The collection of sumptuous royal trains at the National Railway Museum is just the way to get in the mood for next weekend’s wedding. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.

MOST of us will never get nearer to the lifestyle that goes with royalty than watching next week’s wedding on the television.

But if you do want a close-up view of the trappings that go with the regal life, you could do worse than visit the National Railway Museum (NRM).

Government cutbacks may have forced the NRM to pull the plug on its plans for a £21 million revamp of the Great Hall, but it remains one of the world’s great museums. Nowhere is that more obvious than in its collection of royal trains – the largest and finest anywhere in the world.

Included among the exhibits in the museum’s Palaces On Wheels collection is the 1842 carriage known as Queen Adelaide’s saloon. The queen – the widow of King William IV – had become, in 1840, the first monarch to travel by train. At the time of her tour, says museum spokesperson Catherine Farrell, the railways were only just beginning to snake across the country, and this was “still a mode of transport so revolutionary it was heralded as the ‘magician’s road’.”

Queen Adelaide may have been the first royal rail passenger, but she was far from the last. Queen Victoria was famously resistant to change and to new ways. But on June 13, 1842 – just a couple of years after her aunt Queen Adelaide’s journey – she was persuaded to try travelling by train herself.

She made a short journey from Windsor to Buckingham Palace – and was so entranced by the experience that she wrote, in a letter to her uncle, King Leopold, of Belgium: “We arrived here yesterday morn having come here by the rail-road from Windsor, in half an hour free from dust and crowd, & heat and I am quite charmed by it.”

The royal train was here to stay. Between 1842 and 1977, 28 royal trains were built. The NRM has a good selection in its Palaces On Wheels exhibition: among them that Queen Adelaide saloon already mentioned; Queen Victoria’s saloon from 1869; King Edward VII’s royal carriage from 1902; and the wartime saloon built for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

All the royal trains are on permanent display. But next weekend, to celebrate the royal wedding, the NRM will be hosting special storytelling sessions and theatrical performances based on the royal carriages, including Quick, The Queen Is Coming, based on Queen Victoria’s visit to York, and Royalty On Rails, the story of royal travel as seen through the eyes of a guard or maid assigned to the royal train during the second world war.

“For fans of the royal family the National Railway Museum is a must-visit destination,” said Russell Hollowood, the museum’s associate curator of railways.

“For many, Queen Victoria’s saloon with its glorious blue and gold décor is the crowning glory, but you can also find out how ordinary working people kept the royal trains running through some of the smaller items in the collection. The railways used to be the biggest employer in the UK so it’s interesting to think it was perhaps our great grandads that made the heyday of royal train travel possible.”