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GWR Bow-Ended Coach Number 5043

Owned by 2857 Society from 1981 to 2014

GWR Bow Ended 5043 Bewdley 1982-83. Photo: D. James.When CB Collett took over as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the GWR in 1922 a new bow-ended carriage design was developed which, with the re-introduction of the chocolate and cream livery, was to produce an outward appearance just as distinctive as the Churchward ‘Toplight’ design that it superseded. The new ‘bow ended era’ was to last until 1934 and was later repeated, albeit to a different profile, in the final period of GW carriage design from 1946 in Hawksworth’s main line stock.

The idea behind the bow ends was to reduce the length of the corridor connections between coaches following complaints from nervous passengers. The new stock was all steel panelled, having a full bodied appearance with cleaner lines and a higher waistline than the ‘toplight’ vehicle. A wide variety of coach types was produced, ranging from non-corridor suburban sets to catering vehicles and the famous ‘super saloons’ of 1931. However, the bow-ended era is probably best typified by the many hundreds of standard 57ft coaches produced between 1925 and 1929 which form the backbone of the GW main line sets for some 20 years.

The 2857 Society’s former mess coach was one of these, being a full third, completed in June 1928 to diagram C54, lot 1383, and numbered 5043. The original internal layout seated 64 passengers and consisted of eight compartments with a side corridor and a toilet cubicle at each end. Mounted on standard 7ft wheelbase bogies the total weight was 31 tons and the overall body dimensions are 58’ 4½” long x 9’ 0” wide.

Many of these coaches survived in general service until 1961 and fortunately several escaped scrapping by conversion for departmental use during the early 1960s. Thus 5043 became DW 150301 in June 1963 when, as one of a batch of six similar conversions, it was allocated to the Running and Maintenance Department and served at least part of its new existence in the Swindon breakdown train. As part of the conversion several doors and windows were blanked off and an internally operated hand brake was added. When of no further use in this role the coach was offered for sale by tender in 1981. The society’s bid of £580-00 + VAT was successful and it was moved to Bewdley by rail on Thursday 22nd October 1981 at a cost of £170-00 + VAT, plus an additional £25-00 + VAT for a new set of axlebox pads.

On its arrival on the SVR it was maintained as the Society’s workshop, store and mess vehicle, while we allowed the GW(SVR)A to cannibalise the toilet bowls and washbasins for use in service vehicles, leaving us additional storage space at one end, while the other we converted into a hugely welcome shower cubicle. This rebuilding proceeded on a piecemeal basis over the years, but by 1996 its condition had gently deteriorated to the point when a ‘kill or cure’ solution was required. It was decided to re-panel the coach completely to stand the best chance of keeping out the weather and saving the basic structure for posterity. The compartment side was tackled first and this task was greatly simplified by the decision to install plain blank panels along the workshop area, where we had covered the windows internally with a large tool rack. Not only did this speed the job up but it also resulted in a far more water-tight construction in an area where monitoring for leaks was difficult. Another discrete modification we made was to overlap the roof panels onto the sides, in the manner of the later Hawksworth coaches, rather than leaving a wooden ledge for standing rain water to collect as in the original design. This ‘cheat’ was hidden behind the gutters, and so was virtually invisible on the completed vehicle. Large sections of the wooden framework were found to be rotten and had to be replaced, including all four vertical ‘corner posts’, each a complex piece of timber, curving in two planes and joining the horizontal members by means of carefully cut joints. The recessed window surrounds originally had exposed oak framing that was simply painted. As can be expected, the paint tended to fall off, and the oak tended to rot at the joints, so their general appearance was usually "moth eaten". From about 1932 onwards the GWR used a steel pressing for the recessed shape on doors only, the tooling for which has long been scrapped. In conjunction with other SVR coach groups with similar vehicles the ‘2857 Society’ found a suitable supplier and organised a set of small tooling for the window corner recesses, a set of four then requiring welding with adjoining straight pieces to form the finished shape. The main bodyside windows were originally wood-framed, but having produced these pressings we went ahead and fitted them to all the windows for a smarter effect.

The second, corridor, side was completed in the summer of 2005 and this too incorporated a simplified blank section, as designed in the Swindon modification of 1963, around the stove in the messing area. These blank sections frequently gave rise to the false notion that No. 5043 was once some kind of catering vehicle.

This overhaul was carried out on the basis that all modifications could be reversed if ever it was desired to restore this coach to passenger use, but that in the meantime the basic structure was as well preserved from the effects of the elements as reasonably possible for a vehicle stored out in the open.

Early in 2014 we were approached by the ‘LNER Coach Group’ who hoped to use our coach as their workshop. A three-way deal was proposed, whereby the GW(SVR) Association purchased the coach but the LNER Group used it until the GW(SVR)A was ready to restore it. In view of the belief that we would be most unlikely to overhaul 2857 at Bewdley next time around and the fact that we were not experienced in carriage restoration, this seemed an ideal opportunity to give 5043 a new lease of life and to remove a likely millstone from round our necks. Indeed some of our overhaul work had left one side a bit out of true, so the net result was that it is probably fair to say the coach was not suited to restoration by the faint hearted!

Thankfully nobody could call the SVR C&W teams faint hearted and they are aiming to build up a train of even older GW coaches than those currently in service on the SVR, this time incorporating Churchward ‘Toplights’ and Collet ‘Bow-Enders’. However, it is not intended that ‘our’ 5043 should re-appear as its old Corridor Third self, but that it should emerge as the set’s Buffet Car, so the false notion mentioned earlier will finally come true! This Buffet Car is to be based on Swindon Lot 1349 of 1925. These were four vehicles, numbered 9578 to 9581, built with the bow ended body and underframe but for use as cross country restaurant cars. It is intended to make 5043 as near the same as the original cars as possible but to convert the kitchen area for invalid use and the pantry into a buffet counter while a disabled access toilet will be built in the middle. This will suit current SVR requirements for buffet facilities and disabled access in the set and also meet modern hygiene requirements. There will be no compartments and side corridor and no need for GW toilets at the ends, so fortuitously our and Swindon’s previous modifications are not an issue!

The coach is now owned by the SVR (Holdings) Co and work is being handled by the ‘LNER Coach Group’. Project Leader Richard Gunning has commented that our treatment of the roof in particular saved the vehicle, though regrettably our use of special pressings at the window corners, of which we were so proud, proved to be far less successful, allowing water in which was then retained, leading very quickly to severe rotting of much of the remaining frame. It is being rebuilt with entirely new timber framework rather than trying to use even any of our 1990s replacement material and with the slightly later design of flush windows affording a far superior water seal.

This is a project which we fully support and one which we feel echoes the 2857 Team’s ethos to perfection. In fact the thought of being hauled by 2857 in a bar in what was once our mess coach has been enough to get several of us to muck in to help. For more information on this inspiring, useful, but admittedly challenging project please see here.


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