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The Edinburgh Balmoral

The hotel and railway enjoyed a golden age which was to last until the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1922 the North British Railway Company became part of the London and North eastern Railway Company and the menus show a stylish modern self-confidence. The hotel bottled and blended its own whisky, wine and port. "It was a glittering place", says Jackie Monteith who started as apprentice chef in 1938 at the age of 14. But he returned to a subtly different place after the Second World War. From 1947 the railways were nationalised, the hotel staff became members of the National Union of Railwaymen and the promise of travel was opened to a winder public. The first transatlantic flights landed at Prestwich in 1946, Edinburgh airport opened a new runway in 1970 and as the other side of the world came closer to the city Jackie Monteith remembers a subtle reaction in the hotel kitchen: pineapple replaced peas beside the baked ham.

The Queen Mother: Liked plain roast lamb for lumch
The Queen Mother: Liked plain roast lamb for lunch

But the railway connection continued - until the 1980s the kitchens of the hotel were still baking bread and butchering meat for the dining cars below - and ironically even lorry loads by road had to be delivered via Waverley. The grand old British Transport Hotels were linked with a bond of camaraderie which tied places as different as Turnberry, Leeds and London and still survives their separation from British Rail. Jack Maguire, general manager of the North British from 1979 to 1983, guided the hotel from BTH to its first non-railway owner. Now retired he still meets old friends at the BTH Members Club which bears the motto: "Times change and we with time, but not in ways of friendship". While praising the excellence of BTH training and service Maguire recalls the disadvantage of a central ownership which could never afford to maintain its property. The North British was a very faded "grand old lady" when British Rail sold it in 1983. An era had ended but for the first time in years there was hope of restoring the building to its original splendour. With some differences. A swimming pool now occupies the second basement where guests once arrived at the station entrance. Direct communication to Waverley has been sealed off. As Jack Maguire puts it with beautiful simplicity: "The umbilical chord has been cut".

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