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South Eastern Railway/SR
5546 Composite (later all 3rd )

5546 as painted for filming work many years before - Chris Ward - 2014

5546, as painted for filming work in the 1980s.
Photo by Chris Ward, taken during the replacement of its tarpaulin, in 2014.

A steam-hauled Electric Prototype!
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 thus, for many years, was the only preserved coach of SER origin, although more bodies have been recovered for preservation since. 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.

Interior first-class compartment, 5546

Right: Interior of former first-class compartment, 2003

The first class compartments were ones formerly in second class carriage No.792 of 1899, each compartment of that carriage being 6' 5" long. All five compartments of No.792 were used, forming one end of the new coach, along with three (each 5' 71/2" wide) from 6-compartment Third No. 568 (of 1897) along with two further compartments from an unknown donor vehicle, each 6' 13/4" wide. On the later production versions of the electric stock, if there was a mis-match between the lengths of the compartments used and the total length of the underframe, the extra was simply left as a small void between two compartments at the point where the vehicles were joined.

Comfortable as the centre coach of a Birdcage set.
It ran for a time as the centre coach of 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.

Push-pull trailer 1050.
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.

Preserved by chance.
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.

Running as No.1050 in the 1960s

Repainted into SECR Livery, and running as No.1050 in the 1960s.

Type: Composite (later: Full Third)
Built: 1897/9 Rebuilt: 1924-7
Seating: 32 1st, 60 3rd (later: 100 3rd)
Length: 62' 6"
Weight: 31 tons
Original Nos: SER/SECR 568 and 792 as six-wheel vehicles
No. as rebuilt SECR 1440 allocated, SR 5546
Other Nos: 1050, S1050S
Withdrawn: Dec 1962
Preserved: 1963
To Bluebell: 2/5/1963
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