Goods Traffic

Quirky Questions No.8 “Covering up (in) the Past” is about a simple and important aspect of goods services…  how were wagon sheets, and the ropes which secured those sheets to open wagons, managed within and between railway companies?  Modellers with a hankering for the Midland Railway are served well by an excellent article in issue no.3 of the Midland Record journal (Wild Swan).  Other railways are not so well served as the Midland Rlwy. hence the request for information within Quirky Query No.8.

An initial response has been posted to the GWR E-list (a Yahoo Group) which reminds us that a GWR Sheet Store was at Worcester – clearly something to be pursued.  Thanks to John Greenough who is an ex-pat in the Antipodes.


Edit the first

An extract from the GWR WTT/STT section no.5, 1925, courtesy of Brian Bailey.

Now this is a conundrum…  how to ask a small and simple question about a subject which is so little considered and yet was of such importance to the carriage of goods in the late 19th century…  and a subject which was relevant to all railway companies since wagons from most (any?) of those companies could have been seen on the Extended Widened Lines.  OK, possibly wagons of the North London Railway might not have penetrated the gloom of those hallowed tracks..   maybe a reader can offer a plausible scenario for NLR wagons working over the EWL?

So to the subject of this post…  sheets ands ropes, required in their thousands for covering and protecting goods in transit when carried in open wagons.

Much has been written about how the railway companies managed the movement of loaded and empty wagons….  and about how the Railway Clearing House kept records of  foreign* wagon movements between railway companies….  little has been written about the management and return of the sheets and ropes which would have made similar journeys across railway boundaries.  A good explaination of how the Midland Railway (and its successors) managed wagon sheets and associated ropes is provided by Midland Record No.3 (Wild Swan)…  good enough to prompt investigation into how things were done on other railways.  Such a task seems necessary to the working of goods services through Basicilia Fields and yet such a task is onerous in the extreme.

How can readers of this journal assist?  Initially, by contributing to what is known and where such information is recorded relating to wagon sheets / ropes for those railway companies whose wagons are likely to form the bulk of the goods stock working over the Extended Widened Lines.  Please feel free to provide such details by comments to the Quirky Answers post for this subject.  Our initial thoughts are that such wagons are likely to come from the following companies:-

* Great Central Railway;
* Great Eastern Railway;
* Great Northern Railway;
* Great Western Railway;
* London and North Western Railway;
* Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway;
* Metropolitan Railway;
* Midland Railway (recorded in Midland Record No.3).

thank you, Graham

[BTW – information received on this subject is available in “Querky Answers – Sheets and Ropes“]

* foreign in this context means a wagon owned by railway company “A” working over the tracks of railway company “B”.

Until the mid-1880s, the general merchandise wagons of the Great Eastern Railway had high rounded ends (‘half-moons’ in GE parlance) intended to help support sheets to protect goods in transit from inclement weather. Several thousand examples were built fr0m the 1850s (under the antecedent Eastern Counties Railways) onwards , and by 1878 accounted for 58% of stock owned by the GER.

Number 9419, built during the period 1865 – 1875 is seen on a wet, foggy day in 1890. It has deep solebars and would either have been constructed with dead (dumb) buffers or the self-contained type seen here. The single-side brakes were fitted in the 1880s along with the Worsdell Type A grease axleboxes. Note the stencilled lettering.
Photograph © Public Domain.

Over the years new batches were given progressively modern features which then cascaded down to earlier builds as they came into works for examination or repair. All were built with side doors, most had outside timber framing, and individual angle irons held the corners together. Later builds had conventional corner plates with the wooden timber framing, but the final batches incorporated outside iron diagonal bracing and knees to which the sides were secured. Early examples had no brakes until the 1870s when single-side wooden brakes with one lever acting on two wheels were introduced. These were gradually replaced from the mid-1880s onwards with iron brake blocks .  During the 1870s  self-contained sprung buffers  gradually replaced dead buffers, but from the early 1880s  standard short buffer guides were fitted to new builds. Both of these types were bolted to square wooden packing pieces to increase their length to 1′ 7″.  From the early 1880s running efficiency was improved by fitting Worsdell’s Type A grease axleboxes.

The livery was  standard Great Eastern slate grey (Humbrol 67 or Phoenix Precision P.505 for modellers). Lettering was hand painted in white but stencilled on older wagons as per the photographs.

T. W. Worsdell oversaw the construction of the last 230 wagons. The final batches, ordered in 1883, called for 150 examples which were required for working over the new GN & GE Joint line. A new GA (available from the NRM) was prepared in the October of that year, and the wagons delivered during 1884. At the same time the design for a modern 4-plank open to supersede them was being prepared which will be described in the next instalment.

At the end of 1901 there were still over 2000 of these wagons in stock, but with Holden’s policy of withdrawing all timber-framed wagons from revenue-earning service as non-diagrammed and obsolete, numbers diminished rapidly over the next decade and almost all had gone by 1910, though some remained in departmental service either in original form, or rebuilt for specific duties such as loco sand wagons. Proportionally speaking I ought to be looking to build about ten examples for Basilica Fields.

Wagon no.13513 was built under Bromley, probably in 1881. It exhibits some features carried over to the designs of modern wagons types which would be on the scene within three years, such as a 12″ deep solebar, outside iron side knees with diagonal bracing, and conventional sprung buffers – albeit with short guides mounted on 12″ square x 4″ wooded packing pieces. The single side brakes with wooden blocks date the wagon to the late Bromley period, but the photograph was probably taken in the late 1890s. The Worsdell Type A grease axleboxes and heavy duty springs are later additions, and one curious anomaly is the archaic use of individual angle irons instead of conventional corner plates which had been in use for a number of years prior to this build. The wagon has an unusual wheelbase of 9′ 1″, is 14′ 10½” over headstocks, 7′ 9″ wide, an internal depth of 2′ 3″ and is 3′ 8″ high over the ends. Note the hand lettering on this example and the built-up split-spoked wheels. Photograph © Public Domain.



Richard Davidson forwarded me this photograph of his superb round-ended GER wagon in Scaleseven. As you can see, the delicate nature of the running gear on these early wagons is enhanced by the true-to-prototype gauge.

Photo ©Richard Davidson

Photo ©Richard Davidson

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.

Just an update on this earlier post with some better photos as promised. This time I was able to use natural light which makes a big, big difference.

© Adrian Marks

© Adrian Marks


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