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Welcome Back

Well, what can I say other than welcome back? Before we go any further, I’d like to thank on behalf of all of us, everybody who has stepped up to the plate during this crazy year, especially our heroes in the NHS. This is a blog about railway carriages, so I’ll keep on topic, but after the year we’ve had, it would feel wrong to not acknowledge the extraordinary lengths people have gone to, to keep others as safe as possible. Thank you. 


This most peculiar of years has had its effect in every walk of life, and carriage restoration at the Watercress line is no different. March began as an exciting month for us in the carriage workshop, as the four visiting Bulleid carriages from the Bluebell Railway were teamed up with our own two operational carriages, and run as a six carriage set over the weekend of 14th and 15th. Certainly a first at the MHR, it was also the first time six Bulleid’s have run together since the Bluebell could field six, which I believe was the 1980s. The icing on the cake for me was seeing the Urie Locomotive Society’s S15 no. 506 in Southern livery at the head of the train, with 1456 as the first carriage.


Sadly, that was just about it. Not much over a week later, with the Covid crisis really biting, almost all staff were sent home and furloughed… Since we’ve begun to come out of hibernation though, the railway has been a very positive place. We have had to work differently, come up with new ideas for running the railway, but things seem to be working, and excitingly the carriage workshop is at the very heart of lots of projects.


In a change to usual programming, news of Bulleid carriages is a little thin on the ground in the carriage works. Will, the railways resident film maker, made a really nice video about the Bulleid carriages during lockdown (featuring yours truly), and it can be found here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya0vO-qGVNo. But while 1456 is scheduled to come in for finishing off later in the year, 4367 is being stored for the tambourine while we concentrate on items which are vital to keeping the railway running. Of these services, one is the old favourite the Real Ale Train, while another is what we all hope will become a new favourite, ‘Steam Illuminations’!


Both these services require some work from us in the carriage workshop, coincidentally requiring the same vehicles; step forward the humble BY (Van C). During its working life, BY’s often worked in passenger trains but as non-passenger carrying vehicles, carrying items like mail or newspapers.  As the RAT can’t run in its usual form and comply with social distancing measures, a new way of serving the precious real ale was needed. It was decided to serve it from a BY attached to the train, duing station stops. We knocked up timber stillages to hold beer barrels, and hinged counters to fit each doorway for serving. Having tested them during a staff barbeque (which happened to coincide with the running of a RAT…!) I can vouch for them working a treat.


Steam Illuminations also requires this vehicle, but for a very different reason; power. To supply the hundreds of LEDs attached to the train, a generator is needed, and this will be sat in the BY. If you’ve not seen the wonderfully bonkers effect of lights on this new service, then I really do recommend checking out the videos on YouTube (https://youtu.be/se5m_CbAzFI) or even booking yourself a ticket and coming along, as it looks like nothing else you will have seen! I watched the guys setting up the lights, and even in broad daylight the LEDs were really bright while they were strung up in the workshop, so the effect at night must be quite dazzling. For Steam Illuminations there will be two trains in service, so we need two BY’s. For the second one, we’ve pinched what was Alresford Train Care’s workshop vehicle. This is in a bit of a sorry state, but we’re going at it great guns so hopefully we can whip it into shape by the time it’s needed.


In other news, the Hampshire unit power car is still in the workshop, and work will hopefully recommence on that once Rob, our fabricator, has finished some other projects, including parts of the refurbished pit road in the yard. We are also in the process of manufacturing around 100 new Perspex Covid screens to fit in our MK1 carriage fleet, to assist with making them compliant with the current climate. These will help to divide up the bays of our largely open carriages to make them safer, by using a clear Perspex screen set in a hardwood timber frame. Gordon is busy making an awful lot of noise and sawdust making them as I write this, so I assume he’s having fun! We also have the Toad brake van around the place, finishing off some work that began before lockdown. This has had the added bonus of the two Phil’s from train care often turning up, lighting the stove and cooking everybody bacon sandwiches.


That just about sums it up for now. It would be great to see you at our gala over the 16th – 18th October, where we should have some goodies on sale in the workshop, and we can show you what we’re up to at the moment.


Thanks for reading,






Main Photo: S15 506 leading the photo charter of six Bulleid carriages, with our very own 1456 at the head of the rake (photo credit Phil Griffin)

Photo gallery

  • 1456 coupled up the 4211 for the first time

  • 1456 in the depths of lockdown, stored in the up platform at Ropley

  • The finished luggage rack brackets as delivered, awaiting fitting in 1456

  • More of 4367’s panels, painted and ready for when they are needed

  • Gordon began the toilet window timbers for 1456 before the lockdown, with the old timbers as a pattern

  • The new timbers recently varnished

  • While the Bluebell Bulleid’s were here, our resident sparks Graham and Norman, took a closer look to see how and where wires had been routed underneath 2526, a brake third almost identical to 4367

  • Repairs to the Hampshire unit framework

  • 10) The team being trained on our new carriage lifting jacks

  • New volunteer Simon, working on the Toad brake van

  • 12) We’re used to seeing items stamped SR, so it’s nice to see the handiwork of Swindon’s finest for a change

  • The new bar car, showing the barrel stillages and the folding counter top

  • The new bar car, showing the barrel stillages and the folding counter top

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