Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Reputation of Wolverton Carriage Works

After yesterday's post about the downgrading of the Carriage Works in 1962, I reproduce this assessment of Wolverton from Edgar and John Larkin's book The Railway Workshops of Britain 1823-1986. 


In 1962, following the rationalisation of all the main works, Wolverton ceased manufacturing new carriages, except saloons for the royal train. Wolverton's record for building specially fitted coaches is unrivalled. The most impressive have been for heads of state, and the greatest variety in coach construction is shown in the royal trains of several generations. The longest continuous story is that of the British Royal Family, whose first saloons were produced in the 1840s. These coaches, from various railway companies, reflected contemporary fashions, and appropriately some are preserved at the National Railway Museum, York. Queen Victoria's 1869 saloon, built at Wolverton, consisted of two six-wheelers connected by a bellows gangway, the first example in Europe of such a feature. The coaches built for King Edward VII's train of 1903 used the best of traditional crafts­manship, but Queen Elizabeth II's 1961 saloon incorporated the fashions of the period of its construction, just as its air-conditioned 100 m.p.h. successor reflected those of the 1970s.

The Queen has visited Wolverton Works on several occasions. One such visit was on 17 December 1976, when she went to inspect the new royal train, comprising eight refurbished inter-city coaches built in 1972 as prototypes for the 125 m.p.h. High Speed Trains, and two new royal saloons, No. 2903 for the Queen and No. 2904 for the Duke of Edinburgh. The modern royal train is spartan compared with the luxury of Queen Victoria's. Lavishly decorated compartments with satin furnishings have given way to carriages which are elegant but plain and functional, with full air-conditioning. The Queen's saloon has a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom, and a bedroom and bathroom for her dresser. The ceiling panels are white melamine, the main wall finishing is a cream patterned PVC and the furnishings are in shades of blue. Prints of Queen Victoria's first train journeys were chosen for the Queen's saloon. Prince Philip's carriage is slightly smaller, with a kitchen, and a shower instead of a bath. Work on the train began in 1974 and the Queen revisited Wolverton to inspect the completed coaches on 16 May 1977.

It is not always appreciated that most special saloons were actually owned by the railway, and the VIP travellers paid to travel in them. The Duke of Sutherland's coach, built at Wolverton after the first world war in bird's-eye maple and owned by the Duke, was a masterpiece of Wolverton craftsmanship.

Wolverton men were proud of their craftsmanship and this neutral assessment underscores the reason for that pride.

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