The Romance of Train Travel
It is perhaps not least that I still believe in the romance of train travel, but when faced with a 4 1/2 hour train journey Up North to Huddersfield, I get very excited indeed!
You see, whilst a train may not be taking me off to some far and distant land for sun, sand and the other, it can provide a safe haven from the world outside and some respite to indulge in some of life’s little luxuries; time to put pen to paper, which I enjoy very much, especially over a coffee and a sticky bun. But finding the time to do so has become increasingly difficult. What with wedding suits for brides and grooms, separates and brightly coloured shirts and polos for the jet set and the occasional whistle and flute for city gents; there have not been enough hours in the day of late.
And once the tickets are booked, there is then the consideration of what one might wear for such a journey. Comfort and utility being a priority, of course, I have taken my lead from the golden age of train travel when clothes were a little easier to wear than today’s slim-cuts.
Given the amount of sitting one must do, my incredibly luxurious Fox flannels are perfect, not least because because flannel is very soft and comfortable. Being wool, they are both breathable and cosy, meaning they can be as warm as they are cool. Also, they are cut with a straight leg, as opposed my trademark drainpipe and with a looser seat. This provides a fit with more room at the thigh; perfect for sitting on a train for hours.
Now, because I knew I’d be typing, I decided against cufflinks as they tend to be cumbersome. Moreover, given the shirtings I favour, which traditionally are poplins and oxfords which are not very forgiving, I opted instead for one of our new made-to-measure long sleeve polos from Hubscher. The cotton pique is not only breathable but has more give than my other shirts. And as we will not be entertaining today, I thought we could go sans tie.
And while the weather today may not call for a jacket, I find that the pockets which a jacket affords you are of paramount importance when travelling. Where else would one carry one’s wallet, phone, lip balm, keys, sunglasses? So, we opted for one’s old faithfull summer blazer, which is cut from the recently resurrected Mirage cloth range from Harrisons of Edinburgh, albeit now under the W. Bill banner.
This ensemble Saffron Darby likes to refer to as my Cary Grant look; it’s not all compliments, but we’ll take them where we can get them! And tapping away on our new gold MacBook on the 09:30 to Leeds, with my decaf coffee and aquafaba cake (rustled up by none other than Saffron Darby herself), I am in my element!
Before you know it, we are in the land of looms, alchemists and some of the finest worsteds and woollens know to humanity; Huddersfield. And Huddersfield is home to our new friends from Huddersfield Fine Worsteds who were the consummate hosts and pulled out all the stops for my visit, for which I am most grateful.
We started at the beginning, in the weaving shed, as it is know, seeing their yarns being fed into the looms; the majority of their cloths are woven here with some seasonal collections coming from Italy, such as their iridescent ’Bamboo’ jacketing (yes, actually made from bamboo fibre) and also India for some of their cottons and seersuckers (India were one of the first producers of cotton in the world, and is where our Brown in Town handkerchiefs are made).
Next we headed to their warehouse where all order for the UK and Europe are fulfilled. While you have to appreciate the skill and workmanship that goes into weaving these fine cloths, it is in the warehouse that I get most excited. For it is here that you see the cloths as pieces (approx. 60m lengths) rolled-up and on the shelf and I can see the colours and the patterns and start to imagine them as garments. Once a cloth is earmarked as being desirable, you are then offered the bunch or cards (folders) of the respective cloths – though not to take with you then and there, much to my chagrin! One must wait one’s turn and join the queue to ensure that each bunch is accounted for.
I was also fortunate enough to be shown around the company’s hallowed archive, which, documented in dusty tomes provides a full history of their designs and patterns over the years; the oldest I bore witness to dated back to 1898. But the archive which impressed me the most, was the one which has inspired possibly the greatest sartorial anglophile of recent times; Ralph Lauren. I think he has done more than most to champion British sartorial style, and is regularly photographed for the RL campaigns in Savile Row suits and cloths.
The final part of the puzzle came on day two of our trip, but not before we had sought refreshment and quite possibly the best “ruby” I have ever had the pleasures of eating, not to mention a few ice cold libations – I’m not a lager man, but if you know of a curry house that serves anything other than Cobra or Kingfisher, I’d like to know about it!
The final piece of the puzzle of cloth production took us to W.T Johnson. They are a family owned cloth finishing business, whom, some might argue, are the best in the business. Given time honoured traditions, not to mention the secrecy surrounding some of the processes, finishing is best described as alchemy. These custodians of the dark arts of creating, improving and galvanising the finish of every piece of fine cloth that you are likely every to have worn. The level of detail, the passion and the graft that is involved in taking an entire piece of cloth from a mill and preparing, nay, nurturing it until it is fully fledged and ready to take flight, is remarkable. While I can take little away, what I can inform of you of is that there are two basic things required to ‘finish’ a piece of cloth; water and steam. The former is drawn from Johnson’s own bore hole and, it is suggested, it is the water which is key to transforming a cloth into something that is more than just fit for purpose, but that will last a lifetime.
And while I may now be wearing full regalia; a two piece linen/wool, Oxford shirt inc. tie and cufflinks, I am no less comfortable tapping away on these shiny black keys. And I may not be as fresh as I was yesterday morning, but I am not less happy with my lot; inspired, informed and educated. And I may not have been my turn to entertain today, but I took no less care in my attire for the journey home.