Saturday May 19th 2018 was a momentous day for followers of the British Royal Family, as Prince Harry married Ms Meghan Markle and the pair became the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Meanwhile, I went to York, figuring that a lot of people not interested in watching the Royal Wedding were likely to be watching the FA Cup Final, thereby leaving the city’s museums free for me to explore in peace. I was mostly right, and ended up at the National Railway Museum just before the start of a tour of the Royal Carriages Collection. I’d taken the tour earlier in the year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so it seemed fully in keeping with the date to go on it again, hopefully picking up new information, and taking some additional photos, to share with you all.
The oldest and smallest carriage in the collection is that built for Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV, in around 1842. From its shape, it is quite evidently sections of three stagecoaches bolted together and converted to run on rails; however, it is very elegantly upholstered in silver-grey silks, and painted on the outside in Royal livery with the Queen’s crest on the main doors. The seating at one end can be converted into a bed, with the sleeper’s feet protruding into a box at the front of the carriage. Also at the front is a step and a seat to enable a footman to sit on the roof throughout royal journeys. No evidence was provided as to the footman’s opinion on all the soot and smoke he was exposed to, but we were informed that at least one lady-in-waiting suffered badly from motion sickness due to the carriage’s lack of effective suspension.
Between Queen Adelaide’s carriage and the smart 1882 engine, Gladstone, which might well have pulled a royal train at some point in its career, is the much larger carriage that transported Queen Victoria on many journeys during her long reign, most often those between London and Scotland following Prince Albert’s death in 1861. Queen Victoria’s Saloon began life as two standard carriages, but was converted into a double-length single carriage after five years of service, because the Queen disliked walking from one vehicle to the other while the train was moving. The saloon is designed to resemble a royal palace in miniature, with separate areas for the Queen, her ladies-in-waiting (summoned by a hand-bell – later upgraded to an electric version) and John Brown. The saloon was also equipped with one of the very first flushing toilets to be installed in a railway carriage, although the Queen is said to have never used it: preferring to stop at the nearest station and use the facilities there.
Following Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, new Royal carriages were commissioned for King Edward VII. The King’s Saloon on display was fitted out much in the style of the Royal Yacht and had a smoking room with electric lighting, an extractor fan, and an electric cigarette lighter. The carriage was used by the King’s successors, until the beginning of World War II when a new set of Royal carriages came into service.
Also on display, in front of and behind King Edward VII’s Saloon are a pair of slightly newer royal carriages: a staff carriage that was used from the 1920s to the 1970s and Queen Mary’s Saloon, which was used by King George V’s consort, and then by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, widow of King George VI; she later donated a china tea service to be displayed inside the train after it was decommissioned and put on display in the Museum.
Meanwhile, George VI also received new carriages during his reign, which subsequently passed to his successor: our current Queen, Elizabeth II. Although work on the carriages began during the late 1930s, the outbreak of war meant that adjustments had to be made, including the addition of armour plating on the outside. During the Blitz and when the Royals were moving around wartime Britain, the train would halt for the night in a tunnel to provide them with additional protection. The train continued to be used following Queen Elizabeth II’s succession to the thrown until the 1970s, when it was replaced by the current Royal Carriages, pulled by an Intercity 125. The Museum expect those carriages to be decommissioned by the next monarch, at which point they hope to have them on display.
Finally, a non-royal, but still very exciting, train was out and about round York on the 19th of May; on my way to the Museum, I encountered a group of people clustered at one end of a footbridge overlooking the main station. I joined them, and after a brief wait we were treated to a sighting of the Flying Scotsman pulling an excursion train.