Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Discovery: Coronation Scot


Paul Rickets, Archival Assistant
B&O Railroad Museum


The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum's small object collection consists of thousands of items ranging in size from station signs to uniform buttons. Some of the most prolific artifacts lining the Mount Clare storage shelves are railroad lanterns. Hundreds of them, in all manner of shapes, sizes and colors, from many different railroads. Amongst these rows of mostly standard oil and kerosene lanterns are a handful of distinctly unusual examples including an art-deco style lamp with fading red and gold paintwork. During a recent inventory of the Small Objects Collection it became apparent that this was one of two lamps in the archives that came off of the British “Coronation”, a Princess Coronation Class locomotive which toured the US in 1939. This discovery highlights just one of several significant interactions between the B&O and various British railway companies; reaching right back to the very beginnings of the commercial rail industry, but in itself makes a compelling historical story.

The British Princess Coronation Class locomotives were built by the London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railway Company at their works in Crewe, UK. Five stream-lined locomotives were completed in 1937 with number 6220 “Coronation” being named for the Coronation of King George VI in that same year. During its trials the “Coronation” made headlines when it broke the world land speed record, reaching 114 mph. Although built by the LMS, these locomotives were painted in the Blue and Silver livery of the Caledonian Railway, which the LMS had absorbed in 1923. Built to pull the new “Coronation Scot” service, they were painted to match existing rolling stock and ran from London to Glasgow, completing the journey in six hours.


A second batch of locomotives were built in 1938, including 6229 “Duchess of Hamilton”. Unlike the first batch these locomotives received the traditional LMS livery of crimson-lake and gold. It is likely that by this time the LMS had decided to replace the aging Caledonian coaches with new ones branded in their own colors. To this end an initial set of articulated crimson and gold coaches were built to match the newer locomotives.

The LMS continued building Princess Coronation Class locomotives through WWII. With the dawning of the diesel era they were destined to become the most powerful steam locomotives built in the UK. Whilst the stream-lining arguably gave little, if any, benefit in terms of efficiency, it is easy to see why the first sets of these locomotives grabbed the public's imagination. Standing today in the Main Hall of the National Railway Museum in York, 6229 “Duchess of Hamilton” demands attention. Her aerodynamic, art-deco styling and bright crimson and gold livery, very much the vogue in the 1930's, makes her stand out among the many other locomotives in the museum. It must have been this mix of 1930's aesthetic and raw power that caught the eye of the organizers of the 1939 New York World's Fair, who invited the LMS to send the “Coronation” to the US.

The 1939 World's Fair was an opportunity for the LMS to show off its brand and engineering skills to the world. Rather than send the original 'Caledonian' branded “Coronation Scot” to the US, the LMS chose 6229 “Duchess of Hamilton” along with the only set of newly built articulated coaches, both of which were liveried in the company's traditional crimson and gold colors. The decision was also made to switch the names and numbers of the “Coronation” and the “Duchess of Hamilton” for the duration of the US tour, presumably to promote their flagship service under the LMS brand. In order to comply with US safety requirements for running on US railroads, the newly renamed “Coronation” made her way to Crewe to be fitted with an American bell, head lamp and buckeye coupling, as evidenced in this Pathe News clip.  

In February 1939 the “Coronation Scot” was loaded on board the ship Belpamela at Southampton dock for a stormy six day sea voyage to Baltimore (see contemporary footage here). A 3,000 mile US Tour had been planned, starting in Baltimore and ending in New York at the World's Fair. The train was unloaded in Baltimore harbor (see contemporary news footage here) and then spent time receiving visitors at the B&O Railroad's historic Mount Clare Depot, which is now the site of the B&O Railroad Museum. The “Coronation Scot's” maiden trip in the US was to Washington D.C. Based on newspaper reports of the time she was a huge attraction (see contemporary news footage here). During her stay at Mount Clare the B&O Railroad's PR department took the opportunity to shoot numerous photographs of the train. These included images of her next to her B&O Railroad contemporary the Royal Blue, travelling over the Thomas Viaduct and alongside the first of the B&O diesel locomotives. Many of these images are now part of the B&O Museum's vast image collection. After spending several days in and around Baltimore, the “Coronation Scot” headed north through Pennsylvania and on to New York. During her tour she made several stops. According to the newspapers of the day, the tour was a great success. Some accounts suggest that she was visited by over 3,000,000 people during her travels.

Whilst the “Coronation Scot” toured the US, the political situation in Europe was rapidly deteriorating. After initial attempts at peace, Britain was forced to declare war on Germany in September 1939. With the threat of German warships and U-boats in the Atlantic, the LMS decided that it was too risky to ship the “Coronation Scot” back to the UK. The coaches were loaned to the US Military and spent the war as officers’ quarters. The “Coronation” itself was returned to the care of the B&O Railroad and stored at its Fell’s Point facilities in Baltimore. By 1942 the UK was in desperate need of locomotives to replenish war damaged units, and so the “Coronation” was shipped back to the UK. The coaches stayed in the US for the remainder of the war and were finally repatriated in 1946. On her return to the UK the “Coronation” and the “Duchess of Hamilton” once again exchanged names and numbers.

The “Duchess of Hamilton” was stripped of her stream-lining in 1947 to improve her overall efficiency. In 1948 she passed into British Rail ownership and changed her number to 46229. Something of a chameleon the “Duchess” was to end up being painted blue, Brunswick-green and maroon before she was retired in 1963. At this point she was bought by Billy Butlin, a Holiday Camp Millionaire, and used as a child's playground exhibit at his camp in Minehead. In 1976 Billy loaned the locomotive to the newly opened National Railway Museum, finally selling her to the museum in 1987. During her early years at the NRM the “Duchess of Hamilton” ran as the museum's flagship excursion train but stopped when her boiler certification ran out in 1996. In 2005 it was announced that her streamlining was to be restored after a successful appeal by the Railway Magazine and in May 2009 she was re-exhibited at the NRM in all her streamlined glory.

It is at this point that the connection between the B&O and the “Duchess of Hamilton” once again came to light. As an Englishman working in the B&O Museum Archives I have a strong interest in any B&O Railroad/UK connections. In July I made my first visit to the National Railway Museum in York, England. I already knew a little about the “Coronation Scot” but had only heard her name in context with her US tour, so was more than a little surprised when I discovered that the “Duchess of Hamilton”, on exhibit at the NRM, was the same locomotive that had visited the B&O in 1939. Furthermore, there was something familiar about the locomotives smoke box lamps.


On returning to the US, it did not take long to trace back through the Small Objects Collection and find the Art Deco lamp that I had been reminded of. It was almost identical to the ones on the restored “Duchess of Hamilton”. Following up this discovery with a curator at the NRM, it turned out that not only was this an original lamp from the “Duchess” but that during restoration engineers were unable to source an original lamp of this type to copy, so the lamp that the B&O has in its collection is most probably the only surviving one of its kind. Several weeks after this, we found a second LMS lamp, a tan colored one with a red lens which must have been the rear lamp of the coaches used on the “Coronation Scot”.

We have not as yet discovered the reason why the two lamps from the “Coronation Scot” ended up in the Museum’s collection. They could have been given to the B&O as a souvenir of the trains visit, or may have been left at Mount Clare by accident when the train was stripped for the journey back to the UK. Whatever the reason, the fact that these two significant items remained on the shelves at the B&O   saved them from the ravages of the huge changes in the British railway system that occurred during and after the Second World War. They reach across the years to make a tangible connection between two long gone but historically significant Railroad Companies and two large modern Railroad Museums.



1 comment:

Rafi said...

Great entry, but it looks like you're missing a lot of links to references throughout the article.