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History File - The BR 56ft 11' Suburban Coaches

British Railways’ creation of standard Mk1 non-gangway stock in 1954 was something of an enigma in comparison to the creation of the ‘standard’ Mk1 gangway design, especially considering that entirely adequate (and in some cases, superior) pre-nationalisation non-gangway stock, even as late as 1953, was still being produced. The Great Western Railway (GWR) had the Collett sets, the LMS had the Stanier sets and the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) utilised not just Gresley and Thompson designs, but Quad-Art and Quinn-Art sets.

Perhaps even more surprisingly two underframe lengths were used, 56’ 11“ and 63’ 5”, in a combination of six different designations; Composite (C), Composite Lavatory (CL), Third (T), Third Lavatory Open (TLO), Third Open (TO) and Brake Third (BT) (although the withdrawal of Third Class as a designation in favour of Second Class in 1956, led to the more commonly referred to designations of C, CL, S, SLO, SO and BS for the non-gangway stock).

The longer 63’ 5” underframe non-gangway stock found favour with the Southern and Western regions, as the entry to their London termini was unrestricted, while the shorter 56’ 11” stock was ideally suited to the more constricted curves of the suburban termini in North London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and it is this length of Mk1 stock that forms the subject of our newest coaching model release.

A total of 596 of the short frame non-gangway vehicles were built by British Railways between 1954 and 1956, with construction taking place at BR’s Wolverton, Swindon, Doncaster, York and Derby works. The Brake Thirds and Thirds formed the vast majority of the stock built, being used across all of the BR regions and these were built to traditional designs of ‘suburban’ stock, along with the Composites and Third Opens, the former being supplied solely to the BR(M) and BR(W) regions and the latter to the BR(M), BR(W) and BR(Sc) regions. Compartments (or bays on ‘open’ designated vehicles) were designed to a nominal length of 6’ 3”, creating nine zones, but on the BR(E) region exclusive CL and TLO stock, the toilet compartments replaced a complete seating zone.

In the composite vehicles, First Class compartments received an extra 3” of foot space, with the Third/Second Class compartments being stripped of 2” in length to compensate for this ‘luxury’, becoming the narrowest compartments in British Railways’ stock.

First Class compartments had four-a-side seating with armrests; reduced to three-a-side with armrests in the Corridor Lavatory vehicles, while Third/Second Class compartments had continuous six-a-side seating, reduced to four-a-side continuous seating in the corridor Lavatory stock. A big feature of the non-gangway vehicle compartments were the six picture frames, three on one side, two on the other, that featured local regional scenes painted by an array of BR commissioned artists, along with a single mirror. By comparison, the open stock interiors featured two separated bays, arranged in a 3+2 seating arrangement, with six-a-side seating set against the bulkheads.

Life for the Guards in the BT was never as comfortable as it was for their mainline colleagues; the Guard’s compartment being open, with no separate goods cage and just a small partition for housing the periscope to separate the Guard from the goods’ van.

Externally, there were no major changes in design during the lifetime of the stock, but subtle differences in detail did arise, with different roof ventilator types and positions, end hand rail types, door hinges and vacuum piping arrangements at the coach ends all being observed, while the Western Region even went to the lengths of including small eyelets set into the coach ends to retain the coupling during slip coach operation; an operational use that had ceased to be practiced.

From December 1963 onwards, roof periscopes were removed from the Guards’ compartments and the holes were plated over and in the same period, various longitudinal patches were welded to the bottom of the outer compartment panels to combat the spread of corrosion in that area particularly.

The most obvious design difference related to the variance in ventilator spacing from the centreline that was associated with the 24 BR Derby built ‘Metrogauge’ Brake Second, Second and Open Second vehicles for the BR(M) Region that worked via the restricted bore tunnels from Kentish Town under St Pancras.

To reduce the height from the rail and gain clearance under the tunnels, the ventilators were moved to 1’ 7” from the vehicles’ centreline and the Guard’s periscopes were slightly reduced in height, but this practice also seems to have spread to British Railways’ Doncaster Works as well, as all their non-gangway built vehicles featured wide roof ventilator spacing.

From new in 1954, all non-gangway vehicles appeared in British Railways’ Carmine Red on the coach body, with black coach ends, but from 1956 BR Maroon was introduced, again with black coach ends; a livery that lasted until late 1966 when non-gangway stock began to appear in BR Rail Blue, with similarly coloured body ends.

In the interim period, between 1959 and 1961, some of the non-gangway stock received lining to the maroon livery, a move led by the BR(M) Region in particular, although examples were noted across all regions, varying in body position between being directly under the window baseline, or by being shifted slightly lower on the body.

In BR Departmental service, a number of ex-BT vehicles from BR(E) and BR(Sc) were converted to Freightliner Brake Vans during 1967, appearing in Freightliner Grey and of these, two vehicles were then converted to BTU Tool Vans, appearing in Engineers Yellow with black chevrons on the lower body.

While the most familiar images of non-gangway stock date back to the matched rakes of identical BR Blue stock hauled by Class 31 locomotives out of Kings Cross on the former GNR lines, matched rakes were not always the case, especially at introduction in 1954.

Marylebone’s Outer Suburban services, out to High Wycombe, Aylesbury, Brackley and even the 69 mile journey to Woodford, were formed as 6-sets with Gresley & Thompson carriages and initially only the Mk1 BTs were allocated into these sets as a replacement.

Over at Kings Cross and Moorgate, the intensive Inner Suburban services out to Hatfield and Hertford were formed from two Quad-Art sets, which could not be split and so from the outset, Mk1 non-gangway 5-sets were formed, a formation of BS-S-S-S-BS that actually meant 150 fewer seats than the Quad-Art sets.

For the BR(M) St.Pancras-Moorgate-St.Albans/Luton services, the branded Metrogauge reduced height 6-sets comprised of BT-T-TO-TO-T-BT were needed to negotiate the reduced height St.Pancras tunnel, as well as to cope with the intense curves.

Improvements to all services were made through the late 1950s; a Second was introduced to the Marylebone service in 1956, and capacity was increased on the Kings Cross Inner Suburban services in the early 1960s by dropping a BS and substituting it for an S, resulting in S-S-BS-S-S and then S-S-S-BS-S-S formations. In the same period, the Dunstable Branch was featuring short BS-S 2-sets which could be doubled up at busier periods to cover capacity.

Elsewhere, Kings Cross Outer Suburban/Secondary services extended out to Royston and Cambridge, as well as Peterborough, introducing the CL and SLO carriages in 6-sets comprised of SLO-BS-CL-CL-SLO-BS, or strengthened with the addition of an SLO, or CL, CL, or even CL, S, S to form 7-sets, 8-sets or even 9-sets. Later developments in the 1970s saw formations on the Outer Suburban sets altered to SLO-SLO-CL-BS-CL-SLO, but as withdrawals of non-gangway stock were hastened by the rapid influx of DMUs to suburban and rural routes, and stock was cascaded between regions, the formations fluctuated as stock was withdrawn from service and sent for scrap.

In BR’s other regions, BR(W) and BR(Sc), the BT, T, TO and C stock was interspersed with Collet or Thompson stock as required, with both disposing of vehicles quite quickly as DMUs were introduced during the early 1960s.

By the early 1970s, the only survivors were those vehicles assigned to the King’s Cross area workings, as the York Road and Hotel Curves could not accommodate longer framed stock such as the Derby Suburban units, and the Cravens DMUs which were used on off peak services, were deemed unsuitable for the busiest rush hour trains due to insufficient power, seating capacity and passenger movement characteristics.

The final locomotive hauled services were due to be retired by November 1976, but work at Kings Cross’ station throat led to a stay of execution for 10 months, with the final working of locomotive hauled non-gangway stock taking place on Friday, September 30, 1977, with the 17:42 King’s Cross service to Royston formed as 7-set SLO, CL, BS, CL, SLO, S, S, with coaches 48009, 43003, 43359, 43043, 48006, 46108 and 46147.

Check out our new range of 56ft 11' Mark 1 Suburban coaches by clicking here!

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