‘Home on the Rails’: The design, fitting and decoration of train interiors in Britain c. 1920-1955

Stevens, Amanda (2022). ‘Home on the Rails’: The design, fitting and decoration of train interiors in Britain c. 1920-1955. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000146b5


This thesis aims to show that an analysis of the interior design, fitting and decoration of railway carriages in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century, adds substantially to design history as well as both transport and mobilities studies. While design history of the interior has tended to centre on the domestic, railway history has focussed on the locomotive and been interested in technological aspects of speed and efficiency or the unusual carriage. This work concentrates on the everyday carriage, and the expression of the British amalgam of traditional and modern styles within it.

Through an examination of objects, drawings, textiles, photographs and archives, and by applying methods from the fields of contemporary human geography and anthropology, sociology and social science the railway carriage is shown to be capable of carrying multiple layers of meaning over its lifetime. In this way, choices of designs and designers, known and unknown, are shown to mediate cultural values and create customer expectations.

The thesis also brings feminist theory and ideas of nationalism to bear on the Super Saloon of the 1930s where the professional domestic decorator’s work coexisted with that of the railway company designer. Dialogue between traditional and modern modes of interior decor was found to continue in the Mark 1 carriage of the early 1950s and in royal carriages. The public and private were also juxtaposed when new technologies and materials, found for example in the home, in commercial milk bars and in the cinema, were introduced into mobile seating and dining spaces. Object choice and passenger experience of compartment and open style carriage layouts showed that the latter became culturally associated with leisure and modernity. These findings affirm the possibilities created by transport interiors for an enriched understanding of culture through design.

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