120-year-old London Underground carriage restored

On Saturday, January 10th, 1863, London’s Metropolitan Railway line carried its first public passengers over six kilometers (3.7 miles) and from Paddington through five intermediate stations to Farringdon Street. It was the world’s first subway system and it was an immediate success, transporting 40,000 people that first day and 9.5 million the first year. These early subway cars weren’t like the ones we have today, but rather wooden carriages divided into compartments that were pulled by steam engines. They were literally underground trains.

Next month will be the 150th anniversary of the first passenger voyage of what would become known as the Tube and the London Transport Museum will be celebrating the event by running a series of restored trains along that first route from Paddington to Farringdon, now part of the Circle Line. The trains and cars used in 1863 have not survived, but other beauties from the steam era have. After extensive restoration funded by the museum, the Heritage Lottery Fund and private donations, Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1, built in 1898 and Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage Number 353, built in 1892, will return steam-powered mass transit to the London Underground.

Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage Number 353 is the only survivor of 59 carriages that ran along the Circle Line in the last 15 years of underground steam rail. They were named Jubilee carriages because the model was first introduced in 1887 during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Made out of teak wood with gas lighting and gold leaf accents, these were elegant first class carriages. Less than 20 years after the first carriages were produced, they were rendered obsolete when the Metropolitan Railway switched from steam to electric power in 1905.

When the private Metropolitan Railway and Underground Electric Railways Company of London merged with city tram and bus services to become the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, the Met Loco 1 steam engine was renumbered, repainted and used sporadically as part of London Transport’s above ground services. It was retired in 1963 after which it was purchased by the Quainton Railway Society (now the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre) and loaned to various museums and for special events over the years. In 2010, its boiler certificate expired which meant it could no longer run without a complete rehaul and re-certification. A complete restoration began in 2011 with the aim of returning Met Loco 1 to full steam running conditions in time for the 150th anniversary.

Jubilee Carriage Number 353 survived in a far more reduced circumstances. In 1940 it was purchased and moved to Knapps dairy farm in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, where it was used as a garden shed. For 34 years it stayed on the farm, open to the elements. A toilet was attached to the end of it at some point. In 1974 the dairy farm was slated for redevelopment and the carriage was in danger of being destroyed. London Transport bought it for its historical value, adding it to its underground relics collection. It was in surprisingly good shape structurally, despite its hard scrabble post-war existence, and several ideas were considered about what to with it, including cutting out a section to put it on display. Thankfully Number 353 was kept whole and safe until 2011, when funds were raised to restore it too so it could be reenlisted into service 150 years after the first carriages ran underground.

After 15 months of painstaking work by Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway, specialists in heritage railway carriage restorations, Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage Number 353 is back to her former splendor. A team of masters and apprentices did the work, the apprentices a condition of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant to ensure that these skills are passed down to the next generation. Number 353 has been rail tested and runs like a charm. She is now officially the oldest operational subway carriage still known to survive.

Met Loco 1 and Carriage 353 will be recreating the first underground journey on Sunday, January 13th, 2013. For more pictures of the restoration of Number 353, see the museum’s Flickr set. There’s a smaller but still cool set documenting the overhaul of Met Loco 1 here. If you’d like some delicious and nutritious information along with those picture sets, the museum’s blog has a nice entry about the underground testing of the locomotive and lots of entries about the carriage as it was being restored.

Here’s video of the carriage during the 15 months of restoration:


8 thoughts on “120-year-old London Underground carriage restored

  1. You noted that less than 20 years after the first carriages were produced, they were rendered obsolete when the Metropolitan Railway switched from steam to electric power in 1905. Two questions pop into mind. During that 20 years, didn’t anyone suspect that electricity was coming? And since the carriages with teak wood with gas lighting and gold leaf accents were expensive, couldn’t they be reused in the new system?

  2. Electric motors came into their own in 1888 with inventions by Tesla and Sprague http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_motor#The_first_electric_motors

    Given the state of practice, it would have required tremendous foresight to understand all three of (generation, transmission and motors) in 1890 to see how quickly they’d take over. (In our own time, think about the ability to foresee the Internet in 1980.)

    Part of the advance with electric motors was making each car self-propelled. Additionally, wood cars wore out much more quickly (wood freight cars had an average effective life of about 15 years, see John White’s book on freight cars, http://www.amazon.com/American-Railroad-Freight-Car-Wood-Car/dp/0801852366 ) So there’s a good chance many of these cars would not have been cost-effective to convert to electric running.

    One final point on the cars: safety standards changed radically between 1890 and 1910, along with government oversight/mandates for safety appliances. My guess is you wouldn’t want to be in one of those 1880s/1890s era cars in an accident.

  3. By todays standard, yes, teak and gold leaf are expensive things, but you have to keep in mind when these coaches where built, teak was dirt cheap building wood and gold leaf, while slightly expensive, where cheap enough for companys to spend that little extra, they where proud of their railways, and its stock, often (very often infact) these carriages often saw “another life” on another railway system

  4. It must be so satisfying to take a wreck like these 2 cars, and turn them back in time like they never left the shop where they were built. Thank heaven they didn’t cut one of them into pieces, the apprentices surely learned impressive skills from such a challenging job. Wish I could take a little trip back in time on these beauties…Kudos to the London Transport Museum for putting in the effort to come up with the money and talent to pull this off!

  5. Steam locomotives ran on the london railways til 1961. They didn’t take the steam trains as soon as there were electric ones. So I guess, they used the carriages longer than just 20 years.

  6. Carriage 353 was never used as a garden shed. It came to Shrivenham in 1940 having worked on the WC & P since 1906. Initially it was used as a military tailors shop (Walters of Oxford) before being used as a club for the USAF. Subsequently it became a home for several families before being used first as a cobblers shop and finally as an antique shop. It finally left the village in August 1974. It is very much part of the social history of the village.

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