Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Underground Railway

Following on (in a way) from the last post about ruined Bath as seen by a local poet from the Dark Ages, I watched a film on dvd last sunday night called 'The Titfield Thunderbolt'.

Amazingly, I had never seen this old Ealing Comedy before, despite the fact it has been around since the late forties or early fifties. It is a classic, silly and charming, post war British comedy, starring people like Stanley Holloway and Sid James, and was filmed in the Bath area. The village that the people are supposed to live is - in fact - Freshford, and the railway lines used in it (long since closed down by Beeching) now lie in picturesque ruins or have been converted into cycle paths by the local residents. The pub in which the internal pub scenes were filmed (near Radstock - and yes, it was a real pub!) has since been re-named 'The Titfield Thunderbolt', in honour of the film.

The story hinges on a little railway line leading from the fictitious village of Titfield which operates a little old steam train. When the train is sabotaged by a local coach company, they haul an 1830s train from the local town hall, and put it on the tracks in time for the inspection by a minister from the Department of Transport, saving the day. The amazing thing about this film is that all the 'props' are real, and they managed to employ hundreds of local people to physically lift and shift many tons of real steam locomotives around by hand - including dragging the Thunderbolt down a flight of steep steps on boards from the 'town hall'. This would not happen in today's safety-conscious and litigious society. They haul around full-sized, steel, Dutch Barns too - the amount of sheer, physical energy that went into this production is astounding. They must have been very fit.

Anyway, the next day (yesterday) I was walking home when I bumped into a friend of mine who is a Bath town councilor, and he told me he had just got back from an underground tour of a Bath railway station which had been closed (by the aforementioned transport minister, Beeching) since just after 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' had been made, sometime in the 1950s. This councilor is the same man who took me on a tour of the hidden tunnels under the Roman Baths as I mentioned in a blog a few months ago.

He had just been shown a full-sized, German steam locomotive which has been lying on it's side down there under the disused station, forgotten and neglected for God knows how many years!

It is amazing what is lying just below our feet that we never know about. I have lived in Bath for almost 40 years, and I have never heard a whisper about the existence of this 30 ton steam train.

Apparently, the Mafia have just lead the Roman authorities to the hidden tomb of Caligula, for which they have been searching for centuries.


  1. Put Brighton's Victorian Sewerage System on your 'to visit' list. They do an annual tour; nose-peg included.

  2. Astonishing what's right in front of our faces that we don't notice, never mind what's buried under our feet!

  3. It would be good if somebody has the foresight (and the cash) to restore that German Steam train to it's former glory. I liked your story, Tom - interesting!

  4. My friend has plans to do just that, Moll - I'll keep you informed.