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British Railways, Pre-Nationalisation Coaching Stock

Hugh Longworth, Crecy, 2018, £40

Book review


This kind of book, 460 pages long and well-fitting the description of a "door stop", has several aspects, but it's also a book of two halves. One is about GWR carriages, the other, LNER. Which is odd given that the two companies had relatively little in common and most modellers (the main market for books of this type) choose one or the other. Separate volumes could have been more useful and, with it, a better choice of illustrations, which are pretty random. I'll continue these notes by focussing on the LNER half of the book and the GCR and GNR. I shall leave assessment re other companies in more capable hands.

The LNER half of the book breaks down into three parts: a two-page history of how carriages were provided and recorded; the numerical info about individual carriages; and their design and descriptions. Which I shall assess separately.

The data

The most useful part of this book may not seem clear at first glance but the fact is that at Nationalisation the BR(E) fleet was made up 100% of ex-LNER carriages and about 50% of them were of pre-Grouping origin. Change was visibly slow. These aspects are often missed by modellers and the book shows how long these carriages lasted in service, and not just for BR days. If you're modelling an earlier period, you can establish which types were still in service. In the 1930s, for example, something like three-quarters of the fleet was still of pre-Grouping origin: you just have to turn away from the most heavily photographed elite services made up with the newest stock and look at pictures of normal trains, many of which were up to or actually 100% pre-Grouping carriages. The book offers no train pictures but they can be found elsewhere and the data in the book helps you identify it.

Alas, there's a glitch here because it has not proved possible to locate all the withdrawal dates and the gaps can be frustrating. This area is actually a well-trodden one and the frustrations have vexed previous researchers, myself included.

Here's an example of how the book can be used. Below is a model of an ex-GNR Luggage Brake and Milk Van (actual title on the Diagram - not "Milk Brake Van" as stated in the book which gives the misleading impression of a vehicle dedicated to milk traffic), carrying the number 44. Dan Pinnock's instructions usually quote final withdrawal dates so you have a good idea of how long a type lasted.


If you wanted to build one for parcels service in BR days, here's a known example, No E46E at Euston in the 1950s.


Turning to page 383 in the book you find GN.310 and that all 20 were still running in BR days. Half of the withdrawal dates are quoted, half are not. From the dated ones you can see that they lasted until 1958-62, with E46E not being withdrawn until July 1962. No 44 is one of the missing ones.

Turning next to the text...

LNER Section

This is on pages 175-176 in which the different Areas and Sections are described and how things were done. Unfortunately, it's spoiled by misunderstandings and errors.

The ECJS fleet

The ECJS did not provide the carriages. Some of the early stock was built by contractors, thereafter the member companies built it at their own works to their own styles, which explains the variety of types that is typical of how things proceeded in the LNER area as a whole. It's not right to say that "by the time of the Grouping [the carriages] were mostly influenced by the Gresley designs on the GNR" because the NER was building similar designs at York; the addition of the last few years was a drop in the ocean; and earlier bogie designs were still in service. Cascading made little impact until after the Grouping. This is well described in two excellent books about ECJS coaching stock which have retained their worth and trust (by Michael Harris and Ken Hoole).


The author doesn't mention the central concept of cascading - yet this was what kept the older carriages in service and balanced the old and the new. The author merely states that "ex-NER coaches were transferred to other sections of the LNER to allow withdrawal of older stock". This is quite wrong because it involved the entire company in a procedure whereby carriages, whether elite or secondary, when replaced by a more modern version, were not scrapped but cascaded to a slightly less prestigious service in the company's pecking order. A good example at a high level was cascading in BR days of the LNER Pantry 3rd to the GC Section for its elite express, the "Master Cutler". Cascading could be repeated - hence its name - until eventually, when around 50 years old, the carriage was in a low tier and finally withdrawn. The LNER was not a wealthy company and this period of around fifty years was longer than on the wealthier LMS, for example, where I was once quoted a period of around 35 years. This helps explain why the LNER was so visibly a patchwork quilt, not just geographically, but in its rolling stock.

Numbering and classification

The author describes the well-known system from 1925 whereby the first digit indicated ownership of the carriage and its maintenance - not just its "allocation". For example, responsibility for some of the cross-country trains was transferred to the NE Area but when an ex-GNR 12w RC was deployed, it remained part of the GN Section's fleet and the GN Section number was retained. It didn't change until the carriage was rebuilt into a kitchen car, and was then taken over by the NE Area and renumbered accordingly.

The Areas and Sections - not "sections" - are described. I should add that "LNER Standard stock" is a misnomer that has been debunked, having started as company jargon to denote its own designs, but failing in practice when over 300 Diagrams were raised, many of them hair-splittingly different from each other in order to cater for the whims of the Sections and their largely ex-pre-Grouping management. Only when Thompson took charge as CME were standard carriages actually produced. For example, in the non-gangwayed types there was one each of the basic types: F, T, CL, BC and BT (I use the Telegraphic Codes for the sake of brevity - another aspect we shall come to).

What isn't made clear is that the Carriage Diagram Books of the pre-Grouping companies continued to be used because they served as a record of the carriages still in service and modifications that had been made. This was normal engineering and book-keeping practice. When a type was eliminated the page was removed, or "Condemned" written across it. These pre-Grouping books represented what each Area/Section owned and they began to include additions - by cascade and newly built LNER carriages, and hence they didn't disappear at the Grouping in 1923 nor on Nationalisation in 1948. They continued being used until all the types had been withdrawn and there was none left. As this book shows, that was not until the 1960s. Removed pages or cessation of use due to a cull of wooden-bodied carriages in the late 1960s are the main causes of missing withdrawal info.

Under a heading of "LNER Codes" the system claimed to have been introduced "in the 1940s" was actually the Hollerith Codes (named after a German inventor) introduced in 1938. It allowed handling of the data via punched card systems. It is not widely known and, historically, it is an irrelevance. Its portrayal throughout the book as the "LNER Code" is unwarranted.

Diagrams and descriptions

The Diagram Book for LNER-built carriages was a model of clarity. The pre-Grouping ones, not entirely. Some of this is explained, but not the ambiguous jargon - a problem that has to be addressed for the lay reader. Each Diagram contained a sketch (generally called "the drawing") and in this book they have been re-presented as thumbnails including the bogies. It's a pleasing touch but for the errors. For example, Gresley "passenger" 8'6" light bogies are shown under all the LNER bogie vans when they actually ranged through 8' Fox and Gresley 8' heavy bogies.


Here is a file picture of a BG (D.45) showing Fox bogies and two thumbnails from the book which should have shown the same bogie. I have not checked any other Diagrams and would advise more reliable sources.

The designer

The Diagrams did not state the designer's name and a key point is that the Loco and the Carriage & Wagon departments used to be separate. For example, in 1905 Gresley was appointed the Carriage and Wagon Superintendent on the GNR (he became CME later). He quickly decided on a fresh approach and his design concepts differed from his predecessor sufficiently be be described after Howlden or Gresley thereafter. On the GCR, carriages in the 1890s were designed by that company's Carriage and Wagon Superintendent, Thomas Parker Jnr., but in this book they are wrongly attributed to the Loco Engineer, Pollitt. In 1900 the combined post of CME was created and given to Robinson, who carried on building carriages in the Parker style for ten years. Attributing them to Robinson is misleading: "Parker-style" is more helpful. Not until 1910 did Robinson break new ground by introducing matchboard panelling (and a host of other innovations) in 3rd Open designs which were grandiose and nearly slab-sided. They were one-off and acquired a nickname of "Barnums". From 1911-23 Robinson produced more conventional and more elegant designs yet in this book they wrongly are all called "Barnums". Since writing this review I have noted confusion in this area caused by the author's rank sloppiness, which any GC-oriented proof reader would have flagged up.

Events in the 1940s were similar ending with Thompson-style construction under Peppercorn. This area is too complex for a single-word definition and it would have been better to have simply named the company which built the carriages (which the author does anyway).

Carriage types

The author uses "coaches" all through the book when carriages was the norm. The other term became the norm with BR Mk.1 stock that came later. When presenting historical material, it's normal to use contemporary terms, not modern or personal ones, an outlook which leads to pitfalls.

The Diagram Book's Index has been confused with the title on the actual Diagram - which was a marvel of lucidity - helped by the drawing, of course, which as the saying goes, saves a thousand words. Alas, and this is a serious concern, the author has made-up descriptions which for a book aimed at historians or simply people seeking clarity is a no-no.

For example, it is stated that the LNER "generally used the term 'vestibule' to describe its corridor stock" but this isn't true and using either of these words - or both - to indicate a gangwayed carriage (the word used in the GWR half of the book) is misleading and confusing. A good example is D.186 which could have been titled:

   3rd Open

but instead carries:

   Vestibule Third Open Corridor

which is gibberish. There's no consistency in this. Another example is in the LNER's almost exclusive use of "Brake Van" for bogie brake vans - yet 7 different titles are stated (see above for two examples). Looking for something among contradictory titles is hard work and if you search other sources, you may struggle. Technical material has to be presented lucidly and accurately and this is not.

Parcels and postal

Different types of vehicles were used for railway parcels and Post Office traffic and they are confused. LNER D.164 and 165 were titled by the company as "Mail Van" and are shown as-built with the author's made-up title of:

   Post Office Sorting Van Corridor

while the ex-GNR version to GN.312 is:

   Vestibule TPO Sorting Van

which is especially misleading as the drawing shows the final condition with nets, traductor gear and gangways removed. Underneath is GN.325 which the company titled:

   Parcels Post Hamper Van

and used for railway parcels traffic, which was heavy and nothing to do with the Post Office. By BR days it was hanging on as a "utility" or "miscellaneous parcels van". Yet the author has titled it:

   Six Wheeled PO Van

Errors like this make historians very cross.


These vehicles fare no better for there seems to be little understanding of the different types and it is not possible to tell them apart except by studying the small drawing because the titles provided - which include the term "diner" - are inaccurate or unhelpful. It helps to bear in mind that the LNER branded "Restaurant Car" on the outside of its catering carriages for public consumption. It was no indicator of the carriage design or purpose. The LNER did this with restaurant cars, kitchen cars, pantry cars, the 1st opens (all built as dining cars) and, initially on the GE Section, the 3rd opens with 2:1 seating. There's further confusion with the "Either Class" restaurant cars which in another title invented by the author is stated as:


"Unclassed" would have been more accurate but neither was used by the LNER. In the GWR half of the book the title is "Nondescript".

General information

The top right area of each description is used for general information. For example, two GN Diagrams are described as "Sheffield Stock (Manchester Flyers)". At least one other Sheffield Stock Diagram is not mentioned and nor is more notable stock, such as for the streamlined flyers and Tourist Train sets - none of which is identified so you can't even tell between Silver Jubilee and Coronation/West Riding carriages. Only one carriage is named, the Coronation's Observation Saloon - as "Beavertail", which is slang.


There is much to be said for making available data about construction and withdrawal of the carriages which BR inherited, previously available in copies of the Diagram books and Society publications, and the author is to be applauded. Against this, however, there is a large number of errors and fabrication, which could have been avoided by checking with experts in the various fields, making the book hard to recommend as a reference.


Since writing these notes the GER content has been assessed by John Watling of the GER. Much criticism was levelled at gaps in the information which are known to have been researched and should have been included. And serious concern that many of the drawings for the Diagrams have been fabricated with made-up panelling that is completely wrong. The review was published in the GERS Journal.

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