Welcome to the GCR Rolling Stock Trust’s Dedicated Research Page

Our research comes into three sectors – historical records of plans, technical descriptions and anecdotes; evidence from common usage of the period; forensic examination of each vehicle for any lingering samples from previous stock utilisation.  These are the prime factors in preparing, planning and final finishing for authentic rebuilding, restoring or returning heritage or historical artefacts for public viewing and its claims to represent the originality of that work.  Over the last 20 years our team has been increasingly refining data, materials and processes that have captured the minds of the GCR Rolling Stock Trust and the determination to get as close to the pre-1910 ex-works state of the fleet of handsome and increasingly rare railway carriages of the Great Central Railway.

An essential role of this information base is to share discoveries in the expectation that it will reveal or confirm.  This resume is assembled by RST Trustee Roger Penson – and his team of John Quick, Keith Stimpson, Andrew Coalwood and archivist Clyde Pennington who search, find and measure, clean, photograph and record, so that we have a steadily enlarging database of essential information from which to draw.

Here’s Roger’s cover of the investigation into the three distinct eras of carriage build – stating in the late 1880s.

No. 946 ~ 6-wheel 50 seat passenger vehicle 

Craft-built in 1888, to an 1874 design, some 500 were constructed over a period of about 20 years. Despite so many built, and used for both suburban and long-distance travel, very few survived after their passenger service, and there are little or no original drawings or information available from the Public Records or NRM sources.  Restoration, therefore, has required looking in some strange places.

Stripped out interior still revealed vital clues on finishing materials – formerly our Hunters’ lodge 6-wheeler

Gas-lit, and with deep-buttoned seating replacing Spartan wooden benches for the longer journeys, these compartments were more than comfortable for third-class passengers. 

946 interior as found

The few that survived bore little interior evidence – having been, on decommission, firstly Camping Coaches (946 believed to be numbered C15 in this guise) and subsequently again stripped out for employ as a railway engineering works store of boiler tubes.

As physical evidence of interior designs began to be collated by the railway companies in the 1930s, we only found out – by happen-stance – the interior we have re-created.  Near the end of their working life, a passenger in the 1920s – who clearly liked recording details, described the seating fabric as ‘small, red & black patterned cloth’ (probably very grubby by then!).  He also ‘counted’ the buttons, claiming 306 per compartment.  Sadly, whilst he would have got the colour right, he got the numbers wrong!  He mistook the button pattern – there are actually 270per compartment – making 1,350 per carriage!  Such are the joys of restoration!

Interior of the 6-wheeler, newly fully upholstered compartment being fitted out on the 1888-built 6-wheeler

Scratches and holes ~  

A craft-built (rather than mass-produced – i.e. sections were cut and fitted in stages, rather than mass cut and assembled) process was revealed because no two compartments were exactly the same size – (2 -3 mm differences). As 946 was merely a shell, how did we know?  This is where marks left on floor, ceiling and walls came in.  This is how we designed the new seating, with the help of a late 1880’s City & Guilds Institute instruction book for the manufacture of seating in (horse-drawn and railway) carriages.

946 lighting completed in LED form

Victorian household furniture seating was built on webbing, coil springs, hessian and horsehair. (There were – reportedly – more horses than people then, and they all needed haircuts!). Railway carriage manufacturers did likewise, except they knew vehicles like 946 would get ‘more hammer’ than your average comfy chair.  So, Horsehair was fitted to boards, with the springs underneath, nailed in place. We have largely followed that practice, except that modern regulations require fire-retardant foam.

946 ~ Wood wheel inserts ~ 

Steel wheels on iron rails did not make for a comfortable journey.  This was before anything better than basic (horse and) cart wheel springs were available.  Rail track (in the 1840s) could not be laid so smoothly as we can today.

Leaf springs were of a simple metal ‘recipe’ and hence the rolling racket – over increasingly longer journeys (on a developing rail system) was ‘getting too much’. Wheel wear was also a concern.

Richard Mansell, the then Carriage and Wagon Superintendent of the South Eastern Railway, invented a wheel with a steel rim, housing a teak ‘centre’, based on the steel axle.  Teak was chosen as one of the most weather-resistant of woods, with the grain acting like solid ‘spokes’.  They were usually bituminised behind the wheel, and achieved quieter running, whilst simultaneously reducing casting faults (danger to traffic) in solid metals of the time.

946 Mansell wheel sets

We learned it the hard way. Hours were spent removing the old bitumen, to ensure there were no visible rot or cracks.  Our volunteer went underneath very pale, andcame out very dark! (about 3 months later and that was only on four wheels of the six!).  Improved understanding about mineral mixtures for better metal, plus greater control over casting techniques, had led to their demise.   

Food (and other comforts) on the early railways ~ 

Of course, the first railways were not built to carry people.  ‘People! ..Carry them?..They can walk!’  But it wasn’t long before ‘enlightened’(!!) employers realised that a worker who walked 2 or 3 miles to work on a morning was not as productive as one who rode the goods train.  Besides, people actually paid more than goods, and they were also self-loading! 

So, as journeys got longer, comfort stops became a problem. You either had to take your own receptacle (and hope to be discreet), or you jumped from the train at any convenient and hoped it would still be there when you’d done!  It didn’t always work. Train companies began to see the problem, and it didn’t include putting toilets in!  This was because the Corridor stock idea had not arrived.  What did arrive was longer (10 minute) halts at specific stations, to allow for a relaxedcomfort’ break. Passengers could see where to expect one from the published timetable.  ‘For this relief, much thanks’ – Shakespeare.

 It didn’t take long (with the advent of the Telegraph system) for companies to think ‘material out also means material in’.  That is, providing food on the journey. Again, pre-corridor expresses, how was this to be done?  The answer was – provide a menu at the boarding station.  Get the passengers to decide what and when (approx.) to eat, and telegraph an appropriate station (where there were refreshment rooms and toilets).  Pay beforehand and a porter would shout your name and deliver your ‘hamper’ to your compartment.

 Naturally, there were 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-class choices, (2nd-class disappeared from Midland Railway Lines mid 1880s – others followed soon after).So, hot and cold food has had a long history.  Buffet and Dining cars, pioneered on the MS&L appeared after bogies enabled longer carriages with corridors, in the 1890s, and the familiar cry of ‘One meat two veg. – Mr. Smith!!’ disappeared forever.

Back to W.C.s again ~ 

1906Gorton-built 1st/3rdcompartment/brake – Our example no.1663

The house building boom of the 1890s was partly based on many more suburban rail lines, enabling people to live outside of towns & cities. (The same thing happened in the 1920s – John Betjeman called the area opened up by the newly-built Metropolitan Railway around London ‘Metro-land).  One of the furthest ‘out’ from London was Verney Junction, some 40 minutes from Marylebone on the Great Central London Extension line.  Slam-door bogie carriages needed toilets, and some interesting layouts were tried by many train companies.

The 1906 attempt – on a 53 ft body, provided seating for 10 1stclass/37 3rdclass.  With 3 1stclass-accessible toilets, and 2 for 3rdclass, almost as much space was taken up with access routes and an 8 ft 6” long brake compartment, as there was for seating.  This appears a not very remunerative carriage, a sort of half-way house to the full corridor approach.  Un-surprisingly, this diagram was not progressed, though adapted for slip working, that is a single carriage with multiple occupancy attached to the rear of a fast train, this continuing without stopping, but enabling this vehicle to be detached en route and to proceed to other destinations.

946 ~  Gas! – boys – Gas!

Oil-gas – with pressure-tanks slung between the wheels, remained in use until the end of their service, despite a Government ban in the early 1920s.  This as a result of numerous minor, and – in the case of the Quintinshill disaster of 1915 – major calamities.  Even the (colonial) Indian Railways had banned its use much earlier than this.

Painstaking research results in the authentic LED-lighting fitment on the 6-wheeler

Today, as a discreet lighting recreation, LED batteries now replace the old gas mantels, courtesy of a scheming volunteer magician, and knowledge of a very old-fashioned hardware shop at Sutton-on-sea! (The reflector plates are lids off aluminium saucepans with just the right diameter.)

Our other GCR Carriages ~ circa 1905 ~

All our 8 carriages were completely stripped on their retirement.  However, we give thanks to whoever did a ‘slap-dash’ job in tearing out their interiors – because:

We found evidence of deep-buttoned door panels in a suburban, slam-door carriage. What remained was a wisp or two of black hair, and a few rusted tacks in a recognised holding pattern.  As the carriage had a 1st class section, the material was probably leather.

Reported in 1905 interior finishing of Clerestory 1st Class compartment

In another carriage, around the window frames, we found shreds of a 1930s pattern fabric – obviously a refurbishment post the ‘Big Four’ amalgamation.

Shots of forensically uncovered sample seating fabric materials on RST’s stripped out compartment interiors – C/O Andrew Coalwood

Typically, once carefully washed, it shows a geometric design of orange, sky-blue, beige and milk-chocolate brown.  There wasalso remnants of a braid that hid the fabric tacks round the windows too.  Slap-dash’ carried on – behind the 1930s shreds we found the original too!  Very smart it must have looked in beige and two-tone blue. Always look in dark and dirty corners – you never know what you’ll find!

Corridor stock – the Barnums of 1910/11 ~ 

With only four remaining of the 36 built, (3 on-site), these represent ‘state-of-the-art’ technical and design standards achieved by the GCR.  Standards that led the way towards the ride and comfort we enjoy today.

Pride is not always a positive trait, but in this case the Trust is mighty glad of it, since – despite significant loss of original documented evidence in the 1941 Blitz, there are other sources ‘lurking’ – if only you know where to look!

GCR was regarded at the time by other companies, such as the Midland and the Great Northern, as an ‘upstart Johnnie-come-lately’ – mainly due to its ambitions for the future.  Their CME – John G. Robinson, had organised a visit to the 1904 Chicago Railway Exhibition, to understand the latest ‘practices’ in manufacture, railway design and operation.  The GCR plan had long been to run services from Manchester to Paris, via the hoped-for Channel Tunnel. Designed and built to the ‘near Berne-convention’ loading Gauge that the UK standards would allow.

With much increased capacity – 64 seated passengers – passenger-controlled hot and cold running water in the washrooms, large windows and tables a-la-Pullman style, plus electrically lit chandeliers all for 3rdclass passengers, these Excursion traffic carriages were an amazing step forward for the general traveller. One of our trustees, very knowledgeable on GCR subjects, alerted us to the GCR habit of documenting (including extremely useful drawings) their enhanced designs, from under sole bar technicals to hot water/heating provision, to interior decoration and seating, by way of braking and Guards Van controls.  Their chosen medium was The Railway Engineers’ Journala monthly publication, directed to railway management and designers, world-wide.

Pattern derived from GCR engineering drawings for Barnum closet floor covering – view here: 228 Floor Lino plan

Fortunately, the National Railway Museum archive in York holds a trove of this journal. Its easy-to-use IT system produced much recommended data in detailed texts, pictures and drawings of all aspects of Barnum technology.  Combining this with what was left gave us a terrific start in restoration.  But we did not forget the possibility of less technical magazines, coming across the Railway and Travel Monthly of September 1912, where – to our delight – we found a GCR-commissioned painting reproduced in original matching colour, of a Barnum interior, to compliment our several Sepia and mono pictures found in George Dow’s brilliant in-depth trilogy on the GCR.

Classic find! Painting reproducing near exact colour of seating material adopted in 1910 for the Barnum Tourist Open stock.

This was gold-dust! It gave us the colours of panelling and fabrics, and details of the lighting we had only seen in bland shades of grey.  We had also found, elsewhere, information on the seating manufacturer and the fabric supplier!  Whilst G.D. Peters of Slough went out of business in the 1950s, amazingly the fabric maker is still going. Sadly, however, they have no records, but the pictures we have are clear enough for reproduction – albeit in modern, fire-retardant fibres.

So – pride in their expertise and inventions has given us almost the ‘blue-prints’ on which to work our magic – all to re-create the ‘High-Edwardian’ travel experience of a 3-coach Open Third, such as had never been seen before on British tracks.  Come and help us get there – money, information, skills – all are welcome!

Rake of Barnum carriages in a GCR heyday excursion train-set