Queen Victoria’s last journey by train took place on Saturday 2 February 1901. The Great Western Railway produced a beautifully illuminated train plan for the ‘Funeral of Her Late Most Gracious Majesty The Queen. Arrangement of Royal Train. Paddington to Windsor. 1.32 pm. Saturday 2nd February 1901’. That relationship, which had begun in life for the Queen only two years after her marriage to Prince Albert – when the royal couple drove from Windsor Castle to the station at Slough on 13 June 1842 to make the historic, thirty-minute journey in a saloon to Paddington – continued thus even after her death.
Movingly, the GWR station at Windsor became the place from which her funeral procession departed, her coffin bound for St George’s Chapel. After the funeral, the Queen’s body would be taken to Frogmore for burial in the Royal Mausoleum and to, at last, share the tomb of Prince Albert who had predeceased her by forty years. The funeral train was the GWR locomotive No 3373 Atbara which had aptly been re-christened Royal Sovereign, to convey the Queen’s body from Paddington on its final return to Windsor. The locomotive’s crowned headlamp was covered in purple cloth, like the veiled, missing face of Victoria herself. The Royal Sovereign’s royal coat of arms was similarly draped; the front of the funeral train bore a wreath of white immortelles (Patrick Kingston, Royal Trains, p. 45, Guild Publishing London, 1985).
The so-called Royal Route historically linked the Windsor station with the Castle and the Royal Waiting Room. The 1982 Royalty and Empire display of British Railways and Madame Tussauds at Windsor & Eton Central successfully recreated the Royal Waiting Room. The present station still helps to evoke this with the replica of the GWR 3031 steam locomotive The Queen, which was not dismantled after the display.
Windsor & Eton Central station opened simply as ‘Windsor’ on 8 October 1849, seven years after Queen Victoria first travelled by train to Paddington. The GWR station Windsor was completely remodelled for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and it was the Diamond Jubilee which the display sought to replicate in 1982.
The Royal Waiting Rooms provided a private space for the Queen’s comfort, where she could wait to depart from her nearby place of residence. As such, these small and intimate buildings – royally appointed – would for these short periods, house the monarch on the move. They lend their own unique insight, like those private buildings such as the Garden Cottage at Balmoral or the brick and tiled Tea House in the gardens at Frogmore, into the Queen’s daily schedule.
Queen Victoria’s opulent LNWR 1869 Saloon with matching blue furnishings and gilded lamps, was her own palace on rails as she travelled. It survives in the National Railway Museum at York. The Royal Waiting Rooms that were built for Queen Victoria could be found situated close to her residences (Ibid, p. 11). As such, they were built close to Balmoral Castle and Windsor Castle. The Royal Station at Ballater was the terminus for the Deeside line from Aberdeen which the Queen used as the nearest to Balmoral, to which she would then continue by carriage. There was no need for a Royal Waiting Room at Osborne because no train was involved and the crossing was made by yachts; in the early years this was usually in HMY ‘The Fairy’, HMY ‘Alberta’ being the yacht in which the Queen embarked the last time for Osborne in December 1900.
The beautiful Royal Station at Ballater burned down in 2015, but its replica of Queen Victoria’s train carriage survived, as did a part of the Royal Waiting Room with its original fireplace. The former Royal Waiting Room used by Queen Victoria at Paddington was particularly luxurious; its space survives, remodelled as the Paddington Station First Class Lounge.
A contemporary European royal equivalent might be seen at the station of Nyugati Pályaudvar [Western Railway Station] in Budapest, with its mirror-lined királyi váróterem [Royal Waiting Room] for the use of the Emperor and Empress of Austria, as King and Queen of Hungary. The entrance of the surviving Royal Waiting Room at Nyugati still proclaims the ancient Habsburg motto Viribus unitis, which also appeared with Empress Elisabeth on the Benefaction Stamp in 1914. The magnificent Royal Waiting Room at Den Haag is one of three surviving Dutch examples, resplendent with mirrors, stained glass and terrazzo floors.
Queen Victoria’s Royal Waiting Room at Windsor & Eton Central survives. The Grade II listed building of Bath stone still has plaques with the Queen’s crowned monogram and the year ‘1897’ at either side of its entrance. It now houses All Bar One Windsor in which many original features survive including the wooden fireplace, crowned with the royal coat of arms. A water closet and marble wash hand basin with hot and cold taps can be seen behind glass, with a sign on each suggesting that they were installed for the use of Queen Victoria. Most appropriately, the former Royal Waiting Room backs on to the replica of the GWR 3031 steam locomotive The Queen. The whole effect of the Waiting Room recreates the feel of the royal train and Queen Victoria’s surviving Saloon, whose water facilities the Queen did not use.
The Queen’s journals for 1863 and 1864 contain two references to a Royal Waiting Room at Windsor. In March 1863, she describes waiting in the private room at the South Western station, which must refer to the Windsor & Eton Riverside station served by the South Western Railway for the Staines to Windsor line. Contemporary photographs which according to Historic England, show the Royal Waiting Room or ‘Salon’ of the Queen at Windsor & Eton Riverside, reveal the simple elegance and luxury of its design, complete with Tudor-arch windows.
The Royal Waiting Room consisted of the main room with a fireplace, set with its oval mirror in a wooden panel. Two richly upholstered sofas stand either side of the fireplace and a clock is at its centre, probably also to enable the Queen to check the time before she travelled. A large rug covers the wooden floor, and the candelabra has six glass shades in the shape of flowers. Movingly, the Queen described the Royal Waiting Room at Windsor & Eton Riverside (South Western station) on 4 April 1884, its door draped in black with the initials of her son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. His coffin was returning to Windsor for burial after his recent death at Cannes.
The Gothic station of Sir William Tite at Windsor & Eton Riverside still bears the Queen’s monogram and the year ‘1851’ in blue brick, but in contrast to the sister station of Windsor & Eton Central, its Royal Waiting Room is disused.
©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2020.