Last train to Willoughby

© C A Lovegrove

“Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read.”

— Anne Brontë, ‘Agnes Grey’, Chapter XV

Yesterday (9th August) was Book Lovers Day, a day (they say) for encouraging people “to pick up a book (or two) and spend the day reading.” So it was for me: Joan Aiken‘s 20th-century Gothic romance The Silence of Herondale (1964) — which I’ve been steaming through — involves a young woman reluctantly travelling up by train in winter to an isolated mansion in Yorkshire, all full of Brontë-type brooding. Enjoyable though it is in its own right (and I’ll be reviewing it in due course) I can’t help but be reminded of another female taking a similar journey: Silvia Green in the same author’s children’s novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which had in fact been published just two years before.

Although one novel is set in the 1960s and the other in the 1830s they have several themes in common; but for this post I want to change onto a parallel track. I’m presently about to embark on the final instalment of Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles, the name her daughter Lizza Aiken has given to the saga of a dozen or so related novels which had began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. The Witch of Clatteringshaws was the final book that Joan completed before her death in 2004, a novella that represented the terminus for a sequence of tales stretching over a decade of alternative history, a chronology in which the Hanoverian dynasty never ruled Albion and the Stuart line still sat on the throne.

And, running like a railway line through many of these tales is the theme of travel — by carriage or by Shank’s pony, by ship or, indeed, by train. So, before opening the page on a narrative set largely in Scotland (from where, possibly, Joan Aiken’s ancestors hailed) I’d like to consider the mode of travel which features strongly not only in many of the Wolves Chronicles but also in The Silence of Herondale.

Continue reading “Last train to Willoughby”

Mainline in miniature

Southern Maid

Simon Haynes and Tim Godden:
Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway Official Guidebook
Foreword by Ben Goldacre
RH&DR 2016

Combine our fascination with small-scale models, dolls and simulacra of all kinds with the romance of railways (especially steam engines) and what do you get? Miniature railways of course! These naturally range from toy train sets to model railway layouts and beyond, including quite small locos that can pull a couple of extended families round a circular track; but I want to talk about a more ambitious type of miniature railway.

Often described (and with initials in capital letters too!) as The World’s Smallest Public Railway, the RH&DR was from the start conceived and built in the first third of the twentieth century as a miniature version of its bigger siblings, running on 15-inch gauge, with engines and rolling stock roughly one-third the size we’d expect to encounter.

Continue reading “Mainline in miniature”