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Trial Coach Trains

by John Clayson

On Tracks through Grantham several people have written about seeing brand new and freshly overhauled steam locomotives arriving at Barkston Junction on trial from Doncaster Works.  Among them is Mike Bacon in his page Trainspotting at Barkston Junction and Grantham.

A recent find among a collection of notices and memos from Grantham Yard signal box is a group of six items from the 1920s which refer to ‘Trial Coach Trains’ between Doncaster and Grantham.

At first we weren’t certain what this phrase meant, but a search of The LNER Magazine (September 1936 (Vol. 26 No. 9), page 524) brought up an article titled MY DAY'S WORK by J. Stocks.  Joseph Stocks was a Carriage Painter at the L.N.E.R. Plant Works, Doncaster.  After describing the various aspects of his trade Joseph writes, ‘Coaches which are ready for service are run on trial to Grantham and back.’

So it appears that a gleaming train of new or refreshed coaches would regularly arrive at Grantham, lay over for an hour or so and return to Doncaster.  The six memos below shed more light on these trains but there remain some open questions, so we’ll be very interested to hear from anyone with more information.


Friday 15th July 1921: this, the earliest reference we have to trial coaches, shows that they were permitted to stand on the Down Slow passenger line while waiting to return to Doncaster.


Thursday 10th January 1924: signalmen are instructed not to delay the Trial Coach Trains.  Signed by William Bradley, who was Grantham’s Station Master from November 1917 to March 1925.


Friday 21st March 1924: it appears necessary to ensure that there was sufficient time for a layover at Grantham so, in the event of delayed arrival, a later path was identified for the return trip to Doncaster.  No doubt during the layover an examination of every vehicle was carried out because wheel tyres, axle bearings, springs, brake gear, couplings, steam heating, train lighting dynamos etc. would all require inspection.  We think these checks would  be carried out by Doncaster staff who travelled with the train.


Friday 22nd May 1925: this memo indicates that the northbound journey was intended to take place at speed.


Friday 2nd October 1925: here we learn that the outward journey from Doncaster was taken steadily, and the train might stop for examination if something required attention.  The implication is therefore that examiners or fitters travelled with the coaches.  It also appears that 65 minutes was the minimum turn-round time at Grantham, when faults would be attended to or noted with the objective of a non-stop return to Doncaster at Express speed.  The initials are those of Harry Dennick, Grantham Station Master between spring 1925 and December 1930.


A Delay to The Flying Scotsman

Fred Warriner, District Superintendent at King’s Cross, would not have been happy on Friday 18th January 1929 when he heard that the northbound 10.00am out of King’s Cross, The Flying Scotsman, was delayed at Saltersford, south of Grantham, by a Trial Coach Train.   Grantham Station Master Harry Dennick immediately submitted a train delay report, presumably explaining how the arrival, shunting or departure of the Trial Coach Train had been carried out in such a way that signals could not be cleared in good time for the express as it approached.

No doubt questions were asked, and six weeks later this is the  District Superintendent’s response dated Saturday 2nd March 1929:

Without the stationmaster’s report we don’t know exactly what happened so there are ‘more questions than answers’ about the cause of the delay to the ‘Scotsman’ in January 1929.  However, it appears that no blame was being laid at Grantham’s door.

The photograph below, though taken 33 years later, illustrates where the problem must have occurred; the track layout and signalling are fundamentally unaltered.

In June 1962 an A1 locomotive and its train are approaching Grantham station on the Down Main line, following the same path as 'The Flying Scotsman' of 18th January 1929.  On the right a railcar (Diesel Multiple Unit) is being held on the Down Slow line by the Grantham Yard Box 'Down Slow Line Home Signal', the horizontal arm on the right.  This is the signal referred to in the District Superintendent’s letter.
The South Box can be glimpsed in the distance, immediately to the right of the railcar.
Photograph taken by Cedric Clayson.

Some open questions

The following queries may well be answered with access to sources, such as working timetables, which aren’t available owing to current restrictions.  If you have knowledge or suggestions, please let us know.

  • According to the first memo, from 1921, and the District Superintendent’s letter from 1929 the Trial Coach Trains appear to have set back onto the Down Slow line, south of the station.  Did they stand there for inspection until they were ready to depart?  It would seem a little hazardous to examine the train there, as you had the Down Main one side and the carriage sidings on the other side.  Alternatives, used by new diesels on locomotive acceptance trials in the late 1950s (i.e. the Down Goods line and the carriage sidings), as described by Mick Grummitt in his article here, were both available in 1929.

It appears from the 1929 letter that the opportunity wasn’t taken to change this part of the procedure, so maybe there was a reason to continue using the Down Slow that we are not aware of.

  • Was the locomotive from Doncaster taken to the shed for turning before attaching to the north end of the train for the return trip?
  • The only date when we can be certain, from the memos and letters, that a Trial Coach Train actually ran was a Friday (18th January 1929). Were Trial Coach Trains a ‘FO’ (Fridays Only) event, i.e. near the end of a week’s work in the Doncaster Works Carriage Shops, maybe leaving Saturday morning to put right any problems with the vehicles before releasing them to traffic on the Monday?  Or could they appear on other days of the week?
  • When did Doncaster Works stop running Trial Coach Trains to Grantham? Carriage building ended at Doncaster in 1962, but no-one seems to remember them arriving in the 1950s and early '60s.

We don't think that coaches were being trialled from Doncaster to Grantham and back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  However, Mick Grummitt remembers that new diesel locomotives would arrive from Doncaster hauling a set of spare coaches on a loaded acceptance trial.  Mick shares his recollections here.

With our thanks to John Pegg and Andy Overton for advice with this article.


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