by John Clayson
In 1953 British Railways gave the title The Elizabethan to the UK's most prestigious summer season train, marking the coronation of our new monarch HM Queen Elizabeth II. Britain was eagerly anticipating the promise of a new Elizabethan era as people looked to shake off the privations of the first half of the 20th century, including two world wars and 'the hungry thirties'.
Covering the 393 miles between London King's Cross and Edinburgh Waverley stations, The Elizabethan was the world's longest regular non-stop express passenger service. From Monday 29th June 1953 until 9th September 1962 an Elizabethan train departed from each end of the route on every weekday morning during summer timetable periods and, initially, on Saturdays too.
For all but the final season there was always a sparkling A4 ‘streamliner’ on the front. These locomotives were meticulously maintained at London's King's Cross and Edinburgh's Haymarket motive power depots, and their reliable and punctual operation set the standard. In summer 1962 'Deltic' diesel electric locomotives took over and, perhaps surprisingly, this meant the end of the train's non-stop status - as will be explained below.
The Elizabethan passed through Grantham at about 11.15am northbound from London, and at around 2.30pm out of Edinburgh, turning the heads of railway staff, passengers waiting on the platforms and spotters alike.
Tracks through Grantham wishes to mark the close of our second Elizabethan era by gathering a selection of photographs of The Elizabethan express in the Grantham area during the first decade of what was to be an unprecedented and remarkable seventy-year period.
A picture that helped to launch a career
Stopping for a Refill
A steam locomotive's coal supply would last the whole journey of nearly 400 miles but that wasn't the case with the water, which had to be topped up on the move several times en route from long water troughs laid between the rails. There was a scoop beneath the tender which dipped into the water.
If a 'dip' at the water troughs was unsuccessful there might be sufficient in reserve to reach the next set of troughs. If that wasn't the case, a stop would have to be made at a station where there was a water column at the platform end. If that was to be Grantham the driver would indicate his intention to stop there for water by sounding a special whistle code at Corby Station signal box, nine miles south. The signalman there would relay the message through to Grantham North box (see our page Whistles, Whistles and More Whistles).
Speeding South on a Saturday
Near the Summit
Over the Top
Down the Bank
Up the Bank
Summer 1962: the 'Deltics' take over
The London to Edinburgh route was too long for one locomotive crew to be continually in charge. When the non-stop Elizabethan train began in 1953 it was hauled by steam locomotives equipped with corridor tenders, so that a relief crew, travelling in the leading compartment of the first coach, could walk through to the cab and take over at the half-way point. This arrangement had been in place since 1928 when regular non-stop operation first took place.
Unlike their steam predecessors, the Deltic locomotives had no provision for a corridor connection to the train. It had been hoped by British Railways that the relief crew would travel the first half of the journey in the rear cab and walk through to the front to take over at the usual half-way point, thus enabling a non-stop service to continue. However, a Deltic's cab was a very noisy, enclosed environment, being adjacent to two powerful diesel engines and their equipment. While London-based crews were prepared to pass the entire six-hour journey on board the locomotive, their Scottish colleagues were not so amenable to the idea. BR's medical officers agreed that it was inadvisable to use the rear cab as a rest area, so a brief and, initially, unadvertised stop was introduced at Newcastle for crew changing. It was soon decided to use this as an additional pick-up point, and the Newcastle stop was added to the public timetable from 16th July 1962. The train was officially no longer a non-stop service.
More on The Elizabethan
The book What's on the 'LIzzie'? is a comprehensive guide to The Elizabethan during its steam-hauled period, 1953-61. Published in 2010 by Lineside Twentyfive, it was researched and written by John Aylard, Tommy Knox and David Percival, ISBN 978-0-9566762-0-7.
Watch the celebrated 20-minute film Elizabethan Express released in 1954: