1971 – July – Birdcage discomfort

Also in the July 1971 edition of Railway Magazine was an interesting article on the Oxted line of Southern Railway and BR Southern Region.  This line branched off the main Brighton line at East Croydon, wound its way through Oxted and Lingfield to East Grinstead, where the line now terminates.  In steam days the line branched at East Grinstead to Lewes and the coast (now the Bluebell heritage railway) and to Tunbridge Wells (now closed.)

This line certainly would have been electrified in the 1940’s, but such work was delayed by the 2nd world war, and the third rail only reached East Grinstead in 1987.  So in the 1960’s, it provided a bastion of steam amongst all the EMUs of East Croydon.  This got even more interesting for race days at Lingfield.  The author, D.A. Bone writes…..

Several times a year the Oxted line became more than the poor relation of the electrified services.  Lingfield Park races must have caused plenty of operating difficulties, but they provided a near paradise for the lover of Southern steam.  East Croydon resounded, as it must have done up to the Brighton Line electrification in 1933, to the sight, smell and sound of a succession of heavy steam hauled services.  The idea of Pullman cars going through Woldingham now seems a fantasy.  The pattern of services on race days did not change after nationalisation.

Now here’s an interesting layout idea – a racecourse line.  A chance to run EMUs or local passenger services, and then loads of express power on race days.  One could even bring in trains from other regions, allowing you to run your ‘Rule 1’ stock to the race meeting.  Perhaps someone has chartered a ‘Brighton Belle’ or a ‘Blue Pullman’ for the day??  Lingfield itself seems a small station for race traffic….


But up at Epsom, both Tattenham Corner and Epsom downs are relatively large termini.

epsomd tattenham

Perhaps too large for many layouts, but a through station on the line, retaining its goods yard, could be an interesting prototype.  Of course, if your racecourse is at the end of a tram line, like ‘Victoria Street’, you can do it all in a few feet.

This has turned into a long post, but I must mention the ‘Birdcage discomfort’.  This is not the same as waiting for the Farish model to appear!  It’s a long quote but so evocative of a certain era of UK train travel….

It would be unfair to recall all aspects of Oxted line travel in the 1944-47 period through rose-coloured spectacles.  The frequently used birdcage three-coach sets did not provide good third-class accommodation.  The standard “4-LAV” or “2-BIL” sets used on the Brighton line slow trains were infinitely better upholstered and lit.  Birdcage compartments were narrow and the strip of blue leatherette one leant back on had the minimum of padding.  Lighting in both the first and third compartments was by ceiling fixtures.  There often seemed to be water in the bottom of the glass shade that enclosed the dim bulb.  This produced rather ghastly shadows, especially when the stock was running at speed, as the water was continually shifting position.

Heating was controlled by a large brass handle, which could be put in the usual three positions, full, half and off.  It required considerable strength to move, but was at least conveniently placed below the mirror.  Each side of the mirror were sepia Edwardian scenes of Tunbridge Wells or Bexhill.  Only passengers in the middle coach of a birdcage set had access to a toilet:  the door to this had a formidable know of ribbed brass, and the word LAVATORY boldly written in gold.

The worst features of third class travel could be avoided provided you had time to choose your compartment.  The erstwhile second-class accommodation provided wider and better upholstered compartments than the original thirds.  By comparison the first class was opulent: a rich paisley design in green or dark red was the standard.  Some birdcage sets (and some push-pull services which worked Oxted-Tunbridge Wells West) had a first-class open saloon section, with heavy armchairs that swivelled.  To sit back in one of the first class compartments was to be very much isolated from the noise and sensation of travel.

About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
This entry was posted in Hints and tips, Inspiration, Layout design, Prototype, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 1971 – July – Birdcage discomfort

  1. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog.


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