April 2011


Ref:- The Permanent Way of the Great Western Railway for Gun Street depot (part 2)

Ref:- Quirky Answers – GWR PW Chairs

Many years ago I was asked to collect a “package” for a fellow S7 modeller…   he had won an E-bay auction and the buyer had requested collection for the “package” weighed around 90-100 lbs..  When my friend called to collect his “purchase” I was shown what I had collected –  two cast iron rail chairs.  One of the chairs was from the L&NWR and has no relevance to this journal.  The second chair was from the Great Western Railway and my friend suggested that I might like to retain the item and that is how I came to be the custodian of a (very) small part of GWR history.

I  have tripped / fallen over the GWR chair so many times in the last few years without giving any thought as to the part which it might play in the  alternative world of Basilica Fields…  and ‘Quirky Queries’ owes its inclusion in this journal to yet another encounter between my toes and that immovable object.  Some weeks after the Permanent Way of the Great Western Railway for Gun Street depot (part 1) was written I came across the chair again and this time the lettering on the base attracted my attention.  There are several collections of railway chairs at different “heritage / preservation” centres and most of those chairs have raised letters / numbers on the top surface of the base.  In general, the letters /numbers give information about the relevant railway company, where and when the chair was cast plus an indication of the chair type (for example:- plain line chair, switch chair, crossing chair… ).  However, this chair does not conform to the norm for the only markings on the chair are “GWR” and “86”, markings which appear to have been recessed into the casting.

GWR rail chair - top view

GWR chair - three quarter view

GWR rail chair - side view

Now it is possible that the chair dates from a time when the “normal” expected details were not included on the casting.   However, the general size and shape of this chair suggests that it pre-dates the style of chair shown in the drawings of the Permanent Way of the Great Western Railway for Gun Street depot (page 2).

So, do the photos show a rail chair for the 86lbs per yard rail which was instroduced in 1882?

What do you think?

regards, Graham

[further information on this type of chair has been found and the topic is now continuing as a Quirky Answer ]

Part 1 of this topic introduced the background to the permanent way of the Great Western depot at Gun Street by way of a summary of  primary sources and an indication of the type of track to be found in the sidings of the depot. This post expands upon the summary  of part 1 by describing the PW and the Switch and Crossing fittings and by including some relevant drawings from the GWR Engineering  Society pamphlet “Some Notes on Permanent Way” (Harvie 1898).

To recap; the Gun Street depot was opened circa 1880 and at that date the permanent way of the Great Western “narrow gauge” could, maybe unkindly, be described as ‘lightweight’ with rails of 86lbs per yard (Bowler 1923). The damp and acidic atmosphere in the  Metropolitan Railway tunnels caused excessive corrosion and wear of the rails, in some locations the track deteriorated so quickly that the Metropolitan Railway replaced the rails every 2 to 3 years. Whilst traffic over the Inner Circle Extension was far greater than the traffic in Gun Street depot, the rail conditions were such that the shunting engines slipped frequently, and as a result the GWR had to replace the rails more than once in the 1880s and 1890s.

The GWR increased rail strength progressively with a rail of 92lbs per yard section in 1894, a 95lbs rail in 1897 and a  97 1/2 lbs rail in 1900. Apart from an increase in the width and depth of the rail foot from 86lbs rails to 92lbs rails, the sections  of the 92lbs, 95lbs and 97 1/2 lbs rails are very similar and difficult to distinguish in photographs. By the mid 1890s the original 86lbs rails in the Gun Street depot had been replaced by a stronger rail and the change in the dimensions of the rail foot dictated that the chairs (and sleepers) were replaced at the same time. By the mid 1890s the permanent way had been re-laid from the formation upwards and reflected contemporary GWR PW practice.

GWR plain track of the mid-1890s used 32ft rails of 92lbs per yard carried in cast iron chairs with 12 sleepers per rail length, except where the formation was soft, then an extra sleeper per rail length was introduced. Much of the ground in the vicinity of the the Inner Circle Extension, including Gun Street, was old marsh land, so naturally the GWR used 13 sleepers per 32ft rail throughout the sidings. Standard sleepers were 9ft long, of 10in x 5in section and made of Baltic redwood fir, the sleepers were treated with creosote before the chairs were fixed by fang bolts. The arrangement of a plain track panel with 32ft rails is shown below.

Sleeper spacing for plain track with 32ft rails and 13 sleepers, circa 1895

The GWR standard plain chair of the period was of cast iron and weighed circa 46lbs. Keys to retain the rail in the chair were made of oak or teak… and handed. A drawing of the standard chair, with fang bolts, nuts and washers, is shown below.

Standard chair for plain track, 92lbs and 95lbs rail, circa 1895

The arrangement of the common crossing for simple turnouts requires special chairs and fittings to hold the crossing vee and wing rails in alignment. The GWR had a range of special chairs for the various crossing angles and each chair type was used at a specific position relative to the crossing nose. In the 1890s those chairs were referred to as the 1C, 2C… 6C chairs although nomenclature changed later. At this time the chair under the crossing nose, referenced here as the 3C chair, was a casting – the nose of the vee slid into the casting and was retained by a vertical bolt through an extension of the nose. Some of the special chair types are shown below.

Arrangement of common crossing showing special chairs, distance pieces and blocking pieces

As with the range of common crossings with different crossing angles the GWR had a range of switches of different lengths. The switch rails varied in length according to the radius of the turnout… the greater the radius the longer the switch. In the period of Basilica Fields the switch blades were available in lengths from 9ft up to 20ft where the length is measured from the tip of the switch to the point at which the switch rail has attained the “4 1/2in offset” from the stock rail – the switch rail extends for 2ft beyond the “4 1/2″ offset” and the extra length is supported in the heel chair. The switches of a simple turnout are shown below.

Arrangement of switches showing switch rails, slide chairs and heel chairs

The next part of this topic is to cover the construction of some plain track for the sidings and the catch point where the sidings join the Inner Circle Extension of the Metropolitan ‘Main Line’.

After publishing the first version of this post, and subsequent to the comment from Alan Woodward, I have been able to photograph an example of a chair as shown in Harvie’ s paper (drawing sheet 1, fig. 4 – illustrated above).  Of interest given the comments on this post and on a recent Quirky Query  is that the chair has recessed characters and the number “68” (which may refer to the “68d section”, 86lbs per yard, which was introduced in 1882).

GWR Chair similar to Harvie fig.4 showing "GWR"

GWR Chair similar to Harvie fig.4 showing "68"

reference:- Great Northern Railway 4-wheel Coaches

Adrian’s posts on Great Northern Railway coaches for services over the Extended Widened Lines have indicated that there is dearth of “official” material on the 4-wheel stock (for ‘official’ read ‘primary’).  Occasionally we find that a prototype, in which we have some interest, has been covered in the railway press, either full-size as in the GWR Engineering Society pamphlets or model press as in the series of books describing the GWR Goods Services.  In the case of these GNR coaches there are some relevant entries in “An Index to Railway Model Drawings” (S.A.Leleux, Oakwood Press, 1972), viz:-

Model Railway Constructor

1938, pg.255, pg.314

1940, pg.45

Model Railway News

1956, pg.189

Over to our readers at this point…  please contact Adrian or myself if you have access to any of those issues.

Thank you, Graham

Today is revealed another part of the Basilica Fields story; a small corner of questions, puzzles and conundrums which have arisen during our researches into the prototype whilst joining up the dots of Adrian’s alternative world.  If it helps, consider Quirky Queries as a visit to an Antiques Roadshow event just after the presenters have gone to lunch…  lots of interesting objet d’art to discuss and no explanations forthcoming.  In truth, Quirky Queries may be just a name on the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet where an unfinished thread dillies and dangles whilst we delve for the light at the end of the tunnel….

For those who have followed the Basilica Fields journal over the last fifteen months or so then you may have noted the occasional Quirky Query in some of our earlier posts… for example: Why did the GWR send examples of the ‘633’ class with condensing gear to Wales whilst at the same time requiring condensing engines for the goods service to Smithfield Market?

So make this part of the Basilica Fields journal your space, where your contributions provide the answers to our questions and you shed light on our confusion.

Thank you and please continue to add to history.

Graham Beare

Last April (was it really a year ago?) I remarked that there was a dearth of information for GNR close-coupled 4-wheel suburban coaching stock suitable for Basilica Fields. Despite my recent lack of updates to the blog due to ongoing events, progress on Basilica Fields continues to be made – albeit (mostly) not by me!

Late last year I made a couple of contacts through the GNR Society, and my subsequent bombardment of questions led to an interesting flurry of emails, and, although the situation is still not totally clear at present, it looks as though a big step has been made towards eventually facilitating the building of necessary stock required for those services, and the acquisition of some drawings.

Graham Beare has also been hard at work scouring accident reports instigated by the Board of Trade, and sending me relevant information, the best of which, so far, divulges the classification and running numbers of a twelve carriage close-coupled set running between Potters Bar and Kings Cross in 1898.

So, for the record, hauled by 120 Class No.515, the train in question consisted of :

Brake 3rd no.248, 3rd no.1636, 2nd no.1512, 2nd no.1511, 2nd no.1508, 1st no.1534, 1st no.1443, 2nd no.319, 2nd no.1323, 3rd no.1499, 3rd no.1505, Brake 3rd no.399.

Sounds very useful, but not for the first time while delving into the archives for Basilica Fields has an official document contradicted generally approved history; I understand (I’m no GNR historian) that it is usually accepted that the GNR quickly followed the Midland Railway’s lead in the mid 1870s by abolishing 2nd class. However, not only here, both other BoT reports clearly list second class carriages involved in accidents in the London suburban area. No doubt there is a rational explanation…

The photo is of a third class suburban close-coupled ‘Metropolitan’ carriage, no.903, designed by Howlden and built in 1900. These ‘Metropolitan’ carriages were 9′ wide (to cram the hapless commuter in), with half-height compartments and 3″ recessed doors to maintain the lading gauge. Sister carriage no.902, as part of a Muswell Hill – Kings Cross train was involved in a collision at Finsbury Park in 1907.

Of course it’s entirely possible the carriages listed in the 1898 accident are not of the Metropolitan type, and are therefore a red herring. Further updates on these will appear as and when more information comes to light.

For those who wish to understand how the Great Western Railway company specified, designed and constructed its Permanent Way then the task is much easier than for many other pre-grouping and pre-nationalisation companies. Devotees of Swindon have an easy “road” to enlightenment for they are blessed with not one..  not two..  not even three primary sources..  there are at least four sources of official documentation about GWR Permanent Way and associated Switch and Crossing practices from circa 1880 to the end of the Bullhead era.  As if that is not enough there is a decent book on the subject by one “who was there”… in the PW offices of BR (WR) and who had sufficient interest to put the experiences of his work into print.

The primary sources for information on the Permanent Way of the Great Western Railway company:-

  • Some Notes on Permanent Way, a paper read by Henry Harvie to the GWR Junior Engineering Society on 18th March 1898, (society pamphlet no. 17);
  • GWR Standard Permanent Way Practice, a paper read by F.T.Bowler to the Permanent Way Institute (South Wales Section) on 23rd June and 27th October 1923;
  • Permanent Way Fittings and their manufacture, a paper read by G.E.Hobbs to the GWR Swindon Engineering Society on 5th February 1929, (society pamphlet no. 169);
  • Permanent Way Notes: various, Chief Engineer’s Office, Paddington, 1930s through to 1950s.

Secondary sources include:-

  • GWR Permanent Way, 1838-1938, Len Tavender and M.C.James, HMRS Journal Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1965;
  • GWR Sleeper Spacings, David Smith, Great Western Study Group Newsletter no.77 June 2002.

And the book?  (which I recommend without reservation and  which needs to be on the bookshelf of anyone who wishes to building track in the GWR style)

  • GWR Switch and Crossing Practice, David J Smith, published by the Great Western Study Group.

Now in case you are thinking…  how do I  find a copy of the Chief Engineer’s tables for PW and S&C fittings?…  there is a fairy Godmother for GWR modellers in the form of Keith Norgrove.  Keith has been able to copy a large number of the Permanent Way Notes and those copies are to be found on Keith’s website, here .   There are no excuses, these tables define how the GWR and BR(WR) designed the permanent way and constructed the track.  In addition, the PW Notes illustrate the various chairs, fittings, levers, stretchers and blocks which went into the track.

The Great Western Railway permanent way for Artillery Lane just about gets into the picture down on the right hand corner of the Artillery Lane plan … where there is a connection from the up line of the Metropolitan Inner Circle Extension into the GW Gun Street depot.   An almost insignificant piece of railway property, with one or two sidings, a catch point and a capacity of around 15 wagons per siding.  As the depot belongs to the GWR then the sidings and catch point follow the contemporary practice of the GWR whereas the connection into the depot, placed in a passenger running line, was installed by the Metropolitan Railway and reflects the practice of that company.  Gun Street depot has just one connection to the Inner Circle Extension and that is a trailing turnout in the up line of the ICE…  which means that goods wagons for Gun Street are dropped from / attached to “up” GWR goods services (the Metropolitan Railway defined “up” as being in the direction from Baker Street towards Kings Cross).  The connection from the depot to the up line presents an operational problem in that goods trains which have wagons for the depot have to cross the down ICE line, by means of a diamond crossing, and that requires some smart working on the part of the train crew, the guard and the signalman.

The opening date of the Gun Street depot, lost in the depths of dry and dusty minute books (which are yet to be moved to Porchester Road), remains to be determined… early photographs of the depot appear to show bullhead rail of 86 lbs. per yard and that is consistent with a date of 1881.  Co-incidentally, 1881 is the date which is to be found on the keystone of the entrance gate to the depot yard.  Those early photographs provide a view of GWR track which is rather spindly in appearance for the 86 lbs section was neither as tall nor as thick (in the foot) as later sections.  Thankfully, there is one photograph of a siding which has a more robust appearance and that may be of either 92 lbs or 95 lbs rail section.

Like much of the Metropolitan Railway Main Line the sidings of Gun Street depot are in a dark and dreary location where the sun never shines – the depot suffers from damp and smoky conditions for most of the time.   Corrosion of the rails is rapid in the moist, acidic, atmosphere and – with the heavy wear from continual shunting and engines slipping on damp rails – the GWR has had to renew the sidings at least once since the depot was opened.  In an attempt to increase the life of the track in the depot the GWR used heavier rails in the renewals and that heavier rail section meant replacement chairs (and that required new sleepers).  So the permanent way for Gun Street depot is to be based upon the PW practices which were contemporary with the 1890-1899 period.