Understandably many railway enthusiasts focus on locomotives. For this Blog post though I should like to consider a railway carriage. M34527 is a British Railways (BR) Mark 1 BSK. British Railways introduced Mark 1 carriages in 1951 and they now form the backbone of heritage railways rolling stock. M34527 is based at the Somerset and Dorset Heritage Railway Trust’s Midsomer Norton station.
The acronym BSK was used by BR to describe a brake second corridor type of carriage. The apparent misspelling of corridor in the acronym is because the letter ‘C’ had been used to describe coaching stock vehicles that had both first and second class accommodation. Such vehicles are referred to as a composite. For example, BCK stands for brake composite corridor. I always think that a BCK is like an entire train in one vehicle as the brake reference is related to the provision of a guard’s compartment which is equipped with a hand brake with the remainder of the coach having both first and second class compartments.
M34527 was built by British Railways Wolverton Works in 1955 at a cost of around £5,500. It measures over 65ft long or 20m and weighs 37 tons or 37,600 kilograms. Originally it was fitted with twenty four seats in four compartments. The ‘M’ in the number refers to allocation to the London Midland region. It would have operated anywhere between London and Scotland and around North West England and North Wales.
Its first livery was British Railways crimson and cream. This was probably repainted in the early 1960’s to the all over maroon livery with black and yellow lining. This is the livery it carries currently. The maroon livery began to be introduced by British Railways in 1956 over a year after M34527 was built. With the re-branding of British Railways to British Rail from the 1st January 1965 a new national network of blue and grey was introduced. At some point M34527 would have probably been painted for a third time and given this livery.
M34527 was still in passenger service at the end of 1977 but sometime after that it was transferred into BR’s departmental service for use as a staff and tool van in Tinsley depot’s breakdown train unit. It received another livery change by being painted in all over yellow. The interior was gutted with the removal of the passenger compartments and guards area. The end gangways which allowed access to an adjacent coupled coach were removed. It was also renumbered ADB975470.
There is a record of ADB975470 being at 30A Stratford depot in East London during the spring of 1985 where it received repairs which involved the removal of its bogies. . This depot was subsequently closed and demolished. It is now the Olympic Park.
When Tinsley depot closed in 1998 the Breakdown Train was disbanded and ADB975470 (M34527) was purchased for preservation. It was moved to the Churnet Valley Railway in Staffordshire where it remained for around seven years. During this time it was repainted into unlined maroon and renumbered M5562. A window was fitted in the end of the vehicle to enable a Guard to be positioned behind it along with access to a brake controller for when the coach was being used in passenger trains that are being propelled.
In March 2005 the BSK was bought by the Somerset & Dorset Heritage Trust based at Midsomer Norton. With the relaying of track at the station, the BSK was run over the line for a very limited period. Since it has no seated passenger accommodation it was taken out of service for full restoration to be undertaken. This involves refitting the four passenger compartments along with the guard’s area.
The BSK has now been renumbered back to M34527 and sports the lined BR maroon livery. Volunteers at Midsomer Norton have made significant progress in restoring it back to a passenger carrying vehicle. The four passenger compartments have been reinstated and wall paneling has been fitted to the first of these. New wall paneling has also been fitted in the former parcels area and the guard’s compartment has been rebuilt.
Some external windows were removed when the coach was converted to departmental use and these have been reinstated. A couple of the passenger doors adjacent to the guard’s compartment on either side of the vehicle previously removed have also been refitted. The seats are being reupholstered with 1950’s Chain Link moquette.
BR’s removal of the gangways together with all the vertical fixing points has meant the vehicle has had to be transported to Cranmore Maintenance Services at the East Somerset Railway. Here skilled craftsman and equipment will be able to reinstate the location points allowing them to refit the gangways correctly. It is hoped that M34527 will return in a few weeks and can be marshaled next to Mark 1 Second Corridor (SK) also at Midsomer Norton station.
Restoring this Mark 1 carriage will mean passengers will be able to walk between carriages and experience train travel as it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s over part of the iconic Somerset and Dorset Railway.
For a comprehensive history of British Railways Mark 1 coaches, I highly recommend the book by Keith Parkin. It’s a bit more expensive now than when I bought it many years ago but if you can get hold of a copy more cheaply or from the library, it is well worth a look.
How did we get on? Read about the progress we have made here.