Stephens' Royal Saloons
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Amongst the varied selection of rolling stock acquired by Colonel Stephens for his lines were two carriages originally built by the London and South Western Railway for the use of the Royal Family. These carriages were of considerable historical importance and appear to have been purchased for the Colonel's personal use as inspection saloons on the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire and the Kent and East Sussex Light Railways. They remained in passenger carrying use for probably longer than any other carriages on record. It is clear that the Colonel held them in considerable affection and it is only due to the indifference of others that they are not with us today.
The first journey by a member of the Royal Family by the London & South Western Railway seems to have been on I5th June 1842 when, according to The Railway Times, the Queen Dowager (Queen Adelaide) had a special train ordered to take her from Nine Elms to Southampton. The train was a scratch one. Not long after this the company directors considered it would be expedient to spend £500 or upwards in building a carriage for the special use of Her Majesty. There is no precise date for the building of this carriage but one was built at the astronomical cost of £1050. This carriage was almost certainly the one mentioned in the Illustrated London News for September 1843 describing the Queen's visit to France.
The Queen’s carriage resembled a luxurious road carriage adapted for railway use and was similar in the sweeping curves of its ends to Queen Adelaide's carriage from the London and Birmingham Railway now preserved at York. The carriage was painted dark maroon and embellished with the royal arms. Internally it was divided into two compartments connected by a door. One compartment took up to two-thirds of the carriage and was for the Queen and Prince Consort's use, while the smaller anteroom was for the royal children and attendants. The compartments were lavishly furnished with sofas and armchairs and decorated and curtained with crimson and white silk damask. This carriage was promptly pressed into service for the state visit of Louis Philippe to Britain in October 1844. The Queen accompanied Louis in the carriage on his homeward journey and a picture of Louis handing Victoria down from her compartment at Gosport duly appeared in the 'Illustrated London News’.
In 1861 the Queen asked for the carriage to be re-trimmed, which was put in hand, and also that a passageway should be made between this carriage and that of her attendants. Mr Beattie explained that this would damage and weaken the carriages and the matter seems to have been dropped for a time. In July 1868 Her Majesty again complained about the state of the linings and it was then ordered that the carriage should be re-lined like Her Majesty's private carriage, but using blue cloth and lace in place of the blue silk and lace. New seats were also to be supplied which were to have reverse squabs of Morocco leather for use in summer.
Little is known about the original underframe, though it is almost certain that Beattie would have used substantially the same design as his contemporary carriages. The underframe was either altered or replaced so as to run on six wheels with a wheelbase of 6ft 4ins+6ft 4ins before 1855, possibly shortly after Her Majesty complained of severe oscillation during a journey in July 1846, though this was officially put down to defects in the track. The carriage was rebuilt on to four wheels and a new under-frame, probably following the decision in 1876 to convert it for public use and to build a new one for the Queen.
A further carriage was built in 1851 at Queen Victoria's request. No official records of it seem to exist but it was almost certainly the one that ended up on the Kent and East Sussex Railway. In appearance it had a lot in common with the 1843 Royal saloon and although it could simply be a superior sort of First, it does seem more likely to be the 1851 vehicle which later became known as the Prince of Wales' Carriage. It has been stated that it was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, but there appears to be no reference to it in the official catalogue. Assuming it was the Prince of Wales' carriage, it was also originally decorated somewhat like the Royal Saloon because in June 1866 the Officers Committee was informed that the Prince of Wales had requested that the ordinary saloon carriages be provided for him in future instead of the Royal Carriages, apparently because he disliked the ornamental and florid appearance of the latter. The Committee then ordered that the Royal Carriages should be made less ornamental and be repainted, but this was later rescinded; presumably Her Majesty was not amused that 'her' carriages should be altered because of her son's dislike of them!
The original internal layout is not recorded but it appears to have consisted of a main compartment of very generous length with two coupes. It was described as an open saloon in a list of June 1891. However when it was in use on the Kent and East Sussex Railway, it had been re-arranged and the doors of the former coupes had been sealed up.
The carriages seem to have gone into normal public use in about 1876 and disappeared from public view till the mid 1920s. Most published accounts of these two carriages are based on an article in the Locomotive Magazine in 1925 based on information supplied by Colonel Stephens, which stated that both carriages were acquired by the Plymouth Devonport & South West Junction Railway in 1890 for use between Bere Alston and Callington.
Unfortunately, this version of this period in their careers is open to considerable doubt. The difficulty with the above story is that the PD&SWJR. does not appear to have owned any rolling stock of its own until 1908 and the carriages could certainly not have travelled between Bere Alston and Callington until that date. The PD&SWJR was opened in 1890 from Lydford on the LSWR to Plymouth and enabled LSWR trains to reach Plymouth without having to rely on the uncertain co-operation of the Great Western Railway. Although the PD&SWJR remained an independent company it owned no stock of its own and its trains were operated exclusively by the LSWR with LSWR stock. This continued until 1891 when the PD&SWJR took over the narrow gauge (3'6") East Cornwall Minerals Railway from Callington to Calstock. In 1905 Colonel Stephens was employed to convert this line to standard gauge, provide it with carriages and locomotives and extend it across the River Tamar to link with the PD&SWJR mainline at Bere Alston. This work was not completed until 1908 and it was only then that the PD&SWJR began to operate its own standard gauge stock As yet nothing has appeared in the records of the PD&SWJR or the K&ESR that throws light on this curious chapter in the carriages' story nor have the somewhat fragmentary records of the LSWR given any satisfaction. It seems possible that if they were acquired in the 1890s they were kept on the mainline of the PD&SWJR where they may have been used for inspection duties. If so it was possible that on the opening of the light railway they would have been used for directors inspection specials, which were carried out monthly.
When the branch opened to the public the opening train contained a saloon, not one of the ‘Royals’ but one of the two ‘Windsor’ saloons that the railways had bought from the LSWR and later passed to the Weston Clevedon and Portishead. (See - Some thoughts on the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Carriages) This may account for local accounts of the use of these saloons on service trains. Saloons were certainly in frequent use on passenger services on the line, but they were the ‘Windsors’ not the ‘Royals’.
In any event Stephens seems to have seen and probably used the Royal saloons during his time as engineer to the Bere Alston and Calstock line and fallen in love with them. It seems, from stock returns, that he acquired one in 1911 and one in 1913 but there is no official record of the date of acquisition or their origin. In fact the only trace of any transaction seems to be a July 12th 1912 entry in a K&ESR ledger for a payment of £24/10/- to the PD&SWJR for a coach, which, although not definitive, is probably payment for its coach - although this may have been delivered later. Whatever the means by which the Colonel obtained the two carriages and whatever the part played by the PD&SWJR, it is reasonably certain that by 1914 the 1851 carriage had reached Rolvenden as No 10 and the 1844 carriage had arrived by 1915 on the SMR as Number 1A ( although a later return gives an purchase date of 1923). 1A was painted blue with red lining and lettering but seems to have undergone no other major alterations after being rebuilt by the LSWR in 1891. No. 10 appeared in a livery of dark brown with lining and lettering in yellow shaded with scarlet whilst its sofas and armchairs were reupholstered in grey. The mirrors and walnut panelling remained intact. Both carriages were maintained in excellent condition. They seem in his lifetime to have been used for inspection and private hire, and never in normal public service, but Austen came to regard them as spare coaches for occasional public use if the necessity arose.
After Stephens’ death in 1931 No. 1A seems to have been laid aside as inspection duties were then being carried out with a converted tram and Gazelle. No. 1A remained out of use in the bay platform at Kinnerley for some years. In 1941 the Army took over the SMR to service a chain of supply depots along its length and No. 1A was promptly annexed and refurbished for the use of officers and visiting dignitaries. When the War ended No. 1A was relegated to a humbler role in the breakdown train and its condition began to deteriorate seriously.In September 1953 it was agreed that 1A , officially ( if erroneously) described as the ‘Adelaide Coach’, be permanently loaned by British Railways (BTC) ( who had owned it sine Nationalisation) was transferred to the Longmoor Military Railway where it was to be kept for preservation, as an interesting relic, with Gazelle.
Body and underframe were loaded onto Well Trolley No. 41925 ( an ex GWR ‘Crocodile B’), together with wheels, axles and ancillary brake rigging on 30th December 1953 and transferred, to Longmoor .The saloon was in the diesel shed for several years and certainly seemed to have a secure future. Peter Davis visited Longmoor in the spring of 1956, and found the SMR saloon in sound condition and painted in a light blue matt finish, which may have been undercoat for the standard LMR dark blue or the remains of the SMR livery. Regrettably, less than a year later the Railway Magazine published a note that the SMR saloon had been broken up because it was beyond economic repair: it was claimed to be riddled with woodworm and dry rot. This was an unbelievable act of vandalism typical of the period.
Incredibly, the K&ESR saloon lasted somewhat longer. It began to see occasional use in general passenger service after Stephens' death. In 1936 the Southern Railway purchased No. 10, very likely in part exchange for the bogie carriages nos 4 and 5 supplied to the K&ESR in that year. It was probably intended to be part of the Southern’s proposed museum which was being set up at Eastleigh. A brief mention was made in the 'Railway Magazine' in 1937 that No. 10 had arrived at Ashford. It was put into store at Eastleigh with other preserved items, including Drummond's 4-2-4T inspection locomotive known as the 'Cab', Isle of Wight Beyer Peacock 2-4-0 W13 'Ryde' nameplates from the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway locomotives and arguably the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Terrier ‘Daphne’. During the early part of WW2 it disappeared. It is thought that the SR museum exhibits were cleared out at the beginning of the War when space and scrap were at a premium and the fact that by 1940 the saloon portion of the 'Cab' had become a hut in the works bears this out. It was popularly believed that the K&ESR saloon was scrapped at the same time, but that was not the case.
There was however no further news of its whereabouts for over 25 years. Then in about 1965 a photograph was left at the Kent and East Sussex at Tenterden showing the saloon in use as a summerhouse. Although its clarity is slightly impaired by having been taken through the wire mesh of a chicken run it was proof that the saloon still existed in the fifties. Written on the back of the photo was the name R F Weeden, 29/9/51 Burn Hill, Dunsfold, Surrey. Apparently the saloon was used as an annexe at the rear of a lightly constructed bungalow of a type built in great numbers after the 1914-18 War. It is possible that the bungalow belonged to a railway employee who had acquired the saloon through the scheme that enabled staff to purchase redundant vehicle bodies at nominal cost. Peter Davis soon found himself in rural Surrey and was directed to a location at Plaistow in Sussex, which is quite close to Dunsfold. Alas, the bungalow had been demolished and its woodland clearing occupied by gypsies. He ventured into their encampment enquiring whether a very old railway carriage had been on the site. It certainly had they said, "but it was a bit rotten so we broke it up for firewood, ".
It is remarkable that after several changes of ownership and having been as far afield as Cornwall and Shropshire the two saloons should meet their fate within 12 miles of each other and that the K&ESR saloon, thought to have gone long before, should have outlived its sister by some eight years. What a loss to preservation these coaches were.
LSWR Carriages Vol I., G R Weddell, WSP, 1992
The Tenterden Terrier