Saturday, 17 December 2011

17th December - Train Caught in a Snowdrift

Still no snow, although it is mighty nippy out there today.  I'm rather pleased at the lack of snow to be honest as I have to journey up the country to see my lovely family in Buckinghamshire tomorrow and I'd rather not be travelling in inclement weather.  I mean, can you imagine if the Walker family had to travel in conditions like this...?

Train Caught in a Snowdrift (1881) Thomas H Heawood

That's some deep snow and they are well and truly stuck.  A guard wades up the side of the train, his legs entirely hidden by the drift, as curious and nervous passengers look out from their carriages.  I love the gentleman wrapped up in his muffler, opening his padded door to find out how bad the situation is.  Behind him shelters a young lady, not keen to expose herself to the cold. Or maybe she doesn't want to be seen, if you catch my meaning.  We all know about Charles Dickens and the Staplehurst rail crash...

Undoubtedly, this is a painting based on fact.  It has a simple style,  a kind of 'recording of events' straightforwardness that is reminiscent of newspaper photography.  This is more than likely based on a real event that happened in the painter's locality.  Mr Heawood has a 'train in peril' picture for any weather condition, for example heavy rain...

Durston, Somerset, Flooded Out (1894) 

No doubt also these paintings are fuelled by the public fascination with trains and their imposing presence in the Victorian, mainly rural, landscape.  When we think of trains, it tends to be in the context of  urban industrial expansion, bringing people from one town or city to another, but there must have also been the dimension of the mark they left across the countryside.  What I see in both of these pictures, especially the snowdrift image is the power of nature striking against human industry.  We may have built a giant beast of iron and steel but frozen water could halt it.  It's interesting that the man can wade through the snow and make progress, but the train is stuck fast.

There are some fascinating articles on the net about the Victorian fascination with the perils of train travel, but Heawood doesn't give us a rail disaster as much as a rail failure.  The train has been stopped by snow, possibly the wrong kind of snow, and as technologically advanced as it might be, that engine isn't going anywhere until someone clears the line.  Put the kettle on, it's going to be a long wait...

See you tomorrow.


  1. 'All human evil comes from a single cause, man's inability to sit still in a room.'

    Blaise Pascal

  2. How very true, sadly. However, most good things come from the fidgets among us...


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx