The cotton kings and business barons of the Fylde coast fancied themselves a cut above the riff raff when it came to travelling in style in the pre-First World War years.
So they clubbed together to ensure, when they commuted from Blackpool Central to Manchester, they got exclusive use of a carriage.
And not just any old carriage. It had to be first class all the way, complete with plush seating, gas lamps, toilet and washroom, and a tincture of something invigorating along the way.
And judging by the fact each of the seats faces inwards, they clearly weren’t interested in the view, but probably talked shop or politics every inch of the way.
Even in a resort sated on state-of-the-art tramcars, our very own local light rail network, this has to be the tops in terms of rail travel – especially when you compare it to those horrible converted bus frames which pass for rail travel on the railway lines today – the Pacers, rapidly nearing their please-pension-off age.
The good news is that with just a year to go to its centenary, Club Carriage 47 is available for the use of more of us today, thanks to a restoration campaign by enthusiasts.
Descendants of one of the original train drivers – the aptly named Richard Hornby (born in 1866 in Blackpool) – recently rode the restored carriage during its first major outing at Keighley and Worth Valley heritage railway.
Now it’s hoped the trust may track down relatives of the original club members in time for next year’s celebration.
The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway club carriage was built in 1912 in Newton Heath, Manchester, by LYR, bespoke to Blackpool and Fylde coast business user needs.
It wasn’t just for occasional use, but deployed Monday to Saturday from busy Blackpool Central to Manchester Victoria, carrying exclusively members of the Lytham St Annes and Blackpool Travelling Club.
Ken Roberts, a member of the restoration team today, explains: “These gentlemen were Fylde coast residents whose occupations and businesses were in Manchester.
“They formed a self-governing club for negotiating with LYR to get exclusive use of a carriage. They paid a first class season ticket, plus a supplement of 120 guineas per annum for 40 members – that’s three guineas per member year.”
In other words, they paid handsomely for the privilege of feeling privileged ... the sum is roughly equivalent to £1,500 a year each in today’s money.
The carriage returned the investment too. It ran from 1912 through to 1934 for club members before being replaced by a more modern vehicle.
Even then, it didn’t go gently into some backwater or sidings, but trundled along in secondary service from 1934 through to 1951 – so ended up enjoying some 39 years in fairly active service.
Nor did it end in tears at that point. The carriage was carted off to Derby for scrapping, but although the underframe was removed when withdrawn by British Railways, the body was spotted and salvaged by LMS Cricket Club, and used as a cricket pavilion at Borrowash, Derbyshire. Owzat!
Even in 1993, 81 years since it was first built, it was far from over, with the cricket pavilion purchased from Redrow Homes for £1 when the builder cleared the site. It was bought by Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Trust, set up by the railway preservation society five years earlier, and which became a registered charity in 1991.
For the last 18 years, members have laboured to restore the carriage to former glory, funded wholly by public donations. The coach has been stripped, repaired, repainted, windows replaced and armchairs installed, along with heating, carpets, blinds and curtains.
It’s now running again on an underframe acquired from a BR standard suburban carriage, and re-entered service this autumn at Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.
Sadly modern rail regulations prevent the carriage revisiting its old home on the Fylde – although that may change if campaigns to reopen local stations for heritage rail finally pay off.
Eric Rawcliffe, of the rail charity trust, adds: “Now the final push for funding is on to help overcome any operational problems, and also help promote and celebrate Blackpool Club Carriage 47’s centenary.”
Original club members (many of them from the cotton trade) included George Bellamy, cabinet maker, of Lytham, Harold Bowman, mechanical engineer, of Blackpool, Lytham solicitor Joseph Cooper, Edward Dean, shipping manager, of Blackpool and cotton manufacturer John Dixon of Marton.
They were joined by Blackpool solicitor Charles Hardman, cotton yarn agent William Heap, cotton weaver boss William Kay, cotton spinner Edward Mellor and cotton salesman Frederick Rothwell, all of Lytham, and civil engineer Norman Macbeth, and textile merchant Charles Macara, both of St Annes.
* For more centenary information visit www.lyrtrust.org.uk and follow links to carriage 47.