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Working Class life in the 1950’s – Train Sets and Train Spotting

Updated on February 25, 2020

Working Class children of the late forties early fifties

The Working Class child of the late forties early fifties was a child that made its own entertainment.

Most working class homes back in the early fifties did not have a TV. Children were pretty much left to make their own entertainment which they did quite well.

I was born in 1946 and I don’t recall ever being bored as a child. One of the main reasons for this is, that if I told my mum that I was bored she would soon find me some thing to do. I could guarantee that something would be a lot less fun than playing.

Clockwork Train

Trains were an exciting part of our childhood. Often they would be the means of transport taking us on holiday.

Toy trains also played a part in our playtimes too. My brother had a clockwork train when he was quite young.

The train set was a Christmas present which consisted of a circular track, an engine and some wagons.

It doesn’t sound at all interesting as all the clock work train did was go round and round in circles. Going round in circles was all it could do because it only had a small circular track.

Boring as that first clockwork train set sounds, it kept my brother amused for hours. His love affair with trains began with this toy train set. It was a love affair that lasted well into adulthood.

In fact when he left school he went to work for British rail. One of the perks of working for British rail was cheap train travel.

My brother and his family travelled all over Britain and also in Europe by train. He was fortunate to travel at advantages staff prices. Even though he is now retired he still gets cheap rail travel rates on British rail.

The Hornby 00

As he grew older he progressed onto an electric train set. His electric train set was a Hornby 00 these were by far the most popular makers in the 1950’s and it seemed at one time a must have toy for every small boy. The models were extremely well made and many still run over 50 years later and if you would like to purchase one of these 1950’s train sets, all you have to do is go on E-bay where you will find a selections of these on sale even now. Though nowadays most of the enthusiasts are adults not children, this is reflected in the quality and finish of today’s models which is extremely high.

An electric train set was not a cheap Christmas present in the early fifties therefore, often the basic layout was bought as a present one year and then that layout would be added to on the subsequent birthdays and Christmases. My brother’s set was the basic set which our dad fixed on to an old tabletop so that it didn’t have to be dismantled each time you had finished playing with it. Over the subsequent years buildings, people, signals luggage handlers, trees, ponds etc., were added to this set along with extra track.

This first video shows Hornby model trains that were similar to those had by my brother, of course in this video sounds of real trains are used as the soundtrack and they add a huge amount of realism to the footage. This layout is considerably bigger than the one my brother had but it gives you some idea of what an electric train would look like as it chugs around its track.

If you are at all interested in model trains check out Rob's other videos he has over a hundred enough to keep the most avid fan happy for ages. You can get to Robs videos by clicking on the YouTube logo in the bottom right hand corner and it will take you to this video on YouTube and then just click on where it says more from this user and you will see his other videos.

Hornby 00 Trains In Action

Stored in the Cubbyhole

When it was not in use it was stored in the cubbyhole underneath the stairs. The cubbyhole was large and held a variety of things like our coats, the vacuum cleaner, old newspapers, assorted tools, a cobbler's last for repairing shoes, the ironing board and the iron.

This electric train set gave my brother and his friends years of pleasure they would often take their engines to one another’s homes to run on each other’s layouts. In the early fifties it seemed like many a young boy’s dream was to be a train driver.  One of our neighbours was a train driver, I think he was once featured in one of the local evening papers because he got to drive the Evening Star, which was the last steam train to be built by British Rail in 1960, this was just before our neighbour retired.

Train Spotting

My brother was not only interested in the model trains but also he and his friends were very keen train-spotters. During the long summer holidays my brother and his friends would set off for a days train spotting. They would take with them bread and jam sandwiches wrapped in the waxed paper that the sliced bread use to come wrapped in. They would also take bottle of water that had been mixed with lemon kaylie (phonetic spelling I know that it doesn’t look right but I have no idea how to spell it) to make the water into lemonade.

This is the closest thing I could find to what we in the UK called kaylie.
This is the closest thing I could find to what we in the UK called kaylie.

Does Anyone Remember Kaylie?

Does anyone remember the yellow crystals that we use to call kaylie in the Midlands? It looked like a deep yellow coloured sugar and it consisted mainly of citric acid and sugar.  I used to love kaylie, but if I ate too much it would take the coating off my tongue and give me bellyache, not that a little thing like that ever stopped me.

Kaylie used to be sold loose on the sweet counter in Woolworth and usually I would buy it in 2oz quantities that were weighed out and put in small white bags. I loved kaylie, I would wet my index finger and dip it into the yellow kaylie and then suck off my finger all the kaylie that had stuck to it. Doing this you would always end up with a yellow tongue and a yellow stained finger, which we would then pretend was a smokers nicotine stain. Go figure, we thought it cool to look like we smoked. Remember how many people’s fingers used to get stained yellow with nicotine back then? You never seem to see that on smokers today, I wonder if that has anything to do with the filter tips that all cigarettes seem to have today?

A Platform Ticket

I digress, back to train spotting, armed with a drink and sandwiches; the boys would head off to do some serious train spotting. They would often spend the whole day train spotting sometimes they would go to the local railway station where for a penny they could buy a platform ticket which would get you access to any of the railway platforms where the trains arrived and departed from.

One of Ian Allan's ABC of British Railway Locomotives booklets
One of Ian Allan's ABC of British Railway Locomotives booklets
4468 The Mallard
4468 The Mallard
4472 The Flying Scotsman
4472 The Flying Scotsman

Ian Allan's ABC of British Railway Locomotives

My brother bought little booklets that had all the train numbers written in them, I think that these booklets were “Ian Allan's ABC of British Railway Locomotives”.As you can see from the photo these booklets cost 2/6d or twelve and a half pence in today's money that is about 18 cents by today's exchange rate.

These little Ian Allan's ABC of British Railway Locomotives were like the Train-spotter’s Bible. I think that these booklets contained more information than just the numbers of the trains like details of what kind of train it was. I never had one of these booklets and I can’t remember being very interested in looking at them at that time, but I do know that my brother logged every train he copped in his copies of these booklets.


Most trains only had a number to identify them but some special trains also had names, like 4468 ‘the Mallard’ which was holder of the world steam speed record, and the 4472 ‘Flying Scotsman.’

My brother and his friend s called these types of trains’ namers, not very inventive these train-spotting types are they? Still namer was a descriptive term that let you know right away what type of train they were talking about.

The Mallard does a Rail Tour in 1988

Even today if a steam train is taken out on the mainline for a special reason, it will still generate lots of interest. Below is a YouTube video featuring some shots of the Mallard on a rail tour in 1988.

At certain points in the video you will see fans of steam lining the route to catch a glimpse of her.  The Mallard has quite a few passenger carriages which are full of enthusiasts that are taking advantage of this opportunity to experience a ride on not only an authentic steam train and carriage, but one of the best steam trains ever.

The Mallard’s home today is the National Railway Museum in York, which is a brilliant place to visit if you want to get up close and personal with these glorious trains.

The Mallard does a Rail Tour in 1988

Copping a Train

Of course copping or spotting a namer was much more exciting than copping an ordinary run of the mill no name train. If we knew that a particular namer was going to come through on a line near by even I would go with my brother to catch sight of it.

I saw the 4468 Mallard on more than one occasion, its distinctive shape and colour made it very easy to identify, and it stood out from most steam trains of its time like a sore thumb.

As the train spotter saw a particular train, the train’s name or number would be jotted down in their notebook. Then later that trains name or number would be located in the booklet and a line would be drawn under that number to indicate that it had seen, or to use their expression, it had been copped.

It was every train spotters desire to cop as many trains as they could, the dream being to cop every train in the booklet. As time went on, so the number of trains that you hadn’t copped got smaller and smaller.


Travelling to cop a train

I can remember my brother going as far away as Crewe or York just to cop a particular train that he hadn’t yet copped that would be going through that station on that day. He would travel of course by train and when he arrived there he would never leave the station he would stay there all day and cop as many trains as he could before returning by train back to the railway station in Nottingham.

The Sheds

One street away from where we lived was the railway sheds where the maintenance repair and cleaning of trains took place. No unauthorised persons were allowed on railway property and there was always British Rail Police to see that you didn’t get near any of the sidings or sheds. However, this didn’t stop the neighbourhood kids from squeezing through the fencing onto the railway property when there was something good to see.

Below is a video that will give you some idea of what British Rail sheds were like in the days of steam and just what a dangerous and hazardous place this environment would be for kids to venture into.

LMS - General Repair

Cabbying a Train

Apart from copping a train there was something that they called cabbying a train, which was to get up onto the foot plate and into the train’s cab and touch the controls, then run like stink before the Railway Police could catch you.

It was a risky business for if you got caught you would receive a good telling off and a clip round the ear from the Railway Policeman or British Rail workman that caught you. As if the punishment meted out buy the Railway Police wasn’t enough they would inform your parents as well and you can guarantee that another clip round the ear would soon be forth coming from them too.

I was too much of a goody two shoes and really not adventurous enough to ever cabby a train, plus I was not a fast runner like my brother. I know my brother and his friends use to cabby trains because I would watch them do so from a safe distance sometimes.

The British Rail Sheds on the next street to where we lived was the ideal place to cabby a train. I don’t recall my brother ever getting caught but I remember some of his friends were.

Well I hope that you have enjoyed your little look into yet another small corner of the Working Class world of the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s, I know that I have enjoyed writing this.


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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      10 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Maggs,

      I lived in Nottingham as well, although by the time I got there in August/September 1968 Nottingham Victoria was a building site with only the hotel in use. The Whistle Stop bar in the hotel basement was a favourite haunt of mine for 'bird watching'. Met an old associate there from Scarborough Tech, who was in the process of 'skiving off' to the States. Getting from Nottingham to Teesside was a labour of love, going either by way of Sheffield Midland or Grantham by dmu.

      Dad bought me a Triang Rovex set with an oval of track, a 'Jinty' brakevan and three wagons. That expanded. I discovered girls in my later teens and until my first son came railways took a back seat. Take a look on my profile and you'll see there's a series of pages titled 'Rites of Passage for a Model Railway'. Some pages are on layouts I built where I live now in East London (near the Olympic City at Stratford). The most recent is on my present project, 'Ainthorpe Junction'. Take a dekko, you'll like it.

      Whereabouts in Spain are you, by the way? My elder daughter's fella is from Madrid lbut he supports Barcelona. I was in Madrid back in 1994 with the old firm, the Telegraph snoozepaper.

      Ah well, hasta luego..

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Sunny Spain

      My mum and dad never learned to drive, wouldn't have been much point as we could not have afforded a car. So when we went on holiday it was always a choice between going on a coach or a train.

      When we went to Skeggy or Mablethorpe, we always went by train, when we went to Great Yarmouth we would go by coach.

      No doubt the cost would have played its part, I always preferred the train, because you had the freedom to get up and stand in the corridor, plus some times you had a refreshment car where you could get a cup of tea and a sandwich.

      When we would visit my mum's family in Birkenhead, we would travel by train, but your trip to the Alps sounds much more exciting.

      Seafeld in Austria was the destination of my very first foreign holiday, though my trip was done on a coach, as it was a package tour.

      The place names you mention in your wonderful comment, have brought back many pleasant memories. Whitby, Pickering, Scarborough and Middlesbrough all have pleasant associations for me.

      Thank you for contributing so much interest to this hub through your comment, so sorry it has taken so long to acknowledge, I am not on Hubpages everyday and so sometime I miss my notifications.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Another few minutes of backtracking in time, Maggs. Nicely done.

      My Dad considered train travel a bit expensive, and in any case Grangetown Station was miles away from where we were, and after moving to Eston the station there was just a glorified coal depot behind our house (station was opened to passengers in 1902 and closed to passengers in 1929.)

      I never went spotting, and the only times I used the train between Middlesbrough and Scarborough (62-65) was in 1963 when the roads were closed over the moors between Scarborough and Whitby because of the drifts. Every other year my Ma carted me off to southern Austria to see her family. That was more of an event, travelling from Middlesbrough to Kings Cross behind a V2 or an A1, then from London Victoria to Dover and Ostend to our destination in the Alps after a three and a half hour crossing over the Channel (never seemed to suffer from green gills).

      Every now and then I travel up to Pickering or Grosmont and take a ride to Whitby (free once a year after the shareholders' AGM). In June I stopped off on the return at Grosmont and walked the old trackbed to Goathland by way of Beck Hole, where I stopped off at the Birch Hall Inn for a pint of 'Beckwatter'.

      As a shareholder of the Wensleydale Railway I don't get the same privileges, but travelling from Leeming Bar to Leyburn is a must. We'll be into Northallerton next! I'm currently involved in several railway preservation projects and new-builds (the 1903 NER Petrol Electric railcar, the A1 Pacific 'Tornado' and a small tank engine currently in progress at Shildon near Darlington as well as the North Eastern Loco Preservation Group). Busy? As well as writing these Hub-pages and historical novels, you might say so...

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Thanks Bob for your kind comments, I am glad that you enjoyed the hub and that it took you back to your own train-set days. Looking back it is amazing just how much fun playing with these model trains gave young boys.

      Even though my brother had only a simple layout his imagination managed to transform that model layout into what ever story he wanted it to and he spent many happy hours playing with his trains with out getting bored,

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Terrific hub, takes me back to my childhood days. Here in the U.S. our version of Hornby was Lionel, and it seemed like most of my friends had one and those that didn't wound up playing with mine, lol.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Justom I am glad that it brought back happy memories of your childhood, it did the same for me when I was writing it. Thank you so much for your kind comments they are really appreciated.

    • justom profile image


      10 years ago from 41042

      Hi maggs, what an interesting hub. Brings back thoughts of my childhood, I had trains but my cousin had a whole room with trains, buildings and anything else you'd see in real life. Your writing style is great, I'm looking forward to reading more. Peace!!

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      oliversmum you are right the kaylie was well worth the stomach-ache lol. Thank you so much for leaving such an encouraging comment it sure makes my day.

    • oliversmum profile image


      10 years ago from australia

      maggs224. Hi. Wow what an absolutely wonderful story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. My brother had a model train set when we were young and he loved it. I agree we were never bored, as we could always find something interesting to do. I have never heard of Kaylie, but it does sound like it was worth a stomach ache. Thank you I am going to read this story again, it was great and the photos are beautiful. :) :)

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Earnest, I am glad this hub brought back memories of Australian steam engines, I hope they were happy memories.

      I remember we had a railway track that ran alongside our school’s playing field. When we were on the field having our games lesson, if a train passed by, the driver would give us a toot on the train whistle and a wave, which of course we always returned.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Ethel, I loved the Sherbet fountains in the cylinder shaped yellow cardboard tube complete with the stick of liquorice.

      My all time favourite for sherbet was the flying saucers, made out of rice paper I think, which had sherbet inside the flying saucer shape. Funny enough I saw some of those in one of the British Supermarkets out here the other day, if I hadn’t just gone on the Atkins (no carbs well not quite no carbs but not enough for flying sauces) I would have bought myself some. I think they used to cost a 1d for four, the bag that I saw in the supermarket was about €1.29 it had between 16 and 20 saucers in it.

      Trouble is I am not one of those people that can ration myself to one a day, I would probably eat the whole lot in one go.

    • earnestshub profile image


      10 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Great old videos that brought back memories of Australian steam engines, many of which were actually British. We used steam in some places well into the 60's

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Wonderful. Yes I remember Kly, not sure how it was spelled. We used to sometimes call it sherbert. We would also buy sticks of licqourice, lick them and stick them in the Kly. High on Kly aged 6 whatever next :0

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Seakay, It sounds like you have a wonderful grandmother, who has given you some great memories and I think there is enough here to make an interesting hub. Let me know if you do one I will be there like a shot to read it. Thanks for leaving this interesting comment; I really appreciate it.

    • Seakay profile image


      10 years ago from Florida

      My mother's side of the family worked for the railroad. It was the Erie and the Lackawanna and ultimately merged to the Erie Lackawanna. My grandmother use to take me on the train to the Hotel Casey in Scranton, Pennsylvania. That train was called the Phoebe Snow. We then went to a fancy restaurant with little bowls of water I wasn't suppose to drink. You dipped your fingers in it. Then we would take the train back. It still remains a great memory for me, those little special trips with Nana.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Tom, I like the photo of you and Tammy, don’t you both look young and cute. I am glad that you liked the hub, thanks for leaving a comment it is always nice to know that I have had a visit from you or Tammy. Love and hugs to you and Tammy and say hi to Deece for me.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi RGraf, Thanks for leaving a comment, it really is encouraging to get feedback especially when it is positive and as for me, I loved those days and they really were the good old days but these days are the best yet.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Raymond, I am glad that you liked the hub, there is still a huge interest in steam trains and model trains in the UK. Today adults rather than children generally own the model train layouts, and the prices they fetch reflect that.

      It is true what they say, you get what you pay for, and today’s models are much more detailed than those back in the early fifties. There are tons of videos on YouTube featuring real steam trains and also model trains and their layouts. Hours of fun for anyone interested in anything to do with trains. Thanks for your kind comments.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Dolores, you are right mum’s philosophy was a great one, the older I get and hopefully wiser I get the more I appreciate my mum and her way of doing things. I wish she were still here so that I could tell her so. Thanks for your comments, they are much appreciated.

    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      Great hub maggs! So wonderfully written and portrayed! I have always loved trains. Thanks! :)

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      This is a wonderful piece. I used to love looking for the caboose but they are no longer around I guess. Oh, the good old days.

    • Raymond Tremain profile image

      Raymond Tremain 

      10 years ago from Metro Manila Philippines

      Well Maggs this is one of the best hubs I've seen for along time, I just love steam trains,everytime I get over to UK (which is every 2 yrs.I have family there)I make sure I get on a steam train, and also I love the fast trains as well

      I have a Hornby 00 train set (electric)but it is packed up I must get it out again.

      Your hub most enjoyable thanks


    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      10 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Ha, your mother's philosophy is a great one and I remember using that one myself when my kids were young. There is no reason in this world to be bored, always chores to do! Great hub on a fascinating subject.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Candie, it's only 43, but I'm getting there lol. It was my wedding anniversary on the 18th of March we have been married 43 years, so there is a hub for each year, I hope to have at least double that by next March, I wonder if I will?

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      10 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      And look at you now.. 49 hubs and 259 followers! Yep.. you're one of the good ones!

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Hello, as usual you leave me comments that make me feel real good; this one made my day. Thanks for your continued support I really appreciate it and you.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Al, it is always good to see your wonderful smiling face beaming out of my comments thanks for the encouraging comments and the thumbs up both are appreciated. Also many thanks for the warm regards and the blessings both received with thanks and sent right back at you.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Candy, Thanks again for your always encouraging comments, you were one of the first to help me on Hubpages, and as a good and dear friend you keep on blessing me with your kind comments.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Suzy, I am glad that you found out some new things I love to learn about new things too. Thank you for your kind comments I appreciate them very much.

    • maggs224 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi KCC, glad you enjoyed the hub, it was my brother that was the train spotter, I would sometimes go an look if one of the famous steam trains was passing by nearby, but the fascination and love affair with steam was my brothers.

      I was thinking of dropping him a link to this hub and asking him if he would like to do a much more comprehensive and probably more accurate and interesting hub on the pastime of train spotting. After all his account would be a first hand account.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      A lovely trip down memory lane. I am so glad I fanned you. I enjoyed every line of it. You are such a good writer.

    • Mystique1957 profile image


      10 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela


      You did it again! This is a great hub. Quite detailed! Lots of fresh information for me, as I didn´t know about it! Thanks for sharing it! It´s been fun!

      Thumbs up!

      warmest regards and infinite blessings,


    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      10 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      I love this hub on Electric trains and train spotting, Maggs! You always share your stories in such a way that it makes me feel like I belong in it with you! Many hugs my dear friend!

    • suziecat7 profile image


      10 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Agree with KCC but I loved this Hub anyway. Learned a lot more about trains than I already knew. Thanks.

    • KCC Big Country profile image


      10 years ago from Central Texas

      Maggs, what a great hub! Perhaps you could elaborate a bit more on train spotting. I had never heard of it until about a week ago. My husband, that you know is from England, was telling me about it. It's fascinating and I doubt I'm the only one that had never heard of it.


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