Early British trains: compartments, carriages, coaches and corridors
When I was growing up in 1940s and 1950s Britain, trains for passengers
were made up of the coaches, a steam engine at one end and a guard's van at
the other end. However they were more different from modern trains than this
The coaches of trains were always known as carriages,
which was presumably a hang-over from the horse-drawn carriages of Victorian
and Edwardian times.
A train compartment with its door to the corridor open.
Enhanced detail of a screenshot from an old film.
There were something like 6 or 8 compartments inside each carriage. I can't
remember exactly, but the photographs on the rest of the page give the idea.
Each compartment had a set of two bench seats: one facing the engine
and the other with its back to the engine.
Smoking was an accepted way of life in the 1940s, so all compartments
allowed it. The only notices about smoking were a few 'No Smoking'
ones. 'No smoking compartments' were normally at the front and back of
a train, but they were patronised by relatively few people because everyone
was so used to cigarette smoke that they hardly noticed it.
Train luggage racks
Luggage rack, corded like a hammock, photographed in
the York Railway Museum.
Luggage racks were above the passengers' heads, and were corded like hammocks.
This meant that dirt and dust simply fell through them, which must have made
The compartments of some trains were connected by a narrow corridor along
one side. Frequently stopping trains had no corridors.
A train corridor, showing an attendant talking through
the doorway of a compartment. Enhanced detail of a screenshot from an old
Where there was no corridor, it was a sign of the times that my mother
would walk along the platform choosing her compartment according to there being
no man alone in it. Only a compartment with at least one woman was considered
appropriate, and it was best if she was elderly. Apparently there had previously
been 'Ladies only' compartments, but I don't remember them.
A train corridor in colour. Detail from a screenshot
of an old film..
Some carriages of
corridor-trains had lavatories, but they always seemed to smell, were usually
out-of-order, and were to be avoided if at all possible.
If you can remember how these train lavatories flushed, please let me know.