A major restoration project to revitalise two historic Railway Pullman Camping Coaches has already uncovered some hidden gems from Cumbria’s past – with the action unfolding on social media for everyone to see.
Work got underway on the historic vehicles last month, after Ravenglass Railway Museum Trust and Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway secured £250,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to bring them back to life as quirky self-catering accommodation.
Dating back to 1917, ‘Elmira’ and ‘Maid of Kent’ were originally part of a World War I ambulance train and are the oldest railway camping coaches still in their original location – sited on Cumbria’s west coast inside both the English Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage sites.
Although both were in a critical state of disrepair, work is progressing well to conserve these unique structures. The interiors of the two vehicles have been stripped out and the decorative marquetry panels have been carefully removed for conservation.
Already, the work is exposing a hidden history, with former interior layouts from rebuilds in the 1930s and 1940s. A striking stained-glass window has been uncovered in one of the bedrooms, with other original, quirky features being discovered for the first time in decades, including seat numbers etched into the high-crafted marquetry panels.
It’s hoped some of the features will eventually be linked into a more permanent display within Ravenglass Railway Museum. In the meantime, the restoration is evolving on social media so the public can follow the project every step of the way. There are also future plans to open up the camping coaches at a later date, for pre-booked, socially distanced visits.
Looking further ahead, the historic vehicles will be restored as striking new visitor accommodation for between four and six people, with overnight bookings for April 2021 onwards being taken from November.
Head of Marketing & Development at Lake District Estates, Rachel Bell says, “It’s really exciting to see the Railway Pullman Camping Coaches being given a new lease of life before our eyes! Knowing that these interiors and their original, lovingly crafted features haven’t been seen for decades adds a genuine sense of magic to the project.
“We’re particularly excited that the coaches are evoking such special memories of railway heritage and bygone family holidays for so many people.
“For anyone who doesn’t know much about the national story of the ‘Carriages off the Rails’, it really is fascinating. These historic vehicles were used as ‘homes for heroes’ after World World I. Some became animal shelters and barns, while other redundant carriages in attractive locations – including right here in Cumbria – were turned into affordable holiday accommodation linked to the railways in the 1930s.
“Later, many were pressed into the Second World War effort. They then saw a brief revival, before the combination of 1970s branch closures and cheaper overseas travel led to their demise. It’s an important story that we can now bring to a wider audience.”
Rachel adds, “What’s extra special about this project is that a charity, the Ravenglass Railway Museum Trust, is working hand-in-hand with the commercially-run Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway to bring it to life. Elmira and Maid of Kent hold a very special place in all our hearts, so we hope people will continue to follow their progress on our social media channels in the weeks ahead.”