New Year's Day Lecture 2013

by Curtis Devereau

The Manx Northern's 'Empress of Ramsey' - A Pint size full Luggage Brake

As a result of our desire to trace our family tree, which has become a lot simpler through the internet these days, various bits of other interesting information have come to light through making new connections with people around the world. One of these connections has actually turned out to be a bit of Manx Northern Railway (MNR) treasure trove. While most of this information on MNR is already fairly well known, there are odd snippets and references to several unusual items including the MNR's 'Empress of Ramsey'.

The recently discovered hand written notes in a ledger, made by a former employee of the MNR, make reference to the staff nicknaming something that is being constructed at the back of the carriage shed at Ramsey as the 'Empress of Ramsey' in autumn 1898. There is also an entry in this ledger to the purchase of various sections of wood and timber at the same time from a local supplier in Ramsey, which has the reference 'luggage van'.

While these two bits of information give you a bit of a clue of what the MNR was building, the third find defiantly confirms it. One piece of loose paper in the ledger has a rough outline sketch of side view of carriage and interior. The side view shows a Clemison six wheeled chassis with what looks like a shrunk down version of the Isle of Man Railway's two full luggage carriages F27 and F28, which were called 'Empress Vans' as they arrived the previous year, Queen Victoria's Silver Jubilee. So, clearly the MNR decided that they wanted to have a full luggage brake in their fleet too.

This new carriage body had the same double doors either as the two IMR Empress vans, with one end being the guard's end with brake. The middle section had the same small rectangular windows as the IMR carriages just below the cantrail level but only four windows instead of the six on IMR version due to the short of the Clemison chassis compare to the IMR's bogie underframe. These windows were to allow a bit of light in to what would be a very dark interior. The decorative beading was the same style as the Clemison coaches, while there were two oil lamp housings on the roof for interior illumination.

One variation in the interior design from the IMR version was what looked like a set of concertina doors in the centre of the carriage, which could be used to section off the two sides if required. A letter rack and seat/locker as same as the Empress vans was provided but as with the other MNR brake carriages no lookout duckets were fitted. This omission seems a little strange, as the MNR had the chance to fit this useful addition to make the guard's life a little easier. Possibly the additional cost could have been a factor, but wood and glass for a couple of duckets wouldn't have been too prohibitive cost wise. A small slit window above the break housing at the guard end was the only extra form of vision.

Another reason for carriage having no duckets as the MNR didn't want to be accused of wholesale copying of the IMR's Express van design. Although, you have to agree that the double doors either end and small upper windows, the 'Empress of Ramsey' does look like a pint sized version of the IMR carriages. A small side note details the livery as the same as the other MNR carriages as chocolate/lake lower body and cream upper body. There appears to be no indication as any fleet numbering, but just a simple 'Guard' on the door at the brake and 'Luggage' at the other end. Also, it mentions that the brake end of the carriage is faces Ramsey.

Of course, there are precious few photographs of the MNR and the chances of the 'Empress of Ramsey' appearing on a old photograph are very slim indeed. However, old pictures of the Manx railways are still being discovered, so never say never. There is possibly more chances of it appearing at Douglas station on a through train in a old IMR photograph than at Ramsey.

We have to explore what was the reasoning behind the MNR wanting a luggage van? Was it traffic requirements or simply keeping up with the neighbours? Did the IMR ask the MNR to provide one on through trains over its metals? It is common knowledge that MNR was desperately short of money in its final years, so constructing a luggage van was not a mere flight of fancy to keep up with the 'Joneses'. Either a general increase in luggage or a directive from the IMR was the catalyst for the MNR to go to all the trouble of removing a Clemson carriage body and replacing it with a luggage van body.

Now, we have to ask the question, did the MNR ever construct the proposed 'Empress of Ramsey', which Clemison chassis was used, what happened to the original carriage body and what was the eventual demise of the 'new' luggage van body? As with most historical mysteries there are lots of questions with very few real answers.

Without concrete evidence, such as photographs or full documentation, we can only take an educated guess. The wood was ordered for construction, and mention was made to the construction of the van in the back of the carriage shed at Ramsey. Possible chassis donors could have been either carriage No.6 or No.8 as they both had brake gear fitted. With lower traffic numbers in the final years of the MNR, with the opening of the Manx Electric Railway extension to Ramsey a couple years earlier, had a serious effect on the MNR numbers, so they could easily afford to sacrifice a piece of passenger carrying stock to construct a luggage van. As for the demise of the 'Empress of Ramsey', we can only take an educated guess. The possible ending could have been when MNR Clemison No.8 carriage was involved in a accident in 1905 and was withdrawn from traffic. Was No.8 not a passenger carriage, but running as a luggage van? Until anymore evidence emerges we will never know its fate.


-Since the original research, some further information has come to the surface and I can share it with you all today

A possible grounded carriage or two van bodies together were spotted on Google satellite maps on the Dreemskerry ridge just south of Ramsey in a corner of field. However, after a few days of exploring the area nothing could be found. This is because the satellite images of the island on Google are now a couple of years old, and the locals think the railway carriage that was in the field was demolished or fell apart last year - was this the missing 'Empress of Ramsey'?

A chance encounter with the Great Aunt of Mrs Cowley from the Pie Shop brought the revelation that her Grandfather was employed by the GPO back in the latter days of the 19th century. Part of his job involved sorting the mail picked up along the old M.N.R. route and on occasion the M.N.R. Luggage van would be used for this, particularly at Christmastime when the mail volumes would be too much for the standard Brake vans, and the enlarged letter rack on the Empress Of Ramsey would prove a godsend. There was one occasion when the mail sort failed as the GPO worker on duty was enticed into the Ramsey Butchers card school in N41, the heady combination of gambling and whiskey proving his downfall. On arrival at Ramsey the Butchers placed his by now unconscious body back into the Luggage van, he awoke the next day locked in the Ramsey Carriage shed.

And finally, just two days ago, I was approached by one of the Ramsey Commissioners refuse workers, who had been emptying the dustbins along the Jurby Road, when he found an old photograph outside one of the houses, whilst not being conclusive evidence I can let you see a scan of the picture, and you may draw your own conclusions from what you see.