M.N.Ry. No.17 : The Foxdale Coach (F.39)

This unique carriage has one of the most interesting histories of all the rolling stock on the railway and is a remarkable survivor.  There follows a full biography penned by the Supporters Association for the restoration of the carriage to 1887 condition for their Winter Photography event in February of 2013 and revised since that time.  Today the carriage is in regular traffic in peak season and was repainted and the bogies overhauled in 2022-2023.

Original No.:

Later No.:






M.N.Ry. No.17

F.39 (or 39R)


7’ 2




Above: to commemorate the centenary of the Manx Northern Railway in 1979 the carriage was repainted into an approximation of its original livery, carrying No.15 but retaining some features from its days as a camping carriage, notably the glazed ducket and formica panelling internally; it would later be restored to a more accurate interpretation in 2012 and again in 2023.

(Photo: I.o.M.S.R.S.A.)

Delivery & Early Days

Following quotes tendered in the previous months, the Manx Northern placed an order in May 1886 with the A.S. Nelson & Co., Ltd., for a single passenger coach for the new Foxdale Line.  This work was subcontracted to the Oldbury Carriage & Wagon Co., Ltd., with a specified delivery date for that summer.  In the event it arrived late (partially due to being delivered in error to Douglas and not Ramsey, necessitating its removal by rail at the courtesy of the I.M.R. to St. John’s) and was stored in the carriage shed at Ramsey Station, not used until the start of the following season, at which point it was used exclusively on the Foxdale Line.  It was the only carriage fitted with sanding gear which was fitted for use on the heavily graded Foxdale Line.  It was situated in the guards compartment were two pipes sticking up out of the floor and going down to the bogie underneath.  If required, the guard sprinkled sand down the pipes onto the rail to stop the vehicle, sliding.  The equipment was removed during one of the recent rebuilds. 


Initial Ownership

Owing to a financing arrangement when the vehicle was delivered, the Manx Northern were unable to pay for the coach so a lease was put in place whereby the coach remained the property of the Bristol & South Wales Railway Carriage & Waggon Co. (who took on the lease terms from A.S. Nelson & Co.), who were purely a finance company and wagon hiring company, for an agreed period.  Accordingly, the solebars were fitted with plates denoting the owners until such time as the final payment was received.  Manx Northern Railway (Hillside Publishing, 1980) goes into greater detail on this issue.  This is known to have been a three-year contract so it is most likely that the plates were removed by 1890 at the latest.  No known photographic evidence shows these plates in position.

Mis-Spelt Heraldic Device

It is recorded that the coach carried the newly-commissioned coat of arms of the Manx Northern Railway in gold and blue on the doors of the first class compartments (the only such vehicle to carry it), complete with mis-spelled motif.  This crest appears at the top of this article albeit with the corrected spelling of Quocunque Jeceris Stabit rather than the incorrect Cocunoque Lecris Stabit of the original design which was quickly amended according to Manx Northern Railway (Hillside Publishing, 1980).  The crest carried by the carriage today is faithful to this historic anomaly.

Layout & Configuration

When delivered to the railway the coach had two open third class compartments and spacious guards’ compartment (Guard / 3rd 3rd / 3rd 3rd) with a seating capacity of 32.  Within twelve months of delivery a solitary first class compartment was created (Guard / 3rd / 1st/3rd 3rd) for use on the Foxdale Line where first class accommodation was offered but no existing suitable stock had any compartments of this type.  From delivery the guards’ compartment was at the St. John’s end of the coach; however, prior to works carried out in 1932 the vehicle had been turned so that the guards’ compartment was at the Ramsey end.  It would remain like this until 2010.  This configuration was retained until 1968 when the coach was selected by Lord Ailsa to be his personal camping coach, at which time some internal compartments were removed.  For the centenary of the Manx Northern in 1979 it reverted to original format and remains in this configuration today, still with the guards’ compartment at the Douglas end.  In the event that the guards’ compartment was required for use by the public it was possible to remove the brake wheel and handle, these being stowed beneath the ducket seats when not in use.

Numbering & Sequencing

When delivered to the Manx Northern in 1886 this vehicle carried the number No.17, sequential with the other stock delivered; as further stock was delivered it was renumbered No.15 in 1900 to make way for the two Hurst Nelson bogie coaches delivered, these being allocated Nos. 16 and 17.  Upon the takeover in 1904 the coach appears to have been briefly numbered 15R to denote its northern origins, but it was allocated F.39 shortly thereafter in I.M.R. sequence, with the following coach, half-brake F.40 arriving in 1907.  It was to carry this number thereafter, save for a brief spell from 1979 to 1983 when it was reverted to No. 15 to mark the centenary of the Manx Northern Railway, changing back to standard fleet livery and numbering later.


Original Use

Within the first six months of arrival the centre compartment was upgraded to First Class at the behest of Captain Kitto of the Foxdale Mining Co., leading to it becoming known as Kitto’s Coach by the staff.  He is known to have used it regularly on the Foxdale Line from where it rarely ventured.  It was worked out from St. John’s with the locomotive propelling it up to the junction points, and being the only brake other than the loco, any goods traffic would be positioned between it and the locomotive.  It was used exclusively on the Foxdale Line until its closure to passengers in 1940, latterly after Foxdale Station had ceased to be manned and services were still run, the train guard would be responsible for issuing any tickets and collecting fares, a ticket box was fitted tickets served from the droplight in the guards’ compartment.

Later Use

Only a minimal service was operated on the branch towards the end of its life and these services would be worked by the locomotive of an ex-Peel train, timetabled to be in St. John’s in time to do the approximately half-hour run, allowing for run rounds, etc., to be back in time to connect with the arrivals from Douglas and Ramsey.  After the closure of the branch it saw use on short workings between St. John’s and Peel on winter services but it appears to have rarely ventured beyond this territory.  It was a common sight in the station yard at St. John’s from this point on, not seeming to venture very far, save for Tynwald Day when famously every item of rolling stock was pressed into traffic for the annual open-air ceremony a short distance from St. John’s.  By the time of the railway’s forced winter closure at the end of the 1965 season it had seen minimal use for a number of years.  When the Marquess of Ailsa took over the railway in 1967 he selected the vehicle for conversion into his own personal camping coach, necessitating a change in configuration and removal of partitions.


Camping Coach

It was later, after the 1968 closures of the Peel and Ramsey Lines, that it was parked on the cattle dock siding at Port St. Mary and became home to the Port Erin driver (Bill Reynolds) for most of the time, although it is not known where he stayed when Lord Ailsa wanted to use the carriage!  The Station Boy at this time, recalls dreading to think what sort of state the inside was left in, as Bill seemed to exist on a diet of beer and chips!  By 1975 it had moved to Port Erin where it was parked outside the locomotive shed and served as a crew bothy until it was taken back to Douglas for restoration at the close of the 1978 season.  It was returned to near-original external condition in 1979 to commemorate the centenary of the Manx Northern and saw sporadic use throughout the next decade.  A further minor overhaul in 1992 saw it once again back in service where it remains today, seeing use in peak season and for special events.  In recent times it has been marshalled for use on the annual T.T. commuter services and has proved popular with photographic charters.

Carriage Liveries

When delivered it is likely that the coach carried a colour scheme similar to the existing Manx Northern six-wheeled stock, being a deep lake colour with white or off-white panelling.  Records show that it was specified the lettering should be “No. 17” in the top end panels, with “M.N.Ry” in the centre panels, this would have been gold with two-tone blue shadowing.  Any identification of these early liveries is largely conjectural but it is fair to assume that a deep brown or purple livery was applied.  Most details can only be gleaned from the scarce photographs of the vehicle, all of which are monochrome.  It certainly seems to have been repainted to an all-over brown livery at some point prior to the Second World War, retaining the class designations on the doors, though these by now were numerical (rather than the words “First” and “Third” that would have been applied originally).  There is a school of thought that the carriage carried the two-tone brown livery at some point but little evidence to back this up.  It certainly carried an all-over red livery at some point after the war but by 1966 it was stored in the back of St. John’s carriage shed in the standard red and cream livery with single “1” on the first class doors.  The next notable change came in 1968 when it was repainted into pale blue and golden yellow, these being Lord Ailsa’s “house” colours, designating it his camping coach, although this was short-lived and by 1969 it carried the standard red and cream livery applied to all passenger stock, returning to an approximation of an early (brown/lake) livery in 1979 for the Manx Northern centenary with the number No.15.  Retaining this colour scheme but losing the “No. 15” for F.39 in 1983 it remained in traffic in this guise, with Railway Company crests applied for the first time in 1992 as part of a repaint into the then-standard fleet livery of purple lake.  Reverting once again to the standard post-war red and cream in 2000 this is how the coach remained in service until 2012, with F.39 fleet numbering appearing in gold with blue shadowing.  Entering the paintshop again in 2022 the carriage was repainted in the same scheme but with some detail difference to the lettering based on historical research and panels from the restored M.N.Ry. No.6 and with a purple lake ducket panel rather than the completely white panel that was applied in 2012.



It is noted that the original internal finish to all compartments was simply varnished timber (“grained oak”), later being a combed varnish finish as today.  When the middle compartment was converted to first class in 1887 this was fitted with high-backed seats (as extant in other carriages) together with framed photographs and end armrests; there is evidence showing this compartment was also fitted with curtains, a feature shared by other Manx Northern first class stock, with blue studded upholstery.  With only one oil lamp serving the two open third class compartments, a three-quarter-height partition was fitted between the two.


Camping Conversion

By the time the Foxdale Line closed it is highly likely that the compartments were only basically painted.  It also seems unlikely that the first class compartment remained as lavish as originally fitted by this time, although the class denomination remained on the door.  1968 saw the compartments removed entirely and the coach was fitted with beds, basic cooking facilities, and became the first Manx coach to feature a toilet.  The compartment walls were covered with sky blue Formica at this time, which was retained until the 1991 refit.  Its condition inevitably deteriorated during its use as a crew bothy from 1975 but it was partially stripped and refurbished for the 1979 Manx Northern centenary, receiving bright red leatherette bus-type seating.  It wasn’t until the refit twelve years later that it reverted to the condition it remained in until 2012 however, with grained finish partitions and new cushioned seating.

Oil & Electric Lighting

As built the carriage had three oil lamps with housings mounted on the roof as well as taillights atop the lookout duckets, which also featured small chimneys when built (photographic evidence shows these still in place as late as 1955, though the original elaborate design had been simplified over time).  The lamps served the guards’ compartment, with one for the two open third class compartments and the middle one (according to reference material) remaining in place between the first/third compartments and the partition was heightened when the layout was amended in 1887 - it does however seem unlikely that a first class compartment would not have had partitions that reach up to the roof, although this would have been the case for the double-third, where a partition rose to the top of the seat back.  The oil lamps were replaced with electric lights in 1932 (at which point it was also fitted with a dynamo from F.37 to power them) as part of a rolling plan to replace all light fittings in coaches.  Electric lighting had been introduced with the delivery of the half brake coaches beginning with F.40 in 1907, using the Stones system.  Today the configuration of the lights remains like this, the lamp bowls being of standard I.M.R. type as seen in the other rolling stock, and all lamps are operational for evening and winter duties, being re-wired in 1992 at the same time as the coach was partially refurbished.

Ironmongery, Brassware & Detailing

When delivered a number of unique features were carried externally, most of which have been removed over the course of time.  These related mostly to accessing the oil lamps as detailed above.  There was a set of five metal steps on the non-guards’ bulkhead end for accessing of oil lamps, accompanied by two arced grab rails (a similar feature was evident on the four-wheeled stock from Metropolitan).  There were also two horizontally mounted grab rails on the roof at the guards’ compartment end and these were placed in line with the beading on the bulkhead from which it would be possible to ascertain dimensions.  An arched grab rail also featured, running the full length of the guards’-end bulkhead.  Much of these pieces of ironmongery can be found in a detailed drawing in Manx Northern Railway (Hillside Publishing, 1981) including details of the original positions of the oil lamp housings on the roof and later electric light fitments.  The coach has unique door handles, quite apart from those on other rolling stock, and these have brass finials on each end (though some are currently missing).  The guards’ compartment has similar handles though these appear to have never carried these finials.  The non-sash window in the double door of the guards’ compartment was glazed in 1979, this was originally boarded over (could this have carried a ticket rack for the guard to sell tickets?); the back of the lookout ducket was similarly treated, having previously been boarded, both lookout windows have always been glazed, and the seat of each lifts to provide storage space.  Today these are the only fixed seats in this compartment, and there is a drop-down bench stowed when not in use on leather strops (F.45 and F.46 have a similar feature), it seems unlikely that this area was so bare originally, and it would likely have featured pigeon holes and the like, as evidenced in other remaining stock.  Certainly, James Boyd states in his definitive history of the railway that a ticket rack was carried in this compartment.

Captured in April 1950 at St. John’s Station, its regular haunt in the all-over brown livery with a soliatary first class designation.

August 1968 saw F.39 stowed on the siding at Santon Station, the frame of the former advertisement hoarding still standing.

March 2018 and the carriage was in use at Castletown Station on one of the popular Ultimate Driving Experiences.

July 2023 and the carriage returned to its overhauled bogies in the running shed at Douglas Station just prior to the transport festival.

See in July 1980 on the bay platform at Port Erin Station following the repaint the previous year marking the M.N.Ry. centenary.

April 1979 and the carriage is stripped during renovation work at Douglas Station for reversion to the original livery.

July 1974 viewed from a passing train at Santon Station showing the Lord Ailsa house colour scheme to good effect.

New lettering detail applied in July 2023, the fleet lettering now applied to the two central panels either side of the first class compartment.

September 1969 and the carriage in its camping livery in use at Port St. Mary Station in the goods yard, see text for details.

July 2019 and the carriage is popular with travellers for its plush first class compartment with curtains, seen at Castletown Station.

November 2022 and the carriage is part-way through a repaint at Douglas Station while the bogies are off-site.

Intermediate Ultimate Driving Experience at Castletown Station with M.N.Ry. No.4 Caledonia and Manx Northern van Gr.12.