‘The Railway Children’ Influence

E Nesbit’s Edwardian story of a displaced family trying to fit in a new and unfamiliar place was my childhood favourite.

In 1970 I was at an impressionable age. At just 7 years old I fell madly in love with the story of ‘The Railway Children’ by E Nesbit. My dad read me the book at bedtime. We went to watch the film at the cinema. At the school summer fete I dressed up as Phyllis and let my imagination run away with me… What would it be like to be forced to leave everything behind and start a new life in a new and unfamiliar place amongst such unfamiliar people?  

E Nesbit doesn’t specify in the story exactly where the family in her story went to escape London and the shame of their father’s unjustified incarceration. She probably had Kent in her mind, since that was a place she knew, but the film’s production company famously set the story very firmly in West Yorkshire, at Oakworth, a small village not far from the Bronte’s Haworth, which just happens to have a station on the beautifully atmospheric Keighley Worth Valley heritage line.

Some ninety or so years after the book’s first publication, my family relocated up country to Bradford, only a short drive from Oakworth. We made that undistinguished, seen-better-days, old West Yorkshire city our home for the next 20 years, and let it seep through our skin. In that time we took all our visitors, from as far away as Brazil and the US, to experience the steam trains on the Keighley Worth Valley line. To smell the smoke, hear the engines and breathe in the green-ness of the place.

In 2012 my daughter Grace and I collaborated on a range of railway themed posters, prints, cards and t-shirts for our Paperbird of Bradford Souvenirs Project. The photograph below shows us patiently waiting on a bank at Oakworth for the Flying Scotsman to pass by when she visited West Yorkshire in 2016

Grace & Debbie waiting for Flying Scotsman at Oakworth (2)
The Scotsman heads up Keighley Bank on the KWVR.jpg 2
The Scotsman raising steam to head up Keighley Bank
Debbie, school fete fancy dress, the railway children (3)
In my Railway Children fancy dress at a school fete c1971
Paperbird, Bradford souvenirs, Bradford tote bag, bradford magnets (2)
Railway totems for Paperbird Bradford Souvenirs 
The Railway Children theatre show live at King's Cross
Advertising poster for York Theatre Royal’s production of The Railway Children which took a trip to see at King’s Cross Theatre

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