Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Childhood by the Railway

When I was a boy I lived on the north facing hill outside Esher that overlooks the main line from London to Portsmouth and Southampton. It had been built in 1838 by the London and Southampton Railway, later to become the famous London and South Western Railway (LSWR). From our front garden you could see the trains thundering back and forth along the embankment that ran like a stripe across the landscape. By then, of course, the glory days of steam in Surrey were long gone. It was electric trains that raced back and forth. But the odd steam train did go by, the plume of smoke drifting up into the air to disperse over the landscape.
Years later I was living down by the River Thames and commuting up to London by train from Surbiton along that self same LSWR mainline where I had grown up. Day after day I trudged up the hill to the striking inter-wars station to get on to one of the many commuter trains running up to Waterloo. By then all the steam trains had gone, but the mark of them was everywhere. The site of the old water tower, the blackened undersides of the bridges and the old engine sheds. I often wondered what Surrey had been like back in the days of steam.
My Uncle George had been a senior fireman on the LNER line running north from London. He used to tell me about his days on the footplate. He told me how he had started off as a teenager in the shed scrubbing and cleaning, gradually working his way up to be a fireman, first on shunters, then on local trains and finally on the great express trains that thundered along the main lines, belching smoke and steam as they powered up and down from London to York, Newcastle and Edinburgh. But I think he had preferred the country lines with their quiet stations, bunnies hopping in the fields and old-style station masters.
Surrey had been like that once. The railways came to Surrey in the 1840s and they were still being built in the 1930s, making Surrey most unusual among the counties of England. Across most of the country, railway building had ground to a halt long before the line to Chessington was opened in 1939, complete with suitably modernistic station architecture. Moreover, Surrey suffered only one line closure in the Beeching years, leaving over 90% of its railway lines open and operating into the 21st century. Surrey is most fortunate from the railway point of view.

From "How the Steam Railways came to Surrey" by Rupert Matthews

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Product Description

When I was a boy I lived overlooking the main railway line from London to Southampton. It had been built in 1838 by the London and Southampton Railway, later to become the famous London and South Western Railway (LSWR). From our front garden you could see the trains thundering back and forth along the embankment that ran like a stripe across the landscape. By then, of course, the glory days of steam in Surrey were long gone. It was electric trains that raced back and forth. But the odd steam train did go by, the plume of smoke drifting up into the air to disperse over the landscape.

The railways came to Surrey in the 1840s and they were still being built in the 1930s, making Surrey most unusual among the counties of England. Across most of the country, railway building had ground to a halt long before the line to Chessington was opened in 1939, complete with suitably modernistic station architecture.

Those railways were to have a dramatic impact on the landscapes, people and economy of Surrey. Indeed, the Surrey that we see today has been largely created by the railways. It is no exaggeration to say that more than any other county in England, Surrey has been built on railways.

About the Author
Rupert Matthews has written over 150 books for different publishers, achieving significant sales in a variety of markets both in the UK and abroad. His works have been translated into 19 languages and have been shortlisted for a number of awards. Rupert has been a freelance writer for 20 years, working in-house at a major book publisher before going freelance.

From the Author

I grew up overlooking the mainline from London to Southampton that cuts like a swathe through Surrey. I was thrilled to write this book, bringing back as it does so many memories of the old days.

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