Taff Vale Railway

TVR No. 73 – the Restoration of a Vintage Carriage

Progress reported by Nick Bailey and originally published in “Tiddly Dyke”, the magazine of the Swindon and Cricklade Railway


The coach we now know to be Taff Vale No. 73 was donated to the Railway in 1985. Until then, it had been standing on a piece of land in Swindon previously used by a fairground family as their yard and ‘over-wintering’ base. Here, it was the home of the owner’s ‘granny’, and she declined to leave during her lifetime!

The coach body was in excellent condition, and efforts were made to keep it in repair. For many years it was a ‘grounded body’ at Blunsdon, and was used as an office and First Aid room. In 2005, a group of people with the right skills and contacts took an active interest, and the story continues below….
TVR 73
Photograph Vintage Carriage Trust

Winter 2005/06

We are now pretty sure it is an ex-Taff Vale Railway 1st/2nd Compo, although we need to find its number to be absolutely certain. That makes it unique as the only known 1st/2nd survivor. A 4-wheel CCT van has been acquired to provide one chassis. It will soon be on site, but will require alteration to fit.

Also unique is another vehicle we have found - extraordinarily, again from the Taff Vale. This time, it is a full passenger brake No 277. Its present location must remain a secret, because the owners are very concerned about trespass, but it has been donated to the Railway. It has stood in the same place for more than 70 years and is fragile. But, if we can retrieve it in one piece, it may give us what we need to create a vintage train, the brake providing for the disabled. We have high hopes of obtaining a 6-wheel vehicle to suit the brake.

Spring 2006

The CCT van, donor chassis for the composite aka “Red Coach” duly arrived on 17th January. You can hardly miss it in it garish livery! We have also bought another chassis, 6-wheeled this time, to go under the Full Brake.

Two representative from the Appleby Heritage Centre, probably the market leaders in restoring these old coaches, have visited and their estimates are:
"Red Coach" - £23,000. No 277 - £28,000. Both are subject to VAT and allow for body rebuild, but not painting or fitting-out or the provision of the chassis.

Adapting the CCT chassis will be more expensive than hoped, because it is 7 ft longer than expected, and the overhang at the ends would need to be shortened to look right with a 26 ft body. An option, as it is in such good condition, is to sell it on. There is a derelict van on the Railway already which would do nicely but, so far, enquiries have not been successful.
Two representative from the Steam Museum in Swindon have viewed the Red Coach (thanks to Bob Simmonds for turning out on a bitterly cold day) and have confirmed its historical merit, and that it would be a major asset running in service again. A copy of their letter will be one of the documents supporting any funding application.<>Finally, we are to visit the Vale of Glamorgan Railway at Barry to view their 5-compartment TVR Full Third, and discuss possible collaboration with them to get the vehicles restored. We are hoping they might show us where the Taff Vale put their numbers, as taking layers of paint off ours has proved fruitless. The Red Coach clearly prefers to remain anonymous!

Summer 2006

Great News!!! We have a £20,000 grant to help restore the "Red Coach".

It will go to Appleby Heritage Centre, who will have workshop space in August. Meantime, we have to strip off the old paint, free up the doors and remove the roof felt and internal panelling, etc, in preparation. The value of our volunteer labour involved in carrying this out counts towards our match funding.We have made a start and have opened three of the seven doors - for the first time in 80 years. Their condition is remarkably good. We know the number will be one of 42, 53, 58 (the first built in 1885) 60, 61, 64-68, 71-73, 32 and 36 (the last built in 1891).

Autumn 2006

We've found the number of the Red Coach!!

The GWR, after absorbing the Taff Vale, had repaired some damaged teak panels with steel sheets. Luckily, they blue pencilled the number on the back with other information and, though very faint, we were able to save it.The “Red Coach” is Taff Vale Railway No. 73, built by them in the Carriage & Wagon works in Cardiff in 1890 to drawings by Metropolitan Cammell. It is recorded as having been withdrawn on 26th November 1927 and, at one time, carried the GWR number 6457.

The poor old lady looks a bit tatty at the moment. We are finishing stripping the paint back to bare wood - all eleven coats in places - and all the "unoriginal" panelling and other fittings inside have been removed, exposing the original paint and signage. All the doors now open, and a correct door has been fitted, (acquired from the National Museums & Galleries of Wales) to replace the domestic one. Original FIRST and SECOND class signs have been found on two of the doors, which are now in storage as potential museum exhibits - along with a 1926 halfpenny (perhaps the change from one of the last tickets sold), a button (could it be from a uniform?) and samples of lino from the kitchen and bedroom from when No. 73 served as a dwelling. Meantime, a member of the Welsh Railways Research Circle has let us have drawings of the interior furnishings - just as well, because we had been told the Second Class seats were very utilitarian slatted wood. Not so. They were upholstered, though not as posh as First Class. Have we an upholsterer out there who would like to help next July/August, when the coach should return? We shall need painters, then, too. We have details of the livery, and the paint will need to be specially formulated.
Preparations for the provision of the chassis are making progress. We think we've identified the best method, though there is still some work to do on this aspect.

Winter 2006/7

Saturday 7th October was an auspicious day for TVR No. 73, as it was the first time she moved again for many years. On Monday, 16th October, No. 73 was carefully loaded by Bevan Transport and arrived in Appleby by lunch-time the next day, all accomplished without a scratch. Meanwhile, the assembly of parts continues. We now have extra, correct, hinges; a complete set of grab handles; a brass foundry that can cast the door rubbing strips and handles; and a saddler who will make the leather straps for the droplight windows.

The provision of the all-important chassis has been resolved, through the generosity of Bill Parker. Bill is well-known in the heritage railway industry and as a benefactor of the Swindon & Cricklade over many years, particularly through the provision of his diesel shunters. He has donated a derelict Fruit D van as the donor vehicle, which will be modified at his works in the Forest of Dean. If all goes well, it will be ready for No 73’s return. This means that the CCT van we already have will be available for the brake van, once we can recover it.

Finally, a five-compartment TVR third class coach No. 145, dating from 1874, has just been recovered from a Devon farm by the Gwilli Railway Society in Carmarthen.  Identical to its sister vehicle No. 153 at the Vale of Glamorgan Railway at Barry, it might provide an opportunity, sometime in the future, of running a complete Taff Vale train behind the National Railway Museum’s Taff Vale locomotive No. 28. The NRM has already shown a lot of interest in the prospect and, meantime, we are collaborating with the Gwilli Railway coach restorers over the ordering of parts, as many are identical.

Spring 2007

Negotiations with HM Rail Inspectorate over the modification of the chassis are in full flow. We hope to start the actual work very shortly, with the intention of having it ready for the return of the body. A figure of £5000 for the work has been mentioned The Inspectorate requirements will govern, amongst other things, what materials we have to use for the upholstery, possibly the floor coverings (fire risk) and the communication cord arrangements.

Summer 2007

The last quarter has been somewhat frustrating with very little progress to show on the actual rebuild, with the body away at Appleby (where the drying out process is virtually complete) and negotiations with HM Rail Inspectorate proceeding only as fast as their workload allows.

We now have grab handles (cleaned back to their original brass), droplight straps (including four made slightly different for the two first class compartments), brass rubbing strips for all the doors, a large part of the communication cord equipment (which may be needed) and a set of door hinges to the Taff Vale pattern. We have taken the opportunity to have extra items made which can be used on the brake van – e.g. some droplight windows and straps. If it is beyond restoration when we finally get permission to move it, they won’t go to waste. The group on the Gwilli Railway needs a lot of similar bits. The door handles have been cast, and that will be a major step forward as the whole lot were missing. Luckily, Brake No. 277 has its full set. We have also procured chassis drawings, which will enable us to work up
the design for the replacement for submission to the Inspectorate. Unfortunately, the promise of a chassis outlined in Winter 2006/07 did not bear fruit.

Autumn 2007

No. 73’s roof has now been stripped and Appleby reports the timber is in excellent overall condition with just minor repairs needed. On the chassis side, we had hoped to use a derelict Frit D van already on the Railway. When that failed to materialize we managed to get hold of a Tube wagon, then stored on the Glos. Warwicks. Their engineering work earlier in the year, followed by closure due to flooding in July, meant we couldn’t move it until very recently, but it arrived at the engineering base near Sutton Coldfield on 3rd September. Then fate took a hand!! A Fruit D van, which was already there, might be available to us. The advantage over the Tube is that it is shorter: so it would only need a bit taken out of the middle, rather than both ends as well, to bring it down to an overall length of 26 ft. It also has passenger-size 3 ft 6 in wheels. Something about “running round in circles” comes to mind!

Winter 2007/8

No. 73 is beginning to look like a proper coach again. Panelling has been completed, the roof dealt with and all the internals stripped where necessary, so the partitions can be rebuilt. Ken Gibbs has just made for No. 73 the intricate pattern for her 32 luggage rack supports and, if the casting live up to his skills, they will be as good if not better than the originals. Drawings for the chassis alterations have been finished – if the Railway Inspectorate approve them, we will get out the gas axe in the New Year. Actually, shortening the frame won’t take long – it is the detail which takes the time.

Running alongside No. 73, the brake van No. 277 has not been forgotten. We expect to move it to Blunsdon in the first part of 2008, and I have just obtained the extra wheelset which will be needed (No. 277 is a six-wheeler).

Spring 2008

We visited No. 73 at Appleby on 21st January to view progress and discuss plans with them. Some dry rot had been found whilst stripping panelling when she was still at Blunsdon, and they have found some more. So everything will be sprayed against infestation before the new timber goes back on. That has all been delivered, and we took various fittings, including the replica oil pots so that Appleby can devise a way of fitting them. The roof has sagged, too because of the removal of the compartment walls. It is now back where it should be.

Summer 2008

Completion of the body rebuild of No. 73 is expected July / August and, thanks to Bill Parker with whom we recently completed the donation of a suitable donor vehicle, the chassis has gone to Appleby (theirs was the best estimate) for modification. This involved a lot of work clearing out years of accumulated “stores” and removing the remains of the body. Ken Gibbs made a pattern for a luggage rack support, from which we have had a trial casting made by our friends D&M Castings of Stroud (see photo). We are delighted with the result. It’s unique – probably the only one in existence, and all Ken had to work from was a drawing of the compartment. You can guess how small the bracket shown in that was! We haven’t had the rest cast yet

We have has lots of good luck, too. Another Taff Vale coach came to light recently, near Newton Abbot – a seven-compartment bogie third dating from 1889. It would have complemented our intended TVR train very nicely, but it’s gone to RailwayHoliday.co.uk, who let old carriages for holiday accommodation. We’re collaborating with the owners to help them with door handles as the Taff vehicle is restored and, in return, we will get some surplus door locks.

More good fortune came with the discovery of a Midland Railway carriage hidden away in the Forest of Dean and though we couldn’t save it complete, our project benefited from some door hinges (identical to ours), teak panelling and other timber, an end wall and part of the roof, which we hope will re-emerge at Blunsdon in a new role later.

Autumn 2008

More of the parts we need for TVR No. 73 are starting to arrive – like the first three door handles, machined and polished up from raw castings. They look superb! We’ve also got the first set of the mechanism for the new door locks, and have found a source for the springs.

Winter 2008/9

Appleby Heritage Centre has confirmed that Taff Vale No. 73 now has a rolling chassis. They have cleaned off any remaining steelwork, shot blasted, cut 2ft 9in from the centre and re-welded the two halves together. “She runs a treat,” was the comment afterwards. There is still a fair bit to do before the body can be united and the whole thing finished off. One major item we have to replace is the vacuum cylinder – the topof the old one has rusted through like a colander! We are refitting the gas tank, slightly shortened to fit the reduced space, to preserve authenticity – No. 73 originally had gas lighting. There will also be a steam-heat through pipe, although there is no heating in the coach itself.  

Spring 2009

Monday 23rd February saw me back at Appleby with the last few bits and pieces for Ex-Taff Vale coach No. 73. The major item still to be fitted is the reconditioned vacuum cylinder which still hasn’t arrived, despite being ordered well before Christmas. Other than that, the old girl is sitting on the chassis and pretty much complete, right down to the lincrusta on the ceilings.

Autumn 2009

No. 73 is “home”, returning on 9th July. There is still a lot of tinkering to do, plus the final painting and obtaining and fitting the upholstery. If the money keeps coming in, we could see her in service in 2010.

Bob Simmons, who was responsible for looking after No. 73 for all those years when she sat forlornly under the trees at Blunsdon, sadly died just days before she came back from Appleby, although we had sent him photographs of her back on the chassis in the workshops. However, her first duty was to carry his ashes the length of the line, before they were finally laid to rest in Blunsdon platform.
TVR 73 Restored

Photograph Swindon and Cricklade Railway Website