Jackie Cope, honorary curator of the Vintage Carriages Trust museum at Ingrow, looks back to the days when international rail travel was a great adventure
The coming of EuroStar to St Pancras Station next Wednesday, opening up easier rail access to Europe and particularly Paris, comes as good news - especially to those of us who live on the eastern side of Britain.
As we struggled across or under London from King's Cross to Waterloo we dreamed of this day.
We are indeed fortunate that access to Europe is so easy. How different to the travel possibilities of our Victorian ancestors.
But save your sympathy. We already know of Thomas Cook's famous rail excursions to the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, which must have been quite a feat of endurance. Now we have a further glimpse into the rail travel experience available to local people in the latter years of the 19th century thanks to an interesting find among some old paperwork received by the Vintage Carriages Trust at their museum at Ingrow.
A small bundle of ageing paperwork. Pieces of brittle paper with red flecks here and there. As these were laid out on the table like the pieces of a jigsaw, a slightly chewed and disintegrating picture emerged. Further juggling of the pieces proved that there was not one but two pictures coming into view.
The interest rose when we read the words Great Northern Railway across the top of each. Further sorting revealed the word PARIS writ large on both and we realised that these were railway travel posters with the dates 1889 and 1890 respectively clearly shown. It was however the other place names which really made them interesting: Keighley, Bradford, Shipley, Batley and other Yorkshire towns and cities.
Here were advertising posters for two real travel opportunities. How do you fancy a four-to-six-day rail trip from Keighley to the Paris Exhibition of 1889? The sum of £3 19s 6d (£350 in modern money?) bought you not only a train ride to Paris via London, Dover and Calais but also accommodation for up to six nights in Paris, entry to the Paris Exhibition and a sight-seeing carriage drive thrown in.
The 1890 poster is of similar design but does not include the Exhibition, which no doubt had closed by then. It was however a Whitsuntide Holiday trip and cost £3 10s 3d.
The cost of both these excursions would have been well beyond the pocket of many of the ordinary working folk of any of the places mentioned, but there must have been some interest or the excursions would never have been arranged.
Our forefathers were made of strong stuff to undertake the journey. The carriages would be reasonably comfortable (the two Great Northern railway coaches displayed at the Museum at Ingrow dated 1888 and 1898 are remarkably comfortable) but only the first class in some coaches would have had toilet facilities. The less well-off must wait for the station facilities en route.
On arrival at King's Cross it would be necessary to travel across London to Victoria Station for the journey to Dover. What we hope would have been a calm sea crossing would be followed by a further rail journey across France to Paris.
Surely after that journey you would want time to recover! However one had to get one's money's worth and the price included a visit to what was by all accounts a very large Exhibition, a carriage ride around Paris, and no doubt having got there the opportunity was taken to see the other sights and sounds of Paris during the next four to six days before going through the whole experience again on the return journey.
It would be interesting to know who from the West Riding's affluent classes took advantage of this offer from the travel company Swan and Leach', which according to the posters had premises in both Leeds and Bradford.
What did these travellers make of Paris and did they venture any further than the paid-for items of the poster to see the more exciting side of Parisian life?
What souvenirs and fashion accessories did they bring home in their large portmanteaus and how many days did it take them to recover from what sounds to have been quite a railway adventure.
The modern-day new St Pancras EuroStar experience is a "walk in the park" by comparison!