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The royals and trains … Queen Victoria

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The royals have had a love affair with the railway since the 19th century, when Queen Victoria – the first English Queen to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee – headed off on the first ever regal train journey.

Read on to find out more about ‘the grandmother of Europe” and her railway connections. And check our journey planner for cheap train tickets before you next head off somewhere by train.

Last month, we told you how Her Maj, Prince Phillip and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, had hopped aboard a train to Leicester from London St. Pancras Station for the first leg of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Tour.

But Queen Elizabeth II isn’t the first British monarch to have given train travel the royal seal of approval. The royals have long been lovers of the railway and their connections to train travel date back to the 19th century.

The first royal train trip

The first reigning British monarch to travel by train was Queen Victoria. Her husband, Prince Albert, was a lover of new technology, and is believed by some historians to have persuaded the Queen to commission the construction of royal carriages and try out this new form of transportation.

Queen Victoria’s first train journey took place on 13 June 1842 – during the boom period in the development of the railways in the UK. The 23-year old monarch took a carriage from Windsor Castle to Great Western Railway’s Slough station, and then boarded the royal train to London‘s Paddington Station.

The royal saloon car was pulled by the locomotive engine ‘Phlegethon’ (rather worryingly named after one of the five rivers in the infernal region of the underworld of Greek mythology), and it took only 25 minutes to complete the journey. The monarch was, according to a letter she later wrote to her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, ‘quite charmed by’ this ultra-modern form of transport.

Royal Saloon Cars and Jubilee Celebrations

Victoria’s royal saloon cars were the epitome in luxury and they had ‘all mod cons’ too – the royal train was the first in the world to have an on-board lavatory. It was installed in 1850, at the suggestion of Prince Albert. Later versions of Victoria’s saloon cars had several toilets on board, so that the Queen would not have to use the same lavatory as her attendants.

Take the train to York and visit the STEAM, the Museum of the Great Western Railway to see more fixtures from the royal saloon and the original clock from Queen Victoria’s Waiting Room at Windsor Station in the museum’s new exhibition, ‘The Royal Road’. The exhibition, designed to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, runs until 31 December 2012.

Trains played a central part in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations too. On her Golden Jubilee, on 20 June 1887, she travelled from Windsor to London Paddington by train in order to get to Buckingham Palace for a royal banquet.

And, in 1897, Victoria travelled to a number of places as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations. She took the train to Sheffield in May of that year, to see the opening of the new Town Hall and, on Jubilee day itself, she jumped on board the LMWR royal train and headed to Balmoral.

Although the royal trains were usually painted black, LWNR changed the livery of the train used for the London Euston to Crewe leg to red and the livery of the train used between Crewe and Carlisle to white for the event. The final part of the journey was undertaken in a Caledonian Railway locomotive, with a blue livery, making for a thoroughly patriotic journey by rail.

Great Western Railways also built a new royal train for Victoria in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.

Queen Victoria’s final train journey

Fittingly, for the first reigning British monarch to have travelled by train, the rails played a big part in Queen Victoria’s final journey. She passed away on 22 January 1901 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and her coffin was transported to her final resting place by road, sea and rail.

The coffin arrived on the mainland at Gosport, Hampshire, on February 1, and the following day, it was transferred onto a Great Western first class saloon, which arrived at London Victoria Station at 10.58. It was then transported to London Paddington Station on a gun-carriage and taken to Windsor on the Royal Sovereign locomotive. The funeral took place in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and Queen Victoria was finally laid to rest in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore House.

Have you seen Victoria’s royal saloon at the York National Railway Museum? Do you know of any other connections that Queen Victoria had with the railways? Please leave us a comment and let us know …

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