By far the most prolific item of stock owned by the Great Eastern Railway was the humble steel-framed 10 ton high-sided open wagon.  On his appointment to Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent, James Holden was keen to eradicate timber-framed wagons favoured by his predecessors, and begin production of steel-framed wagons.  The story of how this was achieved may well be the subject of a future journal entry.

A test batch of 50 was built in 1886 (though I’ve not yet determined if they followed the body styling of the then contemporary Diagram 16 wagon or were a unique batch), and then between 1893 and 1903 a further 12,000 were built to what became Diagram 17. They represented well over half of the total wagon output of the GER in that period, which came to total of 21,995 wagons, 11,619 of which were built on capital account thereby increasing the number in revenue earning service, and the remaining 10,336  replaced life-expired vehicles.

By the time the Diagram 17 ceased production in 1903,  the total wagon stock owned by the GER numbered 26,512, and the importance of general merchandise open wagons to the company can be measured by the fact that the 12,050 Diagram 17, the 3640 Diagram 16, and the 2000 round-ended wagons  in service totalled 66.7% of  stock in the wagon register book.

One of the 1901 builds, no.29279 seen after repainting in 1910 (having run in the old livery for eight years after it was discontinued) has all the contemporary mod cons: a horse hook and rope holes on the solebar, drift bolt holes, pressed steel spring shoes and stops, Monarch door balancing gear, with the linkage attached to the right hand side of the central ironwork – note the central hinge has been removed, a rectangular combined maker’s and load plate in the final position, and a Cocker’s Patent label clip in a white-edged box. Note the Worsdell 4-plank open on the right, numbered 14282, almost certainly from the same batch as no.14297 seen in the entry on that wagon design. Photograph ©Public Domain.

Up to 1896 wagons were built at Stratford, after which production moved to the new and dedicated wagon & carriage works at Temple Mills.  However, an unprecedented demand for over 2250 new wagons per annum in the late 1890s was too great a number even for the additional capacity at the new works, and so a contract was made with W.R. Renshaw & Co of Stoke on Trent in January 1901 to supply 750 of these open wagons for delivery by September (note that Peter Tatlow gives an incorrect figure of 100 wagons in his book) . Unfortunately, by the autumn less than half had been delivered, and it was to be another year before the final wagon left the Stoke works. Just as unsatisfactory was the fact that the average cost of the Renshaw wagons was 10% greater than those built at Temple Mills, and by the time the last of the contracted wagons had entered revenue-earning service, Temple Mills was again running below capacity. In fact, no further wagons were built on capital account, and from then on new wagons simply replaced life-expired ones and the overall wagon stock level remained constant.

The key difference between the final Diagram 16 wagons and the first Diagram 17 wagons, aside from the obvious change of frame material, was the substitution of the double brake vee hangar as fitted to the timber frames, for a single vee with a centrally mounted dropper located about a third of the way inboard from the solebar. The photograph above shows this very well.

Over the decade the Diagram 17 wagon was in production, many changes took place as technology advanced, and I’ll try to give a précis of those changes relevant to the wagons which will be seen on Basilica Fields.

  • June 1893 – April 1895,  no’s 16301-17000: As built to GA 8365.  No horse hooks or solebar holes, single door stops mounted in line with the central door hinge. Cast iron bearing spring shoes and stops, separate maker’s and 10 load plates (described in detail in the entry on the Worsdell 4-plank opens)  mounted on the bottom plank in line with the wheel centres.
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  • April 1895 onwards,  no’s 17001 – 18990:  A new style of buffing plate with eight rather than six plates was introduced in April 1895 and the externally this was marked by 1¾” diameter holes being set in 5¾” from the headstock at either end of the solebars, enabling the pin securing the buffer rod to be hammered out by drift bolt.
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    In June of the same year, a horse hook riveted to the solebar the left-hand end was introduced. Contemporaneously, a 3″ diameter hole 10½” left of the wheel centre was provided on some, but by no means all new wagons as an alternative means for securing shunting ropes and chains.
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    400 examples of an 1895 batch were given underframe members made from Fox’s pressed steel plates. very little data is available, and none really relevant to modelling the wagons.
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  • January 1897 – June 1899, no’s 18991 – 19700 & 22000 – 24000:  From January 1897 the single central door stop was superseded by a pair of stops aligned with the outer door hinges as a means of better supporting the falling door. John Watling has speculated that their origin may also be attributed to an early experiment with either-side brake gear which required a centrally placed lever which would have conflicted with the single, central door stop . Initial batches had a block of wood bolted to the face of each stop, but these were soon omitted.Sometime around 1898 new builds had the two separate maker’s and load plates moved to the second plank from the bottom, and positioned 3″ from the corner plates.
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  • January 1899 onwards, no’s 23950- 24500:  This batch were the first new builds to have a new pressed steel version of the bearing spring shoes and stops.  As the cast iron ones broke on older wagons they were retro-fitted with the new steel type.
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  • June 1899 onwards 24501 – 2499  & 27001 – 30320. From June 1899 the pair of door stops were superseded on new builds by Monarch door balancing gear, which assisted in both raising and lowering the side doors. This consisted of a single lever bolted to the solebar with the linkage attached on either the right or the left hand side of the hinge in the middle of the door, and a powerful spring mounted behind the solebar. On later batches the central door hinge was discontinued, but the ironwork retained for both strength and for somewhere to attach the linkage.
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  • January 1900 onwards, no’s 27500 – 30320:  The two separate eliptical maker’s and load plates were superseded on new builds by a combined rectangular plate which measured 11″ x 7″  fixed to the second plank up on the left hand side about 8″ from the corner plate. The new plate consisted of the GER initials, build date and carrying capacity.With the introduction of the new livery in 1902, wagons with elliptical plates on the second plank retained them in this position, earlier wagons with plates on the lower plank had them moved to the second plank up. However, wagons with rectangular plates on the second plank had them moved to the bottom plank on the right hand side, hard up against the corner plate.
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  • Throughout, the livery is the same as the Diagram 16 wagons. From 1902, no’s 30041-30320 plus some randomly numbered wagons were the only ones to receive the new larger style livery from new. During 1902 some may have received the short-lived square-style large G and numbers, but the majority would have received the style illustrated above.
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  • Miscellaneous differences:  For some unknown reason, and it appears to have been rather random in execution, some wagons received an additional angle plate at each corner below the corner plates tying in the curb rail with the end rail.
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    The position of sheet rings varied, some were fitted to the side rail and end crib rail, whereas other had them fitted the bottom plank.
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    Subsequent changes to brakes, buffers, axleboxes and conversions were made to these wagons, but they fall outside of the Basilica Fields timeframe. Some, such as no.28965 (see Tatlow p.186) were fitted with Mansell wheels.

John Watling was also able to ascertain a selection of random running numbers outside the blocks noted above, a list by no means exhaustive:

  • 1893: 2442,2537,2551,7197,8573,9364
  • 1895: 2461,2916,3100,5790,6256,8251
  • 1896:  2367,4710,5653,5950,6117,6448
  • 1897: 2481,7190,7660,9074,10266,11270
  • 1898: 2706,3001,5359,6440,9827,12033
  • 1899: 2406,3261,6590,7177,9123,10152
  • 1900: 4277,6020,6785,7462,8089,11305
  • 1902: 3589,4850,5472,6563,6838,7862
  • 1903: 2112,3474,5847,6885,7935,8492

A mixed media kit of this wagon is available from the Furness Wagon Co. consisting of  a resin body, etched underframe and etched body ironwork, of which I have an example.  Although it makes a fair representation of the Diagram 17 wagons which might satisfy many modellers, I’m not convinced the work necessary to bring it up to the high standard of prototype fidelity required for Basilica Fields is time I’m prepared to invest in it, especially considering the numbers required. It may well be that I will produce a kit for this myself.

Without the benefit of John Watling’s research collated in an articles in the Great Eastern Society Journal numbers 83 and 86, specifically the running numbers of the wagons and differences between batches, this entry would have been significantly poorer in content.

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