Friday, 10 March 2017

COMPLETION SPECIAL: Mark 1 Suburban Composite Lavatory E43041

We are delighted to report the completion of Suburban E43041, and therefore also the (unofficial) conclusion of the Suburban 4 project as a whole!

E43041 is one of the railway's more unusual carriages built to the standard 1950's Mark 1 design. Weighing 29 tons, it is a Composite Lavatory (CL) and is the only Suburban design carriage within our collection that has First Class accommodation. 42 third class and 19 first class passengers can squeeze into eight compartments entering or existing using one of the 13 doors. Down each side of the vehicle are corridors linking the compartments and providing access to two toilets. However each class is separated so First Class and Third Class cannot mingle!  Even the toilets are split with one provided for each class. Like all Mark 1 suburbans, there are no corridor connections at the ends of the vehicle which prevents access to adjacent carriages. The CL vehicles were built specially for the Eastern Region, who were the only one of the five BR regions to request suburban stock with toilets. This “special feature” meant that the CL design was one of the least numerous design of suburban, with only 50 being built, all by British Railways' Doncaster Works in 1954/55. Compare this figure to the suburban “Third” fleet, of which there were 300 examples. The only other design of suburban to have toilets was the Third Lavatory Open, another “Eastern Region Exclusive”, one of which is also resident on the NNR and was overhauled and out-shopped last August.

E43041 was introduced into service in May 1956 and spent its entire working life on Eastern Region suburban services. Its exact workings are not known, although evidence exists that the coach operated commuter services from both London Kings Cross, and London Liverpool Street out to Ipswich. During E43041's working career it was repainted twice, starting out life in BR's original suburban livery of unlined Crimson. It was repainted shortly after introduction into the standard lined Maroon livery as the Crimson proved difficult to keep clean and was particularly susceptible to fading in sunlight. It received a final colour change into BR's corporate Blue livery, which was rather uninspiring on suburban stock as it consisted of a single colour with no lining or other features.

The first members of the CL fleet started to be withdrawn from service in 1965, only ten years after they were built. The BR suburban stock was the last non-corridor coaching stock to be built in the UK, as modern practice was favouring multiple units and electrification for suburban services, which explains the short working lives of this type of stock. The year 1974 saw three CL vehicles withdrawn from British Rail service, E43041 working its last train in November 1974, having spent its entire life on the Eastern Region without any transfers. Towards its swansong E43041 was working peak services out of Kings Cross, along Great Northern lines being hauled by Class 31 diesel locomotives. Other CL vehicles soldiered on for a further three years before themselves being condemned.

E43041 entered preservation in 1975 and became one of eight CL vehicles to dodge the cutter's torch. Preservation was not to prove a guaranteed sanctuary, as the lack of corridor connections, numerous doors and poorly designed windows resulted in the coaches being unsuitable for normal tourist railway operations, and the limited resources of enthusiasts in the 1980’s and 1990’s resulted in the situation where water damage and steel corrosion was far outstripping the capacity to conserve and repair the coaches. Consequently, many CL vehicles became dilapidated after a time and were stored out of service. E43041 did remarkably well however and was one of a fleet of five suburbans based on the growing North Norfolk Railway, a stalwart throughout the 1980's and 1990's. A typical formation was a three coach set formed of two Suburban CL vehicles with a brake on the end.

Stored at Sheringham in 2006

However by the early 2000's the corrosion was rampant and E43041 was finally stored out of service in 2005 awaiting repairs. Repairs which were not in initially forthcoming due to the operational unattractiveness of the suburban design. The vehicle’s long term future was secured however in the early 2010’s when the Suburban 4 project, lead by the late Clive Morris, was launched and E43041 was selected for receiving a major overhaul as the CL vehicle for this special set. The railway's other CL, which was in an even poorer state, was sold on.

After ten years in storage, E43041 was finally extracted in June 2015 and a start made on it's overhaul.

Unfortunately after stripping down the carriage it became obvious that a huge amount of corrosion was hidden underneath and the coach was in an appalling condition. An additional complication came when a large amount of asbestos was discovered forcing work to stop and expensive removal contractors brought in to resolve the issue.

This completed, the greatest bodywork reconstruction ever undertaken on the railway was undertaken, with the entire side that faces the sea replaced, both framework and steel panelling. The vehicle was in a very skeletal form for quite some time.

Whilst all this was going on a full interior strip down and restoration was undertaken using a small army of volunteers. The underframe and bogies were rebuilt and repainted. The seating reupholstered. No stone was able to be left unturned! After the new steel skin was added, a huge push on reassembly was undertaken.

With this being the final Suburban 4 vehicle, the end deadline pf the project was upon us, so a special effort, not seen on the other three coaches, was required in the latter part of 2016 to squeeze the same level of quality finishing work into a much smaller timescale. Thankfully we were successful and E43041 made it's deadline for the Lottery funding aspect of the project. Final assembly and panting work was rapid.

E43041 is now ready for service and has been formed with the other three suburbans W46139, E48001 & E43357. They are to be launched officially during April which will be the official conclusion of the Suburban 4 project, and it's been quite a (6 year) journey!

Great Eastern Railway 1899 4 Wheel Brake Third 853

Work on the brakegear and doors continues to progress steadily. Preparation works for the next phase of the vehicle's overhaul have also started... (see Workshop section below).

Great Northern Railway (later M&GN) 1887 6 Wheel Third 129

No progress to report.

British Railways 1960 Restaurant Buffet (Refurbished) E1969

The coach has now been handed over to the painters who have been making quick progress. A coat of red primer has been applied all around the coach, followed by undercoating in two-tone red & cream with black for the coach ends. This completed, the gloss painting has now started, with the landward side having received its first (of two) coat.

British Railways 1959 Brake Corridor Composite NE21224

Equally as exciting, to some at least, as the emergence of E43041 has been the commencement of our next major restoration project. I present to you NE21224, which is a brake vehicle also containing first and second class compartments. It is almost identical to GE21103, another brake vehicle which can be found running regularly in service trains along the NNR. The coach has been in storage at Bridge Road sheds since its arrival five years ago, due to lack of workshop capacity. With the Suburban 4 project now at an end, we can look more seriously at our fleet of "normal" Mark 1 coaches. One area of concern for the railway has been that two brake vehicles are required for the busy summer season, and we have just two restored and in service. This third brake vehicle will put the railway in a better position, to cover services should one of the two required brakes fails, and to provide a third brake at exceptionally busy times (such as steam galas etc) if extra Mark 1 sets are required to be formed, as of course, every passenger train requires a brake vehicle in it. NE21224 was last used on the mainline as a support coach for 70000 "Britannia". It has had a few modifications for this role but nothing too major. It is proposed to return it as a "normal" BCK. It entered the workshops this week for the long task of full restoration to commence...

In just five days a remarkable amount of visual change has been made. This has been due to the "stripping out" nature of the tasks which does create big changes in a small period of time as large components are removed off the vehicle. So far, the doors and windows have been removed, along with a great deal of wooden interior trim work that was surrounding these parts.

With much of the separate bits out of the way, we have immediately started looking at the bodysides to ascertain their condition. We do not know what is underneath, so a small team of volunteers have been busy stripping old paint away to reveal (hopefully) sound metal below! There is a fair amount of steelwork to do around the windows and doors, as expected, but so far the rest of the body is in good condition.

Readers will have to get used to NE21224, as we shall be reporting on it for some time!

British Railways 1954 Mark 1 Suburban Third W46139

Work to restring the replacement luggage racks continues, and there is now only one compartment remaining to complete. They will then all be ready for fitting to the coach.

British Railways 1958 Class 101 Railcar Driving Trailer Second Lavatory M56352

Only minor works completed this week, with some of the loose ends tied up. The jumper cable sockets and end pipework has now all been painted on the bufferbeams, as has the sliding corridor end door which was looking a little shabby.

The battery charging sockets have been painted red, and all solebar lettering completed, which finishes the underframe work to the vehicle.

British Railways 1959 Class 03 Diesel Shunter D2063

The Carriage & Wagon shunter's repainted air tanks have been fitted, and it won't be too long before it leaves the shed.


A large space next to the mezzanine floor, which was previously in use for temporary storage, has been cleared and looks much better now. This space is partly to be used for accommodating the body of GER 853 which is to be separated from its accommodation chassis shortly, which will be a great leap forward in its ongoing restoration. There was talk that a Monkey enclosure may be possible too, but we shall have to see if there is enough room after the Joint Heritage Coach Fund have moved in!


  1. Another excellent update detailing the time and effort spent by the many volunteers and staff to restore the stock. Can't wait to see them all in action.

  2. Always enjoy reading these Bloggs. Are you keeping the 4 in the carriage shed now they are finished bearing in mind their design and susceptibility to rot if left outside.

    1. Yes Brian the full Suburban Set has an allocated place inside the sheds at Holt.