In 1891 the South Eastern Railway assembled at Ashford Works six "Gilbert Cars" built at Troy, USA, to form the "Hastings Car Train". These six cars were rebuilt in 1896, and in fact were then advertised to the press as brand-new for the second time! The rebuilding included enclosing the vestibules at the ends of the coaches and the fitting of gangway connectors and Stones Electric Lighting in place of the original accumulator system.
In 1919 the Pullman Car Company found itself committed to running new Pullman Trains on both the SECR and the GER. New vehicles under construction could cope with the GER traffic, but to service the Boat Trains for the SECR the Pullman Company purchased the six "Hastings Cars" along with the contemporary "Folkestone Cars". All were rebuilt (in minor ways) and turned out in Pullman Lake Livery (not umber and cream) for the SECR services, and ran until the late 1920s.
The car we have was "SER Drawing Room Car 33", which became a third-class car in 1896, and Pullman Car "Constance" in 1920 as a Kitchen First. The other kitchen car, "Carmen", was destroyed as a result of the Sevenoaks derailment of 1927. The coach body has been part of a building, a bungalow at Middleton-on-Sea, and had been cut in half, with the metal internal truss-rodding also cut. However, the body is generally in excellent condition, still with 25-Tons Tare plates on both ends, and with much of the marquetry panelling still intact inside. It has been placed on an ex-SR Bulleid underframe temporarily, and has been tarpaulined over.
The interior is now entirely the Pullman era marquetry, and the body structure (window openings) also as per that conversion, so it's not considered feasible to back-convert it, given that we have none of (or even that much to go on to enable an accurate reconstruction of) its original SER interior. The restoration in any case will not be easy, given that it is of integral construction, founded on 6 longitudinal structural timbers as part of the floor, rather than having a separate underframe, and these timbers are all cut through at the centre, where the body was cut in half when it became part of a bungalow. It is still to be decided whether its restoration would involve the replacement of the current wooden integral structure with conventional (or maybe even steel) bottom-sides and a steel underframe.
It never carried Pullman umber and cream, being painted in (and still retaining to this day the remnants of) the SECR lake version of Pullman livery complete with the Pullman lining and crests, so it is almost certainly this livery to which it would be restored. It is envisaged that it would be restored as a kitchen car, as it was in Pullman days, and able thus to run with other SECR carriages on the Bluebell as an on-train refreshment facility, but able also to act, if required, as the maintenance spare Kitchen car for the Pullman Dining train.
Clearly this is all very long term, so plans may (and probably will) change! In practice how it is eventually restored will in large part depend on the skills, experience, wishes and enthusiasms of the individuals who commit to spending their spare time for up to a decade undertaking the restoration.
Right: One of the surviving marquetry panels.
Type: Drawing Room Car (Hastings Car Train)
Built: (Gilbert Car Co.) 1891
Original No: 33
Seating: 25 1st-class seats as built; 38 3rd-class seats from 1896
Length: as built: 45 ft over body; 51 ft 3 1/2 inches over platforms and end bars
Weight: 23 tons 6 cwt as built
As rebuilt as Pullman, 1919-20
Type: Pullman Kitchen First
Name/Number: "Constance" (Pullman Schedule No 89)
Seating: 16 1st-class seats
Length: 50 ft 9 in over body, 52 ft 5 in over buffers
Weight: 25 tons Withdrawn: 15 November 1928
To Bluebell: 15 July 1997 Owner: Bluebell Railway
A Car Called Constance - The history of the Gilbert Cars by Dan Garrett
Published 2007 by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway Society, ISBN 978-0-902835-23-8
This book may be available from the Bluebell Railway's shop
Bluebell News - Autumn 1997 (Vol.39 No.3 p.15) - report of the recovery of the carriage from Middleton on Sea by Robert Hayward.
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