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Working Class life in the 1950’s – Train Sets and Train Spotting

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Working Class children of the late forties early fifties

The Working Class child of the late forties early fifties was a child that made its own entertainment.

Most working class homes back in the early fifties did not have a TV. Children were pretty much left to make their own entertainment which they did quite well.

I was born in 1946 and I don’t recall ever being bored as a child. One of the main reasons for this is, that if I told my mum that I was bored she would soon find me some thing to do. I could guarantee that something would be a lot less fun than playing.

working-class-life-in-the-1950s-train-sets-and-train-spotting
working-class-life-in-the-1950s-train-sets-and-train-spotting

Clockwork Train

Trains were an exciting part of our childhood. Often they would be the means of transport taking us on holiday.

Toy trains also played a part in our playtimes too. My brother had a clockwork train when he was quite young.

The train set was a Christmas present which consisted of a circular track, an engine and some wagons.

It doesn’t sound at all interesting as all the clock work train did was go round and round in circles. Going round in circles was all it could do because it only had a small circular track.

Boring as that first clockwork train set sounds, it kept my brother amused for hours. His love affair with trains began with this toy train set. It was a love affair that lasted well into adulthood.

In fact when he left school he went to work for British rail. One of the perks of working for British rail was cheap train travel.

My brother and his family travelled all over Britain and also in Europe by train. He was fortunate to travel at advantages staff prices. Even though he is now retired he still gets cheap rail travel rates on British rail.

The Hornby 00

As he grew older he progressed onto an electric train set. His electric train set was a Hornby 00 these were by far the most popular makers in the 1950’s and it seemed at one time a must have toy for every small boy. The models were extremely well made and many still run over 50 years later and if you would like to purchase one of these 1950’s train sets, all you have to do is go on E-bay where you will find a selections of these on sale even now. Though nowadays most of the enthusiasts are adults not children, this is reflected in the quality and finish of today’s models which is extremely high.

An electric train set was not a cheap Christmas present in the early fifties therefore, often the basic layout was bought as a present one year and then that layout would be added to on the subsequent birthdays and Christmases. My brother’s set was the basic set which our dad fixed on to an old tabletop so that it didn’t have to be dismantled each time you had finished playing with it. Over the subsequent years buildings, people, signals luggage handlers, trees, ponds etc., were added to this set along with extra track.

This first video shows Hornby model trains that were similar to those had by my brother, of course in this video sounds of real trains are used as the soundtrack and they add a huge amount of realism to the footage. This layout is considerably bigger than the one my brother had but it gives you some idea of what an electric train would look like as it chugs around its track.

If you are at all interested in model trains check out Rob's other videos he has over a hundred enough to keep the most avid fan happy for ages. You can get to Robs videos by clicking on the YouTube logo in the bottom right hand corner and it will take you to this video on YouTube and then just click on where it says more from this user and you will see his other videos.

Hornby 00 Trains In Action

Stored in the Cubbyhole

When it was not in use it was stored in the cubbyhole underneath the stairs. The cubbyhole was large and held a variety of things like our coats, the vacuum cleaner, old newspapers, assorted tools, a cobbler's last for repairing shoes, the ironing board and the iron.

This electric train set gave my brother and his friends years of pleasure they would often take their engines to one another’s homes to run on each other’s layouts. In the early fifties it seemed like many a young boy’s dream was to be a train driver.  One of our neighbours was a train driver, I think he was once featured in one of the local evening papers because he got to drive the Evening Star, which was the last steam train to be built by British Rail in 1960, this was just before our neighbour retired.


Train Spotting

My brother was not only interested in the model trains but also he and his friends were very keen train-spotters. During the long summer holidays my brother and his friends would set off for a days train spotting. They would take with them bread and jam sandwiches wrapped in the waxed paper that the sliced bread use to come wrapped in. They would also take bottle of water that had been mixed with lemon kaylie (phonetic spelling I know that it doesn’t look right but I have no idea how to spell it) to make the water into lemonade.


This is the closest thing I could find to what we in the UK called kaylie.

This is the closest thing I could find to what we in the UK called kaylie.

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Does Anyone Remember Kaylie?

Does anyone remember the yellow crystals that we use to call kaylie in the Midlands? It looked like a deep yellow coloured sugar and it consisted mainly of citric acid and sugar.  I used to love kaylie, but if I ate too much it would take the coating off my tongue and give me bellyache, not that a little thing like that ever stopped me.

Kaylie used to be sold loose on the sweet counter in Woolworth and usually I would buy it in 2oz quantities that were weighed out and put in small white bags. I loved kaylie, I would wet my index finger and dip it into the yellow kaylie and then suck off my finger all the kaylie that had stuck to it. Doing this you would always end up with a yellow tongue and a yellow stained finger, which we would then pretend was a smokers nicotine stain. Go figure, we thought it cool to look like we smoked. Remember how many people’s fingers used to get stained yellow with nicotine back then? You never seem to see that on smokers today, I wonder if that has anything to do with the filter tips that all cigarettes seem to have today?

working-class-life-in-the-1950s-train-sets-and-train-spotting

A Platform Ticket

I digress, back to train spotting, armed with a drink and sandwiches; the boys would head off to do some serious train spotting. They would often spend the whole day train spotting sometimes they would go to the local railway station where for a penny they could buy a platform ticket which would get you access to any of the railway platforms where the trains arrived and departed from.

One of Ian Allan's ABC of British Railway Locomotives booklets

One of Ian Allan's ABC of British Railway Locomotives booklets