The London Ghost Train


Just outside Waterloo station in London stand the remnants of the city’s most unusual railway terminus. You might well ask why anyone would want to build a station right next to Waterloo. Furthermore, a casual glance at this railway’s books would reveal another mystery – an unusual number of single (and very expensive) tickets sold for the short trip to this line’s sole destination. The answer to these puzzles was once written in bold letters over the station entrance, although the sign has long since been removed. It read: ‘London Necropolis Railway’.
By the mid nineteenth century, overcrowding was becoming a real problem in London and not just for the living. With space at a premium, the tiny graveyards of the city’s mediaeval churches were overflowing, sometimes scandalously, with human bones being unearthed by accident and scattered about indiscriminately. What was needed was a new burial ground that was large enough and affordable enough for ordinary Londoners. The newly arrived railway service appeared to provide an answer.
Just four years after Waterloo station was finished in 1848, the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company was formed. It had bought 2,000 acres of land from Lord Onslow at Brookwood near Woking in Surrey, of which 500 acres were landscaped as a cemetery. Being so far out of town, the land was cheap, so that even the poor would be able to afford their own plot (as opposed to having to share communal ones in the City), but the coffins and mourners would still need transport to get there. This was where the railway came in.
The management of the London and South West Railway were unsure about having funeral parties on their trains, fearing that the new breed of train traveller that they were encouraging onto their still novel form of transport might be put off by sitting in a carriage that had previously held a coffin. Then there were the concerns of the bishop of London, who warned that it would be highly inappropriate to convey the coffins of working-class people in the same carriage as respectable folk. Similarly, the mourners from different classes should never be allowed to mix.
It was decided to address all these issues by creating special funeral trains with their own stations, so as not to spook ordinary travellers. Funeral parties, both living and dead, were to be divided up into three classes and two types (Anglican and Nonconformist).
At the London Necropolis terminal, first-class mourners could enjoy the privacy of their own dedicated waiting room, from which they could watch their loved one’s coffin being loaded on to the reserved first-class section of the mortuary car, whose more elaborate doors helped to justify the increased cost for carrying a first-class corpse. First-class Nonconformists could travel in similar luxury but in a different compartment.
After the fifty-seven-minute journey, the train would arrive in turn at each of two specially built stations, one on the south side of the cemetery for Anglicans and another on the north for Nonconformists. Here first-class mourners would disembark with their own chaplain, who would hold a private service in the station chapel before moving on to the interment. Afterwards there was time for a drink and perhaps lunch in the refreshment room, followed by a walk around the grounds, before the train returned the mourners to London.
For third-class mourners, there were less elaborate arrangements. They warranted only one communal service said at the chapel over all the coffins collectively, rather than over each one individually (although Nonconformists and Anglicans still had separate services). Third-class mourners also had to make do with a communal waiting room, rather than a private room for each funeral party.
The Necropolis railway opened on 13 November 1854 but was never the great success its founders had hoped. Other railways offered competing services, some with cemeteries much closer to London, and only 3,200 burials a year took place in the first twenty years of the service. At the turn of the century, the Sunday service was abandoned and by the 1930s there was just one Necropolis train a week.
Nevertheless the end of the line for the London Necropolis railway was not the result of its unpopularity. On the night of 16 April 1941 its London terminus was bombed, destroying the mortuary, workshops and entrance. The bespoke funeral carriages in a nearby siding were also wrecked. In the cold light of day it was realised that, even with compensation, it was uneconomic to revive the service. Today only the London frontage of the terminus remains. At Brookwood cemetery the railway tracks have been taken up, the station buildings have gone and only the platforms and station chapels survive as a last reminder of London’s ghost train.
***The London Necropolis Company, also London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company, was set up in 1850, and established by Act of Parliament in 1852. Its intention was to create a large metropolitan cemetery, big enough to hold all of London’s dead forever. Brookwood Cemetery was set up at Brookwood, Surrey, near Woking, landscaped by William Tite, and by 1854 it was the largest cemetery in the world. Funeral trains ran from London Necropolis railway station, adjacent to Waterloo station, directly to platforms within the cemetery itself. The London Necropolis Company relinquished its interest in the cemetery around 1975, but the cemetery remains privately owned.


Time Table For Victory

Some things never change….
Here’s a snippet from “Time Table For Victory” by Evan John, published shortly after the end of World War 2, in 1947:

‘No-one wants to deprive the Englishman of his long-established Right to Grumble, and the fools or Puritans who attempt to do so are merely sitting on a safety-valve to the inevitable peril of their own back-sides. But there is a form of criticism which has a very different and more sinister colour. It has political implications. It is often curiously traceable, as in a clause italicised in the quotation given below, to those whose financial interests, or pride, are opposed to the welfare of railways. And it can do a great deal of real mischief, especially when it is given wide and expensive publicity.
‘On the 17th of November, 1940, when troop movements and the transport of war-freight were extremely burdensome, when the German Air Attacks were still intensive over London, and were just beginning to spread throughout the inland towns of the provinces, a leading article entitled ‘A Story of a Railway Journey’, appeared in a Sunday paper of very wide circulation. The following extracts give a fair idea of its tenor and of the spirit that inspired it.
‘ “Here is the simple story of a main line express train which made the journey from a provincial city to London a day or two ago. . . . The train pulled out of the station at 9.45 a.m. It was due in London at 1.50 p.m. At one point on the journey that train stood still for more than an hour. Then it went backwards for several miles. It eventually reached London at 8.0 p.m. – six hours late on a journey scheduled to last four hours. The train was packed. At many stations it stopped to pick up still more passengers. Although the news could have been telephoned all down the line that passengers, women and children, were already herded like cattle in the corridors, no attempt was made to fix additional coaches to the train. . . . There was a restaurant car on the train. Those who were rich enough to pay for the meal could get lunch in it. But after lunch the restaurant car went out of business. . . . When the train at last reached London most of the passengers had spent 10 hours in it without food or drink of any kind. . . . The train arrived in Town when the night raid was in full blast. No arrangements of any sort had been made to convey the passengers to their several destinations. . . . This kind of resolute and calculated indifference to the comfort or convenience of their customers prevails over the whole of the British Railways. It exists on the branch lines and suburban lines as well as on the main roads of railway traffic. . . . Goods traffic is in chaotic condition. . . . The railways must realise that the public expects them now not only to maintain a peace-time efficiency, but to improve upon it. . . . Let this also be said, the railways not only let down the nation by their present parrot-cry of “Don’t you know there is a war on?” as an excuse for 10,000 instances of avoidable inefficiency, but also lose the goodwill of the public. . . . The busmen who drive their vehicles to schedule through the bombardment, the firemen, the factory and munitions workers, are all laying up for themselves an immense store of public sympathy by the way they carry on their duties. . . . Only the railwaymen. . . . are in disgrace. They may come to be regarded as people who, having failed the nation in its danger hour, have no claims upon the nation’s bounty when the danger is past.”

‘Even in War-time, with a nation to save, the Railway Companies can hardly leave such rhetoric unanswered. The immediate target that had been chosen as a text for general
scurrility was clearly the 9.45 a.m. to Euston from London Road Station, Manchester, on Friday, 15th November. The L.M.S. immediately got to work on its records. The Story of this particular Railway Journey was then re-told with some knowledge of the circumstances, instead of from a basis of spite and wilful ignorance.

‘The night of the 14th-15th November was that of the first, sudden attack on the provinces – the ghastly bombardment of Coventry – which even journalists had hardly been able to predict. As we have seen, it involved a quite unique amount of railway damage, which left two unexploded bombs on the usual path of the 9.45 between Nuneaton and Rugby, and temporarily but completely severed the most suitable alternative route, which lay through Coventry itself.
‘Before the train left Manchester (exactly to time, as even the critic admits), it had been decided to send it, beyond Nuneaton, along the eastward line to Wigston, whence it could turn southward again to Rugby. A glance at the map [a 1941 map, of course! – Ed.] shows that this journey round two sides of a triangle involves some 20 extra miles and a corresponding loss of time; by normal standards this should have been about an hour, if the line of diversion was not already over-burdened with military or other Specials. The train made for this path, and arrived at Stone, still with seats for all passengers, 11 minutes behind time. Here news arrived that two more unexploded parachute-bombs had been just found near the proposed alternative route between Nuneaton and Wigston, and that the Naval experts taken to the scene had forbidden traffic.
‘There was nothing to be done except draw the train back to Stoke-on-Trent and find a new path for it through Uttoxeter, Burton, Coalville and Leicester. The stoppage and return to Stoke had caused a delay of an hour and a half, and the new diversion was bound to cause further loss of time. Progress according to the newly improvised plan was very satisfactory throughout the Midland network, though the exchange of engine-driver and fireman was not easily managed. But as the train approached London, leaving Tring for Watford, news came of a raid in progress and the Regulations dictated a maximum speed of 15 m.p.h. It was hardly surprising that there was further and prolonged delay. It was even less surprising that a train twice forced away from its scheduled path, and held up at various untimetabled places, should have been rushed by larger numbers of passengers than could be accommodated in comfort in the coaches marshalled for a shorter and less interrupted journey. And it is a little difficult to see how those in charge of the restaurant-car could have been economically provided with four times the amount of food which they would have required, had not the Luftwaffe chosen that particular moment to extend its attention, for the first time, to the railways of the Midlands.

‘Further comment is needless. There is hardly room for more reminders that, if the Passengers were indeed Long-suffering during the War, the majority of them remained commendably cheerful and commendably helpful towards their fellow-sufferers and towards the railwaymen who were trying to alleviate their mortification. They blamed Hitler rather than the inefficiency of the Railways, and if this article has not yet convinced the reader that they were right in doing so, then it is useless to make any further remarks on the subject.’

Recollections of a rail journey during the Blitz – part of the Railways At War series.

Britain’s First Railway Murder

On the evening of the 9th July 1864, the chief clerk of a firm of London bankers boarded a train at Fenchurch Street station, sadly he was never to reach his destination.
Thomas Briggs became the first person to be brutally murdered on Britain’s railways.
As in the case of the former Board of Trade Minister, William Husskison, who died as a result of his injuries after being struck by a locomotive at the grand opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830, fatalities on the railway were confined to straightforward accidents, or work-related incidents. However, in the summer of 1864 this would cease to be the case. Britain was about to experience a hitherto unknown breed of crime – murder on the railways!

Late in the evening of the 9th July 1864, a train approaching London made a sudden and unscheduled stop between the suburban stations of Bow and Hackney. The driver and fireman of the locomotive had spotted something strange on the line ahead. Climbing from the cab they approached what they thought to be a discarded bundle of clothing. Recoiling in horror as they began to examine the item, they realised immediately that the bundle was in fact the body of an elderly man; his clothes soaked in blood.
The police were quickly summoned to the scene and the man, who was barely alive, was taken to a nearby public house and placed in a private room. A doctor arrived and after a brief examination, revealed that the man had suffered an extremely violent assault, resulting in a number of serious head wounds, one of which was a skull fracture.

The badly beaten man died the following evening from the injuries that he had sustained.
Without delay an investigation into the horrific murder began, headed by Chief Inspector William Tanner, an experienced police officer from Scotland Yard. The identity of the victim was soon established as Thomas Briggs, the chief clerk of a firm of bankers in Lombard Street, London. Apparently he had boarded an evening train at Fenchurch Street station that was bound for Hackney. He never reached his destination.
Tanner was in no doubt that the motive for the murder was one of robbery, after receiving credible information from those who knew him that he was in the habit of wearing a black top hat, gold spectacles and a gold watch and chain in his waistcoat. A subsequent search of the railway carriage revealed three personal items – a walking stick, a black beaver hat and a leather bag, all of which were lying in sickly pools of congealed blood. The spectacles and the watch and chain were missing.

Due to the nature of the missing items, the police naturally concentrated on London’s jewellery trade, and it was some time before they came up with their first promising lead.
In an area known as Cheapside, their investigations led them to a jewellery shop owned by a Mr. John Death. Death informed Inspector Tanner that a few days previously he had purchased a gold watch chain from a customer in his shop. Giving Tanner a full description of the customer, he added that he was certain he was a foreigner, with what he believed to be a German accent. Also, something that struck the jeweller as odd was that the man was wearing an unusual style of black hat.
On the 18th July, the police had their biggest breakthrough to date in the case of the murdered Thomas Briggs. Information had been received from a cabman by the name of Matthews which would shed further light on the crime. While interviewing Matthews, Inspector Tanner learned that the man’s eldest daughter had in fact been engaged to be married to a young man known as Franz Muller. Muller it seems had given the lady in question a gift in a small box; the box was given to Matthew’s youngest daughter to play with. Proud of her little box, the girl had shown it to her father who, purely by chance, noticed the name “John Death” printed inside; although he was not aware of its significance at the time. Matthews also informed Tanner that Muller often wore a black beaver hat.
In a further stroke of luck for the police Inspector, Matthews was also able to supply a photograph of Muller that John Death confirmed was the customer with the watch chain. On the 19th July a warrant was issued for the arrest of the suspected murderer.
Until now the case had progressed smoothly. However, Tanner was about to suffer a setback. News had reached Tanner at his Scotland Yard office that the imminent arrest of Muller had been thwarted. Muller was at that very moment on board a ship bound for America. Not to be outdone at the final hurdle in his search for the miscreant, Tanner, along with Sergeant George Clarke, wasted no time in travelling to Liverpool where they boarded the steamship “City of Manchester” bound for America.
Muller would no doubt have been extremely happy with himself as he stepped ashore from the sailing ship “Victoria”, onto the safety of American soil. After all, had he not outwitted the entire London police force, and literally got away with murder? Now he could start a new life in a new country on the proceeds from the sale of the gold watch, stowed safely in his luggage. All his troubles were over!

Before Muller had taken more than a few steps along the quayside, the words he thought that he would never hear uttered reached his ears. “Franz Muller, I arrest you for the murder of Thomas Briggs…” Standing in front of Muller was Inspector Tanner and Sergeant Clarke.
What the fleeing Muller did not know was that although he had left England well ahead of the two policemen, the ship they had boarded was faster and more powerful than the sailing ship in which he had travelled, and that they had arrived in New York three weeks ahead of him. Muller’s luggage was duly searched and the gold watch was discovered along with a strange black hat. Muller, being a tailor, had cut down the height of the top hat to alter its appearance.

After being brought back to England, Muller stood trial for murder at the Old Bailey on the 27th October 1864. Although much of the evidence against him was circumstantial, and also that an alibi had been provided by a known London prostitute, the jury took a mere fifteen minutes to return a verdict of guilty as charged.
On the 14th November Franz Muller was released from his shackles and led from the condemned cell in Newgate Prison to the scaffold where, it is claimed, he confessed to his crime to the German minister, (some believe it was a priest), who was in attendance.
Muller was hanged, publicly, in front of an estimated crowd of 50,000 people who had turned out especially to witness the spectacle, many making a one-day holiday out of the whole affair. However, this was not the last time that the name of Franz Muller would be on the lips of the British public.

Unwittingly, by cutting down the height of Thomas Briggs’ top hat, he had created a fashion for shorter top hats, known as the “Muller Cut-Down”. The style survived for many years to come. One of its most ardent admirers was none other than the famous British Prime Minister – Winston Churchill!

Britain’s First Railway Murder by Charles Moorhen

“Devon Belle”


On Friday June 20th 1947 the Southern Railway introduced a Pullman Car train named the “Devon Belle”. Although initially envisaged as an express service to Ilfracombe in north Devon, when it started it had a front portion for Plymouth.
The “Devon Belle” left London’s Waterloo Station at 12 Noon every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday between Friday June 20th and Monday October 27th that year.
It was due to pass through Clapham Junction Station at 12.07pm, Surbiton at 12.17pm, Woking at 12.31pm, Andover Junction at 1.21pm, and Salisbury Station at 1.42pm. The first stop out of London was at Wilton, where it was due to arrive at 1.47pm but only to change the locomotive. Six minutes later the train was off again. Templecombe was due to be passed at 2.20pm and Yeovil Junction at 2.33pm, the first stop for the passengers’ benefit being at Sidmouth Junction at 3.16pm.
From there it was but a short sprint to Exeter Central Station, where the “Devon Belle” was due to pull up at 3.36pm. Here the train was split into two portions, the front for Plymouth and the rear for Barnstaple, Braunton, Mortehoe and Ilfracombe.
The Plymouth portion was due to depart from Exeter Central at 3.41pm and Exeter St David’s, the Great Western Railway’s Station, at 3.44pm. Only two stops were then made, at Okehampton, arrive 4.25pm, and Tavistock, arrive 4.53pm, before the “Devon Belle” reached the Southern Railway’s Devonport Station at 5.20pm.
Shortly after leaving Devonport Station the train went on to Great Western metals at Devonport Junction. A short stop was made at North Road Station at 5.26pm and then it was off for the final swing through Lipson Junction to the Southern’s terminus at Friary Station, where the “Devon Belle” was due to arrive at 5.36pm.
The upward journey began at Friary Station at 11.30am, leaving Devonport Station at 11.44am. After connecting up with its north Devon portion at Exeter Central Station again, the train was due to arrive at Waterloo Station at 5.20pm. The Up and Down trains passed each other somewhere between Yeovil Junction and Sidmouth Junction.
Mr George M Pullman, an American disgruntled by the poor standard of passenger accommodation on his country’s trains, devised the luxurious carriage that bore his name. That was in 1858 but it was not until 1875 that a constituent company of the Southern Railway, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, introduced them on their express trains between London and Brighton.
When first run the train consisted of ten carriages, six for Ilfracombe and four for Plymouth but this was soon found to be inadequate, especially during the height of the holiday season. As a result, the “Devon Belle” usually consisted of twelve carriages, eight for Ilfracombe, including the famous Pullman Observation Car at the rear, and four for Plymouth. This allowed for 70 first-class and 138 third-class passengers, with every seat having a dining table. When required the capacity was increased by the addition of two more carriages, bringing the total seating capacity to 94 and 168 respectively. The train would normally weigh 460 tons but the larger one would increase that to 540 tons or around 575 tons with passengers and luggage.
Every pair of carriages had a kitchen and pantry so that meals could be served quickly and efficiently to all tables. Indeed, there were 22 Pullman staff on each train, including an attendant for each carriage and the conductor. They travelled right through to either Ilfracombe or Plymouth and then stopped overnight at each terminus in old Pullman cars that were specially converted for sleeping.
In the first-class carriages the parlour seats were arranged down each side. For a party who wished for privacy, four seats were partitioned off to form a coupé. In the third-class carriages the seats were arranged in pairs down one side and singly down the other and the capacity of the coupé was increased to six persons. The kitchens were tiny but could serve anything from an ice cream to a full dinner. The carriages were entirely of wood construction. Nine men were employed to clean and polish the carriages of the “Devon Belle”, starting at 6am in the morning.
Although the Observation Cars did not run on the Plymouth portion it might be mentioned that they were rebuilt by the Pullman company from two ordinary third-class carriages, numbers 13 and 14. Seating was in comfortable armchairs and double settees that could swivelled to face any direction. Each Observation Car had its own refreshment buffet and kitchen.
The Southern Railway ceased to exist from Midnight on December 31st 1947, following which its system became the Southern Region of British Railways, under the terms set out in the Transport Act of August 6th 1947.
During the 1949 summer season the trains ran in the Down direction on Thursdays to Mondays and in the Up direction on Fridays to Tuesdays. However, in the summer of 1950 the Plymouth portion was detached at Exeter Central Station and kept there until the return working the following day.
Thus 1949 was the last year in which Plymouth saw Pullman carriages in regular service.

Damaging A Locomotive Engine

William Steevens was charged, on the complaint of William Thomas Mosley, of West Monkton, with having on the 7th of September contracted with John Logan to serve him as an engine-cleaner, and also that, having entered into such service, he was guilty of misdemeanour and ill-behaviour, to wit, that he did by negligence and misconduct damage a locomotive engine, thereby doing injury to the amount of £100. Mr H. Trenchard appeared for the complainant, and Mr Taunton for the defendant.
Mr Trenchard having explained the circumstances of the case, called Mr Mosley, who said that he lived at Bathpool and was the superintendent engineer and manager of the Taunton and Chard Railway. The defendant was in his employ, and was paid by the week. His duty was to clean the engine at night, and to light the fire in the engine in the morning, about two hours before it commenced work. The defendant had no right to put the engine in motion. In consequence of some information witness saw the engine which was under the care of the defendant, on Thursday morning, near Thorn Water. It was very much damaged, which was caused through water not having been pumped into the boiler. This arose through the engine having been used by some one who could not put on the feed-pipe to convey the water from the tank into the boiler. Supposing a fire were lighted and the water were exhausted, an explosion of the boiler‘ would take place. He found the tubes and boiler of the engine bursted; they were safe the night before. It was the duty of the engine-driver to leave sufficient water and coal in the engine at night for it to be fit for work the following morning. It was the driver’s duty to leave water both in the tank and the boiler. The defendant had been in his employ about two months. It was no part of the duty of the defendant to supply the engine with water.
James Needs said he was the driver of the engine named BUSY BEE, of which the defendant was the cleaner. He (defendant) had been engaged in that occupation about nine nights before Wednesday last. The duty of the defendant was to clean the engine at night, and to light the fire at half-past three in the morning, so as to get the steam up by the usual time. He had no right to move the engine after witness left it at night. He (witness) provided coal and water, and he left the engine in a proper state on Wednesday night for the fire to be lighted the next morning. Just as witness left his lodgings, about five o’clock on Thursday morning, he heard an explosion. He went to the spot where he left the engine and found all the water gone and the tubes bursted. There was plenty of water in the feeder to the boiler, which could have been put into the engine by a person who understood it. Moving the engine would consume the water much faster than if it were allowed to stand still. He left sufficient water in the engine to prevent any explosion taking place before he got to it if it had not been moved. Witness provided the usual amount of coal on the previous night. When he first saw the defendant he was lying in a dyke, near to the engine, with his hair standing up, as if he‘ were much frightened. The feed-pipes in the morning were shut off, as witness had left them on the previous evening. Some water was in the tank which he had not left there on the previous evening.
By the Bench: When he saw the defendant in the morning he said to him (witness) that he had been down to look for coals.
By Mr. Trenchard: He first saw the defendant about one hundred yards from the engine, in a field. Supposing coals were wanted, it was the duty of the defendant to go to witness and tell him of it. The defendant would have to go to Thorn Water for coal, and if he had burnt all the coal left by witness and fetched more he mast have lighted the fire two hours earlier than he was ordered to do.
John Bicker, stoker on the BUSY BEE, said that the night before the explosion there was plenty of water in the boiler, and the usual amount of coal left. If the engine had been lighted at the proper time, and was not moved, there was ample water in the boiler to prevent an explosion. It was not the duty of the defendant to drive the engine. He did not hear the last witness give the defendant any orders as to what was his duty.
John Godfrey, watchman on the line, said he heard an engine whistle on the line about two o’clock on Thursday morning. About a quarter to three o‘clock the BUSY BEE passed him with only one man on it. At a quarter past four o’clock the engine returned, and the steam at that time was blowing off freely. Witness could not tell who was on the engine.
For the defendant Mr Taunton contended that there was no more pretence for this charge than there would be if a servant of one of the magistrates, who was instructed to lead a horse into Taunton, rode it instead, and thereby an accident occurred. The fact was, that the defendant, acting as an energetic servant in his masters’ interest, rose up early In the morning in question, and, manifesting his energy and zeal without skill, went to get a sufficient supply of coal, which the engine-driver had not provided. There was no pretence for saying that there was any negligence in the case, the only thing against the defendant being over-zeal in the discharge of his duty.
Mr. Badcock said the magistrates thought the case had been proved, and the act of the defendant was fraught with immense danger, inasmuch as if he had driven on to the main line and come in contact with the mail train, the lives of many persons might have been sacrificed. They thought it necessary to make an example of the defendant, and should sentence him to one month’s imprisonment, with hard labour.

This most illuminating account was extracted from the “Somerset County Gazette”, issue dated 9th September 1863. One can but wonder how present-day vandals would have been punished by the Courts.

(Industrial Railway Society Records)

“Atlantic Coast Express”


The forerunner of the “Atlantic Coast Express” was the LSWR 11:00 am departure from Waterloo for Plymouth. This was quite a notable train in its day as, in 1904, it was running to Salisbury in 1 hr 32 mins, changing engines there, then on to Exeter in 1 hr 38 mins where, after another change of engine, it departed for the next booked stop, Devonport, where it arrived at 3:44 pm, followed by North Road, Mutley and finally Plymouth Friary at 4:05 pm. The LSWR advertised the service as non-stop from Exeter Queen Street to Devonport, though of course the GWR would never allow the train to pass through their St Davids station without stopping!
It was largely the success of this train that prompted the GWR to build two of its cut-offs, at Westbury and Castle Carey, to shorten its own route to London, then some 22¼ miles longer from Exeter. The LSWR supremacy, though, was not to be long-lived as in July 1904 the GWR intoduced the “Cornish Riviera Express” with its non-stop run from Paddington to Plymouth in 4 hrs 25 mins, some 19 minutes quicker than the LSWR train with all its stops and changes of engine.
No longer competitive on the time to Plymouth, the LSWR started adding extra stops, calling at Sidmouth Junction, North Tawton, Okehampton, Lydford and Tavistock, as well as acknowledging the stop at Exeter St Davids. Extra destinations were bolted on and with Plymouth no longer a competetive run, this portion became of secondary importance to the Ilfracombe portion and there were portions for Bideford, Bude and Padstow with through coaches detached for other places. Then in the late 1920s, by which time there were nine different destinations for parts of the train, came one of those PR masterstrokes for which the Southern Railway was known. A competition was held amongst staff to find a name for this many-destination train and one Guard Rowland of Woking came up with the winning suggestion, and the “Atlantic Coast Express” was born. The inaugral run under this name took took place on 19th July 1926, behind King Arthur class loco Nº779 Sir Colgrevance.
With the arrival of the Lord Nelson class locos through running from Waterloo to Exeter had been tried, but did not last for long and the Salisbury engine change was re-instated (though Wilton was used for the later “Devon Belle”). In 1939 timings were 1 hr 26 mins to Salisbury where five minutes were allowed for the change of engine, then on to Sidmouth Junction in 1 hr 23 mins and a further 18 times for the 11:00 Waterloo departure were: Torrington 3:58 pm, Ilfracombe 4:05 pm, Plymouth Friary 4:19 pm, Bude 4:39 pm and Padstow 5:37 pm. All this ceased for the duration of WWII, though there was still a 11:00 am departure from Waterloo.
Upon restoration of the “ACE” after the end of the war the railway now had its new Bulleid pacifics to call upon. The train would normally leave Waterloo behind a Merchant Navy which would go all the way to Exeter, though the stop at Salisbury was still required for water and a crew change, then a light pacific would take over for duties west of Exeter. Lack of proper maintenance during the war meant that initially schedules were slower than pre-war, but by the summer 1952 timetable timings had been reduced to lower than in 1939. Through the height of the summer season loadings were so great that the train would run in two portions, the main train left Waterloo at 11:00 am with portions for Ilfracombe, Torrington, Sidmouth and Exmouth whilst the relief train left at varying times just before or after this with portions for Bude, Padstow and Plymouth, also calling at Axminster to connect with the Lyme Regis branch. The up journeys were basically the reverse of the down with one exception, a through portion from Yeovil Town which called at all stations to Gillingham where it was added to the rear of the “ACE”, also only a brief halt at Sidmouth Junction was required as the through coaches from Sidmouth were attached along with a coach from Seaton, to the preceding 10:30 am ex-Exeter service. During the late 1950s traffic could be so heavy on summer Saturdays that there was a succession of trains needed to carry all those wanting to travel to the Devon and North Cornwall resorts but by the early 1960s this traffic was in decline. As the private motor car became more reliable and affordable so the numbers travelling by train dropped off rapidly with the result that the last ever “ACE” ran on 5 September 1964.
The “ACE” had no rival in the UK for the number of individual portions incorporated into one train, so much so that at times it almost seemed it consisted entirely of brake coaches! Leaving Waterloo a typical winter formation would be a second corridor and composite brake for Ilfracombe, composite brakes for each of Torrington, Padstow and Bude, second brake and composite for Plymouth, buffet, kitchen and open restaurant cars to be detached at Exeter, composite brakes for each of Exmouth, Sidmouth and all stations Salisbury to Honiton, the latter detached at Salisbury.
One sad footnote to the “ACE” story concerns Guard Rowland who moved from Surrey to live in Torrington in Devon where he was unfortunate enough to become the only railwayman ever to be killed on the Halwill – Torrington line.