British & Irish Residents
Abolish private schools? Not enough of us want it badly enough -
May 19, 2012
"To an extreme not reached anywhere else in the world, British railway locomotives carried names as well as numbers. Why this was so would make an interesting study – perhaps it came out of a kind of anthropomorphism that wanted machines to have personalities – but the consequence was that generations of boys (girls were peculiarly uninterested) got to know the grand nomenclature of the nation's story by climbing on fences and watching the trains go by. Few of us knew, of course, that Captain Cuttle and Papyrus were famous racehorses; that Edie Ochiltree and Luckie Mucklebackit were characters in the novels of Walter Scott; that Kolhapur was one of British India's princely states. To us, they were simply engines – "namers" in loco-spotting parlance. But not every name was opaque. Depending on the part of Britain they lived in, travellers and train-watchers became familiar with lists of castles and country houses, regiments, battleships, birds, kings, lochs and glens, and the countries and colonies of the empire. As steam locomotives might last 50 years, their names didn't necessarily reflect contemporary actuality (the Empire of India whizzed past our house most days throughout the 1950s). In south England, however, a group of them honoured a way of life that flourishes now as it did when they were made. My only sighting of one came at Cannon Street station in the summer of 1959, at the head of a Dover train that was taking our school excursion part of the way to Bavaria. I now can't remember the name – it might have been Radley, it could have been Stowe – but I knew immediately what it was: a member of old Southern Railway's Schools class, built in the 1930s to the design of Richard Maunsell, and in their day the most powerful small express locomotives in Europe. How did I know this? Perhaps because in my older brother's hoarded copies of Meccano Magazine I'd seen a prewar Hornby model of one named Eton. Did the social inequity of this naming policy occur to me –...