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Crepescular digressions

Not a railway building. But this stunning woodcut by Eric Ravilious, one of a set of illustrations for an edition of Gilbert White's Natural History of Selbourne published in 1938, suggested the idea of an eventide ambience – although Ravilious seems to have intended to depict a stormy day, with rainbow.
Eric Ravilious (1903–1942) was a close contemporary of Rowland Emett (1906–1990) but sadly went missing in action over the North Atlantic while serving with an RAF search-and-rescue squadron during the Second World War.

While awaiting the commencement of track-laying, sketches of the Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway's station buildings have been commissioned (see below). These are inspired by some of Eric Ravilious's woodcuts, adapted to suggest a crepescular ('dim' or 'indistinct') time of day. More prosaically, it is dusk, coming after twilight when the light comes from the sky after the sun has gone below the horizon. T.S. Eliot, in The Waste Land, deemed it 'the violet hour' while a Gothick novelist might deem it 'darkrise'. But, stricto sensu, darkling skies are before 'owl light'.

Others (well, Ian at least) have likened it to 'darkness creeping in like a cautious cat come home for dinner.' Indeed.

This is not an arbitrary whim, as most times the Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway rolling stock is actually rolling is quite late in the evening and a great many of the vehicles have some sort of lights.

crepescular depictions

Copies of crepescular paintings have made some artists famous.

    '1. When Van Gogh was in London he would stop and look at this view painted by James Whistler on his way home, standing for a while and drawing it for pleasure.

    '2. Vincent bought this print of an Evening on the Thames by Gustave Doré after he left Britain. The nocturnal mood it captures is evident in Van Gogh's Starry Night.

    '3. It is clear when seen together that Vincent was heavily influenced by both Whistler and Doré. You can detect similarities across all three in terms of composition, light effects on the water, subject, and time of day.'

    Source: Will Gompertz reviews Van Gogh and Britain at Tate Britain in London

The management of The Alex are trying to arrange to loan Van Gogh's painting Starry Night at St Torpid's Bay and for postcards of this hitherto-obscure painting to be available at their gallery and the Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway gift shop. Unlike the more famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, this depiction of St Torpid's Bay is by a younger and distant female relative,
Winnie Van Gogh.

Jean-François Millet got there before Whistler – Starry Night (1855–67).

John Piper painted an almost crepescular view of Castle Howard, Yorkshire.

And this is Piper's
Starry Night homage, depicting Horton tower in Dorset .

Trevor Felcey has done a number of paintings with moonlight and stars.
This is
Starshine, Moonshine, Earthshine from 2006–7.

noctilucent clouds

In the hour or two after sunset (or before sunrise) occasionally bright clouds will appear during the summer. These are known as noctilucent clouds. These are the highest type of cloud formations as they only form about 50 miles high when microscopic ice crystals are created at temperatures below -120C.

As noctilucent clouds appear especially dramatic when seen over water then the backdrops for Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway's backdrops may well feature an impression of this meteorological phenomena.

Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway's
crepescular backgrounds

Sketches inspired by Eric Ravilious for (top to bottom):

  • Eaton St Torpid station
  • Whittlecreek station
  • Lavender Halt
  • Jackdaw Works
Not reproduced to the same scale.

The sketch of Eaton St Torpid is a bit of a cheat – it is based on the station at Burnham Market, not at Heacham (which is the inspiration for Eaton St Torpid) simply because an elevation drawing of Burnham Market was to hand while no suitable photograph of Heacham could be found. While Burham Market was the principal intermediate station on the West Norfolk Junction Railway, and Heacham was the western terminus, the building at Heacham was constructed prior to the West Norfolk Junction Railway as part of the Lynn and Hunstanton Railway. So this substitution is certain to irk the purists.

To provide temporary backdrops to the current track arrangement these sketches, when finalised, will be printed out to suggest 1:20 scale buildings, and augmented with working lamps on the lamp posts and behind the windows of the booking offices and waiting rooms. The management have yet to determine whether smoke-and-mirrors can be used to create the illusion of a ghostly station master haunting the platform.

    Update: When the management finally got round to working out how big these sketches would need to be printed out to emulate 1:20 scale they were more than a little suprised. The shortest, Lavender Halt, would be about five feet long while the longest, Eaton St Torpid, would take up eleven feet. 'Test prints' about 250 mm long are needed. But these are awaiting management approval.

There's nothing new in this world

Bassett-Lowke's 'crepescular' catalogue cover from 1904–5.

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Images and text copyright Bob Trubshaw 2018–2021