Right: Interior of former first-class compartment, 2003
This coach is a composite in more ways than one. It was constructed at Ashford in 1924 from parts of three South-Eastern Railway six-wheel coaches. Only two numbers are listed for these SER coaches, since these were the ones officially recorded in the SR carriage registers, however, examination of the body indicates that parts of three coaches were used. It is thus one of only three preserved coaches of SER origin. The body was mounted on a new underframe (taking works order 3521/26, actually two brand-new shorter underframes joined to achieve the required length) as a prototype for conversions of steam stock to electric haulage, receiving diagram No.319. Once the 1925/6 conversion programme was completed, the SR found they had this perfectly servicable carriage on their hands, and on 13 April 1927 it entered service as a steam hauled 1st/3rd composite No.5546.
It ran for a time as the centre coach of a three-coach birdcage set 528, and was noted in 1935 as running in set 760 on Madstone West - Paddock Wood - Tonbridge services, between SECR brake first No.7735 and full third No.1093.
When this set was replaced by a Maunsell set, it was downgraded to third class only, as a push-pull trailer (Diag.50) No. 1050, on 30 June 1943 at New Cross Gate. It served as a spare coach available to strengthen services on South Western branches, including Swanage, Lymington and Seaton. On withdrawal it was stored along with many other coaches on the Horsted Keynes to Ardingly branch, from where it was purchased by the Bluebell, a lucky survivor, being a replacement for another coach rejected by the Bluebell due to broken windows.
Entering service on the Bluebell in 1963, and was repainted in 1965 to match the 'Birdcage' brake No. 1061. Apart from some filming work, it has not been used for several years. It is hoped eventually to restore it as the centre composite coach of a three-coach SE&CR Birdcage set. Although not a typical centre-coach, it will not look out of place, completing this historic combination which was to be found all over the south-east from the early years of the last century until the 1950's, when they ended their days as the classic branch line train.
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