Working Class life in the 1950’s – Train Sets and Train Spotting
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brighton Shed in the late 1930's
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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- Working Class life in the 1950’s – Train Sets and Train Spotting
- Working Class life in the 1940’s and 1950´s Britain ~ Train Travel
- Working Class Life in the 1940s & 50s
- Working Class Life in the 1940’s
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- Working Class Girl in Singapore in the late 1960's
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