Fine dining on the move

The late Roy Hayman. steward on restaurant cars in British Rail days
The late Roy Hayman. steward on restaurant cars in British Rail days
Lively Lady amid the  welcome-home flotilla of 400 small vessels off Southsea.'All pictures: Graham Stevens

NOSTALGIA: Home to Portsmouth and a hero’s welcome

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One of my biggest dislikes these days is travelling by train. One of the main reasons, apart from overcrowding at peak times, is the uncomfortable seating.

I travelled up and down to Woking and London Waterloo for 25 years when I worked on the railways, mostly in slam door trains called VEPs and, later, the 442 units – always called ‘pigs’ by staff.

I know there are more seats per unit these days as they have removed the brake vans from modern trains. But the arm rests have been taken out and there seems to be nowhere to put an elbow.

Whereas there were four cars to a unit, now there are five. But as they can only be made up to a maximum of two units (10 cars) compared to the 12 before, I can’t see where more seating is available.

Do you remember the wonderful stock that used to take passengers from Portsmouth to London Waterloo and Victoria?

They had plump horse-hair cushions with armrests and headrests, plus luggage netting above the seating.

I can remember boarding the early morning train and there were always sailors, in uniform, fast asleep in these nettings, using them as hammocks!

Do you know that on the 12-car units, one was a restaurant car? Not your occasional buffet, but a full silver service dinner was available between Waterloo and Portsmouth Harbour. Can you imagine that today?

A former steward, the late Roy Hayman, told me that the restaurant cars had a staff of eight and 48 covers, consisting of 36 Third and 12 First Class. On a Monday morning between Portsmouth Harbour and Waterloo they would serve up to 60 breakfasts at 3/6d (18p) a time.

The crew would consist of a chef, stewards, barman and kitchen boy.

On the 6.50pm service from Waterloo most businessmen and women would have taken a seat in the restaurant car by 6.30pm and would have eaten their starter by departure time.

If only such delights were available today on the Portsmouth line, eh?