Suburban 4 Set

The joint M&GNJRS/NNR project to restore four British Railways Mk.I suburban coaches has been completed.

In 2011 the Suburban 4 project was launched. It was a joint venture between the M&GN Joint Railway Society and the North Norfolk Railway. Its aim was to restore four British Railways Mark 1 1950s suburban coaches to tell part of the story of post-war commuter travel.

The suburbans were built to replace coaches such as our 1924 Quad-Art set. The name ‘suburban’ comes from the fact that the coaches were designed and built to serve the high capacity commuter trains that ran, typically, from London King’s Cross and Moorgate. After the war, the old coaching stock was in desperate need of replacement, so standard Mk1 suburban steel carriage designs were developed.

Six different designs were manufactured between 1954 and 1956 – none had corridor connections between the carriages. Typically, four to five hundred passengers could be squeezed into a five-coach train. The design specification used the terms ‘first’ and ‘third’ class but third class travel came to an end on 3 June 1956 when renamed second class. Four of the six designs came in short and long versions:

65 Composites (short: 3 first class compartments 24 seats, 6 third class compartments 72 seats; the long version had an additional first class compartment) designated C;
50 Composite Lavatories (all short: 3 first class compartments 19 seats, five third class, 42 seats, and two toilets) designated CL;
284 Brake Thirds (short: 6 third class compartments 72 seats; the longs had an additional compartment) designated BS;
307 Thirds (short: 9 third class compartments 108 seats; the longs had 10 compartments 120 seats) designated S;
28 Third Lavatory Opens (all short: third class saloons, eight bays 80 seats and two toilets) designated SLO;
26 Third Opens (third class saloons 9 bays 94 seats, longs an extra bay 104 seats) designated SO.

Four of the six types were used on the Eastern Region and the SLOs and CLs were employed exclusively on the area.

Diesel and electric multiple unit trains quickly displaced the locomotive-hauled Mark 1 suburbans from the late 1950s, and most of the carriages had been scrapped by the late 1960s. The remaining few continued in service on the Great Northern suburban services out of King’s Cross until new electric trains were introduced in 1977.

All the first and second class composite compartments carriages and second class saloons are extinct, but examples of the remaining four designs were saved for preservation.

The North Norfolk Railway purchased several Mk1 suburban coaches in the 1970s. However, after years of use on the NNR they became sidelined in favour of the more open and comfortable British Railways Mk1 standard coaches (many having 64 seats) that are now used on most passenger trains.

As well as of intrinsic historical value, the Mk1 suburbans have a business role to play on the NNR providing much needed extra capacity at times of peak travel – just the type of work for which they were designed.

In 2011 NNR chairman Clive Morris formally launched the Suburban 4 project to restore the NNR’s suburban stock back to their former glory, in the condition they left the factory over 60 years ago. The project complimented Clive’s previous major carriage restoration triumph the 1924 Quad-Art set that was returned to service in 2008. The aim was to show the story of commuter travel in Britain over a 50-year period – the diesel multiple units bring the story into the 1970s – whilst preserving several coaches that may otherwise have been at risk of scrapping.

That same year, the NNR swapped three of its original suburban coaches for two others in better condition that were at risk of scrapping. This reshuffle also removed duplicate coaches from the collection and resulted in the final set to be restored consisting of one of each of the surviving designs. The vehicles concerned became: Composite Lavatory E43041, Brake Third E43357, Third W46139 and Third Lavatory Open E48001. The latter’s restoration commenced in 2011 by volunteers at Weybourne working on the interior, with E43357 still in service on NNR passenger trains and the remaining two awaiting their turn for restoration.

The project received a massive boost in April 2013 with a grant of £99,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This was used to fund the restorations of W46139 (started November 2013) and E43041 and also included an exhibition. The exhibition, titled ‘The Railways and the Suburbs’ enabled visitors to learn about how the railways influenced the growth of the suburbs, and about the technologies involved in the design of locomotives and carriages specifically for suburban commuting. The exhibition was located in a carriage at Holt station. The other two coaches were restored by using NNR finances boosted by voluntary donations.

The year 2014 saw Brake Third E43357 removed from service for its own restoration. It was the easiest of the four as it was still operational and in better condition than the others having not suffered the declining effects of storage. The coach received an intermediate interior overhaul, re-upholstery of the seats and a full exterior repair and repaint into original British Railways crimson livery. The hardest task on its restoration was returning the brake compartment to original condition. This had been stripped out by the NNR many years previously and a generator fitted to power the Railway's first dining trains. However, by rebuilding the ceilings and walls from new material and refurnishing the rest using fittings kept in the spares collection, visitors would now not know that the compartment was once a generator room! The restorations of W46139 and E48001 were simultaneously progressed by staff and volunteers.

During 2015 the first of the four coaches, E43357, was completed and it was stored inside Bridge Road Carriage Sheds at Holt to await the completion of the others. The workshop capacity created by E43357’s completion allowed the restoration of the fourth suburban, CL E43041, to start. This was in the worst condition of all of the coaches in the project suffering very badly from steelwork corrosion. A huge amount had to be replaced and one side of the carriage is practically new. The interior was stripped down, repaired and revarnished and tired seats re-upholstered. A nasty surprise in the form of lethal asbestos insulation was discovered inside E43041 that delayed progress while it was removed by specialist contractors.

In March 2016 Third W46139 was completed allowing a two-coach set to be operated. W46139 had also received a lot of bodywork and also required a full interior restoration as whilst in storage its windows had been smashed allowing a greater amount of water ingress to destroy the interior. Because of the length of time out of service the ceilings had to be replaced throughout and the underframe also required fully stripping down and had to be mechanically overhauled.

The momentum of the project continued with the volunteer-focused restoration of TLO E48001 reaching fruition in the summer boosting the set to three coaches. This coach had required less bodywork than some of the others as it had been partially restored during the early 2000s by its previous owners. However, the interior received a similar level of work as described above, plus the careful restoration of the original 1950s toilets.

CL E43041 was the final coach to re-enter service and was completed in January 2017.

The full set of four was formally launched in April 2017 which officially marked the successful end of the project. Sadly Clive Morris died before it reached completion but his widow, Betty, was present for the launch and Clive will be remembered whenever the Suburban Set is in service

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Registered Charity: 1063676

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