This article came from the Chronicle published November 2011. Pages 30-32
A GLIMPSE INTO RAIL TRAVEL 1861 STYLE
Author: Jean Harper
When some railway timetables dating from 1861 were discovered in the renovation of the Elephant & Castle in Lower Middle Street they passed into the care of CHAC. Given a chance to read them, one soon discovers that these old timetables throw up many fascinating insights into a way of life which was on the way to being changed beyond recognition.
The London & South Western Railway comes to Yeovil 1861
The London & South Western Railway arrived in Yeovil in 1861 with the opening of Yeovil Town Station. No tangible evidence of the existence of that station and the railway it served remains except the foundation stone which was laid to mark the opening of the station. The date on the stone, which is now built into the Yeo Vale Leisure Park site, shows that it had originally been intended to open the station during 1860, but for some reason, the official opening did not take place until June 1861. By that time the London and South Western Railway Company had already issued their timetable for January 1861, a copy of which came to light during the refurbishment of the Elephant and Castle Hotel in Lower Middle Street in 2006, along with one for June of the same year.
The first timetable proudly states:
‘THE DIRECT LONDON YEOVIL & EXETER RAILWAY is now open for Passenger & Goods Traffic – saving 23 miles distance.’
The London terminus was initially named Waterloo Bridge Station and remained so officially until 1886 when it became Waterloo Station. There were three classes of accommodation on some but not all trains, and for at least one train we are informed ‘This train will convey Third Class Passengers to Exeter and Yeovil and all stations below Salisbury.’
However, before getting down to the business of arranging a train journey to the West Country passengers were tempted by the following announcement:
‘Observe! Passengers can take tickets at the Waterloo Bridge Station to frank them all the way to Paris, Havre and Channel Islands.’
Sample prices are given:
Return fares to Paris: 1st Class 50s
2nd Class 36s
No 3rd class fare is given. Obviously the plebs were not expected to go to Paris.
A note at the foot of the timetable further advises passengers to Paris that they may book their luggage at Waterloo Bridge Station ‘by any Southampton Train to be forwarded through to Paris, hereby avoiding delay by Customs at Havre, and any care of their luggage until their arrival in Paris.’ There are conditions: they must be at the station fifteen minutes before the departure of the train, and the charge is 1s per person for luggage up to 56 lbs, an on any excess beyond that weight a further 1d per pound. The luggage will be delivered at the railway station in Paris at any time during the attendance of the Customs Officer – viz. from 9 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 5.30 pm and on the arrival of the 6 pm train from Havre every day except Sunday. Passengers are reminded that once the luggage has been booked through it cannot be delivered until their arrival in Paris.
Until the arrival of the railways, local communities regulated their time by the sun, which meant that Bristol time was about ten minutes later than London time. The Great Western Railway company, with its trains travelling from east to west, decided to introduce a single standard time for its timetables, based on Greenwich Mean Time. This was taken up by the other railway companies, and the LSWR took care to inform its passengers that LONDON TIME was observed. As a matter of interest, the clock on the Corn Exchange in Bristol has two minute hands, one showing Bristol and the other London time.
The actual journey times are of considerable interest in that they show all the small stations which were served and the length of time some of the journeys took. There are 38 stations named between London and Yeovil Town. At least one parcel train seems to have stopped at all of them; leaving Waterloo at 6 am it arrived in Yeovil at 12.40 pm, whilst an Express train leaving Waterloo at 9 am arrived at 12.28 pm – a few minutes before the one that left Waterloo at 6 am.
However, it is the notes at the foot of the tables which provide the greatest interest, revealing as they do a way of life which was still attached to the past, and the way in which the railway company was building its services around this way of life. Trains could take you from one part of the country to another but, to get around in London, the old means of transport were still the only way of travelling. Omnibuses (horsedrawn of course) were laid on to take passengers to and from the Spread Eagle Inn in Gracechurch Street which was the terminus for some of the Stage and Mail Coach services. Post horses were kept at Waterloo Bridge Station, and carriages were taken to and from any part of London at 10s.6d including the driver. Steam boats conveyed passengers to and from Hungerford Bridge and the City direct for a fare of 1d.
The country way of life was still important for the well-to-do and, for example:
‘For the convenience of gentlemen hunting near the line Return tickets would be issued at a reduced charge of One fare and one Third. When two or three horses, accompanied by two or three passengers, are conveyed in one horsebox from or to any station for the purpose of hunting they will be charged at the Reduced Rate as if they belonged to one owner.’
Carriages and horses were specifically catered for:
‘Carriages and Horses must be at the station 15 minutes before the time of departure, but to prevent disappointment a day’s notice should be given to the Superintendent at the station whence they are to be dispatched.’
Besides their carriages and horses, passengers were allowed to carry large quantities of luggage but they had to be at the station twenty minutes before departure, and First Class passengers were allowed 112 lbs, Second Class 80 lbs and Third Class 56 lbs. After that there was an excess charge – something air travellers today are familiar with, but there was a sliding scale starting at 1d for 6 lbs for up to 20 miles, for the next 21 to 70 miles the charge was one farthing per pound, and the last one was for a distance of 151 to 200 miles when the excess charged was three farthings per pound.
Ladies were offered special facilities.
‘Upon application Ladies will be placed in a compartment appropriate to their use; an attendant for LADIES is in the waiting rooms at Waterloo, Southampton and Portsmouth Stations.’
‘THE PUBLISHED TIME BILLS OF THIS COMPANY are only intended to fix the time at which Passengers may be certain to obtain their Tickets for any journey from the various stations, it being understood that the Train shall not depart before the appointed time. Every attention will be paid to ensure punctuality as far as it is practicable, but the Directors give notice that the Company do not undertake that the Trains shall start or arrive at the time specified in the Bills, nor will they be accountable for any loss, inconvenience or injury which may arise from delays or detention.’