Every January, for a number of years, British Railways (BR) published weighty annual travel guides, in excess of 500 pages and keenly priced at 1/6d (7½p). Leafing through the guide one could see sepia illustrations of resorts, descriptions of local attractions and advertisements giving details of accommodation.
Not for nothing was the Southern Railway referred to as the Holiday Line. Services departed from its major London termini to the coastal counties of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.
Using this guide as a basis, some 80 resorts which were served by the Southern Region (SR) of BR have been identified and a selection of 50 of these is illustrated here with photographs from the vast Transport Treasury archive. A variety of motive power from many different classes is featured in the scenes shown here from main line express locomotives to humble tank engines.
Following boundary changes in 1963 the SR west of Wilton was transferred to the Western Region and against the background of the swingeing cuts of the 1960s the SR’s tourist lines in both the far south west and in east Devon were decimated and today former SR rails serve only Barnstaple and Exmouth. However, the majority of the major resorts of the south coast today continue to enjoy frequent train services although, of course, the variety of 60 years ago is no longer apparent in the uniform, rather dull trains of today.
There have been some casualties even here with the closure of the Swanage branch, although subsequently re-opened by a preservation society, and of lines to Ventnor, Cowes, Hayling Island, Hythe and Allhallows-on-Sea. I have taken a somewhat liberal interpretation of the word “Coast” in that a few estuarine resorts such as Topsham on the River Exe, Barnstaple on the River Taw, Instow on the River Torridge and Wadebridge on the River Camel have been included in this selection. The Isle of Wight resorts have been deliberately omitted as they are featured in the companion volume “Isle of Wight Railway Art”.
This unashamedly nostalgic collection looks back at the stations, locomotives and stock that could be seen in the 1950s and early 1960s at a variety of resorts served by the SR. These destinations appealed both to day trippers and longer-term holidaymakers delighting in what might be called the mass tourism of the “kiss me quick” and “bucket and spade” brigades and to the discerning tourist wishing to sample perhaps the more select destinations on offer.
To enhance this sense of nostalgia, introductory quotations from the 1958 edition of “Holiday Haunts” are provided for each of the resorts covered revealing, in an age of greater innocence and simpler pleasures, just what has been lost in the intervening 60 years and how true those famous opening lines of “The Go-Between” by L.P. Hartley are – “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.