Hogwash Express

Isn’t that new Harry Potter movie coming out soon? I’m sure it is. Well, you know what? I think that calls for a vaguely Potter-themed entry.

As you can see from the slightly murky picture on the left, I found myself standing next to the Hogwarts Express yesterday. The locomotive of this train is currently residing at the National Railway Museum in York.

The Hogwarts Express is one of the icons of the Harry Potter franchise, which just goes to show that actually, steam engines are pretty cool. Plot-wise, it functions as a handy place where lots of characters can be brought together for several hours – it was here that many of the significant characters of the series were introduced in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I believe I’ve mentioned before that Leo Tolstoy considered railways to be a useful plot device because they enabled coincidences, and this was his inspiration for Anna Karenina. Well, J. K. Rowling makes the Hogwarts Express perform a similar function.

The Express appears to be inspired by the school specials that used to be run in Britain at the start and end of term. Some of the larger schools would charter a special train. Sadly, they wouldn’t have been as colourful as the Hogwarts Express – the train would be whatever the railway had that was suitable. I’m not sure when this traffic was phased out, but I’m guessing during the days when Britain’s railways were nationalised.

As everyone knows, the Hogwarts Express sets out from Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters at King’s Cross Station. As Hogwarts is located in Scotland, King’s Cross is an appropriate departure point – this was (and technically still is) where the famous Flying Scotsman set off from. Oddly enough, though, Rowling has admitted that she didn’t actually intend to send the train off from King’s Cross at all – she actually had Euston in mind. That being said, King’s Cross is much more photogenic than the terminally bland Euston. Even so, for shots of the outside of the station, the first film used St Pancras – don’t get me wrong, I like St Pancras fine, but I think King’s Cross is hugely underrated in architectural terms.

The station has adapted to its relatively new-found fame by sticking half a luggage trolley into a wall. There’s usually a queue of tourists wanting to be photographed next to it. The Catlady said that she once found herself acting as a guide to a Japanese exchange student, and one of the first sights he wanted to see was the station.If you’re curious, the station used for Hogsmeade was Goathland on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Coincidentally, this station also represented Aidensfield in Heartbeat. The Scottish scenes are filmed on the West Highland Line, one of the most scenically beautiful railways in Britain in Yr. Humble Chronicler’s opinion. That rather creepy scene in The Prisoner of Azkaban where the Dementors stop the train took place on the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The Hogwarts Railways logo is a parody of the British Railways logo.

So much for the railway, what about the train? Well, this is something that, prior to the release of the film, caused a certain amount of speculation in railway enthusiast circles. The fact that the train departed from King’s Cross and that Hermione mentions going to speak to the driver in the first book suggested that it was an engine with a corridor tender.

The corridor tender, an example of which is seen right, was invented by the London and North Eastern Railway for the Flying Scotsman service from King’s Cross. Tenders are used on large locomotives to hold coal and water, and hinder access to the cab. The corridor tender allowed this access, which was vital on long, non-stop journeys to allow the crew to change over. The LNER paired their most prestigious express engines with these.
For promotional events, the locomotive Taw Valley (right) was used. Normally green, it was repainted red. This caused mixed reactions in the railway enthusiast camp, although man (Yr. Humble Chronicler included) thought it looked rather good in red.
For the films, though, Chris Columbus selected Olton Hall, an engine belonging to the West Coast Railway Company. The Halls, like all engines built by the Great Western Railway, had a sort of Victorian look that fitted in very well with the general aesthetic of the series. All were named after halls of various descriptions. They were very capable locomotives, equally able to deal with passengers and goods, and were used all over the GWR network. Olton Hall, having been plucked from the chorus, again underwent a repaint from green to red,and gained the name Hogwarts Castle. West Coast Railways did try to persuade the film makers to go with an appropriate Hall name (Great Hall, perhaps?), as Castle names were historically reserved for the GWR’s larger Castle class. I find it a little odd that people can deal with a magic steam train travelling unseen from a hidden platform to a giant castle in Scotland but not that the owners might have given said steam train an inappropriate name, but there you go.
And as you might expect, there were cries that the engine had been “disfigured” by its red livery and it was un-historic and bawwwww. Personally, I think this argument is a lot of old hogwash, for the following reasons:
1. The Hall class, as vintage steam engines go, is quite common – eleven survive. One, Maindy Hall, is even being rebuilt to represent a different class of locomotive. Take issue with those guys.
2. As an engine that will be seen by millions of non-rail enthusiasts, Hogwarts Castle is a far more valuable ambassador to the railway preservation movement than Olton Hall.
3. It’s not disfigured, it has temporary nameplates added and a new coat of paint. Get over yourselves.
hogwarts express
Like it or not, the Hogwarts Express would appear to be here to stay. Tomorrow I’m told it’s off to Carnforth, so I suppose it’s not all fun and games.

1 Comment

Filed under Arts, Buildings and architecture, Current events, Film and TV, Geography, History, Kings Cross, Literature, London's Termini, Only loosely about London, Photos, Transport

One response to “Hogwash Express

  1. Pingback: Getting Cross | London Particulars

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