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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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 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.
Find out more about our restoration project on our website.