Hi, I’m Alison, Project Archivist at the National Railway Museum. For the next six months, I’m cataloguing the archive of Wolverton Works. Wolverton, located on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, was the London North Western Railway company’s (LNWR) carriage works.
The works produced all kinds of rolling stock, including highly decorated and luxurious carriages for the very wealthy. Lacking standard aisles and seats, these looked nothing like the trains we travel on nowadays, coming complete with private dining rooms, servants’ quarters, baths and sometimes even a typing room – with typist. The Royal Trains kept here at the Museum were produced at Wolverton using documents from the archive.
But the Wolverton collection shows a darker and less glamorous side to railway travel during the period.
While sorting through reams of (so far) unprocessed archive material, I found this engineering drawing. Dated 1915 (just over one year into World War I, and six months before conscription began), it shows the design for ashtrays that were to be provided ’1 per bed or 20 per car’ – on ambulance trains.
Ambulance trains built by Wolverton were used in both World Wars to transport wounded soldiers from the front. The carriages were clinical, bare, heavily sterilised: open carriages with bunk-style beds down each side. Some ambulance trains even contained operating theatres. Injured men from all walks of life, traumatised from the front, would travel home in these bleak, jerky railway carriages – and, incredibly to us nowadays, would be allowed the small luxury of a smoke.
The Wolverton collection sheds light on many aspects of life during the last two centuries. I’m looking forward to discovering and sharing more gems with you – and making the Wolverton Works collection available in Search Engine for you all to see.