Thursday, 1 October 2015

Jerome K. Jerome

Jerome K. Jerome, best known as a humourist and writer, was born in Walsall in 1859. His most famous work 'Three Men in a Boat' was published in 1889.

Jerome K. Jerome in the 1890s (Photo: National
Media Museum @ Flickr Commons).

Jerome (whose middle name was Klapka) was given the Freedom of Walsall in 1926 (there's black-and-white film of the event here) and died the following year. Wikipedia has a useful biography here. For more information, go to the website of the The Jerome K Jerome Society.

Although I've known 'Three Men in a Boat' since childhood, I was only recently reminded that the book includes a description of taking the train from Waterloo during the period when the haphazard growth of the station had made it a laughing stock. Jerome's description is below:-
We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when is does start is going to, or anything about it. The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The stationmaster, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.

To put an end to the matter we went upstairs and asked the traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a man who said he had seen it at number three platform, but the authorities thre said that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express, or else the Windsor loop. But they were sure it wasn't the Kingston train, though why they were so sure it wasn't they couldn't say.

Then our porter said the thought it must be on the high-level platform; said he thought he knew the train. So we went to the high-level platform and saw the engine-driver, and asked him if he was going to Kingston. He said he couldn't say for certain of course, but that he rather thought that it was. Anyhow, if he wasn't the 11.5 for Kingston, he said he was pretty confident he was the 9.32 for Virginia Water, or the 10 A.M. express for the Isle of Wight, or somewhere in that direction, and we should all know when we got there. We slipped half-a-crown into his hand, and begged him to be the 11.5 for Kingston.
'Nobody will ever know, on this line,' we said 'what you are and where you're going. You know the way, you slip off quietly and go to Kingston.'
'Well, I don't know, gents,' replied the noble fellow, 'but I suppose some train's got to go to Kingston; and I'll do it. Gimme the half-crown.'

Thus we got to Kingston by the London and South-Western Railway.

We learnt afterwards that the train we had come by was really the Exeter mail, and that they had spent hours at Waterloo looking for it, and nobody knew what had become of it.
In 1899 the London and South-Western Railway finally decided to rebuild the station (perhaps the gentle ribbing in 'Three Men and a Boat' played a part), although the work was not completed until 1922. There's a short description of the rebuilding of Waterloo Station here.

In 1956 'Three Men in a Boat' was made into a film which is described here. In 1975 the book was turned into a film for television, briefly described here. The television version can be watched on You Tube here.