by Phil Marsh

The Omlette Express tours the far flung reaches of the London & South Western Railway a hundred years ago

Published: 7th July 2015

The true story of the World War One ‘West Country Poultry Flyer’

One hundred years ago a special train embarked on a grand tour of England’s south-western counties - carrying chickens. This story has its origin in 1910 when the initial chicken demonstration train, organised by the National Poultry Organisation Society (NPOS) ran in South Wales. The organisers deemed the experiment successful and the train ran again in April 1913 this time to North Wales.

Nearly a year into World War One, a combined effort by the Agricultural Organisation Society, the Development Commission and The Board of Agriculture resulted in the ‘The South Western Counties Egg and Poultry Demonstration Train’. This was a train using a pair of converted freight wagons and a staff dining car which went on a three week tour of Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

After some official pictures were taken, the train left London’s Waterloo station on July 6 for Downton where the first poultry exhibition and lectures were to take place the following day.


One of the freight vans was internally altered to provide a lecture theatre where eggsperts informed visitors to the train about poultry farming methods. These lectures were supported by several on-train eggsibitions of livestock and associated equipment. One prime display showed how eggs could be packed in wire crates capable of holding up to 60 trays of eggs each. The bulk egg-carrier was accompanied with an egg-box display provided by the Dairy Outfit Company and an ‘Astlet egg-carrier.

Chicken or the egg lecture?

Perhaps the Hearson Foster-Mother and incubator was the exhibit to wow the visitors or perhaps it was the Hearson Crammer which attracted everyone’s attention. Other exhibits were an Uckfield scratching shed and a Norwich automatic feeder and exerciser was also on show. Leeds University mounted a display detailing the development of a chicken while inside an egg and various types of brooding machines.

Even a century ago incubators had been developed and these were on show as part of a modern chicken house. The former freight van’s walls were adorned with chicken charts and diagrams designed with the aim to educate and inform visitors to the train.

The second wagon contained some fattening coups containing live chickens, who no doubt provided the eggs for the comprehensive egg exhibition. This demonstrated an egg-barometer and various trap nests. One of the participants of the 1910 train, the Pembrokshire based Framlingham Co-op and and Egg Society provided these displays. The darkened lecture theatre was used to unveil the mysteries of and to show different types of eggs, explained by an eggspert, Mr Verney Carter assisted by Miss Connell who was listed as a poultry instructress to the East Suffolk County Council.

Eggs to Eggesford

The train called at Evercreech Junction on July 9th, the following day at Highbridge and on July 12th at Yeovil. The following day saw the train at Crewkerne and Axminster and on July 14th it called at Sidmouth Junction and Broad Clyst. It was then routed towards Barnstaple calling at Eggesford on July 17th then turning south and west via Yeoford to Marazion in Cornwall on July 22nd. On the way back to London, it called at Kingsbridge, Totnes and Moretonhampstead.

No reason was given 100 years ago as to why this train ran in wartime but it can be assumed that one aim was to educate the public about how to maximise domestic food production at a time when hundreds of thousands of men were away fighting in France.

The results of the excursion are not recorded but presumably there were many more eggsperts after the train operated and whether the train was nicknamed the Clickety-Cluck Express is not known!

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