Train historian’s Southern exposure
A book about the golden age of steam gets Peter Gruner nostalgic
10 January, 2019 — By Peter Gruner
The Stroudley B1 Gladstone class steam train from Victoria to Brighton in 1925
WITH hugely inflated fares, long delays and now “to add insult to injury” trains without toilets, Britain’s railway system is getting a bad reputation, according to a Camden-based writer.
Train historian John Scott-Morgan spoke out at the launch of his latest photographic book celebrating the 50th anniversary of the end of steam on British Rail.
The book, Southern Railway Gallery, features many of the great locomotives from a “golden age” and the line that once served London and the south-west from the beginning of the 20th century.
John, who has previously written about London Underground, believes today’s fat cat railway bosses, “who almost have a licence to print money”, could learn much from the proud pioneers of old Southern.
Southern Railway ran from 1923 to nationalisation in 1948, and “managed to invest money very wisely”, according to John.
Many of the famous named trains from the period, including the Brighton Belle, Bournemouth Belle, Golden Arrow and the Night Ferry (London – Paris and Brussels) are featured in the book.
He added: “Southern also created at that time the world’s largest electrified mainline railway system and one of the first electrified “intercity” routes from London to Brighton.
“And without breaking the bank they were able to modernise railway stations and lines.”
Not only that, but the company did great work during the war despite the bombing raids, said John.
Photographs from the book show a devastated Charing Cross station after a bombing raid on October 8 1940 when 48 people were killed or injured.
On the same page there’s also a photo of extensive bomb damage at Victoria station.
John added: “Not only did they have to build and repair locomotives, they also transported troops to Dover for the war effort and made tanks, armory and landing crafts.”
He doesn’t believe that nationalisation of the railways will provide all the answers. “In 1948 it just meant no more investment and the government taking away money from the service.”
He also doesn’t believe that franchising railways – the current system of contracting out the operation of the passenger services – is a good idea.
“Railways are not like TV companies, and all that happens with franchising is a small group of people make vast sums of money.
“Companies should only be allowed to make a certain amount of profit and you need legislation to prevent passengers from being ripped off.”
And now to top everything there are trains with no toilets. “I travelled on one from London to Reading. I had to get off at one station midway through the journey to use the loo. As a result I waited half an hour for the next train. It’s beyond belief,” he said.
The book looks at aspects of Southern from the early years in the early 1920s when the company had old worn-out stock on many of its lines, through to the introduction of new modern rolling stock and the electrification of much of its network in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and parts of Hampshire.
With photos in black and white, this is a fascinating book, both for those of a certain age who remember steam trains and younger ones who look back in awe at an old world gone by in a puff of smoke and a whistle.
John has written 34 railway books over 40 years and is a working member of railway preservation group the Great Western Society and the founding chairman of the British Overseas Railways Historical Trust.
• Southern Railway Gallery: A Pictorial Journey Through Time. By John Scott-Morgan, Pen and Sword Books, £25.