Carnforth station is most celebrated as “Milford Junction”, the location for the film Brief Encounter, that memorable celebration of British emotional reticence, the best record of Celia Johnson’s exceptional talent, captured by David Lean’s unique visual control. It’s no accident that the film came to the public in 1945, at the end of a frightening war and the start of a scary peace.
In this cinematic adaptation of Noël Coward’s half-hour one-act stage play Still Life (1936), trains serve as a symbol of distance, change and urgency.
Lean needed a railway junction, so that trains could pass in the night and the characters could depart in different directions. It had to be sufficiently far from south-east England for wartime blackout restrictions to be lifted for night-filming.
Only the shots of moving trains were actually filmed at Carnforth (where it seems that all the trains are hauled by the same locomotive – LMS no 2429). The interior of the refreshment room and some of the platform scenes were shot at Denham Studios.
Of course, there was a refreshment room at Carnforth in the days of steam: it was particularly heavily used by troops in the Second World War. It’s now been lovingly recreated as a tribute to the film and as a memorable tourist experience by the Carnforth Station & Railway Trust Co Ltd.
If you visit the station nowadays it’s instantly recognisable, though the main line platforms have been cut back. The original clock, by Joyce of Whitchurch, has been reinstated, having been rescued from an antique dealer who, so I’m told, put the price up when an ingenuous friend of Carnforth station revealed its provenance.
Film lovers can have tea and buns – or a lunch worth waiting for – at the Brief Encounter Refreshment Room, linger at the award-winning Visitor Centre exhibition and, if they’re so minded, feel wistful in the subway.
Only the trains are unromantic: http://www.refreshmentroom.com.