Arthur Ransome's Railways

David Carter

As published in the year 2000

Transcribed and with [annotations] and additional links by Rob Boden

Post-online-publication notes and observations: Notes and Observations

It is now thirty-two years since the last regular steam-hauled train ran on Britain's railways [1968], and at least forty since they were the best and most popular means of transport to the Lake District and East Anglia. AR himself travelled frequently (and noted points of interest about his journeys in his personal diaries), so it is not surprising that he makes references to railways in his books.

Many younger TARS may never have experienced train travel at all, let alone by steam train, and a few words recalling those trains may be worth a short introduction to the subject.

Apart from the very fast (for those days) streamlined expresses which were introduced in 1935, and ran until the Second World War began in 1939, and one or two of the best Anglo-Scottish services, most main-line express services managed little more than an average of 50 mph, including stops. The latter were sometimes lengthy – 10 minutes at major junctions was not unusual. Local trains were much slower, and there were many stops at little-used but nonetheless well-staffed and often beautifully kept wayside stations. The Oxenholme-Windermere service is a good example of this: with stops at three intermediate stations in 10 miles (Kendal, Burneside and Staveley), the journey took between 25 and 30 minutes. Such branch line trains as these were often operated for years on end by the same crews, who knew many of their regular passengers and (tell it not in Gath!) were known to wait for tardy travellers who had misjudged their morning domestic schedules.

Accommodation for passengers was, on the main line, generally in corridor stock with separate compartments, each seating six in deep-cushioned and spacious comfort in the first class and six or eight in the rather less comfortable, but nonetheless quite passable thirds. (Second class survived only on boat trains from London to the South Coast.) Central corridor 'open' coaches were also used, sometimes for specially-built 'tourist' stock, as on the LNER [London North Eastern Railway], and almost always for dining cars. Local trains had non-corridor coaches with individual compartments each seating up to ten or even twelve passengers, and having doors at each side. A convenient and popular service offered by the railways, and almost certainly used by the Swallows on their journeys to and from the north, was known as 'Luggage in Advance', whereby for a fee of two shillings (10p!) a trunk would be collected from a passenger's home, and conveyed and delivered to his or her destination address, where it usually arrived before the passenger.

Many main-line trains carried coaches for different destinations, and the consequent re-making of these trains at junctions accounted for the length of the stops there. Through coaches might well end their journeys attached to, or actually become, local trains, but on a train like the 'Lakes Express' the main portion, complete with dining and kitchen cars, continued to Windermere, still hauled by its express locomotive, while sections were detached at various junctions and sent forward to Blackpool, Keswick, Whitehaven and Workington.

LMS 3rd class compartment, 1933 – typical of pre-war provision on main-line expresses. (1)

It is perhaps rather surprising, given the widespread reliance upon public road transport in the 1930s that Ransome does not make more mention of it in the Swallows and Amazons books. There are (so far as I have been able to discover) very few references to a bus service, and two of them refer to the same one. In PM.2, Nancy and Peggy greet the Ds at Windermere, telling them they have to take their suitcases to the bus, as they are going down to the boat landing at Rio, and in PM.23, Mary Swainson, having left the Great Aunt on board the house-boat, rows on to Rio and catches the bus from the pier-head up to the station, to take the train to Preston. More fleeting reference is to the red bus which Jim Brading caught at Felixstowe in his ill-starred search for fuel for Goblin (WD.7).

In 1935, the main portion of the down 'Lakes Express' sets out from Oxenholme along the Windermere branch behind LMS compound 4-4-0 No. 1174. Note the tall signal on the up main line at the foot of Grayrigg bank. The upper signals repeated the lower pair, and were designed to give drivers of descending trains ample warning of the situation at Oxenholme. The signal box on the right (Oxenholme No. 3) was demolished in 1942 as part of a new signalling programme. (2)

All the long-distance travel, by the Swallows and the Ds in particular, and the Amazons and Coots occasionally, is undertaken by train, reflecting the small proportion of car ownership even among the middle class of the period. The Walkers, having four children at boarding schools, must have been reasonably well-to-do, with (as was suggested in the reconstruction of Commander Walker's naval career – see MM Vol.1 No.2) some private income in addition to his service pay. Probably Mary Walker, as an Australian girl brought up on a sheep station, preferred riding to driving – she may not even have learnt to drive – and with Commander Walker being so often away at sea a car of their own would have been a needless extravagance. (There is implied confirmation of this in SW.1, when a car has to be sent to Pin Mill to take him to Shotley.) The Callums' father too, as a Professor and regular traveller to archaeological sites in the Near East, cannot have been badly served financially, yet there is no suggestion of a car in that family either.

An earlier view of the entrance to Windermere Station prior to 1923; is this Rattletrap on her way to Beckfoot? (3)

Apart from Mr Farland's car, used by him in his precipitate departure to take the train at Norwich (CC.17), the Blackett's ancient Rattletrap is the only 'family car' we know of, and even she was often driven by Billy Lewthwaite and not by Mrs Blackett. In passing, it may be noted that it was as well Nancy was not yet old enough to have a driving licence; one can only imagine the havoc which would have been wrought by the 'Terror of the Roads' around the lake...

Nonetheless, there are sufficient references to railway travel to have persuaded me that a little research into the timetables of the period would be worthwhile. By the kindness of the Librarian of the National Railway Museum in York, I was enabled to consult the Bradshaws Guide [a railway guide with timetables] and company (LMS and LNER) timetables [London Midland Scottish and London North Eastern Railway] in the Museum's archives; Andrew Sharp provided another Bradshaw not available in York, and from these some extremely interesting coincidences between fact and fiction have been found. It is clear enough that Ransome was no slapdash writer, content to invent circumstances to fit his story-line. Indeed, he himself must have been familiar with the main railway routes which are mentioned in the books. In the analysis that follows, the chronology for the books as suggested by Christina Hardyment in ARCFT, [Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint's Trunk], and in the reconstruction of Commander Walker's naval career, has been used.

Interior of Windermere Railway Station looking along platform 2 in LNWR days [London North Western Railway- amalgamated into LMS on 1/1/1923] with Wyman's bookstall on the left. This platform was used by all main-line trains both arriving and departing. A sign marks the parcels office where Nancy searched in vain for Timothy. Apart from the posters, little changed before the station was converted into a supermarket in 1986. (4)

LMS – the best way for smooth and comfortable travel
Bowness pier in the 1920s
with "Swift" (?) arriving in 1929

Summer 1929

Apart from Captain Flint's saying that he would be travelling to London next day (SA.31) the first book is innocent of any railway reference. It is probable, however, that he would have taken the 9.20 from Windermere, whose through carriages to London were transferred at Oxenholme (Strickland Junction) to the 8.25 restaurant car express from Carlisle, due in London (Euston) at 4.15. This service, and its lineal descendants, continued for many years, even after the Second World War, and provided one of the most convenient ways of travelling from the southern Lake District to London: I used it both regularly and frequently during my naval service.

Steam at Oxenholme
LMS restaurant car service

Summer 1931

It is in SD that much more is said about train travel. In SD.1, the Swallows travel together with their mother on the long journey to the north, and Susan is said to be very tired the next day, having taken charge during the journey, and glad no longer to have to listen to strange voices in the din of railway stations to make sure that they ought not to be changing trains. This of course was before the introduction of public address systems on railway stations: porters were responsible for walking up and down the platforms as a train arrived, calling out the name of the station, and the destinations for which passengers would have to change. The different local accents as a long journey progressed made it even more difficult for those in the train to hear and understand what they were being told, above the noises of escaping steam, other trains stopping or starting, and luggage, parcels and mail bags being trundled along the platforms on large trolleys. A sound no longer heard, but which was usual when an express stopped at a major station, is that of the wheel-tapper – a man with a long-handled hammer, whose task it was to tap the rim of each carriage wheel, the sound indicating whether or not the tyre was cracked.

While it is true that London is not mentioned as the Swallows' point of departure, the implication that it was not necessary to change leads one to the supposition that they must have been travelling from the capital, as any other point of departure – for example, from Falmouth – would have entailed, at the very least, a change at Crewe, for although there were 'West to North' services, none carried through carriages for Windermere.

Moreover, Susan was right to have been concerned. The most likely train for them would have been the 11.35 from Euston, which conveyed through carriages for Blackpool, Whitehaven (via Barrow), Keswick and Workington (via Penrith) as well as the main portion for Windermere, where it was due at 5.29. This train had been introduced in the summer service of 1923, and acted as a relief to the earlier 10.40 departure (principally a Carlisle train, but conveying coaches for several destinations, including Windermere) whose departure time was less convenient for travellers who had started their journeys further south, and had had to allow time for crossing London. The 11.35 was also the faster train of the two, reaching Windermere only 21 minutes later than the 10.40.

A 1957 view of the interior of Windermere station, taken from the platform opposite that in the previous picture. (5)

SD.25 and 27 provide clues to the great Aunt's return journey from Windermere to her home in Harrogate – from where, of course, she writes to Nancy in PM.3. We know that she was to leave Beckfoot at 7.55; that she liked to be driven slowly; and that the Amazons would be with the Swallows, at Half Way Camp on Kanchenjunga, by 9.00; and that when they met, Nancy wanted to climb higher so that they might, with luck, see the smoke (actually, the white steam) of the train which was taking the Great Aunt away.

This evidence points conclusively to her having left on the 9.25, which arrived at Carnforth at 10.24. She would then have made a connection there with the 10.30 to Leeds. One can imagine her imperious commands to the porter as he carried her cases down the long ramp from the 'up' platform, along the subway, up another ramp and along the opposite platform to the 'Midland bay', from which the Leeds trains left. It is – or was, for the main line platforms at Carnforth are now no longer in use – quite a distance to cover in six minutes, when burdened with luggage. That train arrives in Leeds at 12.34, where she would have had a good hour's wait for the 1.40 to Harrogate, arriving at 2.14, in nice time for an early cup of tea. The name of the 'Midland bay' recalls the pre-1923 grouping days, when Carnforth was the point at which the Furness Railway (from Barrow), the London and North Western main line, and the Furness and Midland joint line to Wennington (and thence the Midland to Leeds) met. Indeed, to this day, 69 years later [2000], the signalbox controlling the junction is named 'Carnforth (F and M Junction)'. It was of course over these Midland and Furness lines that the Ransome family travelled on their holiday journeys to and from Nibthwaite.

Carnforth, showing the main-line platforms on the right and the subway leading to them (used by the GA on her way back to Leeds and Harrogate.) (The outer wall on the left has since been moved to accommodate the Barrow platform.) (6)

Carnforth station looking towards Barrow. The view shows the platform and crossover road used by trains for the Furness line. Beyond may be seen the bay platform used by Midland Division trains for Leeds. The sign for the Refreshments Room is just visible. This is better known and one of the locations in the film Brief Encounter. (7)

The Lakes Express at Preston in 1965
A wheeltapper, tapping wheels

Winter 1931/2

WH again gives us only one reference to railways, in WH.1, where the Ds have arrived at Dixon's farm, "the night before, after their railway journey with Mrs Dixon". The same chapter offers confirmation that the Ds were city children: the farm noises were "so very different from the roar of traffic in the streets at home"; and from WH.5 we learn that they had frequented an "indoor skating rink close by the University buildings at home."

The meaning of the reference to the railway journey is a trifle ambiguous. Had Mrs Dixon accompanied the Ds on the train, or had they simply travelled with her from the station? One assumes the latter, for it would surely have taken too much of the time of a busy farmer's wife – to say nothing of the expense – to make the double journey to the Ds' home and back. In CC.1 the Ds must have started their journey to Wroxham from London, and it may therefore be inferred, taking both these evidences together, that their home was in London. That being so, they probably came by the 10.40 from Euston, arriving at Windermere at 5.08; well after dark in January.

Railway postcard – view of Kendal from Oxenholme
with Kanchenjunga in the background

Easter 1932 (still the winter timetable)

A pre-War poster (1914) advertising the peaceful delights of the Norfolk Broads – not a Hullabaloo in sight! (8)

Thorpe Station at the time of its rebuilding in the 1880s. The Ds would have used the right-hand platform. (9)

The latter part of the Ds' journey to Wroxham showing the stops. (10)
CC probably has more railway clues than any of the other books, even though the story is almost exclusively about sailing and bird-watching. CC.1 opens by telling us that the Ds' train had stopped briefly at "Ipswich and Colchester and (a) few other stations" before its arrival at Norwich. The train had waited there for ten minutes before going on to Wroxham, where the stationmaster mentions Port and Starboard as having "had their dinners" by that time; in CC.2 Mrs Barrable has taken the Ds to lunch before joining the motor boat for the trip down river to the Teasel.

Thus we are looking for a semi-fast train from London, getting to Wroxham about lunchtime, and we find it in the 10.03 from Liverpool Street to Cromer, which stopped at Ilford, Chelmsford, Marks Tey, Colchester, Ipswich, Stowmarket, Diss and Forncett, arriving at Norwich at 1.09. It was due to leave Norwich at 1.17; perhaps it left a couple of minutes late that day, or perhaps Dorothea was just estimating the time, for we know how time can drag for children when they are waiting for some long-awaited event. If it were in fact late, that turned out to be a hidden bonus for Tom who, as it was, nearly missed it.

It is not absolutely clear whether the train actually stopped again between Norwich and Wroxham. Ransome notes that after it had crossed the old river again, it was "slowing up at a station." This would have been Salhouse, [it would be Whitlingham Junction – RB] where that particular train stopped at 1.30 on Thursdays and Saturdays only, before its arrival at Wroxham at 1.34. True, Dick remarks on a heron "soon after they had passed Salhouse station", but Ransome's formulation is still unusual, for one would normally refer to "slowing up for a station" (i.e. where a speed limit could well be in force) or "stopping up at a station"; having "passed" a station could mean either, and so we cannot be sure on which day the Ds were travelling. However, we do know that Mr Farland was racing Flash that afternoon, so it was very probably the Saturday.

LNER Luggage Tag (11)

We must hope that Mr Farland did catch his train to London when (CC.17) he had to rush away, leaving Port and Starboard to try to catch Teasel. He tells his clerk in Norwich that he is coming in to Norwich by car, and has "got to catch the 9.01" – but he must be confused because there was no 9.01 from Norwich to London at that time. The train he must have had in mind might have been the 8.51, a train with numerous stops, which arrived in London at 12.40, although had he been able to catch it, the 8.45 was a much faster restaurant car express, stopping only at Ipswich, and getting to London at 11.15. Is it possible that the express had been retimed, and AR was quoting the one with which he had been familiar at an earlier date? This seems unlikely, as CC was first published in 1934, at a period when retiming (accelerating) trains was most often done by delaying the departure time and keeping the same arrival time, rather than the other way round.

CC.18 makes reference to a train which "roared across" Breydon Bridge just after Teasel had passed through in the late afternoon of her first day's cruising. It would seem likely that this was the 5.28 from Lowestoft, due at Gorleston North at 5.56 and Yarmouth Beach at 6.03 [this was the Midland and Great Northern Railway station in Yarmouth]. In connection with bridges, Ransome also mentions a goods engine which crossed the first of the Yarmouth bridges just as Come Along, with Port and Starboard on board, passed at slack water in her vain pursuit of Teasel. The only possible hope of tracing this movement would lie in a working (as opposed to the public) timetable and this I was not able to find. [Working timetables are those used by railway operators to run the railway].

Breydon Water & Great Yarmouth. (12)

Sailing down the Yare (CC.25) Teasel was waved on by the signalman at Reedham Bridge as she approached, about midmorning, on her way back to Yarmouth. [Reedham Bridge is a swing bridge that would enable sailing ships to pass through by swinging parallel to the river]. Starboard comments that perhaps the bridge will be shut for a long time, and Dick responds by suggesting that two trains may be coming, or shunting may be about to take place. The first suggestion is possibly the more likely: the 9.48 from Norwich arrived at Lowestoft at 11.17, and there was a train from Lowestoft for Norwich at 9.17. As Reedham is nearly half way between the two places, Dick might have been right: it could just have been that they passed each other near there at about 10.30.

[The track between Norwich and Lowestoft is double, so that the two trains could pass each other at any point. Reedham bridge is also over half a mile from Reedham station, so it is difficult to think there would be any shunting operations extending that far! The bridge is half way between Norwich and Lowestoft, and with a disparate start time of 31 minutes, the bridge would have remained shut for approximately 30 minutes.]

Breydon Bridge, otherwise known as the Breydon Water Viaduct of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway. The signal box is shown on the map above (S.B.) at the north end of the bridge. (13)

It is more likely that the wave came from the bridge operator, whose cabin is seen on the top of the opening span (above). (14)

A DMU next to the "straight ugly cutting" (CC.1) near Norwich Thorpe
Train entering Whitlingham Junction station
and a train coming off the Cromer line from Wroxham

Wroxham station about 1900
and in the 1920s

The 'East Anglian' train leaving Norwich
The Hullabaloos? – 1937 LNER poster
Potter Heigham railway bridge meant keeping your mast down after passing under the road bridge

Reedham swing bridge open, viewed from Reedham village
and closed
and from the river
with a wherry passing
Finally, looking north across the bridge towards Reedham village

Summer 1932

It is in PP.1 that Ransome brings his trains to life, in his drawing of the locomotive standing at Strickland Junction as Roger releases the homing pigeon to fly to Beckfoot. The drawing is unmistakably of the Windermere branch platform at Oxenholme, but the locomotive is facing the wrong way! The branch diverges at the north end of Oxenholme, and the wall shown is on the western side of the station. The drawing most nearly depicts an ex-LNWR [London North Western Railway] 4-4-2 tank engine, of which a number were shedded at Oxenholme to run trains on the Windermere branch, and to act as bankers (assisting engines) for heavy trains proceeding north up Grayrigg Bank on the way to Shap and Carlisle. Incidentally, Ransome's use of Strickland Junction is quite reasonable: just north of Kendal lie the two civil parishes of Strickland Roger and Strickland Ketel. Stricklandgate is the road leading out of Kendal towards Windermere.

An ex-LNWR 4-4-2 tank engine used on the Windermere branch at Oxenholme shed. (15)

We know from Nancy's label on the pigeon basket that Titty and Roger were expected at Strickland Junction on the 6.05 train. Now it is not immediately apparent whether they changed trains, or went on to Windermere after a short stop. The difficulty arises because there was a train which arrived at Oxenholme at 6.05 – this was an 'all stations' local from Preston. According to the timetable, it appeared to end its journey at Oxenholme, giving a connection to the train which left at 6.16, arriving at Windermere at 6.45. It could well be, and probably was, that the same locomotive and carriages simply continued as the Windermere train, and in this case the train would almost certainly have run into the branch platform from the south, rather than using the main line platform.

The southern approach to Oxenholme in 1968 showing the Windermere branch platform to the left. (16)

But why should Titty and Roger have been travelling on a local train when they had apparently come a long way? (Roger remarks to the farmer's wife that he and Titty had "come straight from school" and Titty adds "John and Susan must be here already. It isn't so far from their schools.") There was a Glasgow and Edinburgh express from Manchester (leaving at 3.00) which stopped at Oxenholme only on Fridays, but it did make possible a connection to the 6.05 arrival either at Preston (arrive 4.20, depart 4.30) or, less conveniently, at Lancaster (arrive 4.44, depart 5.23).

Oxenholme around 1940 with short platforms but full roofing. (17)

This confirms Andrew Sharp's contention, and confirmed by my recollection of my own schooldays, that most school terms ended – and indeed began – on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. But where were Titty and Roger at school? And, more to the point, if the school had been in the Manchester area, where were the schools nearer to the Lake District that John and Susan attended? More likely, Titty and Roger had travelled, possibly from somewhere in East Anglia by the former Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln line, and had therefore had to change in Manchester. Certainly there was no train from London which would have made a change onto the 6.05 necessary.

A typical main line goods train headed by an ex-LNWR 0-8-0 passes Oxenholme No.3 box. The Windermere branch falls steeply away to the left. (18)

We do not know definitely which schools John and Susan attended, but the inference is that they were within striking distance of the West Coast main line, and probably somewhere in the Midlands. John might well have been at Rugby (AR's own old school) or Uppingham. Oundle is a possibility in that there was a train from there to Rugby (depart 10.09, arrive 11.51) making a connection with the 10.40 from London (depart Rugby 12.28, arrive Windermere 5.10, but this train did not run on Fridays or Saturdays) or with the 11.35 Lakes Express (depart Rugby 1.12, arrive Windermere 5.29. This would explain the porter's reference to the pigeon which had been released by the "folk that come by the earlier train".) From the railway point of view, Uppingham would have been more awkward (depart 10.08, change at Seaton (10.16/11.13), arrive Rugby 11.58). The whereabouts of Susan's school is a mystery, the writer being unfamiliar with such establishments!

LMS No.6247 Courier (later renamed The Northamptonshire Regiment) picks up the Windermere-Euston carriages at Oxenholme's back platform for attachment to the 8.30am working from Carlisle to London. (19)

Later that same summer, the unexpected (to the Swallows) arrival of the Amazons at Secret Water was another event made possible by train travel. Nancy and Peggy were "rushed round to the station in Rattletrap first thing in the morning" and then spent the night in London with their Aunt Helen (who appears nowhere else in the books – except as a dedicatee of PM) before travelling on to Ipswich where they were met by Commander and Mrs. Walker and taken smartly to Pin Mill. The early departure from Windermere again points to the 9.25 rather than the later 11.25, although there was only an hour between the arrival times of these two trains at Euston (4.20 and 5.20 respectively). Moreover, the quantity of gear they had been asked (? ordered) to carry would have precluded any attempts at a cross-country journey, with its inevitable changes.

Ex. L&NW 4-4-2T No.6748 comes off the branch at Oxenholme with a return excursion. Some of the rolling stock is of remote antiquity. (20)

For their onward journey from London (Liverpool Street) to Ipswich they must almost certainly have made an early start, for we know that Commander Walker would have been in a hurry to catch a London train to keep his appointment at the Admiralty. The options would have been the 6.50 from Liverpool Street (Ipswich 9.38), or the 8.15 (Ipswich 10.05). The first seems a trifle hard on Aunt Helen. The latter would have allowed Commander and Mrs Walker to take the 11.42 from Ipswich (Liverpool Street 1.13) or the 12.23 (Liverpool Street 2.00). The later train carried a restaurant car, and therefore seems the better choice. In those days it seems unlikely that any profit would have been gained from a visit to the Admiralty before, say, 2.30. Senior naval officers, then as now, liked a leisurely lunch!

Windermere Station. The portico beneath which Rattletrap waited. (21)

LNWR 4-4-2T engine
Peter Owen Jones' painting of Oxenholme with mainline train arriving in 1934

A diesel multiple unit at Oxenholme pre electrification – in colour

Summer 1933

Ransome sets a pretty puzzle near the opening of PM. In chapter 2, he tells us that Dorothea (who had been seen off by her mother at Euston – another confirmation that the Ds' home was in London – had been joined by Dick, coming straight from school, at Crewe. Dick tells Dorothea that he had had his lunch at Crewe where (he notes with scientific accuracy) he had had 37 minutes to wait before the train from London had come in.

It has been suggested by some TARS that Dick must have been at school at Rugby, as he refers to his fellow pupils as 'men', a Rugby usage. But if that were so, why did he not join Dorothea at Rugby? For the Crewe stop must have occurred about lunchtime, and the only train from London with through carriages for Windermere which fits that time requirement was the 10.40 from London, which arrived at Crewe at 2.04, having earlier stopped at Rugby. So then, if the London train was on time, what train could Dick have taken which would have required him to wait 37 minutes for his connection? The only one which ran (very nearly) to such a timetable was a West to North (Bristol to Manchester and Liverpool) train which left Shrewsbury at 12.50 and was scheduled to arrive at Crewe at 1.30, resulting in a wait of 34 minutes – so perhaps Dick's train had been 3 minutes early that day, or Dorothea's the same amount late. But there is of course a major public school at Shrewsbury, and it begins to look as if Dick may well have been educated there.

Leeds Central as the GA would have seen it on journeys to and from Harrogate. (22)

The Great Aunt's unwelcome arrival from Harrogate we know from PM.3 to have been expected between 6.30 and 7.00 in the evening. Assuming that she left her departure from Harrogate as late as possible, she would have taken the 12.30 to Leeds, where she would have had time for a light luncheon in the old Queen's Hotel, while a hotel porter transferred her luggage between the Central and New stations. (The old 'New' station was combined with Leeds Wellington to form Leeds City in May 1938). Such tasks were not unwelcome for the porters: a little effort would earn a tip, perhaps as much as a florin or even a half-crown [10p or 12.5p] if the traveller were feeling generous, and the porter had troubled to find a corner seat by waiting at the compartment door. (One may assume that the Great Aunt would have insisted on the porter's finding her a non-smoking compartment!) The train for Carnforth left at 2.00, arriving there at 4.07. If that train were on time, she could have made a swift connection to the 4.14 for Windermere, arriving at 5.10, or, if the Leeds train were late, she had a fall-back position in the 4.38, which was due in Windermere at 5.29. Assuming further that she gave her driver the same instructions as she did when returning to Windermere from Beckfoot, namely not to drive at more than 10 miles an hour (PM.30), the difference in the two train times reasonably neatly fits in with her estimate of her time of arrival at Beckfoot, for we have seen from SD.1 that she liked to allow a good hour for the journey.

Lakeside, "the station at the foot of the lake." (23)

Mary Swainson's journey to Preston for her week's holiday (PM.23) began with her carrying the Great Aunt in the rowing-boat first to Wild Cat Island and then to the houseboat. It was, we know, after lunch when the Great Aunt suddenly decided to call away the car, driven by Billy Lewthwaite, and we know too that Mary, having been delayed, very nearly missed the bus from the pier to the station, where she had first to buy her ticket and then find her seat in one of the through carriages. It would seem likely, then, that she caught the 3.55 from Windermere, which carried through carriages for Manchester, and which arrived at Preston at 5.14. This departure allows plenty of time for Mary's diversions on the lake, and the timing of the lake steamer's southbound service (one of which called at Bowness Pier at 3.40, and so was probably the one which arrived there "with a great flurry of reversed propellers" at the same time as Mary in her rowing boat) supports this contention. Now it is true that Ransome says that the steamer was "coming from the foot of the lake"; in other words, it was a northbound service. But the northbound steamers in fact usually came directly alongside at Bowness, only using astern power to come to a final stop, going astern on departure, and turning in the bay, whereas those travelling in the opposite direction stopped in the bay and came astern to moor at the pier.

Ulverston Station on the Carnforth-Barrow line; local trains for the Lakeside branch started from here. AR would have known this scene. (24)

The "great flurry" mentioned by Ransome would more probably be that caused in this way. It will be noted here that Ransome most definitely confirms Windermere as the point of departure, for he mentions the alternative routing from "the station at the foot of the lake" (i.e. Lakeside) which would have meant Mary having to make certainly one change (at Ulverston ) and possibly two (Carnforth as well) on her way to Preston.

Rio Bay. Note the steamer's mode of arrival:
"The steamer, with a great flurry of reversed propellers, was coming alongside the pier." (25)

The train taken by the Great Aunt upon her departure for Harrogate (PM.27) was probably the 2.18 from Windermere. She had ordered her car for 1.00, a time which again fits with the allowance of rather more than an hour for the journey to Windermere. She would then have changed as usual at Carnforth with, however, rather more time to do so, for she would have arrived there at 3.21 and not left until 3.56. We may perhaps suppose that she used the wait to have tea in the Refreshment Room on Carnforth station; a facility which was later to find fame as an important location in the film Brief Encounter. True, there was an earlier 3.24 but this, apart from making an unacceptably tight connection, was an 'all stations' to Leeds, not arriving there until 7.04, whereas the 3.56, although by no means a fast train, did get there at 6.24. The final part of the journey could have been accomplished in the 6.40 from Leeds, another comparatively slow train which did not arrive in Harrogate until 7.22.

Hellifield (above) and Bell Busk (bellow) were on the Leeds-Carnforth and Morecambe line. (26)

Bell Busk. (27)

Windermere station in 1931
In LMS days when there were four platforms in use

Bowness pier with a bus waiting for passengers

The station at the bottom of the lake
the combined steamer pier and the station building on the right

Coots in the North

There is insufficient detail in the final paragraph of CN to show the route followed by the Death and Glories on their journey back to the Broads, but we do know that their adventure took place in the summer. If we take it that they travelled at a weekend, for this would have offered the easiest journey, they would have caught the 8.30 from Windermere to Manchester Exchange (known locally as the 'Club Train', for it conveyed a private Club Car whose occupants, prominent Manchester businessmen with residences in the Lake District, paid a supplement over the normal first-class fare) arriving at 10.30. Thence the Coots would have transferred to Manchester Central for the (Fridays and Saturdays only) 12.00 through train to Lowestoft and Yarmouth, which got to Norwich at 5.25. This in turn would have allowed them to take the 5.48 from Norwich to Wroxham, arriving at 6.08.

*   *   *   *

Has all this been an exercise in pure nostalgia, recalling more spacious days when it was possible to send children on long journeys, unaccompanied, in the knowledge that a friendly guard would keep an eye on the young travellers? For those who only know railway companies today, whose one ambition appears to be to make the interiors of long-distance trains as much like aeroplanes as possible, and those of local trains like buses, AR's descriptions must appear as strange and foreign as those of space travel do to those of us who long ago qualified as 'Aged Parents'. And while there may not really have been a 'golden age' of railways, was it not better to spend a little longer, in comfort, on a given journey, and be reasonably sure of arriving at the stated time, than to enter a dirty, crowded and uncomfortable train whose arrival time is (a) uncertain and (b) considered to be 'on time' if it is no more than 10 minutes late?

Ulverston Station looking towards Carnforth. AR would have used this station. (28)

Furness Railway train entering Ulverston station – a painting by C Hamilton-Ellis
The Furness Railway's steam railmotor that worked on the Coniston branch until 1915 – another C Hamilton-Ellis painting


The author, the Society, and All Things Ransome acknowledge the kindness of the following copyright holders in permitting the reproduction of their photographs:

(1) - Atlantic Transport Publishers
(2) - F R Hebron/Rail Archive Stephenson
(3) - Bernard Matthews Collection
(4) - Bernard Matthews Collection
(5) - Atlantic Transport Publishers
(6) - The Sankey Collection
(7) - O S Nock/The Railway Magazine
(15) - The LNWR Society
(18) - The LNWR Society
(20) - The LNWR Society
(25) - The Sankey Collection
(27) - Greenwood/Rail Archive Stephenson

To the copyright holders of all other photographs, which the author was unable to discover or to contact, we offer our apologies, and thanks for having taken pictures which have helped to illustration this small publication.

The illustration at the beginning, "Letting Fly", is from Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome.
Copyright © The Arthur Ransome Literary Estate.
Reprinted by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. and the Arthur Ransome Literary Executors.

The illustration (11) of an LNER luggage label is taken from an original in the author's possession. The Ds' hand luggage could well have borne similar labels.

Links to additional pictures on the internet were provided by Rob Boden in converting the booklet to digital format, and are intended to serve as a complement to the existing photographs and illustrations. All linked material, by reference and original copyrights, belong to the authors and publishers.

This booklet is ©2000 by David Carter, and has been posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

This transcription is by Rob Boden, done in 2011. Annotations as provided by Rob Boden are in [square brackets]. Additional links provided by Mr. Boden are shown in boxes at the end of each section.

Arthur Ransome's Railways was originally published by TARS, The Arthur Ransome Society, in 2000.

All Things Ransome would like to thank all those mentioned or referenced in the Acknowledgements section above; our particular thanks to David Carter for creating the original publication and Rob Boden for contributing the digital transcript.

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