VISIT TO THE “FORSYTHE COLLECTION” AT THE NATIONAL RAILWAY MUSEUM
Reverend John B. Davies (retired) took a trip 08.02.12 from Deganwy to York to use The Forsythe Collection. Here are his reflections. He is the author of North Wales Coast, the story of Tourism and Transport, Gwalch, 2011 ISBN 978-1-84524-182-7. Other people able to offer feedback on using the Forsythe Collection are welcome to be in touch. John can be found on Facebook.
On a cold February day, I travelled to the National Railway Museum at York to look at some of the items in the Robert Forsythe collection. The range of transport publicity handbills and books was like a journey through history and provided me with a most interesting and productive day. These books and leaflets tell much more than basic information on times and fares. They tell the story of how life was changing. This is very evident in looking at the transport publicity of the 1960s, the decade which saw the biggest social changes of the 20th century. It was the time when steam trains came to an end (except of course on preserved railways), a time when many railway lines were closing, and bus companies were struggling to survive. The 60s was very much the “swan song” decade for the pleasure steamers which once provided scenic trips from many places around the coasts of Britain.
The publicity materials I viewed were a timely reminder of how transport systems cannot be considered in isolation. Transport is about people and when social habits change, then transport publicity changes. Good publicity is essential for public transport operators and a look through the publicity material of the second half of the 20th century showed how the public began to expect better quality publicity material.
My own particular interest is in the history of the transport systems of North Wales and it is the publicity items of these systems, together with some interesting material relating to other areas that occupied my day at the NRM.
I began by looking through a box of Crosville bus timetable books. Of particular interest were some booklets that give details of rail replacement bus services following the closure of many railways in North Wales as a result of the Beeching Axe.
In 1965, the eastern part of the Cambrian main line between Whitchurch and Welshpool via Oswestry was closed. It is interesting to compare the times of the trains and that of the buses which replaced them, for example a train (which stopped at all stations) took 1hour 33 mins from Whitchurch to Welshpool, while the bus that replaced it took 2 hours 8 mins. The bus involved a change at Oswestry while the train was a through journey which from Welshpool continued to Aberystwyth.
Another line which closed under Beeching in 1965 was the Ruabon to Barmouth line. A train from Ruabon to Barmouth took 2 hours 5mins, while the bus that replaced it took 2 hours 52 mins. Even today with much improved roads, the bus takes 2hrs 17mins.
Another line which was replaced by buses was Chester - Mold - Denbigh - Ruthin. In 1962 (the year the line closed), a train from Chester to Denbigh took 1 hour 20 mins while the bus that replaced the train took 1 hour 40 minutes.
Next I looked at some very interesting publicity material for pleasure steamers. The oldest handbill referred to steamer sailings from Liverpool to North Wales in the 1890s. There was plenty of material to look at from two steamship companies which operated on the Welsh coast; P & A Campbell in the south and the Liverpool and North Wales Steamship Co in the north. Early publicity shows how the L & NWSS provided services to many destinations, Rhyl, Rhos-on-Sea, Llandudno, Bangor, Beaumaris, Menai Bridge, Caernarfon, Bardsey Island, Amlwch, as well as providing a service from Llandudno to the Isle of Man. In South Wales, Campbells provided services from Cardiff, Penarth, Barry, Porthcawl, Swansea, Mumbles and Tenby on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel, while on the English side services were provided from Bristol, Porishead, Clevedon, Weston, Watchet, Minehead, Lynmouth, Ilfarcombe, Bideford and Clovelly as well as Lundy Island.
As the 1960s dawned and steamer trips became less popular, there is a noticeable reduction in the services offered and destination served. However, some interesting trips are advertised in the 1960s. A long day excursion by steamer from Cardiff to Tenby is advertised. It takes more than 6 hours each way, but must have been a wonderful trip.
The longest steamer trip along the coast of Wales was surely a voyage from Cardiff to Menai Bridge. The steamer, Queen of the Isles left Cardiff at 0800 and sailed all along the South Wales coast then across Cardigan Bay and along the north coast of the Llyn peninsula to arrive at Menai Bridge on Anglesey. The ship left Cardiff at 0800 and was scheduled to arrive at Menai Bridge at 2330. A coach which was provided for passengers to return to Cardiff, left Menai Bridge at 0030 and arrived at Cardiff at 0715. This “one off” voyage was clearly a positioning trip for the ship, but there must have been people who made the trip.
By then 1970s most pleasure steamer services around the British coast had ceased, leaving only the car ferries. From the 1980s onwards when competition for passengers grew and improved methods of printing came into being, there was a noticeable change in the quality of the publicity leaflets, with greater use of colour.
To return to trains. The practice of naming principal expresses began in the very early days of railways with such trains as The Irish Mail, the Royal Scot and the Flying Scotsman. From 1948 onwards, British Railways realised the value of giving greater publicity to named trains and a lot more trains were named. I was interested to see the leaflets relating to these. The fastest train of the day on each main route was usually given a name, From the late 20th century, with the introduction of faster trains on all main routes, it became less popular to name trains, and by today, the practice has virtually ended. As with the other items in this collection, a look through the named trains publicity provided an interesting insight into the history of railway publicity.
The publicity of the Isle of Man Steam Packet proved of great interest, particularly that of the 1950s and 60s, when the Isle of Man was a very popular tourist destination for staying visitors and day trippers. As social habits changed, so did holiday habits and by the mid 1970s, tourist numbers were declining. New and improved publicity material from this time was an indication the company was facing competition, reducing the size of its fleet, and serving fewer destinations. A look through the publicity for MacBraynes services on the west of Scotland showed how travel habits had changed. A route which had been publicised since Victorian times was from Glasgow to Inverness, known as the Royal Route. This involved steamer sailings and connecting buses and took the best part of two days. Passengers left Glasgow just after 7am for Ardrishaig and then travelled by bus to Oban where they stayed overnight. Next morning they travelled by steamer from Oban to Fort William an after a short train journey to Banavie, travelled by steamer the length of Loch Ness to Inverness. After World war 2, the Inverness connection was no longer advertised and the steamer journey started from Gourock rather then Glasgow. By 1969, with improved roads, the steamer service from Gourock to Ardrishaig ceased.
Also I looked at interesting publicity material of steamer excursion services in and across the English Channel, and in the Thames and Medway estuaries. My day went all too quickly and I resolved to visit the NRM again soon to see more of this interesting material of the Forsythe Collection.