A Short History of Great Northern Railway Carriages

Kings Cross was the home of teak carriages for almost 100 years, first as the home of the Great Northern Railway, then the LNER and finally under British Rail.

To most people that means Gresley Bogie carriages, however 120 or more years ago, it was short, 6 wheeled carriages designed by Francis Howlden.

When the GNR first reached London it used a station called Maiden Lane, north of the present Kings Cross station. The first train to leave Maiden Lane was reported tin the Times to consist of Golden Teak carriages, which were most comfortable and well equipped.

From the first, the GNR was a typically Yorkshire company, being what is called cautious with money, hence their first carriages were finished in bare wood, teak, rather than go to the expense and time involved in painting them. Although now a protected species, at the time Teak was widely available, a good, strong, long lived wood. It had been used for years by the East India Company to build ships which transported goods back to England. Indeed one of the oldest still floating ships in the British Navy, HMS Trincomalee which was built in 1817, unlike HMS Victory which was built 52 years earlier, however, it has not needed a number of replacement oak timbers, and is not in dry dock.

Even before the Great Exhibition, in 1851, it was established practice on the GNR that all carriages were in Lined Teak Livery. Indeed at the end of the Exhibition, the GNR refused to by some sample carriages from one of their established carriage suppliers who had been an exhibitor, because they were painted.

Early GNR carriages were all built by outside contractors, as the company established itself, and understood their traffic patterns. Companies such as Walter Williams (Later C. W. Williams, his son) Joseph Wright ( which eventually became Metro Cammell) Birmingham Carriage and Wagon, and others built for the GNR.

Once the railway had been authorised by parliament, carriages were ordered and built, not as trains, rather as individual numbers of particular vehicle types.

Indeed it was not until 1866 that carriages were built in Doncaster for the first time as complete trains. The first trains were for the East Coast Joint Railway, which had been established in 1860, between the Great Northern Railway, North Eastern and North British companies. This was the route from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, which when the Forth Bridge had been built from 1882 until 1890 was completed with no off rail interruptions. This was the route which later became famous for the Flying Scotsman train.

It is surprising to know that the journey of more than 101/2  hours, before the introduction of the Forth Bridge, was for about 25 years undertaken in 6 wheeled carriages similar to the one we are seeking to preserve and restore. There was an half hour stop at York for the 10 o’clock Special Scotch Express for lunch, but at that time carriages did not have toilets, which would have made travelling pretty worrying for many people.

After the opening of the Forth Bridge, 8 wheel rigid and then various bogie carriages, from 12 wheelers down to the later 8 wheeled ones made famous by Nigel Gresley.