Restoring Q Stock

By London Transport Museum

Q stock trains are a rare and distinctive part of London’s transport heritage. They represent the experimental era of pre-war modernisation of London’s Underground and reveal the influence of American design. Just five classic Q stock cars dating from the 1920s and 30s survive today, preserved in London Transport Museum’s collection. 

Earls Court Underground station with Q-38 stock (1939-05-09) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

A new era of design

Q stock trains entered service on the District line in November 1938 as part of London Transport’s New Works Programme, which ushered in a new era of modern design on the Underground.

Three-quarter side view of Q35-stock trailer car no 8058 at Ealing Common depot (1936-06-02) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

The American influence

Older Q stock cars which were built between 1923 and 1935 all featured raised clerestory roofs, a once common design feature brought to British railways in the 1870s by American engineer George Mortimer Pullman. 

Three-quarter side view of a four car Q23-stock train, Colin Tait, 1965-12-06, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Three-quarter side view of a six-car train of Q35-stock at Hammersmith depot, Topical Press, 1936-07-13, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Three-quarter side view of Q35-stock, Topical Press, 1936-07-13, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Earls Court Underground station with Q-38 stock (1939-05-09) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

The new cars
In contrast, new Q stock cars that were purpose built in 1938 were distinctly modern. They featured smooth, curved roofs, and sleek, flared sides.

William Sebastian Graff- Baker (Circa 1945-1950) by Walter BirdLondon Transport Museum

This stylish new look was designed by another American, the US-born William Graff-Baker, who become London Transport’s Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1935.

View of the eastbound District line platform at Charing Cross (now Embankment) station (1951) by John Somerset MurrayLondon Transport Museum

A different formation every time?

Unlike today's identical carriages, Q stock trains were formed from a combination of cars with different designs. Passengers never knew what formation of carriages would pull into their platform.

Old and new

This photograph shows the different designs running side by side. In the foreground, you can see the sleek, flared sides of the newer Q stock cars. To the rear of the train you can see the straight edges and clerestory roofs of the older cars.

View of the eastbound District line platform at Charing Cross (now Embankment) station (1956-05-30) by Dr Heinz ZinramLondon Transport Museum

The last of their kind

The different styles show the evolution of engineering, technology and design in the 1920s and 30s. As the last Underground trains built this way, the five surviving cars are an important part of Britain’s transport heritage.

Interior of a Q35-stock District line car featuring seating upholstered in the moquette pattern produced by Holdsworth & Co for the Hammersmith & City line (1944-10-11) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Part of London life

Q stock trains became a familiar part of daily life for Londoners and tourists travelling in and out of central London from the newly built estates in Barking and Dagenham, and the suburbs of Ealing, Hounslow, Richmond and Wimbledon. 

Young Evacuees (1939-09-02) by Fox PhotosGetty Images

War breaks out

But when war broke out in 1939, life in the Capital changed. Under the direction of Chief Executive of London Transport, Frank Pick, Q stock trains were used to aid the evacuation of children from the city.

Westminster Underground station decorated for 1948 Olympics (1948) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Post-war travel to events

During the post-war years, as London was rebuilt, international visitors and Londoners would have travelled on Q stock trains to events such as the 1948 Olympics. Here you can see Westminster station decorated for the occasion.

Underground Map (1939) by Henry C BeckLondon Transport Museum

Through the heart of the Capital

Running through the heart of the Capital, people would have travelled on the Q stock to the West End theatres and museums, out to Kew Gardens and Richmond Park, and to cheer on their football teams at the Boleyn, Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge grounds. Browse the posters up next to see what some passengers may have seen...

To the shows by Underground, Harold Sandys Williamson,, London Transport, The Baynard Press, 1939, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Kew Gardens, Edwin Tatum, London Transport, Waterlow & Sons Ltd, 1956, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Natural History Museum, Christopher Bradbury, 1964, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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How to get there; football, Bruce Roberts, London Transport, John Swain and Son Ltd, 1959, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Richmond Park, Laura Knight, London Transport, Waterlow & Sons Ltd, 1938, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Fans leave Stamford Bridge towards Walham Green District Line station, Topical Press, 1946-09-28, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Ticket for the ‘Farewell Tour in a Clerestory Roofed ‘Q’ stock Train’ on 26 September 1971 (1971) by London TransportLondon Transport Museum

The final journey

On 26 September 1971, the last Q stock train in service made its final journey on the Underground. Today, just five classic Q stock cars are left in existence, preserved in London Transport Museum’s collection. 

Restoring the interiors of the Q stock (2018-07-02) by London Transport MuseumLondon Transport Museum

Restoring the Q stock

The three surviving Q stock cars dating from the 1930s are currently being restored to their former glory at London Transport Museum's Depot. 

Restoration work being carried out on a Q stock car (2018-07-02) by London Transport MuseumLondon Transport Museum

Once restored to operational condition the Q stock will run once again on heritage railways, transporting passengers to a bygone era.

Q stock car interior (2018-07-02) by London Transport MuseumLondon Transport Museum

Restoring to important historical moments

The interiors of the cars will be restored to reflect different moments from the Q stock's long history on the tracks.

One will explore life in wartime London. The second will reflect life during the post-war years of austerity. The third will illustrate the growing optimism and prosperity of the 1950s.

Q stock car District line map (2018-07-02) by London Transport MuseumLondon Transport Museum

LER Q23-stock driving motor car No. 4248 (1923) by Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co.London Transport Museum

Want to learn more?

Visit the London Transport Museum website to find out more about our restoration project and our celebrations of the Q stock and the District line where they ran.

If you want to see one of these iconic trains in person, you can also see one of the earlier Q stock cars - dating from 1923 - on the first floor of London Transport Museum.

Credits: Story

Find out more about our restoration project on our website.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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