This lovely link to a British Pathé film of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway comes courtesy of Liberal England.
It reminds me at once not of travelling on it (I think I did, when very young) but of the mention it gets in two children’s books: Operation Seabird by Monica Edwards and Malcolm Saville’s The Elusive Grasshopper.
In Operation Seabird (1957), Tamzin, Rissa, Meryon and Roger board the ‘little train’ for Dymchurch, after rustling up the required 8s/8d. Their train is pulled by the Hurricane and they choose an open truck rather than one of the Pullman coaches. Disaster nearly strikes when the engine driver hits his head and the train is out of control, with screams and panic aboard. Meryon, in his usual agile and heroic manner, crawls along the carriage roofs to the engine and stops the train. He then apologises for not doing it very well. You’d expect them all to be pretty shocked after that but once they’ve called for medical help for the driver and escaped the people who want to take Meryon’s photo and get his autograph, they carry on as if nothing had happened.
Endpapers from The Elusive Grasshopper
The engine featured in The Elusive Grasshopper (1951) is also the Hurricane, ‘a superb miniature of a “Pacific” engine – in a livery of “garter” blue with sparkling metal work.’ Jon and Penny Warrender, who live in Rye and are my favourite Lone Piners, are entertaining a French guest, Arlette. They decide to take her to Dungeness, which they find pretty grim, made worse by ‘slovenly and haphazard building of bungalows, shacks and old railway coaches’. They don’t travel on the train but Jon is keen to see the engine so hangs around chatting to the driver and while he’s at it meeting a suspicious character. Malcolm Saville being the writer he was, there’s a wealth of topographical, historical and technical detail about the railway, whereas Monica Edwards, Sussex native, takes it all for granted.
Illustration by Bertram Prance
‘Grim’ Dungeness resonates with me because I have a memory of being taken there on a foggy day, finding it bleak, being frightened by the booming fog horn and generally hating it. Nowadays, in spite of the power station, many people find a strange beauty in the place, even the bungalows which Saville disliked, and pilgrims go to visit Derek Jarman’s lovely shingle garden.