Pilgrims arriving at Lourdes station: photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

Since the apparitions seen by Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, Lourdes in south-west France has developed into a world-renowned place of pilgrimage. A grotto, waters with curative powers, healing and reported miracles created local interest in pilgrimage in the 1860s. This widened to a national and international phenomenon in the 1870s. In 1878, the Orleans Railway in France ran special trains to Lourdes for over 12,000 pilgrims. By 1884 that figure had risen to 25,000. In 1892 thirteen special trains were run from Paris for pilgrims. A report from August 1895 talks of fourteen pilgrims’ trains arriving at Lourdes station within eight hours. In 1900, Lourdes received around 608,000 pilgrims in the months between March and October.

Lourdes pilgrims from Britain started to use special pilgrimage trains in 1901. In September that year, a train with over 100 pilgrims left the London, Chatham & Dover Railway's Holborn Viaduct station for Dover and the