A Special Saloon


I come from a railway family and as a child enjoyed privilege travel in Pullman cars on the east coast main line in the early 1960s.  I was impressed by the grandeur of these carriages dating from the 1920s and the refined service offered by the stewards. I exclaimed that I wanted to work on the Pullmans.  ‘Don’t be silly!’ replied my father ‘you’d be a lot better off in engineering.’

As railways changed I had no ambition to follow in the footsteps of my parents and grandfathers but retained a dream of restoring a fine old carriage.  Twenty years ago I offered to buy two NER carriage bodies from a Harrogate farmer but he refused to sell as his chickens would become homeless.  They eventually fell apart and recently I salvaged parts for the restoration of another coach.

In November 1992 I was reading Steam Railway magazine when I saw a clearance advert placed by the Rutland Railway Museum.  Among the items was a Great Eastern Railway special saloon made in 1889.  Maybe this was the one for me.  I viewed the coach, or in reality a shabby looking framework piled to the dipping roof with chairs and light fittings.  It had suffered.  Nevertheless I made a bid, spurred on by the fact that my family knew this carriage well.  It was based at Ipswich for use by the district engineer.  My grandfather was station master at Ipswich in the 1940s -50s and my father’s boss was the district engineer when he joined that department in the 1940s.

While waiting to see if my bid was acceptable I thought that it would be wise to learn a little about restoration.  I visited Michael Cope of the Vintage Carriage Trust who examined my photos, took a sharp intake of breath and said, ‘Well of course, with money and time, nothing is impossible.’  He gave me useful contacts for parts and expertise demonstrating the kind co-operation that I have enjoyed from many people on many railways. 

John Watling of the Great Eastern Railway Society was particularly helpful and thanks to his provision of original drawings I was able to replace the steel four pane Crittall window with the three pane design that it was built with.  John also provided me with a fascinating historical insight that is summarised here.

G E R saloon No. 14 was built to order G24 at Stratford works and completed in December 1889 for use by the chief engineer, John Wilson for inspection purposes.  As built it was 27’6” long mounted on a long wheel base (19’) four wheel under
frame.  Suburban stock at that time had 15’6” wheel bases for 27’ carriages.  It was varnished teak and was the first GER carriage to have electric light from new.  The observation end had large windows and guards type lookouts.  The main saloon had fixed couches either side and a table at the end with a flap to access the lavatory. 

In 1897 the body was extended by 4’6” to give an attendant’s compartment with handbrake, stove and sink and mounted on a six wheel under frame.  While at Stratford and used by the chief engineer it is likely that it covered the entire GER system during the course of a year. 

Around 1910, in common with Royal and other saloons steam heating was fitted.  In 1922 centre doors and corridor door were sealed and a four pane Crittall steel window was fitted to replace the three light arrangement with centre drop light, (to return to original seventy one years later.)  The saloon became 68 in the GE section and in 1925 was displaced by the conversion of GER royal saloon No. 5 (that still survives) and was sent to Ipswich for the district engineer’s use.  In 1947 it was renumbered 960903 and stationed at Norwich, having being replaced by a suburban brake third.  Inspection duties ceased when Norwich acquired an ex GNR invalid saloon that had been converted at Stratford for its’ new life.  This too survives.

No. 14, or should I say No. 960903, became mobile office accommodation for the LTS and GE electrification works.  Upon completion in 1960 it was transferred to the Sheffield area where it was used in connection with Woodhead tunnel inspection duties.  In 1973 it was sent to Doncaster for disposal, little remaining of the interior and the electric light replaced by Calor gas by BR.  Thanks to the incredible teamwork of John Watling of the GER Society and Sir William McAlpine this was one of several pre-grouping saloons saved from scrapping.  Its’ two replacements mentioned above were also among the number and I, in common with other carriage enthusiasts, am indebted to these two individuals for giving so many important carriages another chance.

Following purchase No. 14 spent time at Market Overton and Carnforth before being sold again to the Rutland Railway Museum.  No restoration was done during this period. 

In January I found that my bid was successful and I had four weeks to find a restoration site.  A retired farmer agreed to house it in a cow shed for £400 a year and on a cold February Saturday a low loader eased itself in to the shed and the coach was hauled off by a tractor.  Friends and relatives who witnessed the event questioned my sanity because it really did look a sight and I was getting a little nervous, not having tackled anything larger than 0 gauge.  However it was safely under cover and I set a target of Christmas to complete the external bodywork.  A joiner replaced areas of rot on bottom frame body timbers and a friend worked with me to make a new observation end, carefully following the GER drawings provided by John Watling.

A few planks were rotten on the roof.  They were replaced and a canvass bedded down on to Williamsons of Ripon special compound.  The doors sealed in 1922 were made to open again and locks, hinges and handles that had been acquired from carriage bodies in March, Cambridgeshire were fitted.  All old panelling was removed and saved to cut up for beading.  (One railway enthusiast visitor was most critical of this action, suggesting that no matter how split and rotten it was, it should be restored and put back on in the same place or at least offered to a carriage restorer that would use it as panelling!)  Any remaining beads were repaired and templates were made to allow the cutting and shaping of the old panels to make new beads.  Toughened glass was bedded on to butyl glazing strip and new beads made for a neat, waterproof job.

The roof had dipped with the weight of the torpedo vents and the removal of the partitions years ago.  Two half inch rods with threaded ends inserted high at partition level squeezed the sides parallel again and straightened the roof.  Panels and beads hid the nuts and the rods were concealed by partitions and door frame tops.  A few pieces of the original black walnut panelling remained.  From these I reproduced the remainder and fitted them between and above windows.  Below the windows I used lincrusta, not the original pattern but an appropriate style that is still available.  The attendant’s compartment was lined out in pine tongue and groove wood and painted yellow.

During restoration it was interesting to note that the extension forming the attendant’s compartment was not built to as high a quality as the original and was panelled in mahogany.  Maybe the varnished teak livery changed on this coach in 1897 to a paint finish although John Watling considers this unlikely.  I painted the coach GER crimson and Len Clarke gold lined it as the short lived 1919 – 1922 livery.

The underframe was shot blasted and painted, the coach cosmetically finished inside and out well in time for its’ first public appearance at the Eastern Union Railway 150 exhibition at Ipswich in 1996.  I still retain the programme for the centenary exhibition that my grandfather took during his spell at Ipswich.  It was lovely to be there with the coach and meet some old colleagues of ‘Pop’ some of whom had joined the railway through his good offices.  However I noticed that many of the carriages on display could only be viewed from the ground with no admittance to the interior.  I was happy to admit visitors, if only to show off my work!  My father was an excellent guide and told people about the history and his memories of No. 14.  After welcoming around 2000 people on board and seeing their reaction it was clear that I could not possibly retain No. 14 in Harrogate for private use.  I had considered it for an office.  It now had to go to a railway and be enjoyed by a wider public.

John Jolly at Mangapps farm was kind enough to look after it in the short term.  There were several expressions of interest and I chose my local line, the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway.  Contractors fitted vacuum brakes and a hand brake.  It arrived on the E&BASR just in time for the Bolton Abbey opening special on May 1st 1998.  It carried previous owner Sir William McAlpine from Embsay to the new station at Bolton Abbey.  There Sir William declared it open and the E&BASR expressed its’ appreciation to him and other donors for their generosity.  I ran evening trains serving strawberries and wine using the J27 from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) for the first time that summer.  Only able to offer 16 seats it barely broke even but the potential demonstrated that to make this coach fully accessible in traffic to the public it needed another carriage, but that story will wait for another month.

It has been very popular on the E&BASR, visited the NYMR for a gala and a filming contract and has been at the North Norfolk Railway (NNR) where it has been used for weddings, filming, Christmas trains and other specials.  The NYMR fitted steam heating and NNR repainted it, taking a weight off my mind and wallet.  Thank you!  Yes, No. 14 was the start of it all.  Now several coaches later I wonder where it will end?  There are still so many worthwhile carriages that require attention and not enough of us in the preservation movement sufficiently committed to tackle them with time and money.


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