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LMS coaches

The brake composites

The brake composite was much used as a through carriage, often over long distances, and the need to combine both classes and van space could be tricky to balance and, as we shall see, the LMS tried several different approaches, not always successfully. Some of the developments were unusual with unintended consequences and have not been recognised. The trigger for me was this picture:

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An undated scene from around 1960, taken at Peat Lane on the WCML, a short distance north of Oxenholme, shows the Keswick & Workington portion of the "Lakes Express" getting away behind unnamed "Patriot" No 45513. In 1961 it was a Carnforth loco. Photo: Colour-Rail No 1631 (deleted).

The coaches had been modernised but were still entirely ex-LMS:







* This P.I brake composite was upgraded and partially rebuilt in 1939-40 with several changes, including P.III style sides.

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For people who like a mystery, here's one about the leading carriage. It was a Period I brake composite to Diagram D1704 which had been designed and built in 1929-30 yet, a mere ten years later, in 1939-40, they were all rebuilt, transitioning from the intricately panelled exterior of the late P.1 two-window style to the smoother P.III style. The next BCK, to D1720, was also converted this way. Why?

In their monumental works on LMS coaches, in particular "LMS Standard Coaching Stock, Vol.II, General Service Gangwayed Vehicles" by OPC, 1994, the authors, David Jenkinson and Bob Essery, touched on this subject but were puzzled. Here's the original design to D1704 copied from their book.

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It's a classic LMS late P.1 "two-window" design. And here, for immediate comparison, is the rebuilt version, designated D1704A, same as in the "Lakes Express" picture:

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The authors admitted to being puzzled. They suggested that these coaches were worthy of modernisation to extend their working lives. I think there was more to it, not least because many of the changes were cosmetic and the matchboard ends were retained, along with the scissor corridor connections, and the roof with its long curved rainstrip, clearly visible in the picture. What wasn't mentioned in the account (but is pointed out under the drawing) was addition of a second lavatory. In the Colour-Rail picture it's helpfully close behind the "Patriot" right next to the guard's double doors. Its insertion took a significant bite out of the van space, which in a brake composite, was at a premium.

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Here's a close-up of the coach in the portion behind 45513 with a good view of the two lavatories.

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To understand the thinking behind what happened one has to go back to the inter-War period when class consciousness was felt more keenly than today and the railway was careful to cater for it. 1st Class passengers paid more for their tickets and they had certain expectations. One was not to be bothered by the lower classes whose passage through the first class areas and its compartments - fitted with the normal, large corridor windows of course - was viewed as a nuisance, almost an invasion of privacy. This is one reason why all-1st carriages were built, and even semi-open 1st Class carriages. It was also possible to physically separate the two classes in a train (though not completely, of course) by placing them at opposite ends with the catering in between.

Composite carriages forced the two classes of passenger to share a carriage and care was taken to provide the corridor with a door to discourage mixing, or at least act as a visible border. Jenkinson and Essery even describe how a member of the landed aristocracy had found himself in a D1704 composite where the partitioning door hadn't been fitted; had complained to the LMS about "3rd Class passengers gaining easy access to the 1st Class end"; and that it had been acted on pretty swiftly! The authors put the omission down to "urgency to get [the coaches] in service" but I'm not convinced. As we shall see it was part of a change in how the LMS viewed its 1st Class passengers.

Composite carriages normally had two lavatories, one for each class and, naturally, placed on home turf either side of the dividing door. Yet there was always a problem with brake composites where room also had to be found for the guard and his van space. Hence, in 1929 when the LMS designed its next BCK to D1704, it was decided to fit a single lavatory, a communal one. And the thinking was that it should be placed at the 1st Class end for the convenience of the higher fare-paying passengers. I would suggest that the partitioning door was omitted to make it easier for 3rd class passengers to find the lavatory at the far end. All noble thinking, but the flaw was that there were almost three times as many 3rd Class passengers in the carriage and whenever one of them wanted, as the saying goes, to visit the loo, he had to enter the rich man's part of the carriage, and soon after, retrace his steps. The toing and froing would have spoiled the 1st Class passengers' seclusion, especially if these strangers stared into the compartments as they were wont to see how the other half lived, and were any famous faces to be spotted? It would have been more than an irritation, it would have questioned the value of of the higher fare. In truth, absence of a dividing door and complaint that too many 3rd class passenger were invading 1st class territory was down to the single communal toilet beyond the 1st class compartments which forced them through.

Jenkinson & Essery appear not to have found any other letters of complaint but I am pretty sure that the LMS was forced to revisit the whole concept and fit the partitioning door as a short-term improvement (a gesture of no real effect) and decided in 1939 to start rebuilding the layout with two lavatories. All 50 coaches were equipped in the space of two years, and during the War, too. The main drawback was that the extra lavatory, for the 3rd class, had to be cut into and reduce the guard's van space. The Diagram was revised to D1704A.

Incidentally, the original lavatory had been tiny and it was increased in size very slightly, but neither it nor the new 3rd class lavatory was provided with a washbasin, which had become a standard fixture as far back as 1930. There may have been room in the new, 3rd class one, but making it superior to the 1st Class lavatory was inconceivable. The original design wasn't capable of being improved this way. Subsequent designs allowed more space and room for a washbasin. D1704A may have looked better with its picture windows and flush steel-panelling, but its lavatories remained antiquated.

The fact that the body sides of these relatively recently built coaches were modernised at the same time was simply a way of making them fall in line with current P.III stock while undoing the omission of two lavatories and making the problem go away.

But there's more, because the brake composite to D1704 of 1929-30 was followed in 1930 by D1720. This was a P.II design but the same thinking was applied with a single lavatory again:

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Well, not quite the same and the change suggests that a wee problem had been recognised. This time, the single lavatory was placed most unusually in the middle of the carriage, by the partitioning door, just inside the 3rd class area. No longer did lower class passengers have to invade the 1st class passengers' "safe space". The only drawback was that 1st class passengers had to make a quick visit to what on a ship might have been called the "steerage end". In the event, the BCKs to D1720 were also modernised with new cladding and windows with radiussed corners, but the toilet arrangement was left alone. One suspects that by making these carriages also look like modern P.III stock, 1st Class passengers might have had no misgivings about boarding them, until safely ensconced, of course.

At the end of the day, modernising carriages like this was not cheap, but the LMS was wealthier than its rivals and could afford to remedy its mistakes and present a better image, albeit not all that quickly.

Before this Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Lavatory, LMS brake composites had been fitted with two lavatories, and the company reverted to it. Here, for example, is the next BCK, introduced in 1932 and the first built in the P.III style:

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Yet there was more development here, this time driven by the limited van space. In D1704 it had been just over 11'3" long - its volume reduced by insertion of the lavatory. In D1720 the length was reduced to 10'11". This appears to have been viewed as retrograde and in D1850/D1939 the van space was expanded by almost a foot to just over 11'8", which became the standard for BCK designs. However, this could only be achieved by sacrificing some of the space for passengers and one each of the 1st and 3rd class compartments was halved, commonly called a "coupe" design. Which with its pokiness and small window was, for the 1st class, dubious. It was not repeated.

In this way the passenger rating of the coach by compartment changed from BCK(2,4) to BCK(1 1/2, 3 1/2"). The same length was being used for both D1704/1720, 60ft, already three feet longer than the normal standard of 57ft. The LNER, for example, found it easier to make a BCK(2,4) because it used a standard length of 61'6" from the start. In 1935, for the last two BCK designs of the company's existence, the LMS extended the length to 62ft: these were D1911/2010). The increased length was used to eliminate the 1st class coupe compartment and restore two complete ones, the shorthand becoming BCK(2, 3 1/2).

I have for now tried to avoid wider comparisons with other companies and other design developments by the LMS of a smaller degree (such as the size of compartments and lavatories, and conversion to 3 a side seating in the 3rd class). I have also passed over changes from the earlier and first two P.I designs (D1754/1765), both of which had the BCK(2,4) layout but were 57ft long and of side-door design. There were dedicated developments to deal with:

- a shorter van space (just over 9'10").
- side-door layout which obviated the need for an exit from the corridor at the guard's end.

When the side-door concept was abandoned it became necessary to fit an extra exit from the corridor on the compartment side, which was the main reason for the increase in length from 57' to 60'. It also allowed an increase in van space, and for all future BCKs.

All told, for the BCK there were what might today be described as game-changing developments and it's unfortunate that at the same time, detrimental compromises were made towards the 1st class passengers, which did not last. The basic cause was reluctance to move away from the choice of 57ft for conventional coaches and faltering progress towards a still modest length of 62ft. By contrast, the company's sleeping cars were 68ft long from the outset (at least for 1st class passengers), an inheritance from the LNWR. While conventional coaches were perhaps too much based on practice inherited from the Midland Railway.

Perhaps the fairest way of looking at the faltering development of the BCK would be to say that in some ways we are all prisoners of the past and progress is sometimes made by small steps of trial and error.

I conclude with some LMS-period train pictures, which belong in their own topic "LMS through portions". Both show BCKs attached to expresses in solo mode, ie. without any supporting carriages:

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Midland Compound No 1061 is heading north near Mill Hill in 1929 with an express from St.Pancras, the photo captioned on the rear as "Down Leeds-Bradford". The latter was Forster Square station and reached via Leeds Wellington St., later part of the renamed Leeds City, with complete trains sent through because storage at Leeds was limited.

I have yet to identify the precise train in this picture but note the solo brake composite behind the tender - an early P.1 to D1754, the first BCK built by the LMS in 1924. It was a 57ft BCK(2,4) with the side door layout, the photograph showing the corridor side.

It may have been detached en route at Sheffield Midland and transferred to a West Riding service to Halifax. Photo: Railway Photographs, Liverpool.

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This view dates from 1936 and was taken near Mangotsfield with 2P No 699 in charge of the "Pines Express". It comprises 5 coaches plus, behind the tender, a solo P.II 60ft BCK(1 1/2, 3 1/2") to D1720, with the centrally placed lavatory as described above. It's in the original condition, before rebuilding in the 1940s with P.III-style sides and is seen from the corridor side. Photo: Real Photographs.

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Other LMS passenger/NPCS related topics are here:

LMS through portions

The Lakes Express

LMS Milk

LMS horse and race traffic is included here

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Leeds - West Riding

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LNER Passenger Trains and Formations

The book took 12 years for me and Clive to complete and, though I say so myself, Ian Allan have made a beautiful job of it (see full description and sample pages). Vol.2 about the Secondary Services should follow in a year or so's time.

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