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GWR 20 ton "Toad" Brakevan 56550

Above: GWR 20 ton brake van conversion 56550, as restored in Cambrian Railways livery 

Built at by the Great Western Railway at Swindon Works to its classic single verandah design, this brakevan has been substantially altered later in its life to the form seen today. Completed at Swindon Works on 13 May 1916, 56550 was constructed to Diagram AA13 on lot 817. It would have appeared large and modern at the time, being 24 feet long on a 16 foot wheelbase, and is typical of hundreds of GWR unfitted goods brake vans built up to 1949. 56550 would have carried dark grey livery with white letters and was known by the telegraphic code name "TOAD". All GWR brakes were allocated to a home depot, and some to series of specific trains each day, which would be painted permanently on the side. 56550 was allocated to Plymouth from new and appears to have remained there throughout over forty years as a goods brake van. In the 1950s GWR designs were withdrawn from normal service because guards increasingly objected to the brake wheel being outside on the verandah rather than inside the van. Replaced by BR standard vans such as B950661, 56550 was sent to Swindon and condemned on 5 October 1957.

Above: GWR brake converted to mess van in train at Barmouth Junction, May 1960

Instead of being broken up, 56550 was converted to a Mess and Sleeping Van for permanent way gangs on lot 1003. Records show its weight was reduced to 11 tons 4 cwt by removing the scrap ballast under the floor. It was fitted with steam pipes, vacuum brakes and external hand brakes, the continuous lower footboards were removed and the drawgear was altered. The open verandah was enclosed and a sink, bunks and a partition were installed to provide separate day and night accomodation. On completion on 18 October 1958 it was lettered "Staff Thermit Welders Oswestry District CE Dept" and used by BR civil engineers when engaged in the construction of lengths of welded rail on site. After 25 years on this duty it was condemned again, at Mold, in 1983, and despatched to Crewe, then to Longport Sidings, Stoke-on-Trent among some other wagons destined for scrapping.

Above: GWR brake 56550 as ZSP mess van at Crewe in August 1983

Here it was spotted by a dedicated Foxfield member who realised its potential, and after some negotiation he purchased it from British Rail. So, saved from scrapping for the second time in its life, 56550 arrived at Foxfield on 13 October 1984. Since then it has remained in its post conversion condition but has been thoroughly overhauled. Immaculate inside and out, it currently carries the attractive livery of the Cambrian Railways which is not authentic but is appropriate for the location where it spent the latter part of its working life. Occasionally 56550 has been used as the "Fat Controller's Saloon" where the famous stories of a certain blue Tank Engine are read to enthralled children.

Above: GWR brake 56550 standing idle  at Chester Wagon Repair Depot in 1983
             [photograph kindly supplied by Paul O'Garra]
Below: a further view of number 56550 in the yard at Caverswall Road in January 2004


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