A heretical notion

Discussion in 'Railway History & Nostalgia' started by Calthrop, 4 Jan 2017.

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  1. backontrack

    backontrack Established Member

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    A good book I got at Xmas, The Trains Now Departed by Michael Williams, has an interesting chapter about the L&B.
     
  2. Calthrop

    Calthrop Member

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    The notion of an electrified (whether overhead, or third-rail) L & B had never entered my head, prior to this thread -- it's taken a bit of digesting. Well, I've always loved the Manx Electric -- though that was electrically-worked from the outset...

    I just find it difficult not to feel – especially with minor rural local lines built late-on (broadly, turn-of-19th / 20th-centuries period) – that these were characterised by setting about the undertaking involved, in a sadly “lame” way: yet still more, with the restrictions imposed by the 1896 Light Railways Act – some would express doubts as to whether these lines offered (save for a select few "land and mill owners") much of an improvement upon horses and carts. (And corresponding stuff which was then going on on the Continent -- in France, for example -- with the instituting in large quantity, of narrow-gauge roadside tramways: appears /appeared, even more “palsied” and of dubious usefulness.)

    More than anything else – as I’ve touched on earlier in the thread – the inaugurating of these highly-rural lines seems pretty futile, in the light of how soon and how dramatically road motor transport would “take off” and render them nonsensical or not far short thereof -- particularly passenger-wise: some of the standard-gauge light railways continued to be of some use for freight, in times after their passenger services were withdrawn. It should be borne in mind, of course, that “hindsight is 20 / 20”: at the time, people don’t know what’s going to happen in the future – at best they can take note of the way that the wind seems to be blowing, and extrapolate; which they may do rightly or wrongly.
     
  3. Bevan Price

    Bevan Price Established Member

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    Traditional stagecoaches were made mainly of wood. Unless they were stored in dry conditions, they would soon deteriorate due to dry and / or wet rot.

    The only chance of their survival in "olden times" would have been to be saved by a sentimental member of the "landed gentry" - few others would have had either the space or the finances.
     
  4. bspahh

    bspahh Member

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    In the summer of 1995, I was working in Bath, and my girlfriend worked at the Youth Hostel in Lynton. To get there, I used a mixture of routes - sometimes by train to Barnstaple and then on the bus, other times to Taunton and onwards on a community bus, other times by train to Bridgewater and then on to Lynton by bicycle, and a couple of times by bicycle for the whole journey.

    The least slow was via Taunton, but the buses were not very frequent. Cycling was generally nice, although I always had to walk for Porlock Hill and for the climb out of Lynmouth as they are both 1 in 4. Countisbury Hill is an easier climb.

    I don't like modern buses, so I don't think I would have used an old one, or a stagecoach if cycling was an alternative.
     
  5. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    Much like many of the thousands of miles of French narrow gauge systems built under the Frecinet (sic) plans of the 1880's ad onwards , "chemins de fer local interet" - once the internal combustion engine appeared they were doomed and huge numbers succumbed in the 1930's (bar those that struggled on through WW2 - and fell in the 1950's)

    Deeply rural location - and not competitive in the long term. Regretably.
     
  6. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member

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    I just looked those two up, I'd heard of the Little Yellow Train before but not the other one. Lovely little railways.
     
  7. Shimbleshanks

    Shimbleshanks Member

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    Plus probably a lack of awareness of their historic significance at the time.
    Not many people would have realised or cared that the long distance mail coach was about to become a thing of the past. The sheer speed with which railways were adopted in this country must also have been a factor. We went from a situation in which long-distance rail transport didn't exist in 1830 to one in 1850 where it was the normal mode of transport.
     
  8. Calthrop

    Calthrop Member

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    These have very long been a big thing for me in terms of interest and sheer enchantment – to blame for which, chiefly Bryan Morgan and his The End of the Line: though by the time of publication of that masterpiece in the mid-1950s, the great majority of the intérêt local lines were gone. As you mention, they perished in great numbers in the 1930s -- a few, even earlier than that. World War 2 with its shortages and privations, gave a lease of life to many of those still running at the beginning of the war – some closed sections here and there, were even reopened.

    I understand that as at the end of WW2, a remarkable large quantity of French light railways / “steam” (often by then, at least part railcar-ised) tramways – mostly metre-gauge – were still active: but an enormous amount of this which then survived, was abandoned in the half-dozen years immediately after the war. By the late 1950s / early 60s, the great majority of France’s remaining metre-gauge comprised lines / systems of intérêt general -- relatively substantial in length, and in infrastructure / initial building – there was only a small, ever-dwindling handful of intérêt local survivors.

    As you say, re the shortcomings which did them in – “regrettably”, indeed: but I tend uncomfortably to feel that in their brief lifetime these lines – while a delight to those enthusiasts who revel in this kind of thing – must have been largely a misery to the poor folk who had to use them for getting from A to B. There comes inevitably to mind, the oft-told tale from that era: showing up in Ireland, France, the Iberian peninsula, and (I’d be willing to bet) a fair few other European countries. The rural roadside narrow-gauge line’s mixed train is pausing at a wayside halt, when a local farmer comes up level with it, driving his donkey-cart in the direction of the market town; which is the train’s destination also. Greetings are exchanged; the train crew ask him, “hey, Paddy [or Jean-Claude, or ‘whoever’] – clearly, you’re not using the train. Is anything wrong?”
    “No,” the farmer replies; “It’s just that I’m in a hurry today – so I can’t be bothered with you lot.”

    To my shame, I'd been imagining that Saint-Gervais -- Vallorcine was "overhead wire", not "third-rail": this thread has set me right !
     
  9. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member

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    I've learnt a few new things too from this thread. Interesting stuff.
     
  10. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    The Bryan Morgan book has a real air of dissapointment and decay in it right through - but then is was a miserable era.

    Comparing the GWR and the Southern , both much admired by self.

    The SR got rid of the L+B whilst the GWR invested in the Vale of Rheidol in the 30's and worked a rich sea of not lead , but tourism - helped of course by the great popularity of the Cambrian Coast region and access to South Wales the Midlands in less than 3 hours by road or rail. (Aberystwyth - "the Biarritz of Wales !) - the line had no real use in WW2 but was carefully mothballed and went from strength to strength in the "afflunet" 1950's.

    The key being accessibility to a large and varied holiday trade , and dare I say it an enterprising management at Divisional and Local level.
     
  11. Calthrop

    Calthrop Member

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    My reaction to Morgan's The End of the Line was very positive -- have always found most of it addictive reading -- just that, in my perception, at that time in the majority of western Europe, the "least and lightest" rural lines were very much on their way out, and that's simply how it was. I say "most of it"; because his chapters on countries where light railways were in decline, are to me lovely and highly poignant -- whereas the couple about lands in which such lines were doing fairly well, I found rather dull. Contributed to, I suspect, by the circumstances of the countries concerned -- Switzerland and Italy -- having never appealed to me in most contexts.

    It would appear that fans of the British narrow gauge are fond of musing on how it might have been if other members of the “Big Four” had chosen to give the Rheidol treatment to their n/g sections: Southern with the L & B, and LMS with the Leek & Manifold – had it worked out thus: there’s a good chance that – as with the Rheidol – the line(s) concerned would still be with us today (both in scenic areas – good tourist-bait).

    Going off at a tangent here with thoughts of a favourite of mine, the Southwold Railway. Of the other English n/g lines – the “Manifold” was essentially, from the beginning, part of the North Staffordshire Railway’s holdings, so its going to the LMS in 1923 was a “given”. Cause for a bit of puzzlement, though: as to why at Grouping, the L & B was taken into the Southern; but the Southwold was not incorporated in the LNER, but remained independent – with the fate of which we are aware. Have always wondered: if the Southwold had gone into the LNER at Grouping -- would that railway have junked it some time before 1939; or perhaps, "done a Rheidol” with it? It had a (decorous) seaside-resort terminus; and ran through quiet and low-lying, but delightful, countryside – “quintessence of East Anglia”, which region has long been favoured by many people for holidays.
     
  12. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    Lynmouth/Lynton stagecoach :

    I have here the 1910 timetable for the Lynton to Minehead stagecoach. There were two vehicles, the "Lorna Doone" and the "Red Deer". They were four-horse coaches, with additional horses attached to get up Porlock and Countisbury. Both leave their endpoints at 9.15am, taking about 3.5 hours for the journey (18 miles). The times are arranged explicitly to give connections onto the Taunton railway at Minehead, misleadingly described as the "London train", with times shown for Paddington arrival, they seem to have been very much competing with the Southern's lines through Barnstaple. Of course, the stage left from a hotel, the Royal Castle, in the middle of Lynton. Service was March to September.

    I would not have liked to be one of the "outside" passengers up on top during the descent of Porlock. Especially in the rain.

    Stagecoach "Lorna Doone" was named after a Victorian romantic novel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorna_Doone set in the area (although set 200 years before its writing) which was very much responsible for the tourist popularity of this bit of Exmoor, which probably peaked between the wars. It also features the Duke of Monmouth and the Bloody assizes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Assizes which is still very much regarded by older Taunton folk as part of their history (plus support for Monmouth).

    The L&B, although primarily for tourists, did handle some freight, principally coal for Lynton and the surrounding area, which until then had come across by coaster from South Wales. There was coal trans-shipment (hand-shovelled) at Barnstaple. Apart from Barnstaple itself, all its stations were in the middle of nowhere, even the Lynton terminus was really beyond walking distance, certainly with luggage, from the village, and it was a right palaver if your hotel was down in Lynmouth. I think the hotels would send carts to meet trains and carry luggage.

    Barnstaple is by no means a tourist town (to put it mildly) and an L&B nowadays would find getting custom a bit of a challenge, even in the season. For non-enthusiasts it would be rather a long run for a sojourn with the family in the afternoon.

    Although the stagecoach was for the wealthy, lesser mortals could make use of the "carter", horse and cart with various freight loads, which did various local rounds, where for a small fare you could sit among the sacks of corn and whatever else was being carried. Generally run by one individual, they were often the first in their area to buy a commercial motor vehicle around 1900, leading to pioneer bus services.

    Postscript - Another +1 for Bryan Morgan's "The End of the Line", looking down at me from the bookshelf as I write this. It's his writing style that makes it, though - about as far away from the rivet-counters as you can get.
     
    Last edited: 12 Jan 2017
  13. Calthrop

    Calthrop Member

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    Thanks for all info about the Lynton -- Minehead coaches: of great interest. One does feel that -- except in optimum conditions -- this would likely be for a transport enthusiast of the time, doing it for the experience: what the chap wrote about terrifically scenic but uncomfortable and extremely long narrow-gauge odysseys in what used to be Jugoslavia, half-a-century-plus ago -- "something to have done, rather than something to do".

    Reading Lorna Doone a good many years ago now: I found it a splendid read, and (to my surprise -- one tends to imagine historical novels written in Victorian times as exceedingly solemn and "worthy") at times very funny -- not in the "unintentional" way !

    Agreed: the guy's a poet-in-prose -- to me, his style lyrical and delightful. I have met railway enthusiasts who disliked Morgan for this very reason -- they wanted rivet-counting, not ignorant airy-fairy-arty-farty stuff. As is often observed, it takes all sorts to make a world...
     
  14. Bevan Price

    Bevan Price Established Member

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    (With acknowledgement to Wikipedia, etc.)

    What helped to save the Vale of Rheidol is that Aberystwyth , with a population of over 10,000, had a greater tourist capacity than many of the other towns served by narrow guage lines in England & Wales. Also, Wikipedia suggests that the line was helped by enthusiastic local rail managers who promoted it as a tourist attraction.

    Lynton + Lynmouth combined population under 3,000. Quite popular with tourists, but not enough to make a railway profitable. Its fate was probably inevitable as soon as regular bus services in the area were developed.

    Southwold - a failed attempt to become a popular mass tourist resort. Doubtful if the railway could ever compete with bus services or even survive as a heritage operation. Population just over 1,000.

    Leek & Manifold Railway. Ran from a small village (Waterhouses, population about 1,000) to a series of tiny settlements. Passenger connections (standard guage) from Leek / Stoke via Caldon Low branch. Apparently LMSR lost a lot of tourist traffic when they withdrew the sunday service. However, there had also been a lot of milk traffic from a creamery at Ecton; the creamery closed in 1932, and that probably helped to precipitate the line closure - tourist traffic alone did not contribute enough revenue, especially in the middle of the 1930s financial depression - when economies were necessary and other lines were also being closed.
    .
     
    Last edited: 12 Jan 2017
  15. edwin_m

    edwin_m Established Member

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    I seem to recall the passenger cars of the cliff railway could be wheeled off their triangular bases to allow other vehicles to be raised and lowered instead. But even from the top of that, it was half a mile uphill to get to the station.
     
  16. Calthrop

    Calthrop Member

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    Mind you, Southwold does have prestigious, greatly-coveted, and insanely costly beach huts :) .
     
  17. MarkyT

    MarkyT Established Member

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    To me, that is a recommendation in itself and is encouraging me to seek out a copy of my own . . . if my dad hasn't one already! Written at an interesting time time too with on the one hand so many minor railways being run down and closed, while on the other the early Preservation schemes like the Talyllyn just getting started.
     
  18. Calthrop

    Calthrop Member

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    I’ve always wished in vain, for at least an “End of the Line (II)” by Morgan – there would have been comfortably enough material for one, provided by (light-railway-rich) countries of Western Europe not covered in the book which he did write; plus, as the 1950s went on and were succeeded by the ‘60s, the Communist bloc began to become accessible. I gather in fact that by the mid-1950s it was possible to visit Yugoslavia as a tourist, and roam there reasonably freely. Have the impression, though, that Morgan was an idiosyncratic chap, with firm ideas about what he did, and didn’t, want to do – and one not likely to be swayed by any blandishments from publishers.
     
  19. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    Must dig out that book for another read - probably via an inter library loan or the British Library !
     
  20. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    A quick flavour of "The end of the line", a paragraph comparing Italy to France :

    "Densely populated as Italy is, the amount of passenger traffic on its roads and rails - the hourly long distance buses, the frequent 10 or 12 car trains running regularly on dim branch lines where France would make do with two autorails on selected Thursdays - remains something of a mystery in a country not rich ..."
     
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