The Glass Train

Featured in the April 2010 handbook.

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The subject of this article was, once again, a difficult job to pin down. The invitation card advertising the opportunity to view the Glass Train at platform 5 of Margate station, the 15th of February, was sent to me from Cumbria by friend Pamela, now sadly deceased, and although she recalled the event she could not date the year accurately, other than telling me it was before the second world war. Her memories of the event were understandably vague, and all she could recall was thinking to herself, “what possible use could that be to anyone?”

How intriguing, and what a pleasing piece of artwork the card was, so redolent of the period and something which would not look out of place in televisions Poirot series. I was not aware of the Glass Train, but given that reference to a perpetual calendar told me that the year was in fact 1938, Alf Beeching and myself thought that it would be a simple task to solve, so off he went to the archives and precisely nothing!

What had started off so confidently had promptly turned into a puzzle, and none of the usual reliable railway buffs locally recalled either seeing, this obviously very special train or had ever heard of it’s existence. Despite much head scratching and internet searching nothing transpired regarding a full size train, and yet we know it existed as Pamela had visited it at platform 5, and all we found out on the internet was a long list of miniature Glass Train models! I wrote to a contact in London who is a leading railway historian, an Alf wrote to the Railway Museum at York, requesting that they check their ‘Railway Gazette’ archives for 1938. Back came the response from the London historian who said that he had never heard of such a train in this country, but that there had once been such a thing in Germany. Alf fared no better, as the York Railway Museum wrote back that they knew nothing, and had no ‘Railway Gazette’ for that year!

That the country’s dedicated Railway Museum did not hold such information did not seem to be quite right to us, so Alf, grabbing the bull by the horns, wrote back to them, but this time bypassing the system by going directly to the man at the very top. Hey Presto, by return of post came the information that we were after. A copy of page 284 of the ‘Railway Gazette’ dated Friday 11th February, 1938, told us that the opening ceremony of the ‘GLASS AGE’ exhibition train had been performed on the previous Tuesday at Victoria Station by Mr Robert M. Holland Martin, chairman of the Southern Railway. The train consisted of two ex L.N.E.R. carriages which had been fitted out by the famous glass manufacturers Pilkington Brothers, of St. Helens and Doncaster, with gadgets and appliances demonstrating almost every known practical application and use of glass, a great many of which, claimed the article, were unsuspected by the average person.

The train had begun it’s journey around Britain the previous November and had already travelled many thousands of miles, mostly by express services, without a single breakage to its sumptuously fitted interior. So there you have it, and a bit more of our history is down in black and white.

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