50 objects 9: Views from trains

Sitting on the train looking idly out of the window, many people wonder about the identity and history of the buildings they see, and the details of the places they pass through.

"On Either Side", published by LNER

“On Either Side”, published by LNER

Railway companies soon tapped into this need, producing booklets to go with popular lines. The publications gave information about the route, the physical features that could be seen, and the histories of places passed through.

An early edition of “On Either Side”, produced by the London and North Eastern Railway in 1906 to describe and enhance the journey from London King’s Cross to stations in Scotland, describes itself thus: “The booklet not only shews where all the beauties and special objects of interest may be seen, but gives reliable data respecting them, and with the aid of the camera brings many into even closer range.”

Virgin Trains' Windowgazer Guides, 2003.

Virgin Trains’ Windowgazer Guides, 2003.

The Transport History Collection at Brunel has a range of these, dating from the early twentieth century to 2003, produced by various railway companies.

The page layout of many is informative but prosaic. In contrast, however, is the Southern Railway’s description of the journey from London to Padstow on the Atlantic Coast Express, written by S. P. B. Mais and illustrated by Anna Zinkeisen, and published in 1937.
This work has a pull-out map, with black and white photographs of places of interest, but the main text is a lively narrative, giving entertaining anecdotes about the historical figures, local legends, and ghosts that populate the landscape surrounding the line, and about the traditions and industries of the towns passed through. The illustrations are given equal space and add an enticing whimsical glamour to the real and imagined scenes discussed in the text.

Ships in Cornwall, from the Atlantic Coast Express guide 1937

Ships in Cornwall, from the Atlantic Coast Express guide 1937

Added value is given for the holiday-maker in the descriptions of day trips that can be made via branch lines, and places that should be visited rather than just seen from the train. Southern Railways built on this by publishing separate books of walks that could be accessed via the Atlantic Coast Express.


Illustration from the Atalntic Coast Express Guide of a Devon legend of ghosts and skeletal horses.

Illustration from the Atlantic Coast Express guide of a Devon legend of ghosts and skeletal horses


One thought on “50 objects 9: Views from trains

  1. Pingback: Special Collections: 50 Things | Bookmark Daily

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