NORTH EASTERN CLERESTORY INSPECTION SALOON, NO. 21661

Originally built in 1871 for the Stockton & Darlington Railway, 21661 is believed to be the oldest passenger coach still in use in the UK. The coach shot to prominence in the 1970s as the ‘Old Gentleman’s Saloon’ in the EMI film ‘The Railway Children’, a name by which it is affectionately known today.

Number: 21661
Date built: 1871 (Stockton & Darlington Railway), rebuilt 1904 with bogie under-frame
Seats: 15
Length: 40′ Width: 8’6″ Weight: 18 Tons
Other numbers carried: NER 1661, British Railways DE902179, 99750

This coach was built for party travel in 1871 by the Stockton & Darlington Railway as a six wheeled 3rd class saloon with clerestory roof. After being taken into North Eastern Railway stock in 1876 and numbered 1661, it was converted to an inspection saloon for the use of the Locomotive Superintendent at Gateshead Locomotive Works. It was normally hauled by the locomotive “Aerolite” (this locomotive has also been preserved and can be seen at the National Railway Museum.)

In 1904 the coach was lengthened by 10 feet with an adjoining small attendants / kitchen compartment added to the end and placed on a new bogie frame, becoming the the personal saloon of the North Eastern Railway’s Locomotive Superintendent, Wilson Worsdell. The photographs below show the coach as rebuilt with smaller rounded windows than those present today and long bench seats, not evident in its present guise.

In 1934 the coach was rebuilt again by the London & North Eastern Railway with larger end observation and side widows. This is the form in which the coach is seen today with the main saloon seating 15 passengers, mostly on individual chairs.

The coach was withdrawn from traffic in 1969 and was purchased for preservation by Society Member, John Dawson. The coach found fame as the “Old Gentleman’s” carriage in the 1970 EMI feature film “The Railway Children” In the 1990s ownership of the coach passed to Chris Lawson who paid for the carriage to be externally restored to its LNER condition by British Rail Engineering Ltd at York.

During the following years the coach, due to its age, was used sparingly on the KWVR, being used mainly for private parties and on vintage train days when, occasionally, cream teas were served.

Latterly the coach has been reunited with story of the “The Railway Children”, taking on its role as the “Old Gentleman’s Saloon” to both the Waterloo Station and Kings Cross productions of the story in London.

Unfortunately travelling by road by low loader took its tole on the wooden construction of this venerable vehicle such that the beams that form the main structural base of it became bent and warped. As a result of this, coupled with damage to the headstock, the vehicle became unusable and had to be retired to the sheds at Oxenhope to await its fate. The extent of the work required was beyond the capacity of our own carriage department, who work tirelessly on the operational fleet, so owner Chris Lawson, not wanting to see this historic vehicle languish out of use, sent the carriage to specialist restorers, Nemesis Rail at Burton-on-Trent.

In early 2017 the Railway signed a 50 year lease for the coach which will keep the coach on the KWVR for both the Railway’s 50th Anniversary in 2018 and its 100th.

On the 16th February 2018, 21661, took on a role that it has performed on at least one occasion before, when Royal duties beckoned once again, taking the Duchess of Cornwall from Haworth to Oxenhope, as part of the Duchess’ tour of Yorkshire visiting the Bronté Parsonage, as part of its 200 year celebration and meeting volunteers on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in recognition of our 50th Anniversary of operating the Worth Valley line.