A look back at days long gone 
Life in a railway carriage
The concept of living in a converted railway carriage may appear far-fetched today but in the Twenties and Thirties they were not an unfamiliar sight in the English countryside.

In Newark a number of these railway carriage homes could be seen along Lincoln Road.

A noteworthy example owned by the Hopkinson family was extended to include an attractive verandah chimney and tiled pitched roof. A further example still survives on Clay Lane.

And a most elaborate railway carriage home formerly overlooked the A6067 dual carriageway at Lowdham.

Its upper storey incorporated two 54ft Southern Pacific railway carriages from the USA.

Interviewed in 1967 owner Mrs Ethel Baker said: "When you go to bed it is like being on a train. It is so realistic that sometimes you imagine you can pull the communication cord."

The carriages were brought to England by a Mr Pearson for a railway exhibition in 1890. He lived in them for a time and then in 1906 decided to build them into a house.

Known locally as The Hut it survived until the mid-Eighties. The earliest use of redundant railway carriages for housing has been traced back 100 years by Anthony King in his book The Bungalow.

In those early days a number were converted for use as affordable seaside holiday homes at Shoreham on the south coast. Owning a weekend holiday cottage was an important symbol of social advancement in late Victorian England.

Carriages were purchased from the Brighton Railway for £10 each towed to the beach and mounted on old railway sleepers. The benefits of creating these instant holiday chalets may be easily appreciated.

They were solidly built of best timber well primed and painted against the weather. They came ready assembled with doors and windows in place while inside they were already compartmentalised into small but cosy rooms.

The craze began to spread and other coastal bungalow developments appeared. Sutton-on-Sea and Chapel St Leonards were among the resorts that incorporated railway carriage homes in their rows of bungalows.

Indeed some are still occupied on Furlongs Road in Sutton. It was in the years immediately following the First World War that the railway carriages' true potential for social housing was put to the test.

The Government promised the returning soldiers "homes fit for heroes." In reality the years after 1918 brought a severe housing shortage.

The impressive new council estates (such as Hawtonville in Newark) took a number of years to materialise. Meantime homes needed to be found - and quickly.

Once again the cheap wood and asbestos bungalow came to the rescue. Those who could afford them bought self-assembly models offered by such firms as Coopers of London Hallamshire Homes of Sheffield and a little later Waltons of Sutton-on-Trent.

The Government actively supported the growth of new bungalow settlements with grants of up to 50% to those who would take up the challenge to buy a plot of land and provide their own home.

In the absence of more conventional properties to rent these so-called plotlands provided a means by which ordinary people without the earning power or mortgage potential of the modern classes could become freehold owners of property.

Subsidies were also made available for converting other structures such as ex-Army huts and railway carriages.

Magazines such as The Woodworker published plans showing how two carriages could be knocked together to make a comfortable home.

It is thought that the carriage homes that once stood on Newark's Lincoln Road were put up about this time. Most of the homes were intended to be temporary measures until more traditional brick houses became available.

But as with Second World War prefabs occupiers often became very attached to them and many survived much longer than originally intended.


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