Friday, 24 March 2017

The Nostalgic Era of The Railway Camping Coach

The Days of The Railway Camping Coach




A Camping Holiday That Disappeared With The Steam Age



For many people nothing compares to waking up in a new and exciting location following a night spent camping under canvas, to the mouth-watering anticipation of sausages and bacon sizzling in the frying pan and baked beans simmering in the saucepan.

In the 1930’s when camping and hiking were said to have been at the height of their popularity, the railway companies of the time, always on the look-out for new ways to increase revenues, added an extra dimension to the whole idea of camping and thereby making it more attractive to people with families. They introduced the camping coach; a former railway carriage that was no longer fit for use by the travelling public, but still had potential for other employment that would extend its working life.



The first railway company to spot an opening in what they hoped would be a lucrative market, was the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) in July 1933. 

Their operation was quickly copied by the other three big rail companies. So much so that by 1935 there were more than 200 camping coaches parked up on railway station sidings at over 150 locations throughout the UK, that included North Wales, the West Country, Scotland and countless other countryside sites and seaside resorts.



Converting and fitting-out the redundant coaches proved no problem at all for the railway companies, as each of them owned and operated their own carriage and wagon-building works. A situation that proved to be ideal when the time came for the coaches to be brought back from their sites in winter for repair and service, before being returned in the Spring.

Each camping coach was provided with a bedroom, bathroom and a living-room area where extra beds could be made up – and of course, a kitchen. Although basic in design, the kitchens were quite adequate for the needs of most campers with fitted cupboards, a stove with a fully functioning oven and a table with six chairs. All utensils such as pots, pans, plates, cups and cutlery were provided.

The coaches could comfortably accommodate a party of up to six people and the average rent for a week was £3.00, equating to a mere 10/- (0.50p) for each member of the party. 

By paying a little extra, in the 1960’s, a party could choose to hire one of the limited number of luxury Pullman Cars, similar in style to those used to form the famous ‘Golden Arrow’ boat train, that were gradually being taken out of service.



One non-negotiable rule was applied by all of the railway companies. It stated that anyone hiring one of their camping coaches must travel to and from the coach site by train. But in the days when few cars were owned privately this would not have proved to be an obstacle.

Although quite a large number of coaches were sited at seaside resorts, thereby allowing the campers the freedom of not having to adhere to the stringent rules laid down by guest house landladies, many coaches were placed in the countryside at places of natural beauty.

Situated close to country stations on quiet branch lines, it was a completely safe environment for children to play and investigate the wonders of nature, while at the same time enjoying the fresh air that was so often lacking in the smoky towns and cities in which they lived. 

Adults were able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside; go for walks, climb the windswept hills, have picnics by the river, visit the village pub or simply sit in the sun and relax.



However, there were storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

As more and more people in the 1960’s began to take package holidays abroad with the promise of guaranteed sunshine, and as the private ownership of motor cars increased dramatically, there was a negative effect on booking figures for the camping coaches. 

Railway companies could no longer attract the numbers of campers that they had achieved three decades earlier, and so the inevitable happened. So much so that by 1971 the very last British Railways coach had been rented out. The time had come when it was no longer financially viable to provide and maintain them.




Sadly, like the much-loved steam locomotives that had once hauled them, the halcyon days of the railway camping coach were over.  



For full list of 'Along These Tracks' posts, please see Railway Blog Previous Posts in right-hand column at edge of page.



You may also wish to visit my other blog, 'Pen To Paper', which contains interesting posts on a wide variety of subjects.

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