Unusual Accommodations #2: Converted Train Carriages

Train carriages were first stationed and repurposed as ‘camping coaches’ in Britain in the Thirties, providing holiday apartments that rarely offered running water or electricity. Today they are back in vogue, but with the emphasis on the sort of luxury The Baron adores. For train-lovers, it is stirring to consider the Pullman carriage as both transport and destination of delight.

A short trip from Twickenham is The Old Railway Station, at Petworth, in the Sussex Downs. Here, you can climb aboard one of four splendidly restored Pullman carriages that provide eight suites. Pullmans first entered service in Britain in 1874, offering luxury carriages with a steward service. Taking their name from George Pullman, who pioneered the concept in the USA, they have a famous brown-and-cream livery and individually named carriages. Petworth has Pullmans from 1912 and 1914, as well as the 1923 Flora and Montana carriages that ran on the Golden Arrow service from London to Paris in 6½ hours. You can enjoy them as en-suite doubles with brass beds, mahogany panels and painted ceilings, creating an ideal base for visiting vintage events at nearby Goodwood.

At St Germans, in Cornwall’s Tamar Valley, Railholiday rents three carriages located in ten acres of private woodland. Mevy is a Victorian ‘slip coach’ – a type of carriage that was uncoupled manually from the back of a speeding express train, and then guided to a halt at the station by its brakesman! The Old Luggage Van was once Passenger Luggage Van No.1353, which served from 1896 on the London and South Western Railway (LSWR). It is located on the station platform, with delightful views of the Plymouth to Penzance section of the Great Western Railway. The Travelling Post Office dates from the late 1800s, and was once exactly that! It has a narrow gauge body on broad gauge bogies, with passenger compartments, sorting area, net and delivery arms. In 1904, it was pulled behind the City of Truro when she made a record-breaking 100mph run. Accommodation features include en-suite bathrooms, velvet upholstery, mahogany panelling and woodburning stoves, and the Travelling Post Office still has its original letter-boxes.

On the panoramic North Norfolk coast at Heacham, near Hunstanton, you will find The Old Station Waiting Rooms and Railway Carriage. A converted Mark I First Class carriage occupies the platform of the Heacham Great Eastern Railway Station. It has two en-suite doubles and retains its first class sliding door compartment. Heacham is conveniently close to the RSPB reserves of Snettisham and Titchwell if you desire to combine bird-spotting with your train-spotting.

Further north, at The Sidings in Stations Lane, York, five Pullmans rest alongside the East Coast Main Line. They have been converted into a restaurant, conference rooms and bedrooms. Original fittings recall the days of steam while you gaze at the electrifying sight of modern trains galloping by on the York to Thirsk stretch of the East Coast Main Line. En-suite rooms include four-poster options.

To reach the Loch Awe Carriage near Dalmally, Scotland, you disembark at Loch Awe Station and walk a few yards to the banks of the loch. Camping coaches were first located here in the Fifties, when they could be rented for £7. Today’s more refined lodgings occupy a British Railways Mark I, No.4494, built in York in 1956, which ran on the London to Edinburgh line. Retaining many original features, the carriage has two bedrooms and offers breathtaking views, both of the passing Glasgow to Oban trains and across the loch to Kilchurn Castle.

Of course, if you prefer to stay in the luxury serviced apartments at 20TheBarons, we are a mere 40-minute ride from central London. By train, of course!
Unusual Accommodations #2: Converted Train Carriages

Chopping up Eels

250px-EelPieIsland01Given current London property prices, I wonder what it might cost today to buy an entire island in the middle of the Thames. At the end of the 1800s, such a prospect was not so remote, and all for less than £7,000. An 1899 newspaper article recalls the lively auction of Eel Pie Island, the historic Twickenham ait located a short walk from the luxury apartments at 20 The Barons. I love the touch of wit on the subject of eels:

“Pall Mall Gazette, Friday 18 August 1899


Eel Pie Island, off Twickenham, at one time beloved of anglers, and in a collateral way sacred to the memory of Pope, Horace Walpole, and other distinguished men, was at Tokenhouse-yard yesterday successfully got rid of to a number of purchasers by Mr. W.B. Mason, of Windsor. Some time ago, this freehold property was put up en bloc at the Mart, but there was no bidding. Afterwards it was resolved to cut up the estate into little pieces, which is in the fitness of things with a concern identified with eels.

There was a roomful of people when the auctioneer mounted the rostrum. Mr. Mason did not waste any time in historical description. He referred all and every to the printed particulars, invitingly headed: “Free Conveyances! Payment by Instalments! No Burdensome Restrictions!” Then there followed the information that Eel Pie Island occupies a unique position, commanding most extensive and charming views of sylvan beauty, including the far-famed Richmond Hill, and “being in the immediate vicinity of several well-known riverside mansions, the grounds of which are maintained in princely style, is eminently attractive for residential purposes.” The property, it was further said, was within five minutes of Twickenham Station, and was, therefore, readily accessible from London. Nothing was said about Twickenham Ferry, as it might occur to a man at midnight. But the audience knew all about it.

The auctioneer was considerably heckled to commence with. What about the drainage? asked an intending purchaser. Well, said Mr. Mason, curtly, “Earth closets or cess-pools; houseboats have earth closets and take them ashore.” Another question: “What about the land tax?” “We never paid it,” responded the auctioneer. “But I know,” retorted the inquirer, “that you have paid it for thirty years.” “Have you collected it?” “Yes I have,” was the answer, and the laugh was for the moment turned against the auctioneer, who subsequently had his revenge in knocking down a plot to the collector.

Mr. Mason first of all put up the estate in one lot. There was no bidder. Then he offered Eel Pie Hotel, which, he said, was doing £100 per week in the summer months, and might make much better profits under different management. From £2,000 the bidding rose to £3,200, at which price it was knocked down to Mr. Edwin Stephens, of the Drayton Court Hotel, Ealing. This gentleman subsequently secured for £1,250 a plot of the island having a frontage to the Thames of 280ft, and an average depth of 100ft. This section of the property, as most river men know, is well adorned with well-grown trees. The other plots offered fetched from £104 to £136. The total amount realised was £6,290.”

Chopping up Eels