A trip this weekend on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway rather unexpectedly turned up some splendid mid-20th Century interiors. Not being up on my trains I had to do some research and found out these are Mark 1 coaches built between 1951 and 1963. They were intended as a standard design for use across all the networks brought together under the newly nationalised British Rail. Initially they had timber veneered interiors but later switched to laminate linings.
The change from timber veneer to laminate represents a significant coming-of-age of the railways. The timber was the last vestige of the relationship between the carriage interior and the Victorian domestic interior from which previous designs could be said to stem. The idea of travelling in a timber-panelled parlour built by craftsmen in a coach-building workshop has been superceded by an acceptance of the train as a Modern machine, built in a factory using mass-produced, wipe-clean materials. The soft greys and burgundy lino suggest a efficiency and refinement, an effect enhanced by the simple detailing of the fittings.
The seating bays line up with the windows and there is a sense of each bay as a more intimate space or alcove in the larger space of the carriage. The balance between privacy and openness is very well judged, the seat backs high enough to rest your head but not so high as to block the view down the carriage. In the corridor type the alcoves are partitioned off completely into a series of 6 person compartments with a glazed screen and door onto a corridor running down one side of the carriage. It reminded me of when my brother and I used to take the train down to visit our grandparents on the south coast. We’d get to Waterloo as early as we could to try to bag our own compartment and we’d be really disappointed if someone else got into our private realm.
And here’s a present-day first great western carriage interior. Gross pink colour and logo, cramped seats designed to give you back-ache and claustrophobic with the seat in front right in your face. But the current coaches seat 35% more passengers – 76 in a 23m long coach compared to 48 in a 19.6m long Mark 1 coach. No excuse for the naff logo though.