I’ve written Victorian romances set in the US, but I’ve never tried Victorian Britain or more specifically, Scotland. So I have to research practically every page I write. When I needed to move my characters from York to Edinburgh—along with four young children—I had to do some digging. Yes, I created an imaginary train station in my Unexpected Magic books when my characters wanted to invest in their imaginary property. I used that imaginary track to take my characters to my imaginary castle owned by my imaginary duke. (And I vow to have only one duke in my series, thank you very much) But if I’m putting my characters on the train, what can they expect to see? How long will it take them to reach their destination? At some point, I have to add history. (Image to left is how Queen Victoria traveled–a little fancier than most cars and a very royal blue!)
I wanted to know what kind of compartment my characters might book, but the answer seems to be—almost anything I can imagine. My time period is 1870 so I can skip the rail cars from earlier in the century with no roofs and holes in the floor for drainage, or the ones looking like stagecoaches, but the car was still probably made of wood. While the UK had sleeping berths before the US did, I wasn’t interested in squeezing my big hero into one of those tiny beds while four young children rolled around on the floor. Or vice versa.
I wasn't able to find much in the way of free photos of the interiors of these old cars, but this site has tons of fascinating images. And the image to the right is probably a private compartment–not much room for children with those gowns!
My characters aren’t poor, so they probably traveled first class. In England, first class passengers could book private compartments with doors opening directly onto the station platform. There would be no walking up and down an outside corridor. Servants would be seated in second class and would jump out at every stop and run up to first class to see if their employers needed food or drink or aid in climbing out to use whatever restroom facilities might be available. In rural York, I assumed there would be little in the way of train stations, so I politely glided over that part, although my heroine remembered to bring a bucket for the brat with motion sickness. Some cars had private rooms with chamber pots, although I’m trying to imagine ladies lifting those enormous petticoats and skirts on a rocking, rattling railroad to squat over a pot. Really, do you want me to go there?
Train stops weren’t necessarily fancy stations but often an outpost where the train simply added more coal and water. Vendors might set up carts for food and drink. A long journey would probably be tedious, but I think my characters might make this one in less than half a day—which beat the heck out of horse and carriage.
I learned that later European cars were more likely to have a corridor with closed compartments while the US cars leaned toward elegant open parlors or lines of seats. So my characters could probably have a private compartment on their imaginary train from York to Edinburgh and wouldn’t need to rein in kids who might run amok in an open parlor. But I also learned that at this period of time, there was no vestibule between cars. My restless hero could not easily walk from car to car.
Dining cars didn’t arrive until late in the 1870s. Until then, people were expected to buy at restaurants along the way. I’m pretty certain my route wouldn’t include a Harvey’s (the popular US train restaurant) so my characters packed picnic baskets—which one does while traveling anywhere, anytime, with small children.
Have you ever been inside any of those elegant old rail cars? Some of them were well beyond opulent! But I like the idea of cooping everyone up in a small compartment to see what happens. I only torture my characters a little bit. <G> Have you traveled on a train?