Ages of the Train

Christopher Driver

  • The Railway Station: A Social History by Jeffrey Richards and John MacKenzie
    Oxford, 440 pp, £15.00, April 1986, ISBN 0 19 215876 7
  • The Railways of Britain: A Journey through History by Jack Simmons
    Macmillan, 255 pp, £15.95, May 1986, ISBN 0 333 40766 0

It is better to arrive than to travel – these words are being written on a broken-down hovercraft, beached like a whale at Dover – and it was better still, before defiance of gravity and the euphemisms of airports suffused the glands with a cocktail of contempt and funk, to relish le départ. This is because the rituals of arrival and departure require the services and shelter of a station where the rites de passage can be worthily celebrated, with emotions taut and perceptions heightened. In Britain, during a period of stylistic evolution that lasted half a century, railway stations became, both in grandiloquent and in self-effacing modes, the characteristic public buildings of the age, expressing that mélange of optimism, fancy and thoroughness so dissimilar from our own climate of feeling. What better venue than the Gare d’Orsay for the museum of the 19th century which has just opened in Paris?

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