Short History of the GCR Rolling Stock Trust – 2000 to 2020

While our short history began in the late 1990s, it was of course conditioned by the original manufacture a century before, in the later Victorian and Edwardian eras, and the story really then begins in the late 1950s with a post war desire to shed the austerity years, using the opportunity to modernise and replace the old and worn out with modern shiny examples for the future.

Focusing in on the nation’s railways, we were closing old, supposedly uneconomic routes and outdated and surplus equipment, to create a future fast and efficient rail infrastructure. These transitions meant the old stock was scrapped with just a small handful of engines, carriages and wagons surviving by being adapted for a multiplicity of alternative usages.

However, there was always a core of loyal supporters of the railway from which emerged a nucleus of dedicated enthusiasts who loved our past heritage. Many people missed the nostalgia, the drama, the sounds and smell of the steam era and so a dream was born into a movement.

Like-minded enthusiasts started buying up the few remaining rare examples, this was so also for GCR and its predecessor MS&LR, rolling stock. They needed somewhere to display and run them. Ideas settled on a section of former Great Central route in the East Midlands and a major preservation project emerged. Later a similar but separate group bought up sections from Loughborough to Ruddington plus a part of the former Defence establishment at Ruddington. That became the Nottingham Transport Heritage centre, owned by East Midlands Railway Trust and managed by Great Central (Nottingham) Limited. Their main-stream core businesses were of revenue earning stock and regular Gypsum trains to East Leake works. As these did not easily embrace the fringe interest of preserving surviving former Great Central rolling stock, a dedicated Registered Charity was required to safeguard these rare, often unique, examples, and to raise the funds needed. It is a tribute to their design and build that they survived for so long, out in all weathers, with little protection.

GCRN Director Stuart Copson bought items, including a GCR Suburban no.799 and a Clerestory carriage body no.1663, which he subsequently donated in 1999. Another carriage – a Barnum no.228 was set to be scrapped but was saved by an offer of £380. Restoration work commenced right away. This was the start in 1998 of an expensive and very lengthy journey. The Trust, an independent entity, on 28th August 2000 was formed, dedicated to rescue now rare GCR stock.

Considerable restoration work was already under way when the Trust was established. A unique rebuilt Barnum brake (no.695) arrived on site from North Yorkshire Moors Railway on 18th December 1998 and was donated 1st January 2000, Two more Barnums surplus to needs at Loughborough, Barnum saloon no.664 was next and a third no.666, owned by the national collection. The Trust took on the lease of the NRM Barnum from Loughborough but, following unacceptable renewal terms, this was returned to NRM care in January 2020.

A vision plan emerged of creating two passenger train sets, an express set of tourist open Barnums and a local set consisting of two Suburban, two six wheel and a single Clerestory carriage.

By tremendous good fortune, Peter Wilson and his wooden body rebuild team had purchased a large stock of used teak. They tooled up and had started making replacement teak cladding, reinforcing the wooden structure, replacing roof boards, inserting new ceiling panels for no.228.

Then in 2002 we were donated from a Cambridgeshire farm a 6-wheel MS&LR 1888-built carriage no.946 in a very early stage of rebuild. With two eventual Trustees Tony Keeble and Pat Sumner in charge, the team effort was switched in 2007 to this vehicle’s full rebuild, having taken up residence inside Building no.1 awaiting the finish of a new infill workshop. No. 228 became the workshop for our 6-wheeler rebuild, finished in the original livery the GCR colour schemes of 1900, with body sides of French grey and dark oak.

Currently, no.946 is on display in the Rail Museum at Nunckley Hill until exhibition space becomes available at Ruddington. In two separate dedication ceremonies, in 2015 to The Royal Scots Regiment killed or injured at Quintinshill in the fateful May 1915; and in 2017 to those of the Great Central Railway employees who fell in the Great War. In November 2018, no.946 was despatched by road to Leith where, in an eve of Armistice ceremony, the Trust joined the families and The Royal Scots Regimental Association. Overnight the vehicle was then shipped to Sheffield and the GCR war memorial for Remembrance Day. It also starred in a 2015 documentary on the Quintinshill disaster narrated by Neil Oliver. A royal seal of approved occurred when inspected by HRH Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester last July.

With the arrival of Mike Lang and his experienced RVP colleagues, restoration of Barnum no.228 recommenced and continues apace. Much work has been undertaken below the steel frames, including the removing the bogies for heavy overhaul by Nemesis Rail, under a generous sponsorship arrangement.

Current stock owned by the Trust is all of passenger-carrying vehicles, 8 in total.

Having undertaken their rescue, the funds and the skills available for the restoration objectives just cannot be realised without external help. The unique status Clerestory body no.1663, and the Barnum saloon/brake no.695, together with our second Barnum saloon no.664, are our prime candidates for on-site future rebuilds. We continue to seek partnership deals for the remaining stock, additional internal help, and a dedicated workshop with storage facilities.

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