For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

An Introduction to the Great Eastern Carriage
by John Watling

This article first appeared in the January and July 2000 issues (Nos 101 and 103) of the Great Eastern Journal. Apart from the use of line diagrams in this version to replace the photographs used to illustrate the original article the text is largely unchanged.

The aim of this article is to set out for the first time an outline history of the GER carriage. It is based on an analysis of carriage body types, made possible because it is believed that the identity of every carriage built between 1856 and Grouping is now known. Accordingly it has been possible to allocate each one to a particular design type.

The difference between some design types in the early days and again in the years leading up to Grouping is rather subtle. On the other hand the GER went through a period between the mid 1890's and 1906 in which a range of strikingly different styles emerged to the extent that a few did not even look Great Eastern! The design types identified are used as a basis of this article and as it is essentially a record of carriage stock as originally built little is said about its further use or ways in which it may have been subsequently modified. The classifications used are entirely mine and have no official basis.

The GER's Definition of a Carriage

For the purpose of the half yearly returns of working stock the ECR, and later the GER, divided its rolling stock into three categories - coaching, merchandise and mineral and ballast. Coaching stock comprised all passenger carrying vehicles, mail vans and the various vehicles which could be conveyed by passenger train, such as carriage trucks, horse boxes, fish trucks and milk vans.

In the mid 1890's non passenger carrying stock was reclassified, involving some renumbering to separate out what was seen as 'passenger' stock from the other vehicles. This definition was reflected in the compilation of the carriage stock registers, which also includes a 'Miscellaneous' stock book containing all the non passenger carrying vehicles. Interesting though they are, none of these miscellaneous vehicles are dealt with this article, only those the GER regarded as passenger stock which nonetheless managed to include mail vans which could hardly be regarded as passenger carrying! Miscellaneous stock is dealt with in a separate article.

Carriage Numbering and Diagrams

In common with many pre-Grouping railways, the GER maintained a separate series of running numbers for each class of carriage. As finally determined in the mid 1890's, coaching stock was divided into 8 categories, each starting from No 1. They were, in diagram book order, saloon, first, composite, second, third, brakes and brake composites, trams and mail.

The comprehensive series of diagram books prepared in the Stratford Works drawing office in about 1906 were based on these eight categories. The diagrams measure 8" by 6¼" and show an outline side elevation and plan of each vehicle type to a scale of 1/8" to 1'. This is supported by details of seating capacity, weight, type of brakes, lighting and steam heating (where fitted) running numbers and general arrangement drawing number. The diagrams were allocated the principal drawing number of 14600 with sub numbers which signified the class of carriage. Hence saloon diagrams were numbered 14600-1 onwards, first class 14600-100 through to the mail vans which occupied the series 14600-700 to 705.

This system of diagram numbering allowed additions to be made as new types were introduced without upsetting the basic drawing series. The diagrams were maintained until the late 1950's and although outside the scope of this article they were supplemented by further diagrams during the LNER period covering the numerous pre-Grouping carriages transferred into the GE Area to replace elderly GER built vehicles.

Nature of the Passenger Services

In following the development of carriage design it is helpful to appreciate that until the mid 1870's there was no requirement for a wide range of carriage types. This was because the distinctions between the different parts of the system in respect of passenger services had not evolved, consequently there was a uniformity in passenger accommodation. Carriages were 4 wheeled and the only real difference between carriages used on the London to Norwich trains and those pottering around the London area was that the long distance trains were favoured with the latest vehicles which thereafter gently gravitated down the scale as they got older, finally to such branches as the North Woolwich.

As the century proceeded the requirements of the traffic became more diverse. In the early 1870's the London suburban system was being created and its services needed to convey large numbers of passengers on relatively short journeys. Thus the suburban carriage remained a very basic non corridor vehicle with individual compartments. As the network intensified and traffic flows grew the challenge was to provide more trains containing as many seats as possible.

Users of longer distance trains required more comfortable stock and this was achieved initially by giving main line passengers rather more leg room and better quality seating. This was refined by the introduction of the 6 wheel carriage in the late 1870's having at first a similar interior to the 4 wheeler but giving a better ride. The next improvement saw the provision of lavatories for some first class passengers, a facility later extended to the third class ticket holder. To give all passengers in a carriage access to lavatories the semi-corridor type was developed in the late 1890's, but separating out the 1st class from the 3rd's.

By the early 1890's the Continental traffic had become well established, justifying the provision of specific trains for the services from Liverpool Street and York to Parkeston Quay. They were always among the best trains offered by the GER and the first to provide dining facilities.

Restaurant cars then started to appear on all the best long distance trains by the end of the century and with it gangwayed corridor bogie stock, soon with the added benefit of steam heating. Six wheel stock remained prevalent on the secondary main line trains until after the first world war whilst the long cross country trains rarely had bogie stock until well after Grouping.

A further diversification occurred from the early 1890's with the building of several fine carriages allocated for the sole use of the royal family and its household.

By contrast, on the more obscure branches 4 wheel stock sufficed well into the 20th century and a few lines were provided with tramway carriages to reduce operating costs.   Although not dealt with in this article, the continuing need to reduce working expenses saw the introduction of push and pull trains and conductor guard working, using carriages converted from ordinary stock.

As a consequence of the development a diverse passenger traffic a large number of carriage types evolved in an attempt to provide accommodation in the most economical way to suit each type of service.

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The Value of Passenger Traffic to Total Receipts

The GER was rather unusual in that passenger receipts usually exceeded those of goods. Until the late 1870's receipts were quite evenly balanced but thereafter the passenger figures steadily outstripped those of goods. The extent of the suburban traffic was exceptional but not very profitable but boosted receipts in comparison with railways of a similar mileage. The lack of any concentrations of heavy industry, mineral reserves or coal placed limitations on the degree to which the goods traffic could be developed and thus was comparatively low.

Who Built the Stock

Much of the early carriage stock was built by contractors because workshop capacity to construct new stock at Stratford was limited. Sinclair believed that putting work out to tender resulted in better value for money and the adoption of this policy by the Board also relieved the GER from heavy investment in buildings and machinery for rolling stock manufacture. It is a fact, however, that all the stock built by private firms were to the designs and specifications devised by the Locomotive Superintendent and approved by the directors.

Nevertheless some specialised stock was built at Stratford during Sinclair’s time, including mail vans and family saloons, types which throughout the ECR and GER periods was exclusively built at Stratford. This was probably because of their specialised nature and the difficulty for contractors to submit competitive tenders for a single vehicle.

Johnson and Adams relied even more than Sinclair on outside suppliers, with the exception of a few sample carriages built to new designs, intended to be used prototypes for the guidance of the successful tenderers.

Charles Parkes, who was elected a director in 1869 and became Chairman in 1874, took a keen interest from the outset in Stratford's potential to both build and maintain rolling stock. He firmly believed that quality and prompt delivery could best be achieved by the GER itself becoming self sufficient. It took a long time and much investment in plant and buildings at Stratford to reach this ideal and it was not until February 1883 that the last order was placed with a contractor. It took nearly 2 years to fulfil, a situation that would hopefully never be repeated following the heavy investment in Stratford Works.

From then onwards all carriage stock was constructed at Stratford and it was only in the aftermath of the First World War that contractors were again used. This was because the Board determined to concentrate its limited resources on bringing the existing carriage stock back to an acceptable condition and to put into traffic over 100 refurbished and rebuilt former ambulance train vehicles. Thus during 1920 and 1921 a total of 160 bogie vehicles for both the main line and suburban services were delivered from private builders but still to the GER's specifications and designs.

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