At a glance:
Builder: Ashbury Carriage & Iron Company (Openshaw Works, Manchester)
Build date: 1897
Original company: Belfast & County Down Railway
Withdrawal date: 1953
Final company: Ulster Transport Authority
Arrived at DCDR: 1987
Current status: Museum display
Current owner: DCDR

148 is one of six bogie composite coaches built by Ashbury Carriage and Iron for the BCDR in 1897. They had three second class compartments and four first class compartments and, along with six third class bogie brakes ordered from Ashbury the same year, were used primarily on Donaghadee boat trains and mainline trains to Newcastle and Castlewellan.

148 was used in the 1897 royal train as a support coach for royal saloon No. 153, which is also preserved by us at Downpatrick. Bogie coaches (long carriages which rest on two four-wheeled frames) were rare on the BCDR, even long after they replaced older six-wheeled carriages on their competitor’s networks. Two of the 1897-order composites were converted in 1924 to side-corridor carriages with lavatories. One of them was No. 152 – you may wonder what relevance 152 has in the story of 148, but all will be revealed shortly.

After the BCDR became part of the Ulster Transport Authority in 1950, the network was thoroughly pruned and rolling stock withdrawals followed. 148 was an early casualty, coming out of service in 1953, but 152 carried on until 1959. Fast forward a few years and somehow, half of each carriage had ended up on a farm deep in the Mourne mountains. Your guess as to how this happened is as good as ours, but in 1985 a fledgling DCDR was so excited to add another BCDR vehicle to our growing collection that we didn’t notice the carriage had a case of split personality syndrome until after the restoration process started in 2000!

It was decided that the hybrid coach would take on the identity of 148. The restoration process was a long and difficult one – thanks in part to the 26 years it spent as a chicken coup – but it finally emerged from the workshop in 2007 returned to its former glory.

148 spent a few years on the passenger running set, but in 2012 with the completion of the new Carriage Gallery it took up permanent residence inside to protect it from the elements. In 2018 it joined forces with recently-restored BCDR No. 72 and GSWR No. 836 to form a complete ‘vintage rake’ of Victorian and Edwardian carriages for the first time. Today the three generally live in the Carriage Gallery as they are far too precious for everyday wear and tear, but they do come out to play on special events such as European Heritage weekend and filming contracts. Most recently, 148 had a starring role in Channel 5’s ‘Agatha and the Truth of Murder’ in October 2018.

When 148 first arrived at Downpatrick, it was remarked that it would perhaps be best acquainted with a box of matches. It was an impossible case, too far gone; a lost cause. As things turned out, 148 would become the first carriage in Ireland to be restored from henhouse condition, and hopefully there will be many more to follow.