Slow Train (Flanders and Swann song)

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"Slow Train"
Photo of Flanders and Swann singing at the piano
Writers Flanders and Swann
Song by Flanders and Swann
GenreList song; Train song
Composer(s)Donald Swann
Lyricist(s)Michael Flanders

"Slow Train" is a song by British duo Flanders and Swann, written in July 1963.[1] It laments the closure of railway stations and lines brought about by the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, and also the passing of a way of life.[2]


Midsomer Norton, a typical country station, whose closure was lamented by the song "Slow Train".
The song features idealised scenes such as milk churns on a railway platform.
"On the mainline and the goods siding the grass grows high": the Beeching cuts closed many rural lines, such as the Dunstable Branch Lines serving Dunstable Town.

"Slow Train" takes the form of an elegiac list song of railway stations, which has been likened to a litany.[3] Its evocation of quiet, rural stations is highly romanticised and uses imagery such as the presence of a station cat or milk churns on a platform to express a "less hurried way of life" that is about to vanish:[2]

No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat,
At Chorlton-cum-Hardy or Chester-le-Street.

The strength of "Slow Train" is considered to lie in its list of "achingly bucolic" names of rural halts. The nostalgically poetic tone of Flanders's lyrics has been likened to Edward Thomas's 1914 poem "Adlestrop", which wistfully evokes a fleeting scene of Adlestrop railway station in Gloucestershire.[4]

Although most of the stations mentioned in Flanders's song were earmarked for closure under the Beeching cuts, a number of the stations were ultimately spared closure: Chester-le-Street, Formby, Ambergate, and Arram all remain open, and Gorton and Openshaw also survives, now called Gorton. Some stations referred to in the song have since been re-opened, notably Chorlton-cum-Hardy. It had closed in January 1967, but re-opened in July 2011 as Chorlton tram stop.

Selby and Goole were not threatened by Beeching, though the line ("from Selby to Goole") mentioned in the song was closed to passengers. The other line mentioned, "from St Erth to St Ives" in Cornwall stayed open. [note 1]

Michael Flanders' song treats Formby Four Crosses and Armley Moor Arram as station names, but in both cases he combined two consecutive names from an alphabetical list of stations. Leon Berger, archivist of the estate of Donald Swann, said that Flanders had taken his list from one published in The Guardian, which was the source of some of the discrepancies between the names in the songs and the historic names of the stations.[5]

Other versions[edit]

In 2004, Canadian classical quartet Quartetto Gelato released a themed album called Quartetto Gelato Travels the Orient Express, celebrating the original journey of Orient Express and featuring music from London to Istanbul. The album begins with a rendition of "Slow Train", with the final lines changed to reflect the route of the Orient Express.

A version of "The Slow Train" by the King's Singers is on electronica duo Lemon Jelly's track "'76 aka The Slow Train", combined with a cover of the Albert Hammond song "I'm a Train" also performed by the King's Singers. A live version by Stackridge was included in its 2009 DVD 4x4.

Michael Williams' book On the Slow Train takes its name from the song. It celebrates twelve of the most beautiful and historic journeys in Britain that were saved from the Beeching cuts, including famous routes such as the Settle–Carlisle line and less well-known pleasures, such as the four-hour Preston–Carlisle route along the remote Cumbrian coastline.[6]

English folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner included a version of the song on his 2011 compilation album The Second Three Years.

List of stations referred to in the lyrics[edit]

Where appropriate, the correct name of the station is shown in brackets.

Station Railway Between Coordinates Grid reference Opened Closed
Millers Dale for Tideswell (Millers Dale) Midland Railway Buxton and Matlock[7] 53°15′22″N 1°47′41″W / 53.2561°N 1.7948°W / 53.2561; -1.7948 (Millers Dale for Tideswell) SK135733 1863 1967
Kirby Muxloe Midland Railway Leicester and Burton upon Trent[8] 52°37′37″N 1°13′55″W / 52.627°N 1.232°W / 52.627; -1.232 (Kirby Muxloe) SK521035 1848 1964
Mow Cop and Scholar Green North Staffordshire Railway Stoke-on-Trent and Congleton 53°07′06″N 2°14′07″W / 53.11844°N 2.23537°W / 53.11844; -2.23537 (Mow Cop and Scholar Green) SJ844580 1848 1964
Blandford Forum Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway Templecombe and Broadstone Junction 50°51′35″N 2°09′38″W / 50.85970°N 2.16050°W / 50.85970; -2.16050 (Blandford Forum) ST888067 1863 1966
Mortehoe (Mortehoe and Woolacombe) London and South Western Railway Barnstaple and Ilfracombe 51°10′24″N 4°10′11″W / 51.173232°N 4.169598°W / 51.173232; -4.169598 (Mortehoe) SS483438 1874 1970
Midsomer Norton Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway Bath Green Park and Shepton Mallet 51°16′52″N 2°28′59″W / 51.281°N 2.483°W / 51.281; -2.483 (Midsomer Norton) ST664537 1874 1966
Mumby Road Great Northern Railway Willoughby and Mablethorpe 53°15′16″N 0°14′25″E / 53.25447°N 0.24017°E / 53.25447; 0.24017 (Mumby Road) TF494754 1888 1970
Chorlton-cum-Hardy Cheshire Lines Committee joint railway Manchester Central and Stockport Tiviot Dale 53°26′38″N 2°16′23″W / 53.444°N 2.273°W / 53.444; -2.273 (Chorlton-cum-Hardy) SJ818942 1880 1967[note 2]
Chester-le-Street North Eastern Railway Durham and Newcastle 54°51′18″N 1°34′41″W / 54.855°N 1.578°W / 54.855; -1.578 (Chester-le-Street) NZ271512 1868 Remains open
Littleton Badsey (Littleton and Badsey) Great Western Railway Evesham and Honeybourne 52°06′09″N 1°53′36″W / 52.1024°N 1.8934°W / 52.1024; -1.8934 (Littleton Badsey) SP073448 1853 1966
Openshaw (Gorton and Openshaw) Great Central Railway Manchester London Road and Guide Bridge 53°28′08″N 2°10′05″W / 53.469007°N 2.167942°W / 53.469007; -2.167942 (Openshaw) SJ889969 1906 Remains open
Long Stanton Great Eastern Railway Cambridge and Huntingdon 52°17′36″N 0°02′59″E / 52.2932°N 0.0496°E / 52.2932; 0.0496 (Long Stanton) TL399680 1847[9] 1970[9]
Formby Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Liverpool Exchange and Southport 53°33′13″N 3°04′15″W / 53.5535°N 3.0708°W / 53.5535; -3.0708 (Formby) SD291069 1848 Remains open
Four Crosses Cambrian Railways Oswestry and Buttington 52°45′27″N 3°04′55″W / 52.757528°N 3.082023°W / 52.757528; -3.082023 (Four Crosses) SJ270183 1860 1965
Dunstable Town Great Northern Railway and London & North Western Railway joint line Hatfield and Leighton Buzzard 51°53′12″N 0°30′38″W / 51.8866°N 0.5106°W / 51.8866; -0.5106 (Dunstable Town) TL024219 1860 1965
Dogdyke Great Northern Railway Boston and Lincoln 53°04′58″N 0°11′45″W / 53.08285°N 0.19580°W / 53.08285; -0.19580 (Dogdyke) TF210554 1849 1963
Tumby Woodside Great Northern Railway Firsby and Lincoln 53°06′08″N 0°06′16″W / 53.10229°N 0.10452°W / 53.10229; -0.10452 (Tumby Woodside) TF270578 1913 1970
Trouble House Halt British Railways Kemble and Tetbury 51°39′25″N 2°07′30″W / 51.656870°N 2.124995°W / 51.656870; -2.124995 (Trouble House Halt) ST914953 1959 1964
Audlem Great Western Railway Market Drayton and Nantwich 52°58′59″N 2°31′00″W / 52.98300°N 2.51680°W / 52.98300; -2.51680 (Audlem) SJ653430 1863 1963
Ambergate Midland Railway Derby and Chesterfield/Matlock 53°03′40″N 1°28′52″W / 53.061°N 1.481°W / 53.061; -1.481 (Ambergate) SK348516 1840 Remains open on the Matlock branch
Chittening Platform Great Western Railway Filton and Avonmouth 51°31′30″N 2°40′30″W / 51.525°N 2.675°W / 51.525; -2.675 (Chittening Platform) ST535813 1917 1964
Cheslyn Hay (Wyrley and Cheslyn Hay) London and North Western Railway Walsall and Rugeley Town 52°39′59″N 2°01′28″W / 52.66633°N 2.02438°W / 52.66633; -2.02438 (Cheslyn Hay) SJ983076 1858 1965
Selby North Eastern Railway Doncaster and York 53°46′59″N 1°03′48″W / 53.783000°N 1.063440°W / 53.783000; -1.063440 (Selby) SE618322 1834 Remains open[note 3]
Goole North Eastern Railway Doncaster and Hull 53°42′18″N 0°52′19″W / 53.705124°N 0.872000°W / 53.705124; -0.872000 (Goole) SE744237 1869 Remains open[note 3]
St Erth Great Western Railway Truro and Penzance 50°10′15″N 5°26′37″W / 50.170767°N 5.443686°W / 50.170767; -5.443686 (St Erth) SW541357 1852 Remains open
St Ives[note 1] Great Western Railway Terminus of the branch from St Erth 50°12′33″N 5°28′40″W / 50.209265°N 5.477691°W / 50.209265; -5.477691 (St Ives) SW519401 1877 Remains open
Cockermouth for Buttermere (Cockermouth) London and North Western Railway Workington and Keswick 54°39′36″N 3°21′59″W / 54.660096°N 3.366355°W / 54.660096; -3.366355 (Cockermouth for Buttermere) NY119303 1865 1966
Armley Moor Great Northern Railway Leeds and Bramley 53°47′42″N 1°35′45″W / 53.7950°N 1.5958°W / 53.7950; -1.5958 (Armley Moor) SE267332 1854 1966
Arram North Eastern Railway Driffield and Beverley 53°53′02″N 0°25′30″W / 53.884000°N 0.425000°W / 53.884000; -0.425000 (Arram) TA035442 1853 Remains open
Pye Hill and Somercotes Great Northern Railway Kimberley and Pinxton 53°04′12″N 1°20′27″W / 53.069900°N 1.340934°W / 53.069900; -1.340934 (Pye Hill and Somercotes) SK442527 1877 1963
Windmill End Great Western Railway Dudley and Old Hill 52°29′27″N 2°04′07″W / 52.49079°N 2.06873°W / 52.49079; -2.06873 (Windmill End) SO957874 1878 1964
  • Ten of the 31 stations were open in 2012, with five others on lines still open.
  • Trouble House Halt opened in 1959, shortly before Beeching became BR chairman.
  • Re-opening of the line through Cheslyn Hay in 1989 included a new Landywood station, half a mile to the south.
  • Kirby Muxloe is regularly proposed for re-opening with the freight-only Ivanhoe line remaining between Leicester and Burton; however, a scheme re-appraisal by Scott Wilson in 2009 suggested there was little likelihood of the line reopening to passengers.[11]
  • Littleton and Badsey, Chittening Platform and Armley Moor are on lines still open. Chittening and Armley are in the Bristol and Leeds urban areas, and are proposed for re-opening.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b While St Ives in Cornwall was the one to which Flanders is referring, another station named St. Ives, on the Great Eastern Railway between Cambridge and Huntingdon, was closed in 1970.
  2. ^ Re-opened in July 2011 as Chorlton, on Manchester Metrolink.
  3. ^ a b Both Selby and Goole remain open, but the line between them, referred to in the song, closed in 1964.[10]


  1. ^ "The musical slow train". BBC Cambridgeshire. 3 October 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b Williams, Michael (2011). On the Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys. Random House. p. 1. ISBN 9781848092082. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  3. ^ Williams, Michael (2011). On the Slow Train Again. Random House. p. 1. ISBN 9781409051244. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  4. ^ Bray, Christopher (2014). 1965: The Year Modern Britain was Born. Simon and Schuster. p. 80. ISBN 9780857202796. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Littleton and Badsey Station (Revisited)". 21 January 2003. Retrieved 3 December 2009.
  6. ^ Williams, Michael (3 April 2010). "So much pain in our love of the train". The Independent. London. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  7. ^ Pre-Grouping Atlas, page 15
  8. ^ Pre-Grouping Atlas, page 16
  9. ^ a b Catford, Nick (20 April 2010). "Long Stanton". Disused Stations. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  10. ^ Suggitt, Gordon. "Chapter 11: Around Selby". Lost Railways of North & East Yorkshire. Countryside Books. pp. 124–126.
  11. ^ "Re-opening rail line 'too costly'". Leicester Mercury. 9 September 2009. Archived from the original on 14 October 2009.


  • British Railways Pre-grouping Atlas and Gazetteer. Ian Allan. 1988. ISBN 0-7110-0320-3.
  • Dewick, Tony. Rail Atlas 1890.
  • Jowett, Alan (1989). Jowett's Railway Atlas of Great Britain & Ireland. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-086-1.

External links[edit]

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap