With modern lighting systems in today’s coaching stock, I do not suppose that many people give any thought to how coaches were illuminated from the early days. This article outlines the development of gas lighting in coaching stock and the method of distributing the gas during the years of peak usage.

For many years the variety stock in some train formations was increased by the presence of travelling gas tanks, later (1906) referred to as travelling gas reservoirs and by 1912 as travelling gas holders.

In the early years of the GNR, the normal method of lighting carriages was by oil lamps and these can be seen clearly in early photographs and drawings.

A GNR Board minute of 24 April 1862 gave approval for experiments with gas lighting of carriages. Later that year, a report was presented on the results of lighting short trains with gas. At this stage I cannot say what the report said. However, in a Board minute of 30 September 1864, Messrs Sturrock and Leith recommended the construction of 80 new carriages with gas lighting.

They comprised:

  • 1st class – 25 carriages
  • 2nd class – 35 carriages
  • composites – 20 carriages called “four-bodied’

All were 40ft long.

I can find no further mention of the subject until an Executive Committee minute of 31 January 1865, when a tender from Ashbury Railway Carriage and Iron Company was accepted

  • 2nd class – 44, called 22 doubles, £210 each
  • 2nd class brakes – 22, with gas compartment, £245 each

At the same time, a tender from the Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon Company was accepted for some carriages, but in this case gas lighting was not mentioned. In April 1866, a tender from the Railway Carriage Company was accepted for 30 2nd class carriages which included 10 with gas compartments. There is no indication of how the system operated or the type of fuel used.

In February 1869, the Locomotive Committee requested a report on the Dalziel system of gas lighting for carriages. No information on this is available but on 30 September 1869, the Locomotive Committee reported that complaints had been received of the inferior light produced by gas in the Company’s carriages. Was this the result of an experiment with the Dalziel system? It appears that other work was in hand on improving the lighting as in July 1870, the Board reported that the cost of building a 3rd brake, with two passenger, one gas and one luggage compartments was £224.4.7d as against an estimate of £232.0.0.

In March 1871, it was reported that experiments in lighting suburban carriages with Palmer’s Candles, a form of oil lighting, had not been been inferior to gas. Gas was to be successful, the best oil having supplied by the Metropolitan Companies (which ones?) and brakevans had to be constructed to house the gas containers. In November 1871, it was proposed to build two trains of gas-lit carriages, four 3rd class, eight These could have been the MRC&W vehicles which appeared about this time, Doncaster being fully-employed on other work. I hope to identify the numbers of these vehicles eventually. FAS Brown’s book mentions the large gas container between the 3rd class and guard’s compartments and that no details of the gas lighting equipment was given.

At this stage there appears to have been a lull in experiments on gas lighting as it was not mentioned again until December 1877 when the General Manager was requested to report on the lighting of two new Post Office vehicles by oil-gas. About this time all the pieces of the jigsaw were going together as a Mr Pope appeared on the scene, having devised a new system for gas lighting carriages, mounted under the floor at solebar level. Late in 1889, a committee comprising Messrs Fison, Capel, Wigram and Shuttleworth was appointed to consider the lighting of the Company’s carriages. Events moved quickly at this time with the Board allocating significant sums of money for gas lighting, as follows:

  • June 1890: Pope’s tender for carriage fittings for gas lighting accepted.
  • August 1890: Sanction sought to spend £15850 on ‘new gasworks, Holloway, for lighting carriages’ , also for £25436 to be spent on Pope’s system.
  • October 1890: £8000 approved for gas fittings in carriages.
  • November 1890: Gas fittings to be provided for lighting luggage brake vans, 210 x £18 = £3780.

The Railway Gazette & Times for 18 September 1890 reported that…. ‘they are also turning out a plant at Finsbury Park (Holloway) for the manufacture of gas, by the use of which each carriage can be lighted independently of the rest of the train’. So it ap appears that prior to Pope’s system, all the vehicles in a train were lit from a single gas container which obviously produced problems.

1890 also produced a milestone in this story as the Stock Report for 31 December included five gas tank wagons.

In January 1891, the Board recommended that the gas lighting of London suburban trains be completed with all possible speed. Sanction to build two new gasworks for lighting carriages was sought in February 1891 at a cost of £29288. It is assumed that this was for the gasworks at Doncaster and Leeds.

In June 1891, the new Royal Saloon, No 2408, built by Cravens, was lit by gas, not electricity, at an estimated cost of £150. This shows the GNR’s confidence in the system as their coaching stock for the Royal family was generally over-shadowed by the opulence of the LNWR’s vehicles.

The GNR Engineer, Ross, reported in January 1892 that the Doncaster and Leeds gasworks had been completed and were operational. At the time, all types of carriages were being fitted with Pope’s gas fittings. In March 1892, it was reported that about two trains per week were being fitted for gas lighting and that, during the half-year, 432 carriages had been equipped with ‘Pope’s gas apparatus’

Clearing there was an enormous growth in gas manufacture, distribution and usage. The numbers of travelling gas tanks for the years 1890-1922 were:

1890 1891 1892 1893 1894 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 
  5    9   12   18   30   30   30   32   35   36   38   38   38   43   43   43   43 

1907 1908 1909 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922 
 53   53   53   53   53   53        43   42             42        46   45   45 

Was the increase in 1907 to 53 and the decrease in 1914 to 43 real or were other vehicles or excess stock involved?

Originally, the GN numbered each type of vehicle, carriage, wagon, etc individually, starting from number 1. For most coaching stock there was a change to a combined system in 1868 The exceptions were locomotive and departmental stock. The gas tanks had their own system, unique to them, of which examples can be found from 1 to 46. They were considered to be coaching stock as in 1903. a stock valuation document lists 43 Transporter Gas Holders to diagram 78 at £312 each. The 1906 Particulars of GNR Coaching Stock lists 43 Travelling Gas Reservoirs but the 1908(?) Illustrations of Wagon Stock book includes photographs of the gas tank wagons!

The 1912 Appendix includes a lot of information on the operation of the gas lighting system for the benefit of train attendants but no clues to the replenishment of the carriage reservoirs. The Appendix indicates that the carriage gas tanks were refilled from fixed pipes but at Kings Cross, for example, a travelling gas holder stood at the buffer stops so did this, and tanks at other places ‘plug in’ to distribution systems?

To be continued.

From the GNN
Terry Henderson January 1987