Our Home Railways Part 5 , The South Eastern & Chatham Railway , by W.J. Gordon, 1911


Paper back book, 8.75”x  6”. 40pp, 3 colour plates, 4 whole page black and white plates,  17 black and white photographs. One of the first, if not the first, “part-work” to deal with railways.



Launched at 9d per copy in August 1911 (although later issues carry paper stickers increasing price to 1/-) It was also about the first time that a quality railway publication was within the reach of a prudent schoolboy, prepared to sacrifice sherbet dips, gobstoppers, “The Magnet” and “Chatterbox” for a couple of weeks.

Each issue included a colour frontispiece of the railway’s crest, a full page colour print of one of the company’s passenger carriages, and a stunning double page spread of a locomotive. In this case a Wainwright 4-4-0 no 735. “Our Home Railways” was also issued as a two volume set, but these and two modern single volume reprints were less than satisfactory, in that for production reasons, the colour plates had to be “grouped” together, divorced from the text relating to their railways. One of the modern reprints even produced the colour plates in black & white… Worth having for the colour plates alone!

The SECR was a working arrangement between two impoverished railway companies, the South Eastern and the London Chatham & Dover who had spent several decades in a competition for supremacy which bordered on the insane thanks to the combative natures if their respective chairmen. The working arrangement was that lines, equipment, staff and shipping would operate as one with costs and revenues being shared on an agreed basis, the parent companies each retaining their own legal identities. The “Jewels in the Crown” were the continental shipping services and associated luxury boat trains. The ordinary trains of both however left much to be desired,  contemporary observers described the Chatham trains as having “a crenellated appearance” while those of the South Eastern “ resembled a perambulating row of condemned cottages”. It was the new Chairman of the South Eastern the resoundingly named Henry Cosmo Orme Bonsor (made Bart. 1925) brewer, businessman, Director of the Bank of England who negotiated the new combination and was its chairman for almost 25 years.

Harry Wainwright, the Chatham Loco, Carriage and Wagon Engineer was a rolling stock man by training, loco design was largely left to Chief Locomotive  Draughtsman Robert Surtees, but between them they turned out a handful of beautiful trains, comparable with anything produced by larger, wealthier railways. The locomotives were set off by the most elaborate livery in high Victorian style. This was not cheap, and might be thought extravagant in a hard-up organization, but by quickly replacing the dingy dark green and black of the constituent company’s locomotives it caught the imagination of the travelling public, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that a new spirit was abroad.

The new combination inherited two sets of workshops, the South Eastern at Ashford dating from the 1840’s, spacious but full off old equipment and Longhedge, Battersea 20 years younger, but cramped and also suffering from underinvestment. It was intended that be avoiding duplicated facilities the SECR would become more profitable so Longhedge was selected for closure, its more modern machinery being moved to Ashford which was to be modernized and extended. Unfortunately the process was delayed by the obstruction of some people who resented being passed over when the Joint Arrangement was set up. With growing traffic, the SECR found that with one works partly dismantled and one in the throes of rebuilding it was actually running out of locomotives to run the trains.

The result was Wainwright’s early retirement, apparently due to a combination of personal problems (he married quite late in life a woman with expensive tastes who left him for a millionaire) and the herculean task of welding the loco departments of two impoverished railways into an efficient whole, causing what would now be recognized as a nervous breakdown.



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