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LNER Buffet Cars

The first buffet cars to be built in the UK were by the Great Central Railway in 1899 and were described by George Dow in his 3-part history of the GCR as "years ahead of their time. Why should one think of snacks when a five-course lunch could be enjoyed, comfortably seated in the diner, for half-a-crown"?

The truth is that monetary value changes enormously over a long period of time and comparison of this kind is inappropriate. When Dow wrote these words the half-a-crown of 1899 had risen so that it could (still) buy a decent restaurant meal; today it is worth £32 which is on a par with a meal in a high street restaurant or on a train. In other words, the notion of a cheap meal on the railway in 1899 was false.

As regards being "years ahead of their time", they were not provided as well as "diners" but instead of them - there was no demand; it was a commercial error; and they were quickly eliminated and replaced by normal restaurant cars.

A third of a century later, when the LNER introduced buffet cars, much had changed and their introduction in 1932 in the "Cambridge Buffet Expresses" was not as an alternative to a full meal (the journey was too short for that) but light refreshment in its own right. The NE Area also tried the concept in a short distance service, between Newcastle-Middlesbrough. Only one of these two services proved successful, which goes to show that a buffet service could still only succeed where there was a demand for it.

These buffet cars were produced by converting pre-Grouping carriages ex-GNR and, later the same year, ex-NER. Between 1933-35 more conversions were added via ex-GNR and GN&NE Joint stock (with similar results) and from ex-NER and ex-GER carriages. They tend to be forgotten despite the total of 25 forming half of the free-running buffet car fleet on the LNER.

Eventually buffet cars were added successfully to carefully chosen off-peak main line services - and especially to excursions. Which is where many newly-built buffet cars were placed, to the well-known Gresley D.167, while the new green and cream Tourist Trains were provided with two buffet cars.

After WWII when the Tourist Trains were disbanded their buffet cars went into general service and the whole pattern of catering began to change, away from restaurant cars. Before digging any deeper, however, here are some illustrations of the various types which served:

Conversions ex-GNR and GN/NE Joint Stock

The LNER's very first conversions in 1932 were from a pair of ex-GNR 52'6" 3rd Opens (TO) but they proved too small and were converted back to TOs after replacement in 1933-35 by second generation versions, 58'6" long, ex-GNR and ex-JS, with which the fleet was expanded. They were allocated LNER D.78T, 78V and 78W with detail differences in arrangement of the toplights, panelling, and the interior and I'm trying to compile a list. Meanwhile, here are some illustrations.

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Although seen in BR days and looking tired after being condemned at Stratford in1957, this ex-GNR 3rd Open had been built in 1912 to GN.248A and was an example of the type which the LNER chose to convert to 58'6" buffet cars between 1933-35. Note the large number of torpedo ventilators on the roof and the hinged toplights, which were modernised during conversion. Photo: R.M. Casserley.

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1 - Conversions ex-GNR stock

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From the batch converted in 1933 this is E52063E, one of two for the GC Section, and it's a fine broadside view to show the main features. The revised ventilation on the roof shows well, with fewer torpedo vents and an extractor fan over the buffet area. On the underframe, a gas tank and gauge were fitted for the preparation of hot drinks and snacks.

Two aspects of the panelling stand out: in the third window from the left, because of the height of the bar which abutted there, a third of the glazing was replaced by panelling. In E52063E the modified panelling at the kitchen end has 3 panels - it varied between 3, 5 and 6 panels.

A key feature of the 1933 conversions was modernisation of the window ventilation with a mixture of plain glass and shallow, triple toplights. Screening of the staff windows at the buffet end is hard to resolve, not helped by reflections increasing at that end. It is tempting to suggest that the droplight in the staff door was frosted and the window in the kitchen was either the same, or fitted with texturised or marbled glass.

Livery is BR maroon with "Kitchen" on the left hand door. Stratford, 15.10.60. Photo H.C. Casserley.

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A detail view of the underframe showing the gas tank and gauge. Stratford, 15.10.60. Photo H.C. Casserley.

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Taken against the light but useful all the same for showing another 1933 conversion, E41552E in BR maroon at Doncaster in 1959. Much is similar to 52063 above except for the panelling at the buffet end, which has 5 panels. 28th December 1959. R.S. Carpenter Photos.

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This is an example of conversions to D.78T made in 1935. No 41651 was captured in LNER livery at Doncaster in 1949.

Again, much is like the illustrations above but the toplights are the next generation, 4-square.

An intriguing aspect is that the door to the kitchen has normal handles and is not branded for staff in any way. Presumably if the screened droplight was down, as is the case here, the attendant was obliged to stand by during station stops to guard against members of the public trying to get on board. In early LNER days the word "Kitchen" had been applied on doors like this in restaurant cars but it didn't last, hence the buffet cars were presented like this. BR thought differently and applied the word. Photo: Peter Fidczuk collection.

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A view of the same buffet car in carmine and cream livery with its BR number E41651E. Reflections on the glass make it hard to tell exactly how the staff windows were screened but it all looks more substantial and includes the part-window, third from the left where the bar abutted. All the other pictures show this as clear. Stratford c1955. Photo: H.C. Casserley.

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And finally in this section, a third view of E41651E, taken in 1959 at Seaton (LMR) inside an excursion made up with BR Mk.1 stock in BR carmine and cream and maroon liveries. The buffet car looks very smart and the two end windows facing the kitchen appear to have been screened. The larger one is clearly marbled and while the smaller one seems to lack transparency, its treatment is, to coin a phrase, unclear. 23rd April 1959. Photo: H.C. Casserley.

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2 - Conversions ex-GN/NE Joint stock

These were almost the same as conversions from ex-GNR TOs, but based on JS.9 58'6" TOs which only differed in two small ways - the ends had windows (which were boarded up) and the panels between the windows had a vertical piece of beading. On conversion, the large panel by the kitchen also varied vis a vis the number of small panels, either 3, 5, or 6.

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The kitchen side of a JS.9 conversion at an unknown location shows the boarded up end window and the extra beading in the centre of the panels between the windows. The area by the kitchen has 6 narrow panels. Unusually, the third window along is fully glazed, unlike the others where the panelling was extended to fill the the lower third of this window.

BR carmine & cream livery is being carried but the number cannot be read. All I can add is that this conversion was in 1933 to Diagram 78V whose numbers were 43133-4/7. Photo: Denis Seabrook.

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The other side of E43134E was captured at Hornsey in BR carmine & cream livery. The former end window is clear to see; the extra beading, a little harder.

Note the excellent condition of these buffet cars. Photo: Denis Seabrook.

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3 - The difference between Diagrams 78T and 78V

The final part concerns more detail differences and is important when it comes to a model (I'll cover this later). Both ex-GNR and ex-GN/NE JS 3rd opens were converted but not all the windows were provided with sliding ventilators and the end results to LNER D.78T and 78V differed in the arrangement of large windows, with no sliding ventilators, or none. Please note that the Isinglass Drawing distinguishes between the GN and GN/NE starting points but not between the two LNER Diagrams and shows the kitchen side of D.78T and the passenger side of D.78V. The arrangements were thus, where V=with ventilators and O=none/plain glass, from left to right with the kitchen end on the left:

kitchen side:       VVOVOVO
passenger side:  OOVOVOV

kitchen side:       VVVOVOV
passenger side:  OVOVOVO

To sum up, there were three versions, four if you add the 1935 conversions with the later four-square sliding ventilators:
1933  D.78T ex-GNR   41552, 52062, 52063
1933  D.78T ex-JS.9   43136, 43136
1933  D.78V ex-JS.9   43133, 43134, 43137
1935  D.78T ex-GNR   41561, 51577

A random detail concerns the large panel by the kitchen and the number of smaller panels that it was divided into: 3,5 or 6. I need to study all the available photos and there's about twenty altogether, but as you might expect, some were photographed several times and others not at all! I'll add a list in due course.

That's a total of ten, divided between the GN (8) and GC (2) Sections. I'll cover the services next, and the modelling options.

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