It is, here, worth stating some of the factual history of the Bluebell's four coaches, since all recent publications, from reference books on preserved carriages to the Bluebell's own stock book, have errors when dealing with these coaches. The coach numbers, builders and dates given here are taken from an article in Bluebell News in 1966 which was researched from original Metropolitan Railway documents, and have been confirmed by evidence found during the current restoration.
Composite No.412 is seen here in 1992, as cosmetically restored for filming work.
Composite No.368 (LT 515) was built by Ashburys in 1898, and composite No.412 (LT 516) by Cravens in 1900. Both composites have seating for 30 third and 24 first. The first class had been down-graded in 1940, involving removal of the folding arm-rests, which are now being reinstated.
In 1940 five of them, plus a much rebuilt 1899 experimental electric motor coach, were converted back to steam haulage, as two three-coach push-pull sets for the Chesham branch, on which they alternated one week on, one week off. Their next bit of luck was the Bluebell's requirement for something cheap in the year after they were displaced on electrification of the Chesham line.
They served the Bluebell well, carrying many of the railway's visitors in its formative years. In 1963 they returned briefly to LT to take part in the Metropolitan's Centenary celebrations. However, one by one, they started showing their age. Roofs leaked and interiors rotted. First, one of the composites succumbed, and then the entire set - being close coupled precluded their use as single vehicles. In 1969 they became the first stock to move from the Railway's base at Sheffield Park to the newly purchased sidings at Horsted Keynes, where their restoration was attempted. One roof was stripped, the supporting structure repaired, and a new roof, in plywood, applied. The paintwork was stripped off, and three of the four coaches in the next five years reverted to a natural wood finish. Some of the teak panels were now plywood, and some, LT replacements in metal, which were suitably scumbled. As such, they ran occasionally for filming work, including the Betjeman "Metroland". However, it became evident that a full return to service would require much further work, beyond the railway's capabilities at that time.
In the meantime, they had been accommodated in the Bluebell's new carriage shed at Horsted Keynes, where they were to remain for a quarter of a century, safe, but with apparently little future, their interiors crammed with such components as spare coach seats and doors, and with dry-rot taking hold in places. Through the 1980s, as the shed was cleared of stock in storage to make more restoration space, they were again lucky and remained under cover. Their next lucky break was to be selected for a filming job, for which the BBC provided a shipping container into which to decant the assorted spares inside.
How this led to their restoration is explained in the next page, which introduces the BASH restoration project.
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Credits and disclaimer.