"What was the LMS?" The literal answer, so we are told, is that it was, in its time (1923-47), the largest Joint Stock Corporation operating a railway anywhere in the world. But this answer merely begs the question: what really was the LMS?
It was a Stanier "Duchess" on a long and heavy train storming unassisted up Beattock or Shap, its rhythmic four cylinder exhaust proclaiming to the world that here and nowhere else was the epitome of British steam locomotive design. It was an ex-Midland Class 3F 0-6-0 panting up Lickey with that syncopated "chuff, CHUFF, chuff, chuff" as if it could hardly pull itself, let alone the train - which it left mostly to the quite unique ten-coupled banker "Big Emma" at the rear, the sound of whose exhaust seemed mostly to express sheer relief at having found its way round those incredibly tortuous steam passages! It was one of those grotesquely attractive large boilered ex-Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway 0-8-0s making its way ponderously towards Summit Tunnel from the Yorkshire side with a loaded coal train so long that it beggared the imagination. It was a standard gauge milk tank carried on narrow gauge transporter wagons of the long-gone Leek and Manifold Railway. It was adhesion working on the 1:14 of the Cromford & High Peak. It was Compounds and Class 5s thrashing their inexorable way up to Blea Moor or Peak Forest summits. It was an elderly ex-LNWR 4-4-0 reviving memories of departed glory as it sprinted along the North Wales Coast with a Llandudno local. It was a "Lanky" 0-6-0 operating in mid Wales. It was an elderly Highland "Ben" piloting a brand new Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 over Britain's highest main line summit at Druimuachdar. It was the "Sou-West" having to share a bed with the "Caley" in Scotland!
"What was the LMS?" It was all these things and many more. Basically, however, it was a veneer of standardised parts and practices added, after 1922, to a variety of different patterns already so well incised during most of the previous century that they could never wholly be eliminated. It was quite often a "shotgun" marriage (decreed by Parliament) of often incompatible partners and was sometimes called, quite wrongly "Greater Derby" in reference to some of its Midland-style cosmetic trimmings. But withal, it was a very great railway. By the supreme irony of appointing a Swindon man from the contemporary Great Western Railway, it took up locomotive design where the GWR had called "finis" and so improved the breed that Swindon (and the rest of the country for that matter) eventually had to take note! It made what were conceivably the best general service passenger carriages in the country (and, let it not be denied, some of the worst!) and fed their occupants with probably the best "meals on wheels" to be found in the British Isles. Its associated hotels laid the foundations of the modern hotel trade (albeit that the former LMS establishments are all now in private hands) and despite its relatively short 25 year lifespan, it contributed more to the amalgamated British Railways system in 1948 than did any other single British company.
Long before the LMS came into existence in 1923, its larger constituents had styled themselves with fine conceit by such titles as "Premier Line", "Best Way", "Royal Route" and so on. To all of these the LMS fell heir and, it is fair to add, probably justified most of them.
"What was the LMS?". The question cannot be answered simply, but for more than 54 years the LMS Society has been trying to find some of the answers out of the many hundreds which could legitimately be given. So complex is the subject that the life of the Society has now extended far longer than that of the company which inspired its foundation (!) - and the effort continues.