Whenever I think of train travel, I think of the Orient Express, or those night sleeper cars often seen in old black and white movies. The elegance of it all! The gently rocking guest rooms, the sofas that are converted into beds at night by white gloved attendants, cocktails in the lounge while listening to Gershwin tunes played on the baby grand by a tuxedo clad pianist and the elegant dining room, its tables laid with china, cut glass and gleaming silverware. All things of the past.

Until I found out about the Cornish Riviera Express, which travels from London to Cornwall, leaving Paddington Station almost daily at 10:30 p.m. The train arrives next morning with stops in Plymouth, Truro and Penzance. There’s a wonderful site called The Man in Seat 61, from which I’ve swiped the photos below. Also on the site are all the details you’ll need to plan a trip onboard of your own.

 As the photos above illustrate, the Cornish Riviera Express is much less luxurious than the Orient Express, but the fact that one can still experience a night journey on a train is remarkable. I must fit this in to a future itinerary. The price is certainly right –

From £49 to £169 depending on single or double berth

You’ll find the official Great Western site here with more information and photos.

You can watch a short video of the train as it steams it’s way through Dawlish, hugging the magnificent shoreline here.

And you can learn more about the background history of the train from this posting on Wikipedia:

The Cornish Riviera Express is a British express passenger train that has run between London and Penzance in Cornwallsince 1904. Introduced by the Great Western Railway, the name Cornish Riviera Express has been applied to the late morning express train from London Paddington station to Penzance station continuously through nationalisation under British Rail and privatisation under First Great Western, only ceasing briefly during the two World Wars. The name is also applied to the late morning express train running in the opposite direction from Penzance to London. Through performance and publicity the Cornish Riviera Express has become one of the most famous named trains in the United Kingdom and is particularly renowned for the publicity employed by the GWR in the 1930s which elevated it to iconic status.
Through trains from Paddington to Penzance began running on 1 March 1867 and included fast services such as the 10:15 a.m. Cornishman and 11:45 a.m. Flying Dutchman, but these still took nine hours or more for the journey.
A new express service with limited stops was promoted by the Great Western Railway, commencing on 1 July 1904. It left London at 10:10 a.m. and was timed to reach Penzance at 5:10 p.m. It conveyed six carriages to Penzance, including a dining car, and one more carriage for Falmouth that was detached at Truro then added to a branch train to complete its journey. Other stops were made at Plymouth North Road (Devon), Gwinear Road (for the Helston branch), and St Erth (for the St Ives branch). The return train from Penzance started at 10:00 a.m. and called additionally at Devonport.
A public competition was announced in the August 1904 edition of the Railway Magazine to choose the name, the prize being three guineas (£3.15) . Among the 1,286 entries were two suggestions, The Cornish Riviera Limited and The Riviera Express, which were combined as The Cornish Riviera Express, although railwaymen tended to call it The Limited.
For the first two years, the new train ran only during the summer, but from the third year became a year-round feature of the timetable. With the opening of a 20¼ mile shorter route along the Langport and Castle Cary Railway in 1906, it was possible to start the train twenty minutes later from Paddington and still arrive in Penzance at the same time. New 68 foot (21  m) Concertina carriages were scheduled for the train at the same time. Additional slip coaches were added to be dropped from the train on the move at various stations to serve holiday destinations such as WeymouthMineheadIlfracombe, and Newquay, and the train began to run non-stop to Newton Abbot where a pilot engine was added for the climb over the Dainton and Rattery banks, the southern outliers of Dartmoor. By the middle of World War I the train had grown to 14 coaches, even running in two portions on summer Saturdays, but the train was suspended in January 1917 as a wartime economy measure.
Running of The Limited resumed in summer 1919 although a 60 mph blanket speed limit was still in force, and it wasn’t until autumn 1921 that pre-war timings were reinstated. In 1923 new steel-panelled coaches and, more importantly the introduction of the Castle Class locomotives, billed as the “most powerful locomotive in Britain”. This allowed the train to travel
to Plymouth without the need to stop to attach a pilot locomotive, use of slip coaches keeping the load below the 310 ton limit for the Castle Class. However the pre-eminence of the Castle class did not last long as the Southern Railway Lord Nelson class of 1926 topped them for tractive effort, and so the King class was developed, particularly with the heavy West-country holiday trains in mind. Their introduction from 1927 allowed arrival in Plymouth to reach the 4 hour mark, although the increased weight of these locos prevented their use in Cornwall. The King class were also permitted an increased maximum load of 360 tons between Newton Abbot and Plymouth; above this a stop was required to attach a pilot locomotive.
1935 saw new coaches in the shape of the 9 feet 7 inch (2.9 m) wide Centenary carriages , but there were few other significant changes until World War II. At the outbreak of war all trains to the West country were to travel via Bristol, and departure of the Cornish Riviera Limited was moved to 14:35, although this change only lasted until October when the departure time returned to 10:30 with Exeter as the first stop. By summer 1941 it seemed that everyone was taking their (brief) summer holidays in the West Country, and the Cornish Riviera Limited ran in five sections, to Penzance, Penzance, Paignton, Kingswear and Newton Abbot respectively. Ironically the Limited ran throughout the war, but was cancelled in the winter of 1946/47 due to a coal shortage, not being restored until the following summer although pre-war schedules were not regained until autumn 1955 by which time the railways had been nationalised and the 1955 Modernisation Plan had been published.
The service was dieselised in the late 1950s. D1000 Western diesel-hydraulics introduced in 1964 could keep the four-hour schedule to Plymouth even with a 500 ton train and an additional stop at Taunton. Further cuts in time saw Plymouth being scheduled in 3 hours 35 minutes before the Westerns were withdrawn in 1977 to be replaced by Class 50Diesel-electrics hauling Mk2d/e/f air-conditioned coaches. These were, in turn, replaced in autumn 1981 by HSTs.
After rail privatisation, the service is now operated by First Great Western, still using HSTs which are now undergoing refurbishment to see them past their quarter-century and within touching distance of the 31 years for which the King class were synonymous with the Cornish Riviera Limited.

Do You Know About . . . . . . Victorian Farm?

Amazingly enough, I only discovered the six part documentary called Victorian Farm when I was trolling around Youtube recently. The show follows three modern day people spending a year as Victorian farmers in Shropshire and originally ran for six episodes in 2009.

From the BBC website:

“Historical observational documentary series following a team who live the life of Victorian farmers for a year. Wearing period clothes and using only the materials that would have been available in 1885, historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn are going back in time to relive the day-to-day life of the Victorian farmer.

“The project is based on the Acton Scott estate in Shropshire – a world frozen in time, lost in Victorian rural England. Its buildings and grounds are cluttered with antique tools and machinery collected by the Acton family, who have lived on the estate since the 12th century.

“Working for a full calendar year, Ruth, Alex and Peter are rediscovering a lost world of skills, crafts and knowledge, assisted by an ever-dwindling band of experts who keep Victorian rural practices alive.
The team move into a Victorian smallholding on the Acton Scott estate that has not been used in nearly half a century. Their first task is the restoration of the cottage. As incoming tenants, they help thresh the previous summer’s wheat crop, their first experience of steam-powered machinery. Alex attempts to sow a wheat crop using horse-power. Ruth and Peter install a range in the cottage and take a trip to the canals to load up on coal. It’s time for the apple harvest, so Alex and Peter turn their hand to making cider. Ruth explores the challenges of Victorian cooking by making preserves ready for winter and cooks her first meal on the range. And the team must learn shepherding skills the hard way as the first livestock arrive on the farm – a flock of Shropshire ewes.”

I adore this series, as watching it is a bit like getting a private history lesson – housewifery and animal husbandry are brought to life along with nearly forgotten crafts, skills and traditions.  Here’s the link to the first episode.  

Because of viewer response to the series, the BBC went on to film Edwardian Farm and Victorian Pharmacy, followed by War Time Farm, all three series also featuring Ruth, Alex and Peter.  These should hold you for a few weeks, at the very least – enjoy!

Do You Know About All Creatures Great and Small?

I’ve been spending time lately watching the All Creatures Great and Small Complete Series Collection that I recently purchased (28 disks worth) and am enjoying them all immensely. Again. The characters, from Seigfried and James to Tristan, Helen and Mrs Pumphrey and her Pekinese, Tricki Woo,  are all a delight to revisit and to pass time with. The Yorkshire farmers the vets encounter during the course of their practice are real characters, at times funny, at others infuriating, but always entertaining.

James Herriot

The television series was based on the books by British veterinarian Alf Wight, who wrote under the pseudonym of James Herriot and is set in the fictional Yorkshire town of Darrowby, where the vets practice at Skeldale House surgery.

At the head of the practice is Siegfried Farnon, played by Robert Hardy (Sense and Sensibility) whose contrary nature and huge heart both often cause consternation for all concerned. Working alongside him is the younger James Herriot, who moves from Scotland to Yorkshire in order to join the practice.
Siegfried’s younger brotherTristan muddles his way through veterinary school and eventually graduates, working sometimes at the practice, at other times for the Department of Agriculture. What Tristan is always most serious about are girls and beer. He is generally acknowledged as being the best customer at the local pub, the Drover’s Inn. “I wouldn’t treat a mad dog the way he treats his liver,” mutters Siegfried. Never taking life too seriously, Tristan also has the habit of answering the practice telephone in a Chinese accent. Occasionally, those phone calls will necessitate his actually having to trudge out, often at night, in order to do vet-like things, which always elicits a grumble – i.e. “I know all about that ruddy pig; it’s a killer! It’s also pitch dark. What am I supposed to do, hold a torch in one hand and a lancet in the other while it disembowels me?”
James is the steady partner, the one who takes on morning surgeries in place of a hungover Tristan, the man who can be relied upon for good judgment and a mature attitude. Unless, he’s anywhere near Granville Bennett, a nearby veterinary surgeon with whom they occasionally work. Granville has a wooden leg when it comes to liquor and, more disastrously, the power to persuade James into drinking more than his fill, despite James’s good intentions. Helen, James’s patient and long suffering wife, is always on hand to offer sustenance, as well as a few well deserved barbed comments.
All Creatures Great and Small is filled with gentle humour, appealing characters, the Yorkshire dales and some of the best photography of it’s time – people were astounded at how realistic the scenes involving veterinary treatments and live animal births were made to seem.

This past December, BBC announced that it will begin production on Young James, a  prequel drama inspired by the true story of how the world’s most famous vet, “James Herriot” came to learn his trade in Scotland. Drawing on an amazing archive and exclusive access to the diaries and case notes Herriot kept during his student days in Glasgow, as well as the biography written by his son.
Cast of the original, television series

James Herriot — Christopher Timothy

Siegfried Farnon — Robert Hardy

Tristan Farnon — Peter Davison (series 1-5, 7)

Helen Herriot — Carol Drinkwater (series 1-3 and specials)

and Lynda Bellingham (series 4-7)

Mrs Pumphrey — Margaretta Scott (recurring)

Visit The World of James Herriot Museum website here.

Do You Know About the Duchess of Duke Street?

The Duchess of Duke Street is yet another gem from Masterpiece Theatre, in which Louisa Trotter works her way up from being a skivvy to being the Queen of cooks, cook to the King, and owner of the Bentinck Hotel. Based on the true story of Rosa Lewis, one of England’s first recognized female chefs, who worked her way up through the culinary ranks in order to own the Cavendish Hotel and to rub shoulders with celebrities and royalty along the way. Her no nonsense take on life and what it throws at you is at the core of this lavishly produced series that is chock full of humor and heart. Created by John Hawkesworth (Upstairs, Downstairs) and starring Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sense and Sensibility) as Louisa and Christopher Cazenove, above (A Knight’s Tale, TV’s Dynasty) as Charlie, the dashing love of her life. Spread out over two series, there are thirty-one episodes for viewers to relish.
                                                       The series more than loosely follows Rosa’s life story. Hired to work in the kitchens of the Comte de Paris, Rosa learned to cook at the elbow of the Comte’s French chef, copying his techniques and watching his every move as she rose through the ranks to become head kitchen maid. In 1887 Rosa was poached by the Duc d’Orleans as his cook. He hired her out on nights when her skills weren’t needed at his home, allowing Rosa the opportunity to see grander and grander kitchens and to learn from better and more experienced chefs along the way.  In time, Rosa became the first female cook to be employed at White’s Club, where a member made a pass at her. Rosa dubbed him “an amorous old woodcock in tights” and was dismissed shortly thereafter. But never fear, things only looked up for Rosa from then on.
There are several versions describing how the real life Rosa met Edward VII. According to Time Magazine, it was Lady Churchill who introduced them. However, the Cavendish Hotel biography states they first met while she was employed by Philippe, Comte de Paris and that Edward VII complimented her for the excellence of the dinner. Whatever the circumstances, Rosa and Edward formed a friendship that would last for years. Rumours of an affair between the two began to circulate and, in 1893 Rosa married a butler by the name of Excelsior Lewis (nicknamed Chiney, probably on account of his outlandish christian name). It was an arranged marriage, clearly intended to end the rumours and along with it came a stylish house in Easton Terrace. Rosa would later explain: “Me family said that if I didn’t marry Mr Lewis they’d shoot me. I told the parson to be quick and get it over and done with. We were married, I threw the ring at him outside the church door and left him flat.” Though the couple remained married, they only continuted to live together for a year. The Prince of Wales was understandably grateful that Rosa had made such a sacrifice on his behalf and it is widely believed that it was Edward, as King, who purchased the Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn Street for Rosa in 1902.
Whilst their romance might have cooled by that late date, Rosa and the King remained friends and Rosa had a private entrance installed for Edward and his royal guests so that nobody would notice their late-night parties in the grand drawing rooms of her hotel. Another admirer of her culinary skills was Kaiser Wilhelm II, who presented her with his portrait, which Rosa deigned to hang in the downstairs public loo. 
Rosa is played to perfection in The Duchess of Duke Street by actress Gemma Jones, who was first recognised outside the UK in 1974, after playing the Empress Frederick in the BBC television drama series Fall of Eagles. Gemma went on to play Mrs. Dashwood alongside Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson in the Academy Award-winning period drama Sense and Sensibility (1995).

To read more about the real Rosa Lewis . . . .
You can watch a bit of The Duchess of Duke Street here

Do You Know About the Forsyte Saga?

While Downton Abbey has recently premiered on Masterpiece Theatre, we thought we’d tell you about another great period drama, The Forsyte Saga. Whether, like me, you prefer the older version (1967) or the new (2002), settling in to watch the Forsyte Saga is like snuggling up with a brandy in front of the fire – comfortable, cosseting and considerably entertaining. Like all good costume dramas, the Forsyte Saga provides romance, drama and skull duggery based on a series of three novels – The Man of Property, In Chancery and To Let -and two interludes published between 1906 and 1921 by author John Galsworthy, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932. The twenty-six episodes cover the history of the aristocratic Forsyte family between the years 1879 and 1926. You should be aware that the 2002 version only covered the first two of Galway’s novels and only ran for seven episodes. The plot revolved around the feuds and machinations of the Forsyte family and their London merchants’ business, with each episode culminating in a melodramatic cliffhanger ending. Together with the fact that the original version was filmed in black and white, the series has a decidedly “soap opera” feel to it, and we say Bravo!

The Forsyte Saga chronicles the ebbing social power of the upper-middle class Forsyte family through three generations, beginning in Victorian London during the 1880s and begins with Soames Forsyte (right, played by Eric Porter), a successful solicitor who buys land at Robin Hill on which to build a house for his wife Irene and future family. Little does he suspect (at first) that Irene has only married him for his money. Beneath his very proper exterior lies a core of unhappiness and a string of brutal relationships. Eventually, the Forsyte family begins to disintegrate when Timothy Forsyte, the last of the old generation, dies at the age of 100. Soames’ cousin Jolyon abandons his distraught wife and won’t see his children again for some years, whilst architect Philip Bosinney, besides having an affair with Irene, plays fast and loose with Soames’ money while building him a house.

A much darker and condensed version of the novels appeared in the movie That Forsyte Woman (1949), which starred Errol Flynn as Soames, Greer Garson as Irene, Walter Pidgeon as young Jolyon, Robert Young as Philip Bosinney and Janet Leigh as June.

In his novels, Galsworthy documented a departed way of life, that of the affluent middle class that ruled England before the 1914 war. Galsworthy’s masterly narrative examines not only their fortunes but also the wider developments within society, particularly the changing position of women. Honestly, you’ll find yourself cheering for the good guys, absolutely loathing Soames and losing patience with the aristocratic ladies who fail to hear you yelling at the screen, “For God’s sake, speak up, walk out, do something!”

One of our favorite acresses, Susan Hampshire (Monarch of the Glen), plays Fleur in the original version.
The series attracted no less than six million viewers on its first showing and when repeated on BBC1 the following year, a staggering 18 million people tuned in. The success of the series, which won a Royal Television Society Silver Medal and a BAFTA award for Best Drama, prompted the BBC to plough further resources into similar blockbusting “costume” dramas, a strategy that led to the production of such series as The Pallisers and Upstairs, Downstairs.

You can watch a bit of Episode One here.