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GCR carriages - Parker style

The GCR as a company was controversial in its day but as has been noted elsewhere, not all modern historians have served it well and when it comes to carriage design, there is a lot of confusion, especially about stock built by the early GCR.

Thomas Parker Junior

was the Carriage and Wagon Superintendent responsible for the elegant designs of the 1890s - not "Pollitt" as stated in BR Pre-Nationalisation Coaching Stock, Hugh Longworth, 2018 (he was the locomotive Engineer).

The Parker gangwayed carriages of 1898-99 were aimed at the soon-to-be-opened London Extension and were quite opulent and, apart from the clerestory catering carriages, had two body lengths:

- 46'6" for the normal carriages with bow ends,
- 45'9" for the brake-ended ones which had a flat guard's end.

The roof had a flat-top, similar to the GNR Howlden roof, but with a more generous radius above the sides.

George Dow got this right in his GCR trilogy but a length of "45ft" has been quoted by many hands for these carriages, including model railway kit-makers and Hugh Longworth, who inconsistently states both the right and the wrong lengths.

They were a significant step forward and became the company's house style for a dozen years. Parker's last design in 1900 was for a gangwayed 3rd Class Saloon and there were three significant developments:

- the length was increased to 49'
- bow ends gave way to flat ends
- a new roof, low elliptical.


After Robinson took over carriage design in 1902, he maintained the company's house style established by Parker, the first appearing in 1903 (not "1906" as stated in J.G. Robinson's, A Lifetime's Work, David Jackson, 1996). His designs merely gave up bow ends and added a turn-under, plus a foot to the length, 50'. Gresley, on the GNR, was to retain bow ends, but he began to extend his gangwayed carriages to 52'6" and 58'6". Robinson eventually adopted gangwayed lengths of 56' and 60' but (apart from a one-off dining car) that was not until 1910-11 and advent of the matchboard stock.

Hence there was a period from 1898-1910 when the Parker style dominated the gangwayed expresses and this is an attempt to show the lie of the land.

The gangwayed 1st

I start with this design mainly because I have good illustrations, and because most of these early designs lasted into BR days. The Diagrams were:
























5468/71-2, 5974-5





In 1938 the LNER introduced Hollerith Codes for the Diagrams and this led to the GCR Diagram numbers being removed and over-written, and promptly re-entered in pencil or biro!

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Diagrams 5Q1 and 5Q2 were identical externally and I am showing the first one because the original is in better condition. It's a fine example of all the Parker concepts. First Class seating was 2-a-side with excellent leg room and despite being quite a short design with only five compartments, two lavatories were provided, one at each end. There was no external door in the end vestibules, a feature which became something of a constant in GCR carriages right up to the Grouping.

Note the placement of windows on the corridor side in harmony with each compartment, something that Gresley designs didn't always manage. Diagram: Author's collection.

Livery - the Parker stock was painted brown & French grey, which began to be replaced from 1903 by brown & cream. In 1908 there was a switch to a varnished livery after which previously built stock was stripped, rubbed down and varnished. There is some debate as to whether the panelling of the painted carriages had employed mahogany (which takes paint well) rather than teak (which being more oily, does not). If mahogany had been used then the subsequently varnished livery would have stood out from the next generation of varnished teak carriages. A difference can sometimes be seen in b&w photographs and an observer from the 1930s commented on it to me but I have no further evidence myself.

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This picture at an unknown time and place shows an example of the outwardly similar Diagram 5Q2 in LNER days and is seen from the corridor side. The variation in density of colour of the panels attests to the difficulty of rubbing down and varnishing wood that had previously been painted. Note the hybrid form of lining which has been applied and which, as far as I am aware, the company only applied to the 1st class carriages. Photo: SLS.

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This is the Parker concept as developed by Robinson to Diagram 5Q3. The house style was maintained and it can take a direct comparison between the Diagrams to see the slight differences. Sliding doors were introduced to the compartments but the leg room was reduced by three inches to 6'11". How well the new norm was received is hard to say and it wasn't until the significantly longer matchboard stock came in where 7'2" was restored.

Another problem was a shortage of space for the lavatories and the available space was reduced so much - from 4'6" to 3'6" - that the facilities had to be divided with a separate water closet (W.C.) and a wash basin ("Lavatory") at the other end. This was a backward step in the 50ft designs, especially in a 1st Class carriage. Robinson could usefully have added a few more feet to the design. Diagram: Author's collection.

The lavatorial shortcoming was eventually recognised in the FK after five had been built (perhaps after passengers complained?) and in the final carriage, proper lavatories with WC and washbasin were provided at both ends. It really was a squeeze, though - if, for example, you try spreading your arms you'll find that's more than twice the space provided! This final carriage was given Diagram 5Q4.

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Seen at Harlow on July 1955 is E5472E to Diagram 5Q3. The livery may be plain brown. Side doors to every compartment were to be a staple on Britain's railways and inevitably looked more utilitarian and less glamorous than the corridor side. Nevertheless, the pocket size of all-1st carriages like these gave them a long life and as this picture shows, many lasted well into BR days, the last one not being withdrawn until 1956, though possibly already out of revenue-earning. Such stock was often retained in excursion traffic whether for 1st or lower Class passengers Photo: Lens of Sutton.

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In service

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Pollitt 11A Class 4-4-0 No 872 is near Northwood c1900 with an Up express made up with four Parker carriages. The third one is a 46'6" FK to Diagram 5Q1 or 5Q2. Photo: Author's collection.

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In another scene near Northwood a few years later which can be dated to 1903+, a heavier Up express, possibly from Manchester, is approching with a restaurant 3rd and a 6w strengthener on the rear. From this angle it is hard to distinguish between types and the second carriage may be a 46'6" TK or a 50' FK to Diagram 5Q3 or 5Q4. It is preceded by another 1st Class carriage behind the tender, a 45'9" BFK. Photo: Author's collection.

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To be continued...

Related topics:

GCR carriages - 50ft London Suburban: are here.

GCR Barnum carriages: are here.

GCR London Extension - expresses: are here.

Modelling GCR clerestories: is here.

GCR milk vans: are here.

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