top of page

Prime Ministers and Railways

Some were enthusiastic about railways and had locomotives named after them. . . . . .

Metropolitan Railway electric locomotive number 14 “Benjamin Disraeli” seen working a Baker Street to Chesham service in the early 1920s. Photo courtesy of London Transport Museum/Transport for London.

In November 1838, Benjamin Disraeli, at the time the Member of Parliament for Maidstone and later to become Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister, travelled from the first Paddington station to Maidenhead on a Great Western Railway (GWR) train hauled by “North Star”. This was as far as the broad gauge 22 mile and 43 chains line had reached at the time. The journey took 42 minutes, an average of 32 mph. Disraeli wrote to a colleague, “It is the only satisfactory piece of railroad travelling I ever performed.” Sometime later, five locomotives were to bear his name, including a Metropolitan Railway Bo-Bo electric locomotive number 14, built in 1907.

The railways were still doing exceptional work with the Second World War when on the 3rd January 1944, a “Message from the Prime Minister” was published in British newspapers 21 years after the 1923 Grouping. Winston Churchill’s congratulatory piece read: “It is not given to many organisations to celebrate their 21st Anniversary after they have achieved their centenary. Yet, because Parliament placed the Railways Act of 1921 on the Statute Book, the four British Main Line Railway Companies have been able to accomplish this most remarkable feat. On this occasion I should like to take the opportunity of expressing to the Railway Managements and every Railway Employee the Nation’s thanks for the highly efficient manner in which they have met every demand made upon them during the last four years of our desperate struggle with Nazi Germany. Throughout the period of the heavy German air raids on this country, the arteries of the Nation, the Railways, with their extensive dock undertakings, were subjected to intensive attacks. Yet the grim determination, unwavering courage and constant resourcefulness of the railwaymen of all ranks have enabled the results of the damage to be overcome very speedily and communications restored without delay. Thus, in spite of every enemy effort, the traffic has been kept moving and the great flow of munitions proceeds. Results such as the Railways have achieved are only won by blood and sweat, and on behalf the Nation I express gratitude to every railwayman who has participated in this great transport effort, which is contributing so largely towards final victory.”

Southern Railway “Battle of Britain” class number 34051 “Winston Churchill” at Eastleigh in 1961 prior to working a Southampton Docks to Waterloo boat train service. Photo: Mike Peart.

One of the Southern Railway’s “Battle of Britain” class locomotives was named “Winston Churchill” in 1946 and the locomotive is in the National Collection, currently as a static exhibit at Locomotion, Shildon. The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway also named one of their 4-6-2 locomotives “Winston Churchill” in 1948. Finally, British Rail Class 87 Bo-Bo electric locomotive 87019 was for 27 years named “Sir Winston Churchill”.

The funeral of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George took place in North Wales on 30th March 1945. At the request of his family who knew of Lloyd George’s fondness for the GWR station horse at his local station, Criccieth, the railway horse “Dan” was used to pull the farm cart conveying his coffin. It was taken from his house to the grave on a bank beside the River Dwyfor at Llanystumdwy as Lloyd George did not want to be buried in a churchyard or cemetery. The horse “Dan” was led past very large crowds by its usual carter with the GWR’s Chief Horse Inspector in attendance. The event is pictured in newsreel films from British Pathé and British Movietone News which can be found online. The Great Central Railway was the first to name one of their Class 9P 4-6-0 locomotives “Lloyd George” in 1920. Later, British Rail Class 37 locomotive 37428 was named “David Lloyd George”, along with a Ffestiniog Railway 0-4-4-0T Double Fairlie tank locomotive built in 1992.

Ffestiniog Railway 0-4-4-0 Double Fairlie tank locomotive “David Lloyd George” leaving Porthmadog station. Photo courtesy of the Ffestiniog Railway.

In May 1952 when the Transport Bill of 1952 was being drafted, Harold Macmillan, a former director of the GWR and later to be Prime Minister, wrote about the future of the railways. He said, “Why not restore the old names and titles? For instance, Western Region should be called the Great Western Railway. The head of it should be called the General Manager as he always was. It would also give great pleasure if the old colours were restored. Our men used to be proud of their chocolate brown suits and all the rest; the Great Western institutions such as the Operatic Troupes, Concerts, Boy Scouts and all the rest should go back to the old names and become distinctive. The regimental system is a great one with the British and it is always a mistake to destroy tradition. I am quite sure from my own talks with old friends in the GWR that they would welcome recovering their identity. They don’t care about who owns the shares, what they care about is their own individuality.”

Harold Macmillan, as a former director of the GWR, was entitled to a lifetime gold pass for first class rail travel which he reputedly used long after retirement into the 1970s and 1980s.

Harold Macmillan boarding a train in British Railways days

As Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan was speaking in the House of Commons on 10th March 1960 acknowledging that the earlier 1955 British Transport Commission modernisation plans for the railways were falling short of their targets and that the system would need to be remodelled to meet current needs. Part of what he said is as follows: “Finally, there is the problem of finance. Here, there is both a short-term and a long-term problem. In the short-term the problem is to devise interim financial arrangements to enable the railway system to be carried on until the necessary reorganisation can be made effective. The Government are now considering what form these should take. In the long-term the financial arrangements must depend on the size and structure of the undertaking, and must, indeed, form an essential part of the general reorganisation. The life and trade of the nation require a railway system, but it must not be allowed to become an intolerable burden on the national economy.” This financial situation eventually led to the appointment of Dr Richard Beeching and the 1963 report “The Reshaping of British Railways”.

The 1965 Class 86 British Rail Bo-Bo electric locomotive number 86232 carried the name “Harold Macmillan” for ten years.

Mike Peart

Please use the box at the bottom of the page to provide a comment. Your e-mail will not be published and your comments will just be linked to this item and not used elsewhere.

[E08, D02, D04, K06]

186 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 comentários

28 de out. de 2022

William Gladstone had at least one locomotive named after him. He was also the only person whose funeral train ran on the London Underground (Metropolitan District Railway)!

Mike Peart
Mike Peart
28 de out. de 2022
Respondendo a

Yes, thank you, I've done a longer piece for the Friends' "Review" magazine which includes Gladstone, Stanley Baldwin and the Duke of Wellington.

bottom of page