Midland Railway No. 255 was built, along with 699 others, as a 5 compartment, 3rd Class, 6-wheel coach in the period between 1884 and 1896. Many of the earlier versions were oil lit, but gas lighting was introduced around 1892. Each coach could carry up to 50 passengers (5-a-side seating, knee to knee – quite cosy).
No. 255 was unusual, inasmuch as it was one of eight identical coaches sold to the Brecon & Merthyr Railway in 1920. It retained its Midland Red livery, but with new ownership branding.
This did not last long, as the B&M was amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1922 and the coach was rebranded again, being one of 90 B&M carriages taken into GWR stock. The GWR renumbered the coach as 4318, which records tell us was allocated to B&M No. 112. Traces of the GWR number (with the letters B M below) were uncovered, thus proving a true ancestoral line.
As an aside, another of these eight Midland coaches still exists, near Stratford upon Avon, B&M No. 111.
After a few more years service, this coach was declared redundant. Normal practice by the railway companies of the day was to retain the chassis and sell or otherwise dispose of the body. The chassis would be reused, probably with a van body on for stores or the like.
The body of No. 255 was sold around 1930 to become a cafe on the A30 near Exeter at Tedburn St. Mary. A door was cut into one end to allow access and most of the internal partitions were removed, creating an eating area in three compartments and a kitchen in the remaining two compartments.
It stayed there until the mid 1980’s, when it was acquired by filmmaker Andrew Johnston for a garden shed. He managed to rescue it two weeks before demolition. It was seen in his garden not long after he had acquired it and thought it to be Midland. He thought that it may have been from a Welsh railway company, as he had found a pamphlet inside referring to an event in Merthyr.
Approximately 20 years later, a Trust member was in the general area again and he looked to see if he could find the coach body. Eventually he discovered it (The owner had moved it down the garden a bit and built a garage in front of it). To the Trust member’s astonishment he was offered it there and then, as the owner and his wife were moving and the new people did not want it.
After much research and negotiation, it was agreed that it could be brought to Midsomer Norton. At the same time, another Trust member had offered to help with the restoration project, for that was what it was to be.
A year later they tracked down a suitable Midland Railway 6-wheel chassis and negotiated its acquisition. This was discovered to be from coach number 1753.
Eventually, after much work on the chassis, the two elements were united and work commenced in earnest on the repair and restoration of the body by the small team that has been drawn to the project.
It is planned to restore it in Midland livery initially, but it could legitimately be in S&D livery, as identical coaches were built for ‘our’ railway.
Blackford 24.8.07 – MR255 as found in the garden of Andrew Johnston’s house.
Blackford 20.09.07 – MR255 leaving Andrew Johnston’s house with the very capable assistance of Blackmores Haulage.
Mid Norton 20.9.07 – later that same day, MR255 arrives at the station.
Mid Norton 21.09.07 – wrapped awaiting work starting.
Body stripping at the Swindon & Cricklade, 09.06.08. Ex- LMS van no. M35334.
LMS CCT Swindon & Cricklade 6.10.07 – a little over a year later, a suitable chassis was discovered – an original Midland one, number 1753.
Mid Norton 31.12.07 – to stabilise the body, the roof needed raising and the sides needed to be pulled in. Originally there would have been two partitions in this space, holding everything together.
Mid Norton 28.01.08 – Nigel Dickinson stripping remains of original canvas covering from the roof.
Frome 18.2.08 – A superb discovery of the remains of lettering on the coach which describes exactly its pedigree.
Separating body from sole – Swindon & Cricklade 28.07.08. With our helpful friends Blackmores Haulage.
MR 1753 lowering onto Blackmores Haulage transporter.