Posts Tagged ‘St Pancras Station’

Remembering a friend

Saturday, 21 June 2008

One that got away, Sir John Betjeman at Broad Street Station, photo Lord Snowdon (click for picture in original context)

A friend has died. We never met face to face, but used to chat by e-mail because our posts in another place often saw eye to eye. He liked steam and contributed the log of his voyage down the Thames in a small open steam boat to “If Not Duffers…” one of my early blogs. He sailed on the East Coast and was involved in the restoration of a much bigger steam boat, the herring drifter Lydia Eva, and invited me to visit the boat with him. Sadly, other things got in the way and my visit never took place. Today’s post about Sir John Betjeman is dedicated to the memory of Laurence Monkhouse.

Essex by Sir John Betjeman

“The vagrant visitor erstwhile,”
My colour-plate book says to me,
“Could wend by hedgerow-side and stile,
From Benfleet down to Leigh-on-Sea.”

And as I turn the colour-plates
Edwardian Essex opens wide,
Mirrored in ponds and seen through gates,
Sweet uneventful countryside.

Like streams the little by-roads run
Through oats and barley round a hill
To where blue willows catch the sun
By some white weather-boarded mill.

“A Summer Idyll Matching Tye”
“At Havering-atte-Bower, the Stocks”
And cobbled pathways lead the eye
To cottage doors and hollyhocks.

Far Essex, – fifty miles away
The level wastes of sucking mud
Where distant barges high with hay
Come sailing in upon the flood.

Near Essex of the River Lea
And anglers out with hook and worm
And Epping Forest glades where we
Had beanfeasts with my father’s firm.

At huge and convoluted pubs
They used to set us down from brakes
In that half-land of football clubs
Which London near the Forest makes.

The deepest Essex few explore
Where steepest thatch is sunk in flowers
And out of elm and sycamore
Rise flinty fifteenth-century towers.

I see the little branch line go
By white farms roofed in red and brown,
The old Great Eastern winding slow
To some forgotten country town.

Now yarrow chokes the railway track,
Brambles obliterate the stile,
No motor coach can take me back
To that Edwardian “erstwhile”.

Sir John Betjeman not only wrote about railways in his poems, he also made TV programmes about them and campaigned actively to popularise Victorian architecture. Sadly his work came too late to save the old Euston Station, but the survival of St Pancras Station virtually intact and much of Liverpool Street Station owes a great deal to his influence. He also helped railway groups, such as the Swanage Railway Society, with their campaigns to save their local branch lines. Now if only we had a person of Sir John’s calibre in Poland to campaign about Polish railway heritage.

More John Betjeman (on You Tube):

A Pole journeys to the Bluebell

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Part 1 – Getting there

Awaiting the “right away”, Kingscote Station, Bluebell Railway

Like many other Poles, I came to England to top up my savings. However, unlike the majority of my compatriots, I am also interested in railways and, after three months living and working in Hertford, I decided it was time to return to my hobby. Where to go? I had heard about the Welsh narrow gauge railways and the ‘Steam’ railway museum in Swindon, but the Bluebell Railway came highly recommended and could easily be accommodated in a day’s outing. So the Bluebell it would have to be.

My journey started at 7 am on 4 May, outside Hertford North Railway Station. My morning ‘train’ was a bus provided by First Capital Connect. Apparently up to 8.30 a.m. all the morning trains are substituted by buses as an economy measure. One and a half hours later I’m at Alexander Palace. The train would have done the journey in one third of the time. Here a real train takes me into Kings Cross. Soon I am walking on a platform steeped in the history of the LNER. I think of the exploits of Mallard and the Flying Scotsman.

I walk across the road and find myself under the glass roof of St Pancras Station. The restored station is breathtaking and I’m sure that British people must be very proud to have such a gateway to the outside world. I take an escalator to the Victoria line platform. Every time I travel on the London Underground, I am conscious of the enormous amount of work that must have gone into its construction. I am also impressed by the efficiency of the whole enterprise.

Victoria Station seems enormous. The 19 platforms make quite an impression. I have 20 minutes before the departure of my train to explore the station. I notice the third rail electrification and wonder about the lack of standardisation on Britain’s electric railways. The hour-long journey to East Grinstead is interesting. There are numerous junctions along the route and the hilly landscape beyond London necessitates a couple of tunnels. East Grinstead, once an important railway junction, is now a terminus. Sadly, as in the case of many British railway stations, the time of its zenith has long passed. A few hundred metres separate the end of the railway from the start of the Bluebell Railway’s tracks. Unfortunately, to reach the first station on the Bluebell Railway I will have to go by bus. There doesn’t seem to be any coordination between the train timetable and the bus timetable and I waste an hour walking around East Grinstead.

11.10 a.m. approaches, and so does my bus. There are not many passengers on board, but from their conversations I deduce that most of them, like me, are on it in order to visit the Bluebell. We climb and descend some sharp gradients, dive under a railway viaduct and turn into Kingscote Station. The small station has a red-brick building, green cast iron lamp standards, and is very attractive. Inside, it is as if time has stood still. The fire in the fireplace looks ready to light, the walls are covered in old posters, every inch of wall is correct in period detail. Outside, the impression of having travelled back in time, is reinforced. Two old goods wagons stand in a siding, there is a traditional signal box and all the staff are dressed in the correct period uniforms. On the Bluebell Railway – the Beatles are yet to sing, man has not yet landed on the Moon, and most importantly of all, no trains are hauled by diesels – it is still the 1950s.

(to be continued)