Station Name: SWANLEY JUNCTION
The Royal Train conveying HM Queen Victoria approaches Swanley Junction. The only information with this photograph states this was the final trip to the South of France for Her Majesty. Such trips were common and during her last few trips The Queen stayed at Hotel Regina, Cimiez, a suburb of Nice. Prior to 1896 The Queen's destinations also included Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The Queen had another trip to Nice planned for 1900 but this was cancelled, for reasons unclear. Given the stated information, we can therefore date this photograph to Saturday 11 March 1899. Queen Victoria's Journals tell us she had travelled from Windsor, departing at 10.35am, and arrived at Folkestone 1.15pm, a town, she noted, she had never visited previously. Her Majesty further noted she lunched on the board the ship (details of the vessel were not recorded), following which she was en-route by train from Boulogne to Nice. We know from the Journals of the following day that the train journey to Nice was punctuated by a number of stops and The Queen did not arrive at Nice until 4pm on Sunday 12 March. This would explain why some sources imply this trip commenced on 12 March. The train is about to pass the 17 mile post (from Victoria); given this and the curvature of the track we can pinpoint the location to the path crossing the railway some 300 yards west of the present day A20 bridge over the railway at Swanley. Today, of course, the railway is four-track and the crossing has long since been replaced by a footbridge. 1895 1:2,500 OS map showing the footpath in relation to Swanley Junction station is reproduced below.
The scene is supervised apparently by just a single policeman and a railway worker. Note that onlookers were permitted to watch from railway property; something which would not be permitted today regardless of who or what was passing. March 1899 was just a few weeks into the South Eastern & Chatham Railway period and despite this photograph being monochrome the locomotive is almost certainly still in London Chatham & Dover Railway livery. Highly polished and decorated, the locomotive appears to be one of the Kirtley 4-4-0s. The headcode was long before that for the Royal Train was standardised on the 'one + three' system. The London & South Western Railway had used the same disc positions as seen here but with two diamonds on each disc. Magnification of this photograph suggests the Royal Saloon is the sixth vehicle behind the locomotive; the saloon and some of the other vehicles had possibly been borrowed from the London Brighton & South Coast Railway, this being possible as both the LC&DR and LB&SCR were air-braked railways. The LC&DR possessed just one Royal Saloon which dated from 1866 but as no clear photographs of it have been found it is impossible to judge if it was present on this occasion. The story of how Queen Victoria withdrew from public life following the death of Prince Albert in 1861 is well known and, due to public dissatisfaction, caused the continuation of the British Monarchy to be brought into question. Queen Victoria's trips to Europe, which were more holidays rather than official visits, became lengthy and typically of six to eight weeks and when she was at home was in the habit of remaining behind the proverbial closed doors. This story is, however, partly myth for although generally true The Queen did continue with some official engagements and particularly in connection with the military. She is, for example, known to have taken a keen interest in Netley Hospital and made at least one visit there not long before her death. Stories of Queen Victoria's life during her years as a widow have persisted through the generations but have to be taken in the context of the time. Today the Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth II, are seldom out of the public eye due to television, radio and the ability to flash news around the world instantly. In Queen Victoria's time there was no radio or television while the internet was still almost a century in the future. The public thus had to rely on sightings in person or, for those who could read, newspapers so it is hardly any wonder that when Queen Victoria disappeared from public view for weeks at a time the public and the government became increasingly unsettled. In viewing this photograph is it easy to assume the onlookers were keen to catch a glimpse of The Queen so they could tell their children and grandchildren with a degree of pride but given the unrest of the time this may not necessarily have been the case. The younger people seen here were probably oblivious to the unrest but the elders could well have been present out of disgust while thinking "huh, there she goes again". Whatever the truth, we should also remember that until, perhaps, the reign of King George V and the advent of what was then known as the 'wireless' the Royal Family was a elusive breed with a private life very much shrouded in mystery. The days of 'walkabouts' and direct contact with the public were, in Queen Victoria's time, still a long way into the future and did not really become commonplace until the time of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother as she became). So whatever was in the minds of the people at the lineside back in 1899, good or not so good, the passing of Queen Victoria's train would nevertheless have still been a memorable event. The Queen's return from France commenced on Tuesday 2 May. The Journals tell us the return journey was quite protracted. The Queen travelled by train from Nice to Cherbourg and then spent two days, 3 and 4 May, onboard the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert before arriving back at Windsor on Friday 5 May. She then remained hidden away at Windsor until spending 12 and 16 May at Buckingham Palace before returning to Windsor. Her next trip was by train to Ballater on 26 May, thereafter remaining at Balmoral until 22 June when she again returned to Windsor. There she was to remain, the Journals tell us, until 20 July. The Queen was then at Osborne House on 21 July, remaining there until 20 August when she returned to Balmoral where she remained until 10 November. Returning to Osborne House from Windsor on 28 December 1899, this pattern appears to have continued until her death at Osborne House on 22 January 1901. Engagements during this later period included the previously mentioned visit(s) to Netley Hospital which, like the punctuated journey to Nice, were undertaken en-route to the Isle of Wight. No wonder the public became increasingly critical. Photo from Swanley History Group