By Clyde Pennington, RST Archivist
All who have ever been involved with the GCR Rolling Stock Trust (RST) have their own stories to tell as to how and why they got involved but the two common themes are heritage history and the lure of the original enterprising Great Central Railway. This year we celebrate 21 years as a charitable trust, dedicated to save and restore, then operate and educate the public on the largest privately owned fleet of MS&LR/GCR built railway carriages. I personally reached a major milestone in March of 80 and so, as I look back, as you are wont to do at my age, both our lives have been intertwined for some 25 years.
Along the way there have been disappointments but also a good sprinkling of success, but both have changed and matured as life around us has changed in the new digital age. Since formation, the Trust has had much to celebrate, as well as to commiserate.
Our story really began in July 1997 with Kim Brooker’s Sale of Stock auction, when Lot No. FE44V/5067 – a GCR 3rd class Open Tourist Saloon, built in 1910 at the then newly commissioned works at Dukinfield as No.228 – to become known colloquially as a ‘Barnum’, and latterly after BR service, an engineer’s van and then 3-stove greenhouse at Hull Docks still on own wheels – failed to gain a bid even at £200 and was withdrawn, destined to be scrapped. Subsequently, it was offered and purchased by our present Chairman Richard Tilden Smith (RTS) in October of that year for just £350 and brought to the fledgling Heritage Centre at Ruddington.
The Early Days
A restoration project team was formed under Director Peter Wilson and Manager Arthur Barber, courtesy of the site management – Great Central Railway (Nottingham) Ltd. And after an initial survey, Peter Wilson, a much talented and experienced craftsman in wood and metal set the pace, aided by Tony Goodacre and other GCR(N) colleagues, to replace the original wooden flooring, ravaged by its usage in a tomato-growing enterprise while ‘Retired’ in Hull Docks. Peter’s team employed a wide range of skills and learnt much in this, but mainly it was just hard graft. His astonishing find of a 15-ton treasure trove of ex-Players Bonded Warehouse teak doors, has over the years been repurposed with his home-produced cutting, routing, and shaping tools to form the replacement cladding panels fundamental for the Edwardian era ‘Barnum’ carriage rebuild.
Peter and his team undertook much of the early work, assisted by other interested GCR(N) members and associates. Around 1998/9 the team was reinforced by a further group from Nottingham Industrial Heritage Association (NIHA), who under David Ablitt had been involved in the campaign to save the Nottingham Low Level Station from demolition and were looking for a permanent home for vintage signalling equipment and rail panels in their care.
This was the start of my personal journey as I and several NIHA friends were persuaded to add our acquired skills to the pot, so to speak.
Under GCR Rolling Stock Trust
1st January 2000 – ‘Barnum’ No.228 was donated to GCR-RST by owner RTS. Then 18th January 2000 – A separate group was officially formed, as a ‘Private Company Limited by Guarantee’, transformed on 28th August 2000 into a stand-alone Charitable Trust, and named ‘GCR Rolling Stock Trust’ (GCR-RST), specifically to rescue, research, manage and hopefully restore to operational condition, the rare or unique vintage GCR stock now located on the Ruddington site.
The Trust gradually located GCR originals and built up a wholly GCR fleet of 9 carriages over the next few years, built between 1888 and 1911, including one ‘Barnum’ saloon loaned by the National Rail Museum (but now returned) – all dilapidated and in need of major refurbishment. No.228 was the first of these, the team-dream being to create a highly impressive 4 coach Edwardian Express set.
Over the following 21 years there have been many changes in our ranks, unfortunately far too numerous to identify individually in this short summary. The workplace environment has also changed considerably with modern health and safety regulations to the fore. We have lost close friends and team mates too and I still miss the great times and banter we had together slogging away to dismantle and de-rust some ancient artifact.
As a charitable trust, we are required to form a team of Trustees to formulate and oversee the aims of our Trust. In addition, we have maintained our own small in-house group of volunteers. They have brought a range of engineering, managerial as well as material expertise, including bringing additional and varied skills, such as furniture restoration and upholstery, CAD drawings and the compilation of an impressive records archived.
We have educated fellow enthusiasts and kept the public and other interested organisations informed both individually and through presentations, publications and latterly internet blogs, etc.
Just as important, we have a large group of support members, who contribute ideas and/or make regular financially and material donations and legacies, enabling us to refine, develop and pursue our aims with continuing success. Others, from outside our ranks, have and continue to make time and material contributions without seeking reward.
In 2005, having taken up residence with Barnum No.228 inside Building No.1 ahead of the completion of the proposed carriage restoration facility Building No.4, which the Trust had part funded, the team effort was switched from the ‘Barnum’ restoration to a full rebuild of MS&LR No.946 on its original chassis, with two very experienced senior ex-carriage works and operations managers, later RST Trustees, Tony Keeble -its rescuer, and Pat Sumner overseeing the work.
All the restoration work on our ancient six-wheeler No.946 culminated in professional painting into the first short-lived GCR colour livery adopted to celebrate the opening of the GCR London Extension in 1899.
In 2015, No.946 was dedicated, at Ruddington, to those members of The Royal Scots Regiment horrifically killed or maimed in the 1915 rail disaster on the Scottish border at Quintinshill; and again in a September 2017 Gala it was dedicated to the former GCR employees who fell in the Great War, this was before to its move to Nunckley Hill Rail Musuem where it is in public display to this day. There it will stay awhile until there is secure exhibition space available at Ruddington, or move to the intended Transport Museum at Leicester North.
In November 2018, it was dispatched by road to Leith, Scotland, where in an eve of Armistice centenary ceremony, the Trust joined the families and Regimental Association of the Battalion raised in the town in that fateful Spring of 1915. Then, overnight the vehicle was shipped to Sheffield and formed the backdrop on the Remembrance Day memorial parade, of those GCR employees fallen in WW1. An epic journey of tribute in three days.
With the significant arrival of Mike Lang and his experienced RVP colleagues in 2018, the lull in the restoration of ‘Barnum’ No.228 ceased. Work accelerated and will continue apace. Much work both internally and below the steel frames has been completed, including under a generous sponsorship arrangement, the heavy overhaul of its bogies at Burton-on-Trent by Nemesis Rail. Although these are now finished and awaiting despatch back to site, there is still other underframe work to complete as soon as we are allowed back in to Building no.No.1 before they can be reunited with the body and the jacks removed.
Today, the Trust is honoured and proud to announce that we have our very first Patron, a leading Member of The Royal Scots Regimental Association, Col. Edward Cowan OBE, proposed by his best man and our very good friend Col. Robert Watson, who led the homage to the Regimental losses in May 1915 without leaving mainland Britain.
Now there is talk of a new commemorative event this early autumn at the National Memorial Arboretum, where our memorial to the Royal Scots may become a part of the unveiling of a dedicated permanent memorial to The Royal Scots in WW2 conflicts in Europe and the Far East.
Recording of the GCR in a practical sense is a vital part of the Trust’s work. Unlike most former railway companies, the original main GCR archives in Marylebone, London was disastrously destroyed in the London blitz of WW2. Nevertheless, Trustee John Quick and the GCR Society have also built a formidable information bank on the past lives of the MS&LR and GCR stock, as have others outside our organisation such as the NRM and researcher Steve Banks, but many of the finer details by and large are lost.
Thus, Trustee Roger Penson and computer ace Keith Stimpson have been experimenting, recording, collecting and collating detailed research information on the intimate make-up of our GCR carriages along with restoration work time records.
My task as ‘Archivist’ is to record and make available to others as much of all this as is practical in digital format, including internal correspondence, photographic and pictorial evidence – General GCR history and product information for future reference/research/records and, whilst focusing on the Ruddington site and our northern rail section, gathering as much as possible on the day-to-day events/activities and correspondence shaping our Trust’s activities. This is a collaborative effort which is an invaluable current reference source, as well as my legacy to those who follow on.
Work Space Quandary
One of the biggest challenges throughout the 21 years has been the inadequacy of the workspace for dedicated wooden bodied carriage restoration. Unfortunately, due to site constraints, the Trust is still without its own dedicated workshop and display facilities at Ruddington. This has greatly increased the rate of deterioration amongst those 6 units forced to survive all weathers and vandalism attacks in the yard.
Almost as long as the Trust has been in being, there have been schemes – but never enough funds to make a real impact. We encouraged work on an infill Building No.4 at Ruddington. We also proposed a mini-carriage display hall and even a modest extension to Building No.1, to no avail. We do believe that with the help of a generous and dedicated carriage enthusiast, we are seeing the light – with the usability of Building No.4 and its rail connection to the yard getting close – and the prospects of a new modest carriage storage shed, No.8 on the cards.
Now to 2021 and a new start. Thanks to a new group at Ruddington led by Paul Chambers, with Mike Lang and George Holley, and technical advice from Peter Wilson, construction work is well underway on defining what is required to complete the structure of Building No.4 and connecting this workshop to the Heritage Centre yard sidings. The updating of the design of the Building No.4 to match premium demand, the variations required to meet Fire Regulations, ensure accessibility by 60ft length carriages and future public access is well underway and the final stages of the structural steel and foundations cleared for approval with Building Control consent.
So, the GCR Rolling Stock Trust is setting out in its 21st year with increasing optimism. There is plenty of work to do in fitting out the ‘Barnum’ No.228 plus completion of the brake system and testing of the MS&LR 6-wheeler – and at last the prospect of dedicated carriage restoration and maintenance covered space seems possible. Then we will look further at the general undercover storage of our ancient heritage stock, plus restoration of the unique ‘Barnum’ half-brake, the Clerestory 1st/3rd/lavatory brake and possibly up to three others.
I invite everyone with GCR heritage in the blood to help us with a donation, big or small, collectively it makes a very real difference – and for the able-bodied hobbyist to join us in the 1:1 scale rebuilds.
For further information either call in to say ”hello” or leave a message for Roger Penson on site, or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be delighted to hear from you.