July 2012

Last night one billion pairs of eyes worldwide watched the opening ceremony of the 30th Olympiad,  culminating with the lighting of the ceremonial flame that will burn until the closing of The Games in mid-August, when it will be extinguished.

Stratford Jubilee Shed 1900-1907. Photograph © Public Domain.

Sixty years ago, a mile and a half east of Basilica Fields, the flames of the Great Eastern Railway company finally went out at Stratford shed on a site adjacent to the 2012 Olympic Stadium, having burned there continuously in the fireboxes of the locomotives of the Great Eastern, its successors the LNER and British Railways, and its antecedent companies, the Northern and Eastern Railway and Eastern Counties Railway, for over 122 years.

The railway first came to Stratford in 1839, and a year later the first locomotive shed was built on the site.  The Polygon – a 16-sided, 16-road shed – was built in the marshland giving birth to what was later to become the largest steam locomotive depot in the world.

Around the Works grew Hudson’s Town, built by the Railway King himself.  Initially some 300 houses for railway workers were constructed, but within a decade over 1000 men were employed at the Works, and the number grew exponentially. With the formation of the Great Eastern Railway in 1862, plans for development were mooted and in 1871 the ‘New Shed’ was opened large enough to hold 30 locomotives, but by then even this was too small and did little but to slightly ease the worst overcrowding.

By 1878 the situation was dire and plans for yet another shed were drawn up, but finances delayed progress for almost a decade.   In 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a new running shed – the Jubilee Shed – a massive 12 road building double the size of the New Shed was opened along side it capable of holding up to 60 locomotives. Nevertheless, within two years the locomotive department was again vocally critical of the lack of space and in the mid-90s the Jubilee Shed was extended in length by half as much again.

Concurrent with these ongoing developments other buildings rose up out of the marshes; vast swathes of locomotive and carriage erecting and machine shops, foundries, stores, boiler shops, smithies, painting shops, offices and even dormitories with two dedicated cooks and bedroom stewards with beds enough for 38 men each night and catering for a weekly throughput of 350 loco men making use of the dining room, kitchen, rest room, smoking room and clothes-drying room after working long distances from the furthest of the Company’s outstations.  In time, one of the country’s largest coaling facilities was built here, able to deliver 240 tons per hour, and the liquid fuel plant, of which the GER was a pioneer with as many as 60 locomotives fitted with the oil burning apparatus at any one time, had a capacity of 88,000 gallons.  At it’s height 555 locomotives were allocated to Stratford with 110 of these  sub-shedded locally.

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll see many ‘firsts’, and world records broken, but Stratford Works saw many ‘firsts in its own lifetime. Among other feats, in the 1850s the first compound-expansion engine was built; the first 0-4-4 side-tank engines were built here by S.W. Johnson in the 1870s along with the first inside-cylinder 4-4-0’s  in England;  William Adams designed his famous radial bogie here along with ‘Mogul’, the first 2-6-0  in Great Britain; in 1884 the first two-cylinder  Wosdell-von Borries compound was built; the infamous 0-10-WT ‘Decapod – designed with the sole intention of stopping the onset of electrification of the suburban lines was built and quietly retired without entering revenue-earning service – job done;  standardisation preceded Churchward’s policy on the Great Western by more than 15 years, and in December 1891 the Great Eastern Railway set its own world record at Stratford Works when a Y14 class (LNER J15) locomotive, No.930, was constructed and steamed  in 9 hours and 47 minutes – a feat never matched or broken.

So, at a time when the eyes of the world are on a little corner of East London, here is a torch raised to the memory of that most exciting and greatest of Locomotive Works, rich in history and innovation and courage, thick with steam and smoke and coal dust and smog and smell and noise and industry, home to glorious ultramarine blue locomotives lined vermilion with brass trim and the panting staccato bark of hundreds of Westinghouse pumps, all now gone forever;  Stratford.

With the exception of a batch of new wagons built for a specific purpose, all of the Great Eastern Railway’s loco sand wagons were created as required from withdrawn high-sided wagons described in parts 1-4 of this series.

Photograph © Adrian Marks

As they travelled a very limited mileage it was deemed economical for the Locomotive Superintendent to purchase and convert a wagon withdrawn from revenue earning stock,  give the underframe and running gear a thorough overhaul, repair or construct new bodywork and paint them in Departmental green.  As a consequence many sand wagons were unique, and in later years the advent of newer types of axleboxes, buffers and brake regulations added to their disparate nature.

The exception can be found in the Locomotive Committee proceedings, where on 17 November 1896 it is recorded that:

Sand Wagons for Locomotive Depot from Locomotive Superintendent re supply of sand from Mr Boam of Lynn. 100 tons per week at 1/- per ton ready for use. 30 new wagons required for this work at £1800 cost.

These wagons were constructed the following year and incorporated the standard 15ft steel underframe as used on the contemporary Diagram 17 opens.

Much of the limited information on Great Eastern sand wagons in the public domain comes from a wagon discovered by John Watling (GER Soc. President  & HMR Soc. GER Cariage & Wagon Steward) in the yard at Ipswich during August 1957. At that time access to General Arrangement drawings and official documents held by British Railways was out of the question, and there was little information on wagons available to the public. As a consequence, whenever it was possible, measurements of ex-GER wagons were taken by John and a drawing produced, and in the case of the sand wagons, a short history was written  and published in the Model Railway News in February 1959.

Since the early 1970s much information has come to light, mostly thanks to diligent research carried out by John which included finally gaining access to and making copies of hundreds of rolling stock drawings held at Stratford, so now there is a vast wealth of information which can be gleaned from both the Great Eastern Railway Society and from the GAs held at the NRM. Of course these official documents highlight any errors John made in his drawings, most of which are no more than conjecture of pre-Grouping features no longer extant on the wagons he saw during the 50s and 60s.

It is unfortunate then, that his flawed drawing of a GE period sand wagon was reproduced in Peter Tatlow’s recent book, although to be fair to the author there is still nothing comparable and its inclusion does at least serve to show the type of wagon the company used. However, it is far more regrettable that the high quality 7mm Connoisseur kit is based upon the same drawing.

The Ipswich wagon, LNER number 600023, was originally a round-ended open (as seen in Part One) built in 1873, and withdrawn from capital stock in 1895. As with many of these wagons, on delivery to the Locomotive Department the body was removed, the underframe overhauled, and a new body constructed with a pitch roof incorporating double-doors.

Although the overall dimensions in the drawing are correct, on the pre-Grouping variant John made some assumptions as to its livery and some of the details, and the errors can be summed up thus:

  • The lettering style (even for post-1903) and wording is wrong.
  • The running number 23 incorrect and should be in the 2001 – 9999 range.
  • The combined rectangular build/tonnage plate wrong – separate ellipse plates should be fitted.
  • The short buffers should be mounted on 12” square by 3” thick oak blocks.

All of these errors appear in the Connoisseur kit which I built as intended, and at least I am in good company as the late, great model maker Geoff Pember scratchbuilt his delightful 7mm model of No.29 from John’s drawing with these errors…which we now know wasn’t really wagon no.29 after all…

When I became aware of these problems in the spring of 2006 I decided I wanted to backdate the wagon to the pre-1902 livery, but procrastinated over stripping the paint and making the alterations and it’s very fortunate I did, or I might be preparing the model for another trip to the cellulose baths.

Last year I bought an old photograph, now long out of copyright, which shows hitherto unknown lettering present on the sides of these wagons in the GE period.

The photograph is a portrait of Class D56 No.1857 at Liverpool Street, sitting almost underneath Pindar Street bridge on the East Side. In the background, by the retaining wall, parked in the long headshunt to the platform 18 loco bay, are two loco sand wagons.  Other contemporary photographs show that this siding was their usual spot, often alongside a raft of loco coal wagons, but it seems that it is the first photograph from this period in which the wagons are seen close-up, as this location is usually seen in the distance.

A high-res scan and enlargment of the relevant portion of the photograph has revealed some lettering which was previously unknown, and at last we also have two genuine running numbers. All is not completely resolved, thanks to the inconsiderate position of the loco chimney, but following discussion with John, we have postulated what is missing.

Photograph © Public Domain

On the right sits no.4254 which appears to be a 5-plank wagon without diagonal bracing and is therefore likely to be a replacement body on an overhauled underframe in a similar vein to the four-plank 600023 seen by John in 1957. However, it is the wagon on the left which is of most interest; no.6741 is a three-planked, outside framed example, the bodywork of which bears a remarkable similarity to round-ended wagon 9419 described in Part One, indicating that at the time of withdrawal from revenue earning stock the body was in sufficiently good condition to not need replacing. One presumes the side doors have been nailed shut, and possibly lined on the inside to prevent the egress of sand and ingress of rainwater, and the rounded ends have been altered or replaced to facilitate the typical peak-roof.  Fascinating stuff so far, but it is the lettering which is the game-changer:


Which is significantly different to what was previously believed the wording would be (seen on the model above).

I initially wondered whether we might not be looking at a sand wagon at all but something entirely different, and although he said that the GER had rubbish wagons similarly constructed, John  pointed out that all refuse from the station and hotel was handled in the arches beneath the hotel. I therefore suggested, and John was in agreement, that if these were indeed sand wagons the complete wording might read:


Until further information comes to light, that is the extent of our knowledge regarding the wording on these wagons. To be able to disseminate this new historical information lost in the mists of time for almost century is something I have to admit I’m rather pleased with, and is one of the raisons d’être of this journal.

The use of the word ‘truck’ might cause some raised eyebrows amongst serious modellers, but for those not familiar with Great Eastern terminology, the word truck in relation to a wagon  had legitimate usage; a wagon was loaded open goods vehicle, and a truck was an empty one.

In relation to Basilica Fields, the model above (once re-liveried) will be an important feature of the loco depot at Angel Yard in The Rookery. I’ve built it with a working brake lever so that once shoved up its siding the brakes will be put on before being uncoupled. All good fun and will add to the verisimilitude of the scene.

This is the final part of the mini-series introducing the Great Eastern general merchandise open wagons that will appear on Basilica Fields.

By 1903 the need for increased wagon capacity lead to Temple Mills Wagon Works building an experimental 7-plank open converted from  a diagram 17 5-plank open no.23246 of the 1898 batch.  New end stanchions, corner plates and side knees with diagonal bracing extending to the top of the wagon were fitted which  supported the two extra planks and side-hung top doors giving an internal body depth of 4ft 0½ ins. The E-type grease axleboxes fitted to the diagram 17 were replaced with split oil axleboxes, and the new wagon rated at 12 Tons.  The two-per-side door stops fitted to the 1898 batch of wagons were removed and replaced with Monarch door balancing apparatus, and the wagon retained two brake blocks fitted to one side only. The wagon was finished in the new large and revised 24″ x 20″ letter livery and was given the new rectangular combined makers/load plate.

Photograph © Public Domain

The new wagon found favour, and a total of 1350 (P. Tatlow gives 1300 in his book) were built to a slightly revised design between 1903 and 1908 with diagonal bracing to the fifth plank only and a lower load rating of 10T.  In addition, 650 7-plank Loco Coal wagons to diagram 31 were converted to diagram 48 between 1904 and 1911 as numbers of the new 20T steel Loco Coal wagons increased, and although no written orders have been found, further diagram 17 5-plank opens were also converted, though when and how many is as yet unknown. These latter wagons had new end stanchions and side knees, but retained the five-plank high corner plates and had an separate extension for the top two planks. Example running numbers include 4391 and 5021 from the 1905 and 1908 batches respectively, and 3304 was a converted diagram 17.

Furness Railway Wagon Co. have a GE 7-plank wagon in their range which, I believe, covers the new-builds as well as the D.31 and D.17 conversions. Judging by the quality I’ve seen with other products from the range there may be some work needed to bring them up to the spec of other wagons for Basilica Fields.

As stated at the beginning, this entry wraps up the Great Eastern Railway’s general merchandise opens built in the timeframe set for Basilica Fields.  Some opens will be needed for Angel Yard in The Rookery for mundane tasks such as ash disposal.

Next we’ll be taking a look at the other wagons necessary for the yard,  and a new mini-series will deal  with the Loco Coal and Loco Sand wagons.