Extended Circle

The recent completion of a commissioned X2 MICA B in post-1904 livery prompted this entry which otherwise might have been written at a later date. The two photographs illustrate this model.

© Adrian Marks

Located as it is between the dock and Smithfield market, meat traffic will play a significant part of goods traffic passing through the subterranean levels of Basilica Fields, with the GWR shouldering the greatest load. If, like me, you grew up unsullied by Great Western telegraph code nomenclature, and therefore completely in the dark about MORELS, MITES, MACAWS, MINKS, MOGOs and MAGOOS (one of those is a red herring, and that’s nothing to do with fish traffic!), then hopefully you’ll at least have some idea of what a MICA is by the end of this mini series. As these vehicles came in so many varieties I’ll be dealing with each type separately, so this first entry serves as a detailed overview.

Perhaps the most famous of GWR meat trains were those running between Birkenhead and Smithfield via Acton, but there were other services to Plymouth and Avonmouth, as well as one between Victoria Dock and Cardiff via the North London Railway. The Circle & Widened Lines Extension to the docks also gives an opportunity to transport meat from there to Smithfield, and occasionally direct to Acton without recourse to the NLR.

Through the 1890s, beef from the Americas landed live at Birkenhead, and after a short period of recovery from the arduous journey the cattle was slaughtered and butchered locally. Their carcasses were then chilled before forwarding to Smithfield – a process taking up to 20 hours from abattoir to market. Ventilated vans were found to be sufficient keep the meat cool for this journey, and for the purpose of Basilica Fields we need go to back no further than the 110 vans built between 1889 – 1891 which were later diagrammed X1 and given the telegraph code MICA. Ventilation was via hinged bonnet ends that ran the full width along the top of the vans with scalloped bottoms to the sides, and a series of 1ft 8ins ventilation slots along the side of the vans on the third plank down. Construction was double-cased tongue and grooved planking with flush-fitted doors and no exterior bracing. These vans were fully vacuum fitted for running at fast goods speeds.

Contemporaneously, a batch of 13 vans were built at Swansea Wagon Works for the South Wales Railway and later diagrammed X3 with the code MICA A. These were non-ventilated and were used for rushing chilled meats between Victoria Dock in London to Cardiff. They had ice containers installed and used straw for insulation. The vans were diagonally planked with a narrow cupboard door and were fitted with a vacuum through pipe for travelling at passenger speeds.

With the increase of chilled and frozen meat such as mutton from Australasia, a new van emerged based on the X1 design but without the side ventilation slots and having plain bottoms to the ventilator bonnet sides. These vans were fitted with X3-type ice containers which were filled from the inside, and a 3″ air space between the double body sheeting provided some degree of insulation. As such, these 240 vans to diagram X2 could be used either as ventilated or refrigerated, depending on the requirement, and were given the code MICA B. Ten further examples of X2 were built without the end ventilator bonnets and coded MICA A, and another ten X2 were fitted with the end bonnets but had no ice containers and were simply coded MICA.

© Adrian Marks

The liveries of the MICAs throws up a few interesting questions which I’ve not had answered satisfactorily yet, and so I’ll begin with extracts from Slinn’s Great Western Way pp.97 – 102:
Period ending 1903: “It was at the time of the start of the right hand small lettering that refrigerated meat vans began to be painted with white bodies and it is believed that the lettering was black. Photographic emulsions of the time do not differentiate between black and red and no trace has been found in official documents to say which colour was used…”

1904 – 1919: “Refrigerated vans had already appeared painted in white but now their lettering was executed in red.”

  • Question: Right-hand small GWR lettering was introduced c1893, so what colour were the X3 vans between being built in 1889 and 1893?

I had assumed that the red lettering was introduced with the white livery from comments in other sources, such as Tourret et al.

  • Question: Is there any other source to confirm black lettering was used on white-painted X2 and X3 MICA A and MICA B up to 1904, or did small red lettering in fact appear much earlier during the 1890s?

The whole debate over the colour of general merchandise goods stock in the 1890s also throws up one further interesting query.

  • Question: Were X1 MICAs originally painted red?

The floor is open for debate!

For the record, the model was built from a WEP brass kit, pretty much as designed, and given a light weathering. Screw couplings and safety chains from Laurie Griffin. Contemporary photographs show these vans got absolutely filthy, no doubt in part due to their journey to Smithfield on the Metropolitan Line, so this one represents a fairly recently repainted example c1912.

Twelve examples of the Great Western’s 13 ton AA7 brake vans were built between 1897 and 1898 to Lot 206 for working the company’s trains from Acton over the Metropolitan and (for a short stretch between Farringdon Street and Aldersgate Street) the Widened Lines to Smithfield – they were numbered in the series 56985-96.  Essentially they were a short version of the AA3 vans with a 9ft wheelbase, measuring 16ft over headstocks with a proportionally smaller verandah than the larger vans.

© Adrian Marks

It has been suggested by various authors that the AA7s must have been the among the first fitted brake vans on the GW because of the Smithfield meat trains, which included fitted Micas, but in reality, the perceived volume of meat traffic to Smithfield has been blown out of all proportion, and careful study of the relevant WTTs show that in fact the meat trains made up only a very small percentage of the traffic over the route as Smithfield was also the main general merchandise goods depot for central London and the City. To put things in perspective; in 1912, out of sixteen daily goods trains only four were scheduled for meat traffic, and of these, three were mixed trains of meat and general merchandise. Quite surprisingly, only one single trip each day was solely reserved for the conveyance of meat. It’s worth remembering that Mica’s were vacuum braked to convey chilled and frozen meat between Birkenhead and London at passenger-rated speeds, and it would have been the brake vans on those trains which were first vacuum fitted. It wasn’t until later, maybe much later (post-Grouping?) that vacuum braked stock was required on the Smithfiled trips.

The model is from Big Jim’s wonderful Connoisseur range, and the only major deviation I made was the addition of WEP compensation units rather than a solid chassis. GW paint from Precision, weathering from Humbrol and transfers from the HMRS. Glazing is 0.13mm glass, instanter couplings from CPL and sprung buffers from Slater’s.

This example was built to commission, and is in 0 Finescale, but I have a pair to build for Basilica Fields where meat traffic not only shuttles between Acton and Smithfield, but east from Smithfield to St. Katherine Dock via Basilica Fields on the (Middle) Circle Extension.

© Adrian Marks

No photoshoppery…well, just a little to get rid of a couple of specks of dust, but the colours and lighting is au natural care of the fat old sun.

Some 1600 ten ton open merchandise wagons to Diagram 03 were built by the Great Western Railway in four batches during the years 1904-5 and 1912. These wagons were a development of the Diagram 04 introduced three years earlier and incorporated a 4⅛” wider top plank bringing the internal height to 3’3″ which remained the basic standard for GW 10 & 12/13T opens in all future builds. At the same time the width was made wider by 6″ bringing the inside and outside dimensions to 7’7″ and 8′ respectively. Many, perhaps most, of the 03s were fitted with the Williams patent sheet supporter to aid the wagons sheets protect the merchandise when in transit.

I recently completed a commission for an 03, built from a WEP kit and this was given a light weathering as if recently built. The running number suggests that it is one of the final batch, and as the wagon will fit into a c1912 scenario, I think the degree of weathering is appropriate.

As these wagons were introduced in 1904 it would be reasonable to incorporate a small number in amongst the larger proportion of 4-plank wagons running on the Metropolitan Line between Acton, and Smithfields through Basilica Fields on the Extended Circle around to the GW depot at St Katherine Docks. Of course they will have S7 wheels whereas this has standard 0 Fine wheels.

I’m not too happy with the photo as the light was fading so I used some artificial daylight to help but it mucked the colours up and I couldn’t fix it to my satisfaction on the computer. If I get some decent mid-morning light before the wagon gets delivered I’ll upload some better photos and hopefully show the folded wagon sheet inside too.

This post is by way of a place holder for a subject which is proving difficult to crack…  that is:- how did the Metropolitan Railway arrange the switch and crossing work for their permanent way.  If the short and snappy title of the post leaves you a tad puzzled then the subject of this post is the way in which the Met. Rly. arranged the rails, chairs and timbers for the turnouts.  At this point, after more than six months of research into the topic, we have to say that we know very little about Met. Rly. turnouts in the period 1885-1905  and much of what we understand about the subject has been provided in anecdotal form – primary source material is noticable by its absence.

The recent comment by Kit Williams prompted me to look for a copy of the book which was mentioned in the first paragraph, “A History of the Metropolitan Railway – vol. 1”, (Bill Simpson, Lamplight Publications, 2003, isbn 1 899246 07 X).  First port of call when searching for railway titles is the “Railway Collection” of Hampshire County Council – a collection of circa 10,000 volumes which has its origins in the library of the Eastleigh Railway Institute.  The collection is housed in Winchester Library and the majority of the items are available for loan; Hampshire Libraries provides an on-line search facility which includes the railway collection, a couple of minutes work with the keyboard informed me that the required book was available “on-the-shelf”.

The photograph on page 28 is known to Adrian and I, we have a copy of the image from an unknown source.  Whilst the photograph is out of copyright we are not sure as to the situation regarding reproduction of this image and hence its absence from this journal.  Suffice to say that the photograph is one of only a handful of images of Met. Rly. turnouts in the pre-electrification era and hence is key to our modelling of that aspect of Met. Rly. permanent way.  For those who are interested in the subject, the London Transport Museum has an on-line photograph collection and one of those images shows the same junction from a different position.

So thank you to Kit for prompting a start on this subject….


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"

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.

Updated 4th July:- to include information  from Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers – relating to a paper on the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways, 17th February 1885.

22nd February 2010 is an important date in the evolving story of Basilica Fields, this is the day when the world of Artillery Lane was laid before all as an integral part of life in the (amended) history of the East End of London.  Some sort of celebration seems to be in order and Adrian has decreed that the occasion be marked in an honourable fashion.  So here we present a part of the railway infrastructure for the first section of the Basilica Fields development ‑ a brief outline of Metropolitan Railway track in the period 1895 to 1905 as shall constitute the permanent way of the Inner Circle Extension and the Extended Widened lines in the vicinity of Artillery Lane.

This post is unusual by comparison with many of the entries of the Basilica Fields journal in that the content here is either fact or an hypothetical statement for which we continue to seek evidence.  There are other categories of the Basilica Fields journal where the reader has to either recognise and separate fact from the writer’s distortion of history (to present a more enjoyable picture of nineteenth century life in the east end of London) ‑ or accept the diary entries as written.

 The Research Sources

Thanks and acknowledgement are due to Leslie Bevis-Smith, HMRS steward for the Metropolitan Railway, for providing information without which the task of building the track would be much more difficult.  Where this post provides information as historical fact in regard to “Met” track then the source of that information is Leslie (unless otherwise stated).  Unwittingly and without intent, Leslie caused us to take an unexpected diversion in our research into “Met” PW practices, a diversion which has proved to be of inestimable value and yet has caused us to rethink some of the preparatory work for the permanent way of Artillery Lane.  A message from Leslie contained an extract from a Board of Trade Accident Report and upon realising that such reports are a source of contemporary information we have been reading similar reports (see the Railways Archive web site).  Apart from contributing to our understanding of the permanent way practices of the Metropolitan Railway, several reports have given an insight into the identities of locomotives to be found working the tunnels in the Basilica Fields time period and provided, for some services, details of passenger train formations and the identities of the coaching stock (see posts in the Passenger Services category).

Other research sources, which provide “visual” information on “Met” track, are the photographic collections of the London Transport Museum (LTM) and the Railway Archive (RA) which is a small part of the Transport Archive (TA). The RA/TA collection features the work of SWA Newton which one might think of as being biased towards the Great Central (MS&LR as was) – however, the London Extension of the Great Central Railway formed a junction with the Metropolitan Railway at Quainton Road and at West Hampstead.    As a consequence of those junctions, there are a number of Newton photographs which feature Metropolitan scenes of circa 1900.  These collections are searchable, on-line, resources; however, choose search parameters with care… for example: – using “Metropolitan Railway” on the LTM web site produced almost 600 thumbnails for viewing.  Those images which are from the Victorian and Edwardian eras provide much material for late-night sessions of sleeper counting.

A pleasant consequence of writing posts for the Basilica Fields journal is that reader’s comments on the content of a post often provide either additional material related to the original content or suggestions for other avenues of research.  Such has happened in relation to the infrastructure of the Metropolitan Railway in that a comment from Kit Williams has given pointers to a new research resource in the form of the on-line archive of the Institute of Civil Engineers.  The Minutes of Proceedings of the “Civils” has revealed a discussion between the George Owen (engineer for Hounslow and Metropolitan Railway) and Joseph Tomlinson (Engineer and Locomotive Superintendent – Metropolitan Railway) in which those gentlemen review contemporary practices in regard to permanent way.

Location, location, location…

In the original post for Artillery Lane the plan of the area shows the lines and facilities in that part of the Ward of Basilica Without, and is reproduced below:

The tracks which enter top-left and exit bottom-right are the property of the Metropolitan Railway; those tracks are used by Extended Circle services of the Metropolitan Railway and passenger / goods services of the Great Western Railway.  The tracks which enter bottom-left, pass under the Metropolitan lines, and exit top-right are also the property of the Metropolitan Railway although not used by that company; those tracks are used by Extended Widened Lines services of the Midland Railway, the Great Northern Railway, and railways from south of the River Thames.  Although financial contributions were made by the main line companies, the Metropolitan Railway was responsible for the building and maintenance of both these lines and the track work reflects contemporary Metropolitan Railway practice.  Bottom right of the map, between Union Street and Fort Street, can be seen the connection from the Extended Circle into the small GWR Depot (known as Gun Street depot and lies adjacent to Gun Street and Union Street).  Research into the Minute Books of meetings of the General Managers (held under the auspices of the Metropolitan and Great Western Joint Committee) has revealed that the property and land of Gun Street depot belonged to the GWR, hence that company was responsible for the installation and maintenance of the permanent way within that depot.  Much to the chagrin of the GWR, the connection into the depot was made from the up line of the Inner Circle Extension and so the GWR had to pay the Metropolitan Railway to install and to maintain the required PW and S&C fittings together with the necessary signalling (and hence a contribution to the wages of the signalman in the nearby Metropolitan signalbox).

The Information

The historical record for details of Metropolitan Railway permanent way is poor for the period from the early days of the “Met” to beyond the timescale of Basilica Fields.  What is presented here is courtesy of the HMRS company steward.

  • From the early days the track was built with iron rails weighing 62lbs per linear yard, of a “Vignoles” section, and laid on longitudinal sleepers.  By 1866 the rails were made of Bessemer steel and weighing 86lbs per linear yard, still “Vignoles” section, and now laid upon transverse sleepers.  Bullhead rail supported by chairs was introduced after 1872.
  • Circa 1876, the track at Aldgate was bullhead rail of 86lbs per yard, in 24ft. lengths.  The rail was supported in cast iron chairs, weighing 39lbs, and retained with outside keys.  The sleepers were of red fir and laid on a 12inch ballast bed.
  • The extension to Willesden Green (1879) had plain track as per Aldgate (1876).
  • The extension to Aylesbury (1892) was as per Willesden and Aldgate with sleepers specified as 9ftx10inx5in, 9 per length.  Steel sleepers were used for 5 miles of the extension.
  • The extension line widening of 1901 used 30ft rails (presumably with more than 9 sleepers per rail length).  Finchley Road was provided with Manganese steel rail of 95lbs per yard for switch and crossing work.
  • [Out of the time period for Basilica Fields, the Stanmore line was laid with rails of 45ft length and weighing 95lbs per yard (circa 1931)]

Official reports into railway accidents can be an useful information source if a report describes the construction of the permanent way.  Alan Blackburn (of the Model Railway Club), has provided some relevant details:-

  • July 1892 ‑ Accident at Farringdon, 87lbs Bullhead rail 24ft, 40lbs cast-iron hairs.  Sleepers 8’11”x10”x5” and 12”x6′,’ 9 sleepers to the rail length.  (Chairs) fixed with 2 bolts, nut on top as GWR, well ballasted.

Of real interest in this report is the reference to sleepers of 8’ 11” length ‑ not 9’ 0”, as most modellers think and most historians believe, for track which was laid before circa 1914.  The tax on imported timber appears to have been related to the length of the timber and that there was a breakpoint at 9’ 0”, that is, timber at 8’ 11” incurred a lower import duty than timber at 9’ 0”.  The reference to sleepers of 12” x 6” section suggests that the Metropolitan Railway used wider sleepers each side of a rail joint or that the rail joint was supported in a “joint” chair.  There is at least one photograph which shows a pre-WW1 Metropolitan passenger train on track which includes a joint chair.  Finding a joint chair in photographs of “Met” track work is marginally easier than spotting 12” wide sleepers with ballast up to the top of the sleeper; however, a Topical Press photographer was on hand to photograph some repair work at Aldgate during WW1 and this photograph appears to show the use of 12” wide sleepers on either side of a rail joint.

Finally, the HMRS company steward has provided a drawing of a Metropolitan cast-iron chair, dated 1883, which shows that the chair was fixed to the sleeper with two, square-headed, bolts into threaded plates under the sleeper.  The bolts were arranged diagonally, bottom left corner and top right corner when viewing the chair from above (with the rail running top to bottom).   After almost 130 years we rather felt that seeing an example of this chair was very unlikely….  however, whilst looking for something else (is not that always the way?), an interesting and relevant photo presented itself.   The provenance is correct, the date is reasonable…  and there is a good probability that this photograph from the TA shows a chair of the “Met” 1883 pattern.

The details above, as far as we know, are the sum of the written record; from here we need to peer into the dark corners of photographs (which were taken, mostly, to show some other railway feature).  There are several books on Metropolitan Railway services and branches, published in the last decade, which feature photographs similar to this of the “Met” in Victorian and Edwardian times.  Often those books provide us with detailed captions which include the date (or decade) of the photograph along with a location for the photograph –  such photos and captions can offer support for and interpretation of the written word, for example:-

Memories of the Met & GC Joint Line, Clive Foxell, published 2002, ISBN 0 9529184 3 9.  Pg. 25 shows “Met Tank” No.34 on a down Harrow service, the location is given as “past Willesden” and the date as pre‑1905.  The track under the engine has nine sleepers per rail length and whilst the angle of the photo does not help to estimate the rail length the photograph is probably representative of Metropolitan Railway practice in the period 1890-1900.

Metropolitan Railway Rolling Stock, James Snowdon, Wild Swan, published 2001, ISBN 1 874103 66 6.  Pg. 18 shows “Met Tank” No.59 on a down Rickmansworth service, the location is thought to be Northwood and the date as circa 1890s.  This picture gives a very clear impression of “Met” track with 9 sleepers per rail length (although the angle of the train does not enable confirmation of the expected 24’ rail length).

The Application to Artillery Lane



In case you think that all is “tickety‑boo” with the arrangement of plain track panels, let us review the “accepted” wisdom and then step back a bit.  From the written record and photographic evidence a picture emerges of the “Met” employing 24’ rails with nine sleepers per length from circa 1876 and 30’ rails with eleven(?) sleepers per length being available from 1901 (at the latest).  There is photographic evidence to support the idea of “24’ rails and 9 sleepers per length” as being the standard for Metropolitan Railway plain track on new lines in the period to be represented by Basilica Fields.  Given the potential for corrosion from the atmospheric conditions in the tunnels and the wear resulting from the passage of trains then replacement of rails every few years, with replacement of sleepers at a slower rate, is likely to have ensured that the permanent way of the Extended Widened Lines was maintained to contemporary specification.  For now, “contemporary specification” means that the track work for the Extended Circle Lines on Artillery Lane shall be a representation of bull-head rail, in two-bolt chairs on 8’ 11” sleepers (10” wide generally and 12” wide on each side of a rail joint), using 9 sleepers per 24’ rail length, with clipped fishplates fastened by four bolts/nuts.  As to the ballast, therein lies a problem for although we know that the “Met” included late night paths in the working timetable for “Ballast trains” to/from Aldgate the trains seem to have run at times when photography was not possible, hence the material and riddle size is a mystery at the moment.

However, the well known saying “Spanner, works, throw”, attributed to Mr. Murphy (or Mr. Sod, your choice), now comes into play.  As well as Victorian and Edwardian photographs showing the “24’ rails and 9 per length” standard for plain track there are a number of photographs from circa 1895-1900, reproduced in Jim Snowdon’s book, which show that the “Met” was particular to plain track of a “24’ rails and 8 per length” arrangement. At this time the balance of evidence falls in favour of 9 sleepers per panel for tunnel lines – and hence for Basilica Fields – with the 8 sleepers per panel probably used on the surface lines.

In passing, the Metropolitan Railway acquired, circa 1900, a number of single bolster wagons which, coupled in pairs, were able to carry rails of 45ft. length ‑ a sure indication that the Metropolitan Railway was using, or intended to use, rails of that length (as was, for example, the Great Western Railway).

As to the arrangement of sleepers, the details from an accident report (above) give us:-

  • 1 of 12” wide sleeper adjacent to the rail joint;
  • 7 of 10” wide sleepers;
  • 1 of 12” wide sleeper adjacent to the rail joint.

The spacing of the nine sleepers along a 24’ rail length would appear to be anything but consistent. Met A-Class No. 18 and Met A-Class No. 27 are probably the best photographs which we have located so far for the purpose of estimating the spacing of the sleepers along the rail length.  If we look at the PW practices of a main‑line railway company, the Great Western for example, then the central sleepers of a typical 44’ 6” track panel circa 1900 would be spaced at X’ Y” centres and the whole panel arranged as:-

  • first sleeper from rail end so that chair against end of inner fishplate;
  • next sleeper at less than X’ Y” centres;
  • (say) fourteen sleepers at X’ Y” centres;
  • next sleeper at less than X’ Y” centres;
  • last sleeper from rail end so that chair against end of inner fishplate.

What is clear from those photographs of Metropolitan track where the full length of a rail and all of the chairs are visible is that the prototype spacing of sleepers was not maintained to a standard.  The best which can be said about sleeper spacing on the “Met” circa 1890-1900 is:-

  • Chairs are not tight to fishplates, rather the spacing between the chairs at each side of a joint is similar to the spacing between chairs in the middle of the panel.
  • Sleepers are spread “uniformly” along the rail length although the spacing is “approximate” rather than “accurate”!



In conclusion – for now

Now those of you who have got this far may well be thinking “What about the Switch and Crossing practices for the turnouts?” and that is a very good question…  a question which has not escaped us.  At this time we have not been able to find details of the Metropolitan Railway specifications for turnouts; so, for example:- we do not know the preferred crossing angles; we do not know the preferred switch blade lengths; we do not know how the turnout was “timbered” – so any contributions on this subject shall be welcome. Unfortunately a request for any information by Adrian from the London Underground Railway Society was received with ‘panic’ by the secretary (he had never received an enquiry of that nature in over twenty years), and laughter by the Society’s ‘leading historian’.

Until we have sufficient to say on the subject of “Met” turnouts, the next step is to build plain track panels as representations of the Metropolitan Railway standard circa 1895-1905 for Artillery Lane – and that is to be part 2 of this topic.

And finally…



The details of track at Farringdon, circa 1892, quoted above are as provided by the HMRS Company Steward – these details are in conflict with an accident report, here, for an accident at Farringdon Street in January 1892 where C. S. Hutchinson, the inspector on behalf of the Board of Trade, took evidence from William H Gates, responsible for the permanent way of the Metropolitan Railway, that sleepers in that location on the Widened Lines were of 10 feet in length.  Accepted wisdom is that sleepers were 9 feet in length until circa WW1 when a change was made to 8 feet and 6 inches.  Until further information is forthcoming about this subject then the track for Artillery Lane on both the Extended Circle and Extended Widened Lines is to be with sleepers which are 9 feet in length.

Next Page »