Monday, 11 March 2013

STAR-CROSSED - AN ATMOSPHERIC CAPER


Our recent trip to Devon brought back memories of my first sight of the West Country, when I was very young. My father decided it would be fun to visit his sister and my cousins in Yealmpton (near Plymouth) by train, taking the coastal route for much of the journey.

Plymouth Hoe 1953

One vivid memory I have is of the railway line beyond Exeter, right next to the sea! Miraculously, we didn't tumble off the rails and into the salty waves. A month ago I rediscovered the thrilling setting.

                                                         
This is Starcross, near Dawlish. The red brick tower is a Victorian pumping station, built for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Atmospheric Railway which ran between Exeter and Plymouth for barely a year - 1847 to 1848. 

                                                          
This means of rail transport was an expensive experiment built by Brunel and others in various locations, and involved, to put it simply, the propulsion of the train by suction. The salty spray on this seaside route meant that leather seals on vital vacuum pipes were difficult to keep in good condition and, when greased and oiled with tallow, became tasty treats for rats. The experiment was a failure...


...but trains still run along the track.


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Railways are written into my family's history. They enjoyed the romance of the journey. They travelled to the hills above Darjeeling on the Himalayan Railway, as well as around Britain and Europe - on trains.


And they worked on the railways - navvies in the Welsh Marches, plate-layers and station masters in Buckinghamshire, signalmen and train drivers on the Southern Region. It's in our blood.

Selfridges 1963
(If you are old enough to know the name of the passenger, I promise I won't tell!)

Clickety clack. Clickety clack. Wooooo Wooooo!


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19 comments:

  1. I love the romance of travelling by trains in the days gone by....Great pictures and could that be YOU Nilly in the photograph? Such a pretty picture.
    Love Maria x

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    1. Yes - I'm the one without the cute freckles!

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  2. OMG - the swimsuits! Is that you? I have a very similar pic from my childhood with my sister. My hair short, straight and with a bow tied ribbon. Though I am scowling.

    And that famous passenger is Dickie Henderson I think. He performed at a corporate do in London for the international firm I worked for in 1970 - rather on the downward slope by then (him not me!)

    I've always loved trains as well. I fondly remember the proper buffet and restaurant cars of not so long ago. Full English breakfast starting with porridge, three course lunch or dinner. I think I may do a blog post about them myself now that you've reminded me.

    Oh where are the snows of yesteryear ("les neiges d'antan").

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    1. They have not melted in our memories...
      Yes - That's me, the one with no freckles, sadly. And yes, it's Dickie Henderson. My husband said, "What WAS Dickie Henderson?" I suppose he was one of the entertainment industry's first "general purpose" personalities.

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  3. I am feeling full up with nostalgia Nilly - a lovely post - the trains were so exciting in that bygone era. Could the little girl on the righthand side be you? I had a swimming costume like that, they must have been all the rage. I was so embarrassed the first time I wore mine. When I came out of the sea the wet costume turned transparent.

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    1. Phew! Thank goodness mine were quite thick and didn't turn transparent.

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  4. Another lovely nostalgic post nilly, I do love train travel too. I love the photgraph of you and your sister such a lovely memory. I too had one of those bubble costumes I think mine was pink. It is nice to visit childhood memories especially to stand in exactly the same spot. Last year I stayed in Pately Bridge for a week and stood and took the same image that I took nearly thirty years ago with Emily as a tiny girl, standing under the most huge hanging basket that the village have every year. Happy Days x

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    1. Jayne you MUST take a look at this website.
      http://dearphotograph.com/
      In fact - I'm just off for another look!

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  5. you and your sister are so beautiful. You and I had the same swimsuits, all knobbly (the cossies, not us!) and stretchy? At least we didn't get the knitted ones!

    Thankyou so much for all your kind comments, you are lovely, and they do make a difference.
    yes, thinking too much does have its drawbacks doesn't it, but then I guess its just how it is.
    Sunny and bitterly cold here- I'm just about to venture out in my 10 thermal layers
    xx

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    1. Wish I had a sister - I'm an only child! That's cousin Vera with the freckles.
      Yes, thank goodness I didn't have a knitted cozzie, though they were still around, embarrassing those whose Mums made them wear them (and making the rest of us giggle).

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  6. My great aunt lived in Teignmouth in a bungalow on the top of the cliffs. We used to scramble down the footpath and across the line to the beach. I remember my mother spending much of our holiday trying to capture a steam train just emerging out of the tunnel.

    Like Rosemary I had a cossie like yours, and horror of horrors mum made me wear a vest underneath!

    LLX

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    1. A vest? Not a liberty bodice?

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  7. Fabulous post Nilly. I'm thinking Dickie Henderson too, I had completely forgotten about him. And yes I had a swimsuit like yours when I was about 3, bright red and a little Spanish red and black hat to match, I thought I was the bees knees. I have a picture of me wearing my outfit but it's in slide form, remember them?
    Jean xx

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    1. I have a photo of me in a Spanish straw hat ! It looks very fetching with my sun suit trimmed with ric rac braid!

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  8. I had forgotten about Dickie Henderson!

    I have always had a deep love of the Railway too and my most exciting adventure was taking a train in Morocco. I live near to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre and originate from Wales, so we some similarity.

    A few years ago I went to visit my friend in Devon and had a trip each way on the coastal railway, such fun with the waves reaching the windows.

    Your photographs are lovely, they remind me of my childhood.

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    1. We must try that - the older I get the more I want to re-visit and re-live happy experiences.

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  9. You've made remember a train journey I had along the north coast of Wales when I went for an interview at Bangor University. I was offered a place and loved the journey, which, as you described so perfectly, felt thrillingly close to the sea - but I didn't go. I'd also applied to Hull, Bristol and Exeter, so obviously the sea was a draw for me. (And all places at some distance from Bradford....) I ended up in London!

    Love the cossies and poor Brunel - good idea fraught with problems!
    Great post, Nilly,
    Axxx

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    1. When I first visited The North, aged 19 with a Yorkshire boyfriend, I thought Bradford was amazing (Coronation street come to life!) I loved Bradford Market's cafes with people crowded into stalls with wooden seats, pie & peas, tripe and cow's udder! Why on earth did you want to leave?

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  10. I love that little railway line. There is also a ferry boat that will take you from Dawlish Warren to Exmouth.

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