There were separate
compartments seating about eight of us, and each compartment had two doors:
one to the platform and the other to a corridor that connected the compartments.
The windows of the platform door would slide down, and the amount of the opening
could be controlled with a leather strap. So we liked to take it in turns to
lean out of the windows to watch the engine as it went round a bend puffing
away or to hear the shrill whistle when it went into a tunnel. I never
questioned how secure the door was as we leaned out of its window.
The trouble was that the steam from the engine was very dirty. Not only
did it make our faces look a sooty mess, but it also blew bits into our
eyes. So we didn't lean out as much as we might otherwise have liked.
As we neared the end
of our journey we would scramble to the train window to catch our first
glimpse of the sea. Then whoever saw it first would shout out, "The sea! The
I don't remember much in the way of discipline on the outing. Perhaps in
those days we didn't need it.
Back at home
When we got home, our mothers would always exclaim about how dirty we were
from the smoke of the engine and the sand from the beach in our hair. We were
washed, given something to eat and packed off to bed. We slept very soundly
indeed that night.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.