When royalty travelled in style to and from Portsmouth – Nostalgia

The cover of a 10-page manual for railway staff about the workings of the royal train.
The cover of a 10-page manual for railway staff about the workings of the royal train.
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Much to the disgust of many retired railway workers, the Queen now travels by a general service train if she has to visit or return home from Portsmouth. However, It was not always like this. 

On May 12, 1947, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret arrived in Portsmouth Harbour aboard HMS Vanguard from a Commonwealth tour of South Africa. They were driven to the Guildhall to meet local dignitaries then boarded the royal train to Waterloo. 

It was called a ‘private special train’ and consisted of a T9 locomotive and six-car Pullman comprising the brake van Aurora, kitchen car Plato, parlour car Minerva, parlour car Rosemary, kitchen car Medusa and brake car Juno. The train was taken to Portsmouth Harbour to load baggage and staff and then departed to Portsmouth & Southsea to pick up the royal family.

A chalk mark had to be drawn on the platform at the exact spot the footplate had to stop and a flagman had to be placed with a red flag to stop the train dead at the appointed place. The distance from the footplate to the centre of the leading door of Pullman car Rosemary  was to be 216ft 0in. The same arrangement was to be made at Waterloo. The train would have two red tail lamps.

Stationmasters at Portsmouth, Havant, Petersfield, Haslemere, Guildford, Woking, Surbiton, Clapham Junction and Waterloo had to tell the divisional superintendent when the train had passed through their stations. All level crossings had to be closed to road traffic 15 minutes before the train passed. 

The following instruction would outrage women today. 'Any crossing controlled by a Gatewomen. A competent man must be employed 30 minutes to oversee events before the royal special train passes and remain on duty for 10-minutes after.'

The maximum speed of the train was just 50mph. The train left  Portsmouth & Southsea at 10.45 and arrived in Waterloo at 12.30.

Past Woking, on double track, if the train passed a local stopping service the driver of the stopping service had to slow down so the royal special could overtake and not be looked into by passengers on the local train as it passed.

I wonder what the Queen’s thoughts are today when she boards some scruffy train at Waterloo. I am sure her memories must be of the time when things were different in her father’s time.

• Last week I had lunch with former News defence correspondent Tim King. He was the reporter on board the last British battleship HMS Vanguard when she veered into Point, Old Portsmouth, in 1961.

As usual Tim came up with a cracking anecdote about his time with this paper. He told me: 'Just behind the technical college in Park Road was the old city morgue where occasionally the doddery old coroner, PD Childs, who was in his eighties, used to open inquests.

'I remember attending one and arrived a few minutes late. He'd already started and the body was on the slab. When he'd finished – it was a 'natural causes' verdict – I asked to check the deceased's name and he told me to get it off the coffin lid which was standing in a corner.

'Coroners were and still are a law unto themselves and can hold an inquest wherever they choose... pubs and community halls have been known to be used.

‘During my time as a reporter, a full inquest always started with the coroner's officer, a police officer, shouting: "Oyez, oyez, oyez! All manner of persons having anything to do with matters before the Queen's coroner for this city touching the death of Henry Herbert Higgins draw nigh and give your attention”. Great shame they stopped that ancient tradition.’

What would a modern journalist say if he/she had to attend an inquest with the body in view I wonder?