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

Belfast & County Down Railway No. 153 is undoubtedly one of the most historic railway carriages in Ireland, let alone in our museum collection. It was built for the BCDR to accommodate Queen Victoria on her tour of Ireland for her Diamond Jubilee, and was the most opulent carriages ever owned by the railway. It consisted of three compartments: a central saloon which separated a smoking room at one end and a boudoir at the other. Complete with its unique round-ended ends, ventilation clerestory, and electric lighting, the carriage cost a total of £1400 – the equivalent of almost £200,000 today.

Although Victoria was unable to attend the tour, the future King George V and Queen Mary travelled on-board from Newtownards to Newcastle and visited the newly-built Slieve Donard hotel when they arrived. She subsequently carried King Edward VII in 1903 and the future King George VI in 1924. When not in royal use, 153 in its original condition carried company directors on line inspections, special events, and board meetings.

In 1924 the royal saloon received fixed seating and drop-leaf tables for use on the ‘Golfer’s Express’ between Queen’s Quay and Newcastle every Saturday. The train carried businessmen as they travelled from their offices in Belfast to the Royal County Down Golf Club – 153 was reserved as a ‘member’s only’ first class carriage. When not in use it was kept in good condition as a ‘pet’ carriage under the canopy in Queen’s Quay station, but after the line to Newcastle closed in 1950 it was moved to the Ulster Transport Authority’s NCC section before withdrawal in 1953.

Although for 30 years it was thought that this important carriage was lost to the scrap man, our volunteers couldn’t believe their eyes when it was found in Hillsborough 1984 – in use as a henhouse! We immediately acquired 153 for the princely sum of £30, its worth in firewood, and took it to RAF Bishopscourt for safekeeping. There our volunteers spent months clearing out the chicken droppings and carrying out urgent repairs on the floor and bodywork in order to secure its future.

Once we had secured our station yard as an operating base in 1987,153 was moved to Downpatrick and placed onto a wagon underframe thanks to the kind support of our late friend Billy Hastings. Although we still have a lot of work to carry out on her, including redesigning the new underframe so it can support her uniquely curved ends, we’re still amazed to this day that we can preserve such a rare vehicle for future generations.