The excitement of boarding a train for a well-earned holiday is lost to current generations but has been captured in a series of charming photographs from the golden age of steam.
The pictures capture crowds of holidaymakers jumping on trains to whisk them to the seaside and popular rambling and camping spots.
Families who wanted to take their bicycles with them had to buy a special ‘cycle check ticket’.
Historian Greg Morse has pulled together the photographs in his new book, Holiday Trains.
The original Liverpool terminus of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway on Crown Street. The advent of the steam engine made cross country travel cheaper and quicker, and a landmark moment was the opening of this railway, the world’s first intercity line, in 1830. Passengers used the station for just six years before it was turned into a goods yard – and later closed in 1972
The Moorish Arch at Edge Hill in Liverpool, during the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway on September 15, 1830. The service was the first to rely exclusively on steam power, run a scheduled passenger service and use a system of signalling. However, the opening was hit by tragedy when politician William Huskisson was killed by an oncoming train
The jewel in Fleetwood’s crown was the North Euston Hotel, which was built in 1841 to overlook the bay and river estuary in the Lancashire town. It was intended to serve overnight guests who had come by train from London – and was so named because it was at the opposite terminus of the Euston line. The hotel is still open to guests today nearly two centuries later
The Great Exhibition of 1851 at Hyde Park in London under the Crystal Palace was a huge draw for visitors, which brought much business to the railway companies and to agents such as Thomas Cook, which was at the forefront of the holiday train boom. This Joseph Nash watercolour shows the exhibits put on by Jersey & Guernsey, Malta and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
In the early 19th century, travellers had to rely on expensive horse drawn stagecoaches to get around. This changed with the advent of the steam engine, which made cross country travel cheaper and quicker.
A landmark moment was the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the world’s first intercity line, in 1830. Within a year, it was taking tens of thousands of people to the Newton races.
Shortly after, the London & Southampton line was built, which carried 5,000 people from Nine Elms to Surbiton to see the Epsom Derby.
Suddenly, the south coast of England could be reached from London in two and a half hours, while travel to other parts of the country also became quicker.
Railway branches were built to serve seaside resorts, including Blackpool (1846), Southport (1848), Eastbourne (1849) and Torquay (1859).
The Great Eastern Railway’s Liverpool Street station is pictured in 1896. The station first opened in 1874 and was named after former prime minister Robert Banks Jenkinson, the second Earl of Liverpool. A modernised version of the station, which serves commuters across Essex, Suffolk and further afield, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991
A North British Railway ‘cycle check ticket’ dating back to 1899, entitling the purchaser to convey a bicycle on a train between Richmond and York. Some families would take their bicycles with them on holiday – but they needed the special ticket for permission to do so. Richmond station in North Yorkshire was opened in 1846 but closed in 1969 as part of the Beeching cuts
Families wait in line at the rail hub of Swindon in Wiltshire to board a steam train during ‘Trip Week’ in 1910. Destinations included Weymouth, Weston-super-Mare and Cornwall. The advent of the steam engine made cross country travel far more affordable – and infinitely quicker, opening up new holiday locations that many people had never dreamed of visiting
Local traders in Brighton, another resort to experience a boom, were delighted, although some disgruntled residents complained of ‘swarms’ descending upon them from the ‘cancer-like arms of the railroad’.
Other revellers flocked to Weston Super Mare, Fleetwood and St Leonards on Sea. The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London further fuelled the holiday train boom – and travel agents like Thomas Cook got in on the act.
However, such was their popularity, trains could become overcrowded – with devastating consequences.
On June 12, 1889, a train departing from Armagh, Northern Ireland, carrying revellers to the seaside derailed. Eighty people, including many children, were killed.
But their popularity kept growing and on the August Bank Holiday of 1899, 76 excursion trains arrived in Brighton, while 75,000 visited Ramsgate alone.
The first contingent of the Great Western Railway Regimental Company of Railway Troops, headed by a Highland band, are pictured at London Paddington on June 18, 1915, during the First World War. The conflict from 1914 until 1918 temporarily put paid to the holiday train as men fought to the front line and women worked in munitions factories
A throng of passengers walk along London Paddington station’s platform one in the 1920s (left), while a group of passengers look out from a Great Western Train as it nears the Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash in Cornwall in the 1930s (left). The GWR network became known for its slogan ‘Go Great Western’, which encouraged families to take trips to the West Country
Child evacuees at Maidenhead station in Berkshire in 1939 on the Great Western Railway line. During the Second World War, which lasted until 1945, the trains were used to take children evacuated from the cities to escape the Blitz to the countryside. Post-war, families returned to their carriages as they went on ‘pleasure trips’ to the seaside, relieved that the fighting was over
Companies got in on the act, hiring trains and putting on free trips for their workers so they could get away from the mundane way of factory life.
The First World War temporarily put paid to the holiday train as men fought to the front line and women worked in munitions factories. After the conflict, the cost of motoring came down and the use of motor coaches grew, so railways’ share of the market fell.
In the Second World War, the trains were used to take children evacuated from the cities to escape the Blitz to the countryside. Post-war, families returned to their carriages as they went on ‘pleasure trips’ to the seaside, relieved that the fighting was over.
But it was really the rise of cheaper air fares in the 1960s, enabling families to fly abroad on holiday, that started the steady decline in holiday rail travel.
Holidays to the British seaside were replaced by low-cost packages abroad for many families in the 1970s when a fortnight all-inclusive in Benidorm could cost £78 (£708 today) during peak school holiday period.
The Great Western Railway gets into the post-war spirit by putting on a special ‘Kiddies Express’ train in May 1946, less than a year after the end of the Second World War. This was the first day excursion from London Paddington to the seaside in the post-war era – and took children to Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset, which was hailed at the time as ‘the Brighton of Bristol’
It features pictures including this undated photograph of holidaymakers arriving at Weston-super-Mare station. Railway branches were built in the 1840s to serve seaside resorts, including Blackpool (1846), Southport (1848), Eastbourne (1849). During Victoria, the south coast of England could be reached from London in two and a half hours
A classic British Railways poster from the 1950s (left), enticing tourists to Portsmouth and Southsea for ‘happy holidays’ with the promise of ‘frequent electric trains from London Waterloo’ and ‘through trains from the West, Midlands and South Wales’. The rise and fall of the beloved locomotive has been charted by historian Greg Morse in his book, Holiday Trains (right)
In the 1980s Gibraltar and Malta were the new places to be – while Florida emerged in popularity in the 1990s, before holidaymakers increasingly heading to Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus by the Noughties.
Author Mr Morse, 47, from Swindon said: ‘Holiday trains are a really important part of our heritage. The image of children on the train platform holding a bucket and spade excited about their trip ahead is very evocative.
‘In the Victorian and Edwardian ages, they helped the growth of the seaside resorts and also opened up parts of the country which were previously difficult to get to.
‘Even after World War Two there was a resurgence in families using holiday trains to go to the seaside and escape the horrors they all witnessed during the conflict.
‘But then package holidays and cheap flights brought a fundamental change as holiday makers instead went abroad to mainland Europe on their travels.’
Holiday Trains, by Greg Morse, is published by Amberley this Friday and costs £8.99.