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South Eastern & Chatham Railway
25 Ton "Dance Hall" Goods Brake Van 11916

Dance Hall brake van

11916, Richard Salmon

The prototype or "pattern" vehicle for this design was built by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway in 1918. The 12 inch deep underframe contained compartments filled with scrap metal, giving it its tare weight of 25 tons. It was a thoroughly modern vehicle and significantly heavier than most vans in use on other pre-Grouping railways. The high tare weight was considered necessary for working long freight trains, composed of wagons with handbrake only, on some of the lengthy descending gradients in SECR territory. A production batch with detail differences to the pattern van, was built in 1921. The underframe was subsequently re-designed with a 15 inch deep solebar; this design being allocated SR Diagram No. 1560.

11916 was one of a batch of 20 vans ordered to be built by the SECR at their Ashford (Kent) Works. It was completed in 1923 (after the Grouping) and was probably turned out in SR livery. Its SR number was 55477.

20 more vans were built to this design by the SR in 1926/27 at the ex-LBSCR Lancing Works.

The nickname 'Dance Hall' was applied by SR crews on account of the large cabin area available, which was generally occupied only by the Guard. One can imagine a dry-humoured railway goods guard exclaiming that it was, "big enough to hold a dance in!".

55477 was in general traffic use in the South-East until its withdrawal (as S55477) and transfer to departmental stock by BR on 2nd May 1959. 10 vans had previously been converted in 1953 to provide accommodation for P.Way Dept. staff but ours was not so altered. It continued in departmental service as DS55477 for the next 20 years. We do not have precise records for our vehicle but, in BR departmental service, this type of van could be found working anywhere in the country - including Scotland! When condemned on 25th February 1978, DS55477 was located at Chaddesden Sidings, Derby. It was tendered for and purchased by the Bluebell, arriving on 20th. March, 1979.

On arrival the roof was recanvassed, the windows reglazed and the van soon emerged as a traffic vehicle in the SECR livery shown above and remained in use almost continuously until autumn 2007. Initially, its large size made it suitable for carrying working parties out on the single line. In recent years it has been regularly used in connection with Clive Groome's Footplate Days and Ways.

At the time of writing, SECR 11916 is stopped for some bodywork repairs, a fractured spring plate and repainting. It is hoped that it will return to traffic in 2008.

Subsequent research (published in 2000) indicates that:
i) The van probably never wore SECR livery.
ii) If it did, the grey would have been much darker.
iii) There is no evidence to suggest that these particular vans had red ends prior to repainting in SR livery.

Recommended reading:
An Illustrated History of Southern Wagons - Volume Three: SECR, by Messrs. Bixley, Blackburn, Chorley and King;
Published by The Oxford Publishing Company, 2000. ISBN 0 86093 493 4.

This book may be available new from the Bluebell Railway Shop.

A used copy may be available from the Carriage Shop at Horsted Keynes which is open most weekends.

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Valid HTML 4.0 Transitional! Photo © Richard Salmon
Text © Martin Skrzetuszewski.
Additional research by Ted Crawforth.
Page last updated by Nick Beck, 29 January 2014.
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