A 19th-century railway coach has been at the centre of one the largest conservation and reconstruction programmes undertaken by Amgueddfa Cymru.
19th-century passenger railways
At the end of the 19th century, Cambrian Railways covered much of mid-Wales. Unlike the lines in south Wales, whose main purpose was to carry iron and coal from the valleys the short distance to the coast, Cambrian Railways provided long-distance passenger services. They connected coastal resorts such as Aberystwyth to the large cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London.
Quality and luxury
In comparison to today's trains, passenger coaches in the 19th century were quite complicated. Coach No.238 had a small luggage compartment at one end, then two first-class compartments and four third-class compartments. There were three toilets, one allocated to first-class use only. To make sure there was no mixing of classes, the corridors for first and third-class compartments were on opposite sides of the coach.
Coach No.238 was built in Birmingham in 1895 to very high standards, its original plans stating: “Interior panelling of polished sycamore framed with walnut wood and gold lined”.
From luxury coach to hollow shell
The coach entered service in 1895 and was used mainly between Aberystwyth and Manchester before finally being withdrawn in 1939. During the Second World War it was converted into a wireless van. Later it was put into storage before being transferred to Amgueddfa Cymru in 1991 by which time the coach was essentially a hollow shell.
The Museum decided to restore one first-class and one third-class compartment at either end of the coach, with the rest of the space to be used for groups of visitors. A special canopy was constructed to house the coach, allowing the restoration to go ahead even in bad weather.
Restoration of the coach
Work began with re-roofing the coach, then replacing the floor with 'tongue and groove' planks. The first-class compartment was found to have one set of planks laid at 45 degrees to the body of the coach, with a top layer laid at 90 degrees to the lower layer. Apparently this gave a quieter ride for the first-class passengers. Next to be renewed were the external panelling and mouldings, then the internal partitions and seat frameworks, all following the original plans. Such was the attention to detail that the metal brackets supporting the luggage rack were copied from an original with replicas being made in the brass foundry at the National Slate Museum in Llanberis.
The coach originally had 14 coats of paint; fortunately, modern paints do not require such methods. The lower half of the coach is finished in Cambrian Green, with an original sample of paint used to produce the appropriate shade.
The coat-of-arms of the Cambrian Railway Company and the Prince of Wales feathers provided the finishing touches. These were taken from originals that were photographed, scanned and laser printed to provide identical copies.
The glory of this coach will serve as a reminder of the halcyon days at the beginning of the 20th century when people travelled from all over England to visit Cardigan Bay.