Railways expert shares his enthusiasm with East Devon Luncheon Club

PUBLISHED: 17:00 09 December 2018

Railways were the subject of the talk. Picture: Simon Horn.

Railways were the subject of the talk. Picture: Simon Horn.


Speaker talks about the history of railways and his own exploration of disused lines

Railways expert Paul Atterbury was the speaker at the November meeting of the East Devon Luncheon Club.

Paul has written 21 books about railways and is also an antiques expert, often appearing on Antiques Roadshow.

His first memory of trains was watching them from at his grandparents’ allotments in Surbiton. His grandmother used to take her five grandchildren to the seaside in Dorset, where they stayed in very basic railway coaches situated in sidings. The children had a wonderful time watching the expresses hurtling down the track and playing in the goods yard, and getting rides on engines. Later he spent days on the station platform trainspotting.

In the 80s Paul was writing travel books for the AA. British Rail wanted more people to use trains especially at non-peak times, so Paul was asked to write a book called See Britain by Train. In order to travel around the country he was given an all regions first class pass, which was usually the privilege of senior rail officials. The book was a success and he continued writing, becoming the bestselling railway writer.

Paul has explored the lost railways, walking along disused lines, tracing the tracks of the 10,000 miles of lines closed since the 1950s. His books are well illustrated with old photos and postcards; he wants his readers to remember the excitement of rail travel.

He told how the first main line was Liverpool to Manchester, and opened in 1830. By 1860 15,000 miles of lines had been built. They were constructed by private companies, who were often in competition – which is why some towns such as Yeovil had three stations. The trains created the resorts around the coastline. The Bristol to Weymouth line was opened in 1857, Exeter to Exmouth in 1860, the Sidmouth line in 1874. Railways allowed people to travel quite cheaply as a law imposed limits on ticket prices. The Industrial Revolution brought huge changes in the manufacture of goods, and these could now be distributed using the railways, which in turn expanded industry.

Paul Atterbury’s talk enabled us all to share his enthusiasm for the railways. The speaker in December is Maggie Duffy.

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