In December 2004, the LNER (SVR) Coach Fund purchased BGP No 70759 from the South Devon Railway and
moved it to the SVR over 17th & 18th March. The Fund's Trustees had been told of its availability during the previous
summer, when a passing member of SDR staff told some visiting SVR members that "It's for sale you know".
Because it was almost complete, and in much better than average condition this was interesting, and sparked some
thought and discussion as to how such a vehicle could be of use to the SVR. It is a gangwayed bogie carriage of
standard Gresley outline and to full passenger specification, with a long van occupying slightly over half the length of
the carriage, a Guard's brake compartment and shorter van. There appeared to be enough options to more than fully
use it for a few years at Bewdley. Another, more radical long-term use was also suggested (see below), and it was
decided to purchase 70759 then to consider the matter further.
Some research into its history revealed that 70759 was built at York in 1943 (as part of a batch ordered in 1941) to
Diagram 245. Fitted with hinged drop down shelves, it could be used for conveying baskets of racing pigeons to
their point of release (big business for the railways until 1966) as well as for general parcels traffic.
Withdrawn by British Rail, it was purchased by book publisher David & Charles who used it as a store, and it became
a familiar sight from trains on the main line at Newton Abbot.
Below is an account by David St J Thomas telling of the purchase of 70759.
In the 1970s the publishers David & Charles purchased three carriages from BR, including 70759, for storage use at
their Newton Abbot premises. BR then promptly lost them and tried to tell the company that they were not responsible
for the vehicles' delivery! BR also said that there was no way that they could either find the coaches or refund the
purchase money. But with the help of some railway enthusiasts, the carriages were tracked down to York marshalling
yard, where one of them had already been pressed into local service as a mess room. The marshalling yard master
said there would be a strike if the publishing company tried to remove the vehicles, so the situation was left
undisturbed for a month while other arrangements were made.
Eventually the three carriages did make their move to Newton Abbot, and there they were used for publicity
purposes close to the David & Charles office. BR then niggled that the transfer terms didn't allow the company to
advertise; in response the company said that the offending destination boards were not advertising but merely stated
where the coaches were going. The vehicles became a local feature, and drivers of passing bus parties used to point
them out to their passengers. A common question was what the company used the vehicles for - the answer often
given was that " they were a talking point", which only added to the mystery in the questioners' mind!
(The source of this fascination corner of 70759's history is Mr David St John Thomas, who was the 'David' in the
'David & Charles' company title).
Pigeon van 70759 left Buckfastleigh during the evening of 17th March 2005, following a hastily arranged shunt that
morning and final clearance of stored items by South Devon Railway volunteers. Transport to the SVR was by
Moveright International. 70759 was unloaded at Kidderminster next morning. Our thanks were due to Richard Elliot
of the SDR for making the necessary arrangements at "that end", to Nigel Hanson for receiving 70759 at very short
notice, and to all involved in the movement.
After arrival at Kidderminster on the 18th March 2005 and a short period of storage in the carriage shed it was
placed in the former cattle dock siding at Bewdley, where some basic conservation work was carried out. This
consisted mainly of replacing a few rotten panels with exterior grade plywood and removal of the guard's lookout,
which had mostly turned to rust and obviously leaked since BR days. Construction of its replacement is in hand.
The roof had already been repaired at Buckfastleigh, and one side repainted in plain maroon. The other side,
nearest the platform was still in David & Charles' livery of yellow and black. Although eye catching, this livery was
deemed out of keeping with its surroundings, and was replaced with BR maroon. The long van was tidied,
re-painted and converted to house the Station Fund Shop. This process involved the erection of an internal partition
and the (easily reversible) replacement of a pair of double doors with a window. Tea making facilities and "useful"
timber offcuts were moved over from 2701, thus freeing up valuable space in the GNR carriage to enable the fitting
out of the third class compartments to proceed.
Visitors (and staff) have taken a considerable amount of interest in 70759, often expressing surprise that racing
pigeons were carried by train, and that there was enough traffic to justify the construction of special vehicles.
Several stories have come to light, including our Hon Treasurer's memory of a train of 22 pigeon vans passing
through Kidderminster hauled by two Hawksworth "Counties". Another of the Fund's volunteers, Graham Chance
had an encounter in Weymouth and writes;-
We were on holiday in Weymouth in the summer of 1967, walking down a road adjacent to the railway station,
which is 150 metres from the sea front or 150 yards in those days. Suddenly there was a sound of wind like a
swooshing noise. Looking up, the air was full of pigeons. The numbers were difficult to estimate (as we dived for
cover or pinned ourselves against a wall) but it could have been up to a 1000. They rose to about 30 metres
100 feet, circled once and flew away leaving us a little shell-shocked. I think the question that springs to mind
now is how were so many birds released simultaneously and how many pigeon vans were employed.
The London & North Eastern Railway Magazine for July 1930 notes;-
East Anglian Pigeon Traffic.
There is a Homing Pigeon Federation in East Anglia that bids fair to cause a mild fluttering in the lofts "Up North".
His Majesty the King, Patron of the National Homing Union, leads the way with a celebrated team at
Sandringham that has won fame in the Air and the Show, and local fanciers, including several railwaymen, have
already lifted many National flying prizes.
Twenty-two clubs are affiliated to the East Anglian Federation whose official programme commenced on May 3,
and in spite of the unfavourable weather conditions early in the month the London & North Eastern Railway
conveyed nearly 600 baskets to various places, including France, during May from Norwich and Lowestoft alone.
Obviously a long-term use is needed to secure 70759's future, and its here that the radical proposal comes in. There
is a real need for a second LNER brake vehicle in Set N. This set currently consists of six Gresley carriages
supplemented by a scumble grained 1958 built Open First (3083) and a maroon Mk1 Brake 3rd. (M35219). We
expect the restoration of GNR Composite 2701 to be completed in time to allow it to replace 3083 during 2007,
leaving Set N as seven Gresleys and M35219. Although from a traffic point of view this would be perfectly
acceptable, it will continue to look rather odd. In view of the huge amount of time, money & effort already expended
on the first seven carriages of Set N, it seems a pity to spoil it by giving up on the last one. The Fund's Trustees
have checked the availability of suitable Gresley BTK's, and concluded that it is very unlikely that one in reasonable
condition can be secured for the SVR. In an ideal world, a full brake such as 70759 might provide the answer. It
would be popular with the guards due to the provision of a heated compartment rather than the usual LNER facility
of a seat in the corner of the luggage van, but in reality hauling around all that empty van space would be far too
expensive. Full brakes have, however been converted to carry passengers, and conversion of this one to a Brake
3rd appears not to be an overly difficult task.
Design work is in hand, and possible sources of funding are being investigated. We do not yet know whether or not
grant aid will be available for this project, but in any case donations from supporters will be very important to ensure
success. The currently favoured option is to overhaul and restore the "Short" van and guard's compartment (about
half the length of the vehicle) to original condition with pigeon racks, whilst converting (by constructing new half sides
but retaining the roof, bottom sides & ends) the long van for passenger use. Our currently preferred layout would be
four compartments, WC and side corridor in the style of Diagram155 (which was a seven compartment side corridor
3rd, an example of which is preserved at Quainton Road). We feel that the resulting carriage would be popular with
both passengers and staff. The work involved would be well within our capabilities, and we are working on design
whilst investigating funding options. If this conversion does take place, it will ensure the long-term future of a pigeon
van, enable it to run in passenger service, and allow visitors to see and hopefully appreciate the history of this
survivor from a bygone age.