Luxurious train travel in the latest streamlined coaches, a restaurant and a cocktail bar on board, hauled by the fastest steam locomotive in the world, accompanied by the perfect woman. Dutch photographer Willem van de Poll did pretty well for himself during his summer of 1938 Scottish tour.
Before or after a car trip through Scotland, Van de Poll captured the remarkably located Edinburgh Waverley station. He traveled by two long-distance trains that connected Scotland to London: the already legendary Flying Scotsman and the brand new Coronation streamline train. Model Doreen Sinclair added extra attractiveness to the pictures.
by Arjan den Boer
Waverley station is strikingly situated in a valley between Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town. The tracks and the railway station are located at the bottom of a Loch which was drained in the 1820s. Waverley is named after a novel by Walter Scott, in whose honor an enormous monument was erected in Princes Street Gardens.
In 1847 three stations of different railway companies where built, which were merged a few decades later. Waverley is the terminus of the East Coast Main Line which links London to the Scottish capital. Trains also run to Glasgow and over the Forth Bridge to the north of Scotland.
As was usual in Victorian times, the railway company built a grand luxury hotel next to the station. The North British Hotel on Princes Street was opened in 1902. After a renovation in 1988 it reopened as the Balmoral Hotel. The original access from the station no longer exists.
Covering an area of over 100,000 m2 Waverley Station is the second largest railway station in the UK. It mainly consists of a huge steel and glass roof spanning the valley. One of the two bridges that run across the station has ramps that provide access to the platforms. Centrally located under the glass roof is the stone station concourse. In 2012 the Victorian roof was refurbished and equipped with new clear glass.
Already since 1862 a direct train connected London King's Cross with Edinburgh. This important link between the two capitals was nicknamed the Flying Scotsman. In 1924 this became the official name of the train service, along with the introduction of an eponymous locomotive.
From 1928 onwards the Flying Scotsman ran without intermediate stops thanks to new large tenders. The travel time on the 631 kilometer route, which once took more than 9 hours, was reduced to 7.5 hours in the 1930s. The Flying Scotsman departed from both London and Edinburgh every weekday at 10am.
The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) was the result of a 1923 merger of several railway companies along the East Coast Main Line. The LNER was not only technically progressive, but also in terms of publicity. It introduced for example the Gill Sans font. Designer Eric Gill requested a footplate ride on the Flying Scotsman as part of his fee!
For years the 4472 Flying Scotsman locomotive had been the figurehead of the eponymous train service. Around 1935 this class of A3 locomotives was replaced by the streamlined A4. This locomotive is considered the masterpiece of LNER's Chief Mechanical Engineer Nigel Gresley.
The A4s had the most efficient steam technology. Their streamlined shape was iconic but contributed little to the high speed. In July 1938, the A4 class locomotive 4468 Mallard established the speed record for steam at more than 202 km/h. This world record has never been beaten.
In the early days of his career Gresley (1876-1941) designed railway coaches. He continued to do so down to the interiors even when he was responsible for the LNER locomotives as Chief Mechanical Engineer. Gresley's designs are considered both technically and aesthetically elegant. Several of his innovations improved the efficiency and speed of steam traction. He owes his public reputation, however, to the distinctive design of his locomotives, culminating with the streamlined A4.
Standard LNER teak corridor coaches were used for the Flying Scotsman. Compared to the locomotives and such modern interior items as the bar, these coaches belong to Gresley's more traditional designs.
In addition to first-class carriages there were also third-class coaches on the Flying Scotsman. These actually provided second-class comfort, but a 'third class' was required by British law.
Van de Poll traveled together with 25-year-old Doreen Sinclair. This dress designer from Edinburgh became known as 'the perfect woman' in 1938. She was one of the models for the bombastic sculpture Perfect Family by Barny Seale at the Empire Exhibition. Doreen became well-known for it, with even U.S. newspapers reporting about her perfect proportions, listing all her body measurements. She owed a minor Hollywood movie appearance to her temporary fame.
It is unknown how Van de Poll became acquainted with Doreen. They visited the Skye Highland Games together. Doreen posed for the photographer aboard the Flying Scotsman and the Coronation.
The Flying Scotsman had a luxury restaurant on board. Three coupled dining cars provided room for 78 guests. First-class passengers were seated on freestanding chairs at set tables.
In the galley, which was also photographed by Van de Poll, all kitchen equipment was fully electrical. The current was supplied by a dynamo driven by a coach axle. It was safer to use electricity than taking along gas tanks.
Apart from the restaurant, passengers could relax in the Flying Scotsman's cocktail bar. The modern semicircular bar was constructed of light and glossy materials. A selection of 32 different cocktails was available. The signature cocktail Flying Scotsman contained whisky, vermouth, Angostura bitters, sugar syrup and ice.
The cocktail bar was advertised on a striking poster by photographer and designer Maurice Beck (1886-1960).
During the more than seven-hour journey from London to Edinburgh passengers were able to get a haircut or a shave at the B. Morris & Sons's Hairdressing Saloon.
Model Doreen Sinclair also had her hair done in the Flying Scotsman.
In 1937 the Coronation, a new fast afternoon train between London and Edinburgh was introduced, named after the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This streamline train followed up on the success of the 1935 Silver Jubilee.
Both the locomotive and the coaches had a streamlined design, not only to increase speed but also to create a distinctive look.
Five new streamlined A4 Pacific locomotives were built to haul the Coronation. Like the coaches, they where given a fresh garter blue livery. Because of the coronation the locomotives were named after British Commonwealth countries.
LNER's competitor LMS, running from London to Glasgow on the West Coast Main Line, also introduced a special train and a blue streamline locomotive: the Coronation Scot. Although the two companies were involved in a speed race and competitive battle, they issued a poster for both coronation trains together.
In July 1937 Sir Feroz Khan Noon, High Commissioner for India, unveiled the nameplate of the 'Empire of India' at London King's Cross station.
The numbers and names of the five locomotives were:
4488 Union of South Africa
4489 Dominion of Canada
4490 Empire of India
4491 Commonwealth of Australia
4492 Dominion of New Zealand
With a journey time of six hours, the Coronation was 90 minutes faster than the Flying Scotsman. Four articulated sets of two streamlined steel cars provided a total of 216 seats. At the back of the train there was an observation car with a distinctive 'beaver-tail' shape.
The first-class coaches were divided in two-seat sections for optimum privacy and draft protection. There was only one large swiveling armchair on either side of the center aisle. The coach interiors were sumptuously decorated in Art Deco style.
The coaches had an early form of air conditioning and sound insulation was applied for optimum comfort.
Unlike the Flying Scotsman, the Coronation had no separate dining cars. In both classes meals were served at the seats, which all had tables available. The two onboard kitchens where electrically equipped.
The Flying Scotsman and the Coronation could offer fast journey times because there were no intermediate stops or only one. The tender had sufficient coal capacity for the entire ride and water was refilled automatically en route. The engine crew was 'refreshed' via the corridor tenders of LNER locomotives such as the A4. Trough a passageway and a flexible bellows connection to the first coach the crew could be replaced without halting.
A total of 35 of Gresley's A4 locomotives were built. They remained in service until the 1960s. Six of these locomotives have been preserved. In 2013 the National Railway Museum in York organized a reunion to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Mallard's speed record.
Railway photos by Willem van de Poll — part 2: Edinburgh
Previous and next episodes:
Louis Zweers, Willem van de Poll, 1895-1970. Den Haag 2005
Bob Gwynne, The Flying Scotsman. The train, the locomotive, the legend. Oxford 2010
The L.N.E.R. Coronation Express in: Railway Magazine, August 1937
Sculptor Finds Perfect Woman in: Winnipeg Free Press, 2 April 1938
Nationaal Archief: Fotocollectie Van de Poll
Loco Yard: Coronation 1937
Jack Beeston, Hans van den Berg, Nick Littlewood