34556 sits at Horsted Keynes, awaiting commissioning into service, October 2012
Up to the mid-1960s passenger trains ran with a brake van at each end. One reason for having a van section behind the engine as to protect passengers from water ingress when the tender overflowed during scooping operations (the SR did not have water troughs). There was a general desire that the last vehicle in a train should have a handbrake in case a coupling failed and the train became divided on a gradient. Although the vacuum brake would stop the rear part of the train, eventually it would leak off so a handbrake was seen as the only guarantee of safety.
In 1963 (four years before the end of steam on the Southern Region) around 190 BR Mark 1 BSKs could be found allocated to the region. SR coaching stock was largely formed into sets with a BSK at each end. 3-car sets (with a CK in the centre) were most common and these could be seen working across the Region. Apart from the Mark 1 vehicles used on the "Royal Wessex" service, all SR stock sat four-a-side in third (later second) class. The large van area reflected the early 1950s need to carry, variously, heavy luggage, parcels (a railway business), bags of mail (Royal Mail), perambulators and accompanied dogs.
Lot 30095 comprised 65 vehicles numbered 34521-34585, all except one being allocated to the London Midland Region (34585 went to the Eastern Region). These were built with vacuum braking, steam heating and ran on BR1 bogies, which were of a traditional design with leaf springs and oil axle boxes.
Additional electric heating was fitted to 34556 during its early service life as steam-heating was not fitted to some of the then-new diesel and electric locomotives. At some date between 1979 and 1983, it was re-allocated to the Eastern Region. In 1985 it is shown allocated to Hull (Botanic Gardens) depot for maintenance. Following the "Sectorisation" of BR in the 1980s, 34556 was allocated to the Network South-East business sector and was based at Eastleigh, but was withdrawn from service by 1989. It was transferred to Stewarts Lane depot for use by VSOE. It was later transferred to the East Somerset Railway, where it was fitted with B4 bogies and subsequently overhauled and restored to a close-to-original condition before being hired to the Bluebell Railway.
Type: BSK (Brake Corridor Second, originally Brake Corridor Third), Diagram 181
Built: April 1955, at BR Wolverton Works (Lot 30095)
Original No: M34556
Current No: S34556
Seating: 24 3rd, now 2nd class
Length: 64' 6" over body
Original Weight: 31 Tons
To Bluebell: 20 September 2012