The Stately Trains Collection
By Mike Heath
Stately Trains’ was born out of one man’s passion for vintage carriages. Stephen Middleton was brought up in a railway family. His father, grandfather and maternal grandfather all worked for railway companies from pre-grouping through to the British Railways era after nationalisation. His father had a First Class pass for rail travel, thus it is no surprise that Middleton junior experienced regular luxury travel on East Coast Pullmans between Yorkshire and London. At the age of five he longed to be a steward working on the Pullman cars. Fate took him in a different direction but that yearning did not leave him and in 1992, after seeing an advertisement in Steam Railway magazine, his enthusiasm for railway carriages was rekindled.
The advertisement drew his attention to an unrestored Great Eastern Railway carriage (No.14) that coincidentally had been used as the district engineer’s saloon at Ipswich when his father had started work on the railway there. He made a successful bid and embarked on a restoration journey that was to create a collection of historically significant pre-1914 luxury carriages.
These further restorations have included a first class saloon built for the Great North of Scotland Railway in 1894 and three directors saloons, one built for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1906, one for the London & North Western Railway in 1913 and one for the Great Eastern Railway that dates from 1911. In addition to the Great Eastern Railway’s coach (No.14) referred to previously, a family saloon built for the GER (1897) and believed to have been used by Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Alice has also been acquired and brought back into use.
That royal connection has been reinforced by what is considered to be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the collection in the form of a London & South Western Railway carriage that was constructed specifically for Queen Victoria’s royal train in 1885 and later converted for her personal use during her golden jubilee celebrations in 1887. Still to be restored are another GER family saloon dating from 1877 that was later to be converted for the use of Edward, Prince of Wales and a coach that, when completed, will be the oldest operational Pullman carriage in the world. In the midst of gathering this stock together, Stephen has also restored an 0-6-0 saddle tank, Illingworth, that was built in 1916 and has, during its long career, helped the war effort in both the First and Second World Wars. As a ‘sideline’, Stephen and many volunteers have been involved in the purchase and setting up of a charitable trust and subsequent restoration of the 1903 North Eastern Railcar. This is a true pioneer being the first railcar in the world to use internal combustion to drive a generator which in turn powered electric traction motors. Each piece in the collection has had a fascinating history from its construction through its working life and on into preservation. Along the way Stephen has collected many photographs and much information/memorabilia to complete their stories and these form the basis for this book