When the royal train was at Tide Mills

The royal saloon
The royal saloon

Readers of this column will know that I spent many happy years (34 actually) as a British Transport Police officer.

Being based at our Headquarters I was frequently called up to travel on the Royal Train, a duty that I really enjoyed.

The Royal Train is actually a selection of different carriages which are attached together depending on which member of of the Royal family is travelling and how long the journey is to be. I was honoured to have accompanied members of the Royal family all over England, Scotland and Wales on this special train. (which never seemed to be late!)

I even travelled on one of the most royal Royal Trains on September 5, 1979, when I travelled on the Royal Train conveying Lord Mountbatten on his final journey from Waterloo to Romsey in Hampshire after he was assassinated by the IRA. The train not only conveyed most of our Royal family but also members of most other Royal families from around the world. (I recall speaking to the Duke of Edinburgh during the trip who offered me a plate of salmon sandwiches).

The Royal carriages are painted a regal maroon colour and the roofs are painted grey. The carriages are pulled by one of two locomotives painted to match the rest of the train. The carriages are kept in secure sidings at Wolverton in Buckinghamshire although the engines are used to haul other services.

The first ever Royal Train was when Queen Victoria travelled between Slough and Paddington, 170 years ago on June 13, 1842.

In her journal, she enthused that her carriage was beautifully fitted up and that the journey was quick and much easier than a carriage. She was hooked!

Different railway companies tried to impress the Queen by producing especially constructed carriages for her use. Subsequent monarchs shared the enthusiasm for railway travel , it was quick, safer and security was better than making long journeys by road.

In 1903 the South East and Chatham Railway (SE&CR) purchased a new carriage from the Lancaster Railway Wagon Works. It had been built specially for Edward VII and was to be known as the ‘Kings Saloon’ (for those train spotters out there, its number was “1R”).

The carriage was equipped with two lavatories and comfortable sofas and seats to convey up to eighteen people. Light was enhanced by clearstory windows set into the roof. There were no sleeping facilities as the main use of the saloon was to convey the King and Queen Alexandra between London and Dover for services to and from the continent.

The train was very busy immediately after Edward’s death in 1910. It made several journeys from Dover conveying foreign royal families to London for his funeral. These dignitaries included the King of Bulgaria, the Crown Prince of Montenegro, the Emperor of Germany and Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. It was maybe because of complaints from the new King, George V that heating was finally installed in 1914.

The Southern Railway was formed in 1923 and the Kings Saloon transferred to them where it saw service throughout the Southern Region.

It was last used on July 24, 1939 when it took George VI and our present Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) between Portsmouth and Victoria.

The carriage was no longer used as by the Royal Family but it was not scrapped – it was taken to the Pullman Car Company Carriage Works at Brighton to be refitted as a holiday home. The person responsible for this conversion was Sid Smart who was the Southern Railway’s Superintendent of Operations. Sid had purchased a number of old railway carriages which he moved down to the beach at the Tide Mills at Bishopstone where it remained throughout the 1950s.

By this time the carriage had been painted a pale green colour (and later a shade of cream) Sid Smart and his wife stayed at Tide Mills during the summer months where they maintained a cottage made from two old railway carriages with a hall between them which housed a table tennis table. Other carriage holiday homes had verandahs made from wooden decking and some even had little flower-beds.

My thanks go to Malcolm Watts of Horsham for supplying me with much of this information. He remembers visiting the Tide Mills with his grandfather to meet Sid Smart. Further information about the carriages at Tide Mills are available on the excellent ‘Our Newhaven website’ www.ournewhaven.org.uk.

How the carriage fared during the Second World War when there was a huge amount of military activity in the area is not known, however Malcolm has managed to trace the fate of our special Kings Saloon’. In 1962 it was at the Lancing Carriage works in West Sussex where it was converted into a ‘Camping Coach’ for use on up in the Scottish Region.

Presumably it had many more happy holidaying occupants before it was finally scrapped at Cowlairs Depot (near Glasgow) in 1970.

Do you remember the carriages at Tide Mills? I would love to know more about them and what they were like inside.