It must be remembered that, in those early days of the MSLR Museum, the Society had limited funds and relatively few volunteers, so it was not possible to start restoration work straight away. However, it was possible to research the history of the carriage, and John Watling, President of the Great Eastern Railway Society and a veritable expert on GER carriages, was able to provide a lot of information. Our coach was built in 1875 by the Metropolitan Carriage & Wagon Company of Birmingham, to GER Diagram 501. It was originally on a 4-wheeled underframe, with 2 compartments for Third-Class passengers and a brake compartment for the Guard and luggage. The original cost was £275. It was withdrawn from service by the GER in 1910, after which the body was sold for £9 and moved to the field at Shottisham, where it was converted into living quarters which were occupied for over 70 years. The carriage then remained in the same location, unoccupied, for another 13 years.
A replacement underframe, complete with wheels, brakes etc, was needed to allow No. 13 to run again. As in most restoration projects of this type, a more modern steel underframe would be used. In 1995 an ex-BR 20 ton brake van, No. B955147, was purchased by Rob Murray from a scrap dealer, arriving at Brockford on June 1st. The intention was to use the body for the restoration of the Toad B brake van, and the underframe for the re-wheeling of coach No. 13. A few months later, another ex-BR brake van, No. B951759, was purchased from the same source by the consortium restoring coach No. 140. Eventually it was agreed to use the underframe from this second brake van for coach No. 13, as it had oil axle boxes which were more appropriate for a former GER coach, as opposed to the roller bearing boxes on B955147. Over the Christmas 2001/New Year 2002 period, the underframe of B951759 was shortened by 1 foot 3 inches to fit the coach body, and vacuum brakes were installed.
Meanwhile, restoration of the carriage body had been proceeding steadily for a number of years. The interior was re-created with two passenger compartments, fitted with plain wooden seats, and the guard’s compartment with hand brake and emergency vacuum brake handle. Body and underframe were united in June 2002, and after final painting and fitting out, the carriage was ready in time for the 50th Anniversary of Closure celebrations in July 2002. It has continued to be a mainstay of the railway’s passenger services ever since.
The original Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Company purchased sister vehicle GER No. 14 in 1904. It was converted to a Full Brake (ie all the passenger accommodation was removed) by the GER works at Stratford before delivery to the MSLR. It then became No. 1 in the MSLR coaching Stock List, which included seven passenger coaches (Nos. 2 to 8) and two horse boxes (Nos. 9 and 10). As the Museum has continued to number its coaches in the original Stock List series, the new coach (ex-GER No. 13) was given MSLR No. 12 (MLSR No. 11 had been allocated to another coach acquired in the early years of the project but then transferred to Society President Tony Alston).
Acknowledgements: this is based on articles by David Chappell which appeared in Making Tracks Issue 94 (Summer 2015) and Issue 95 (Autumn 2015), with additional information provided by Roger Gregory and Rob Murray.