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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Transports of delight?!

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I enjoyed Jill's post here about riding in the car so much I was inspired to add a post of my own about transport back then:

I remember my daughter aged about 6 at the time asking me once “Did they have cars when you were alive?”! Having assured her I was alive now I went on to answer her question, “Yes THEY had cars but WE didn’t”! Cars were not nearly so common back in the 40’s and 50’s as they are now and most of the people I knew used public transport as did we.

I remember the trains back then – they were beautiful, magnificent things puffing out steam and making a fearsome noise. People often talk about noise pollution now but the noise on a major station concourse back then was incredible. When the whistle blew they had to get up steam to be able to pull out and the great pistons would slowly begin to turn as these magnificent beasts gradually, slowly pulled away drawing the carriages behind them. I remember the carriages were most often divided into individual compartments with bench seats for 4 passengers facing each other. I remember too the upholstery (probably made of coarse wool) which covered these seats and was so prickly to a child’s bare legs, the film of dirt on everything and the big thick leather strap used to raise and lower the window with its holes to hook over the brass fitting so that the window could be opened the required amount and kept there. If you were lucky you might be able to see out of the window or on the other hand your view might be obscured by the cloud of steam which seemed to continually rush past the window carrying with it smuts which added to the general grime on the outside. There were what looked like hammocks made of thick netting supported on wooden rails on which you placed your suitcases and below these were photographs of the towns on that line often in sepia. The sliding door to the compartment was heavy and made of wood with a glass window onto the corridor and often there seemed to be service men sitting on their duffle bags out there as there was not enough room inside to sit down. Where were they all going? Home on leave perhaps? I loved trains and wanted to be a train driver when I grew up but of course I had no idea then what hard physical labour that would have been. The fireman would shovel coal into the gaping furnace that was the engine and the water would boil and create the necessary steam to make the pistons turn. Keeping the furnace fire going on a long journey must have been gruelling. The driving compartment was open to the air – probably just as well or it would have been like an oven and probably was in the summer months. These men wore dark blue overalls as a uniform and black leatherette hats and they were always filthy from the coal dust and the heat but for some reason I wanted to be one (or failing that the lady who cleaned the trains and couldn’t understand why my mother wasn’t keen on either of those careers for me!) Going on the train was always an exciting prospect as it usually meant we were visiting relations or even that we were moving home yet again.

Then there were trams – these if my memory serves me correctly had slatted wooden seats which were not very comfortable and they clanged as they ran along the metal rails in the road. Buses which had a metal basket arrangement covering a fan at the front which allowed the heat from the engine to warm the bus. In winter it was always a scramble for the front seats nearest to this primitive heating especially as the back of the bus was open to the elements. There being no air conditioning or any other form of heat the windows were always steamed up in damp weather and the fun you could have drawing pictures in the damp and then probably wiping it down with your sleeve!

Not many people had cars then but some had motorbikes with sidecars. Apparently my father-in-law had one but that was before I knew my husband. I never had a ride in one so Jill I envy you!

And of course we walked a lot more then too.

Air travel was only for the wealthy and I never imagined I'd see the day when I would be able to get in our own car to drive to the airport to get a flight to visit friends in France or USA or wherever!! Amazing!

Now that I have moved back to the area in which I lived in my teens and early twenties I realise how little of its beautiful countryside I had seen back then because of course without a car it is inaccessible and even when we came by car to visit my mother we obviously didn’t then go off sightseeing much. I am loving discovering it all and am glad that when I was alive I finally did have a car!

For those interested I have also posted another page of my childhood memories - check it out on the sidebar.


  1. I really enjoyed your story about the trunk. It is amazing how little people had when you consider what we have nowadays...I think sometimes we need a reminder.

    Keep these lovely stories coming.

  2. Hey Jane, don't start me off again just yet. What a wonderful description of train travel! Is it any wonder our mothers had to scrub the back of our necks with a scratchy flannel with all those sooty smuts about!!!!

  3. We've just watched a special on TV about the Orien Express and though our trains weren't opulent like it , the show certainly brought back memories of train travel in my childhood.

    We used to travel from Brisbane to Rockhampton on an overnight train called the Sunlander. We would have a "sleeper" - our own compartment with a big bench seat that made up into bunk beds. It had all those nifty accessories including a fold out basin for washing your face and hands and cleaning your teeth. I remember how difficult it was to sleep with the swaying of the train and the clickety-clack of the lines.
    Thanks for reminding me.

  4. Gosh , if I close my eyes I can conjure up the wonderful smell of being inside a railway carriage. I suppose it was a mixture of smoke and stuff.I remember a primary school trip where we all traipsed off to London in a steam train from our little local station. That was pre-Beeching and I doubt they'd be so lucky these days. Lesley x

  5. The train carriages I remember but they were pulled by diesel engines... My Uncle was a steam train driver, well we called him uncle but I think he was my great uncle as he was granny's brother... I much preferred those old train carriages... just like the ones in Harry Potter... :D

    I remember the double decker buses and mum not allowing me to go upstairs... and I remember there being few cars on the road I grew up on... now you have mid terrace houses with one parking space and 2 or three cars... madness!

    I remember cycling around the lanes as a child and rarely having to dive in the hedge due to cars... these days I wouldn't allow Jamie to ride the lanes... people drive so fast through them and its just too much of a risk...

    x Alex

  6. Takes me right back! I remember, too, that railway platforms always seemed to have a stack of hampers full of racing pigeons.

  7. Fabulous write up as always Jane. Love the description of the steam train at the station. Could almost smell it. (I love that smell) if they bottled it, I would be the first to buy it.

    We have a railway line at the end of the garden. It is mainly used for those travelling back and forth to London. Sometimes a steam train goes by. I can hear the whistle as it leaves the village. I run to the bottom of the garden and feel so excited when it passes. I love the whistle, the smell and to see the smiling faces of the people on board.

    Remember trams as well....I was sad when they disappeared....

    Tks for the memory....

  8. Such great memories, I can almost hear the puffing of the train!
    I think there are too many cars now - you can't hear much else sometimes.... I think I will try to get down to the Keighley/ Haworth old railway to look at the old trains that still run on the line. I went on the Santa old train when I was very small -but I don't remember much about it!
    Lucy xxxxx

  9. Loved train travel when I was a child - except the inevitable smut in the eye - total agony and not as glam as Brief Encounter! We lived with a railway cutting just across the road from our Bristol house and when we moved in 1960 to rural Essex, my father couldn't sleep for months as he missed that distinctive clinky sound of trucks being shunted at night. Nothing quite equalled the sound of a massive GWR steam train going out of Temple Meads station. That wonderful slow build up of power!
    We never had a car as children so everything was done on public transport - or occasionally bike, and late night walks home all over Bristol when we'd stayed too late at friends and relatives and missed the last bus. A taxi was an exotic treat.

  10. When we moved house to the next town I carried on getting the bus to my old Junior school. The buses where open at the back and you hopped on and I wouls always go upstairs near the front. The conductor would come round to take your fare and turned the handle on his ticket machine to get the ticket. He would ding ding the bell to let the driver know when to stop and start! Good memories.

  11. I was rather frightened of trains when I was a child. We usually travelled by bus, which was known as the Service Car. Or my grandmother's horse and buggy!

  12. Lovely memories, I didn't know much about the transport back then, but it does sound very "romantic" compared to nowadays. Although I didn't think how dirty it could be in trains, though it's no suprise really with the amount of coal that was used. :) x

  13. I enjoyed these memories Jane. I have fond memories of the old red routemasters - having lived in London as a child and through my teens, this was our way of getting around the city and the neighbourhood. They always seemed to have cheeky conductors, straight out of "On The Buses".



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