A rare German wagon, which has emerged for the very first time from the historic vaults at Bath Spa station, now needs a new home. The initiative to conserve the wagon is led by the Railway Heritage Committee, Bath & North East Somerset Council and Network Rail.
Currently being delicately restored in Bristol, the wagon was manufactured by Orenstein & Koppel (O&K). O&K is a German company that provided railway equipment to serve the trenches on the German side during the First World War. The company’s initials – O&K Berlin SW – can be found inscribed on the wagon’s axle boxes.
Neil Butters, secretary of the Railway Heritage Committee said: “I contacted the Narrow Gauge Railway Society and the Industrial Railway Society, who had never previously been aware of this system. They confirmed how rare it was in Britain, particularly the 50cm gauge, and because of this the wagon was ‘designated’ by the Railway Heritage Committee as being of sufficient interest to warrant long-term preservation.”
Stephen Bird, head of heritage services for B&NES Council, said: “The wagon serves as a wonderful reminder of Bath’s considerable industrial history. We get to learn many interesting stories from it – the railways, coal, electricity, the river. The wagon also has its own colourful stories about its abandonment, entombment in the vaults and subsequent re-discovery decades later”
Jerry Swift, head of community rail for Network Rail said: “Network Rail is proud of the unique railway heritage of which it is custodian, and this is one small piece of that heritage previously unknown in recent years. We very much hope a suitable long term home can be found.”
The narrow gauge wagon was uncovered in the vault nearly 10 years ago, when plans for the Southgate development were first mooted. Apart from the wagon, a short section of track and a small turntable were also found underground.
Until 1953, a small 50 cm-gauge wagon tramway system was in operation in the vaults adjacent to the rear of the London-bound platform at Bath Spa station. It was installed shortly after the adjacent privately-owned power station – established in 1890 − was taken over by Bath Corporation in 1897.
A shunting horse at high level had drawn wagons of loaded coal around a sharp curve at the rear of the platform, with the contents dropped down chutes to be trundled next door.