Friday Fictioneers – Railway Time

Photo Prompt © Kent Bonham

The station clock stood at 8:02 and its other minute hand at 8:16. The Dean’s train for London would arrive in thirteen minutes, or had already left a minute ago, depending on which time you accepted. He wiped his brow with a handkerchief, for the day was warm and he had hurried.

The great Cathedral bell had just boomed out the hour across the city – God’s time, marked by the stately transit of the sun across the sky. Sadly, the 9:15 train ran on Bristol and Exeter Railway time, transmitted down the galvanic wires from the Greenwich observatory.


Historical note: Until the advent of the railways, travel was a sedate affair. The fact that time in Exeter was 14 minutes later than London didn’t matter when it could take days to travel between the two cities by coach and horses. There were distinct time zones across the country. But this made railway timetabling very difficult and even dangerous with collisions because guards were using different times. In 1840 the Great Western Railway was the first company in the UK to standardise all its services on Greenwich Mean Time. By 1848 all railways used London time, and by 1855 most towns and cities had adopted the convention. Some towns held out. Exeter took its time from the Cathedral clock and the Dean refused to reset it to “railway time”. The station clock had two minute hands, one showing local time and the other one, railway time. In 1880, an act of Parliament imposed a uniform time on the whole of the UK.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on plot.


60 thoughts on “Friday Fictioneers – Railway Time

  1. Excellent piece. As Patrick O’Brian wrote, “But from what you tell me I see that for your countrymen Greenwich rather than Jerusalem is the navel of the universe – lo, Greenwich, where many a shrew is in, ha, ha!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am intrigued by time, and really enjoyed reading this.
    I have been thinking about time more deeply recently after my dog passed away a few weeks ago. We got him as a pup when out daughter was about 8 months old and crawling. They were around the same stage of development at the time. In the time it took him to become a senior dog and pass away, our daughter turned 11 and starts high school next year. I have described this as them each operating on separate clocks. How else do you explain it, especially when you’re heart is aching?!!
    xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting note added to your tale here. I’m reminded of what we say to our grandchildren when we must leave to catch the commuter rail home: “Trains wait for no one!”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great story! The historical background is really interesting, too; I find it so fascinating that the time was different in London, compared to Exeter, especially as I commute via train to Exeter each day for uni! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not sure whether the Dean’s train had already arrived or not. And which was the true time? God’s or the station’s or Greenwich’s.
    On our Northern Line we can usually set our clocks by the trains. Really good timekeeping up in the north west.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Really cool story, Neil. Gives some insight into the time standards. My guess is, if God is a Britisher (because He sounds like one in the movies), Big Ben must be His clock. 😀

    Super job, Neil!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Must have been truly confusing for people during this crossover period, switching from local to Greenwich meantime. We take it all for granted these days, don’t we? Lovely evocation of a time long gone, Neil

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Who controls time controls the world. You should have been there for the row they had about where the international meridian was going to be for standardising time measurements around the world

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This was a very interesting Neil read. Over here there is talk of making two (or more) time zones in India, i wonder how that will impact the train schedules. Chaotic no doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I can’t believe I never knew that. A great story which informed and educated me as much as it entertained.

    For another charming story about an horological mixup, you could do worse than track down My Outstretched Arms by Half Man Half Biscuit on YouTube.

    Liked by 1 person

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