logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

The opening windows
of early British trains

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Window in a 1940s train door, shown in an open position

Open window in a typical 1940s train door. The window was raised and lowered with a leather strap and held in position by locking one of the holes in the strap over a metal stud. Photo taken in the dining car of the Steam Museum at Swindon, The green walls were due to the whole carriage being the dining car. Normal compartments had non-descript colour walls.

What I remember particularly about travelling by train in the 1940s and 1950s were the windows in the doors. They had probably changed little since the early days of the railways, but that of course was outside my personal experience.

Waving goodbye through an open train window in the 1940s

Waving goodbye through an open train window in the 1940s. Enhanced detail of a screenshot from an old film.

'Health and safety regulations' had not been dreamed up, and the windows in the train doors opened so that passengers could lean out. This they did, particularly when waving goodbye to people seeing them off.

passenger leaning out of window of old steam train, train signal

Passenger(s) leaning out of train windows.

Top, courtesy of Peter Hambrook.
Bottom: Enhanced detail of photo in the Steam Museum at Swindon.

Passengers leaning out of train windows, 1940s-1950s

There were notices pointing out that it was dangerous to lean out of the window while the train was moving, but it didn't stop anyone.

Leaning out of a train window of a moving train was a particularly enjoyable experience for children: to feel the wind rushing into one's face and through one's hair and to see the engine belching out smoke as the train rounded a bend.

A particular problem with leaning out of a train window was the smoke from the steam engine which was pulling the train. It was sooty from the partly burnt coal: it got into eyes and made faces black. So children were encouraged to 'stay inside' when out visiting; otherwise there was a quick lick and a promise from mother's handkerchief.

steam train belching out sooty steam, 1940s

The stream of sooty smoke from the engine of a steam train. As the train rounded a bend, it was fascinating to watch it from an open window, snaking through the countryside. Enhanced detail of photo in the Steam Museum at Swindon

Irrespective of whether anyone was leaning out of the window, it was not always easy to get agreement among the passengers about how far the window should be pulled down. It could be far too draughty for passengers sitting facing the direction of travel, but not for the passengers facing them.

In the first half of the 1940s I suppose there must have been mesh stuck onto the train windows against the bomb blasts of World War Two, but perhaps this was only done for trains based in London. I only remember it for the London Underground.

Either way, any mesh was probably removed as soon as possible after the war ended, because it was so unpleasant being unable to see out of the windows.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.