Middle 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.

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I thought that this class, the final type of Great Western condensing locomotives to operate on the Metropolitan lines (until the introduction of the 97xx class in the 1930s), and therefore Basilica Fields, was going to be an easy one to deal with, after all, the books and articles I’ve seen detailing the GWR’s presence on the Metropolitan line write frugally, but broadly in agreement, upon their role on the goods service from Acton to Smithfield…but scratch the surface, and the reality is not quite so clear cut.

Built at Wolverhampton between November 1871 and April 1872, this class of twelve 0-6-0Ts were always Southern Division locos, and over the years some of the class were fitted with condensing equipment to work the Metropolitan lines.

What follows is a précis of the information in print:

They were the first six-coupled engines to be accepted for the Widened Lines, some twenty years in advance of the much larger and heavier Great Northern saddle tanks. Steam on the Widened Lines Vol.2 p.10. Geoff Goslin.

This implies the 633 were used on the Widened Lines from 1872 as the GNR 921 Series of saddle tanks were released to traffic in 1892. However, RCTS disagrees, and in its segment on the 2-4-0T Metro class, states:

The name of this class [the 2-4-0T Metro tanks] is derived from the engines’ association with the Metropolitan Railway, over which so many of them worked, they being the only GWR engines to do so during the latter part of the nineteenth century. RCTS The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part Six, p.F29.

With the absence of primary sources, if I had to choose between the two I’d plump for RCTS, although the Society’s publications are not infallible. However things now begin to get murky as RCTS also states:

Those with condensers were stationed in the London area for working over the Metropolitan line, whilst the non-condensing engines were mostly in South Wales, in the Neath Division. RCTS The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part Five, p.E34.

Condensing apparatus was fitted to 643/4 as built, but was removed from the latter in September 1884. RCTS The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part Five, p.E34.

There are discrepancies in the accounts of those fitted with condensers at this period, but it is fairly certain that Nos.633/4/41/42/43 were so fitted when rebuilt or shortly afterwards and remained so. RCTS The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part Five, p.E34.

The condensing engines remained without cabs until withdrawn in 1933-4. RCTS The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part Five, p.E34.

643 had always been a condensing engine. RCTS The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part Five, p.E34.

The implication of these quotes being that those fitted with condensers were allocated to the London Division only, all such locos being cabless for working through the Metropolitan tunnels, and those allocated to South Wales were fitted with cabs and did not carry condensers. However…

Surviving GWR Loco Allocation Registers only go back as far as 1902 (it has been suggested that possibly the 1902 one was the first such Register), and at the beginning of that year it is recorded that not one of the 633 class was allocated to the London Division, and (it would appear, if the RCTS opinion on the matter is to be believed) several of those in Wales were condenser fitted! Graham Beare saved me from too munching my way though too much paracetamol by sending the information in the following table (sorry for the slightly blurry image, please click for a clearer version), which collates info from both RCTS and the Register, followed by a suggestion as to which locos would be appropriate for Basilica Fields, post-1902:

N.B. * period of allocation indeterminate.

Graham writes:

In this instance, London Area means that an engine has been recorded as allocated to a shed within the London Division, examples noted include:- Paddington, Southall, Staines, Slough, Henley-on-Thames, Aylesbury, Watlington…. as far as I can see, there was no allocation to Reading, Didcot, Oxford. From this information, I suggest that the most likely candidates for your needs are 641, 642 and 643 which were Southall engines for most of the period from 1902 to 1906 and the most likely to be in charge of services over the widened lines.

The Registers are in the National Archive, and the 1902 Register can be found at RAIL 254 / 60. I’d like to thank John Lewis at this point for supplying digital copies of the relevant pages via Graham.

The photo of 642 is irresistible, and places it in London in pre-1906 livery, so spot on for the later period of Basilica Fields.

I’ve an old Mega (ex-Gateneal) kit of the 633 class, but I suspect that most of it will be binned – not necessarily because of any fault in the kit itself (though it is verybasic compared to modern offerings), but because it represents a much later version of the locos with different side tanks and enclosed cabs, and scratchbuilding looks increasingly likely.

This is the second instalment seeking to précis the Great Western Railway’s Metropolitan tanks on Middle Circle services. The first part dealt with a little history and the Medium-sized Metros, and here I’ll deal with the large-tank series.

In January 1899 the first of twenty new Metros was released to traffic with large 1100 gallon tanks. Volute springs replaced the leaf springs over the leading axleboxes due to space considerations, and following on from the previous Lot of Medium Metros in 1894, the new locos were all built with the dome on the back ring of the boiler. One month after the introduction of the larger tanks the first of thirty condensing Medium Metros was sent to Swindon to be given larger 1080 gallon tanks, and by the end of the year there was a total of fifty large condensing Metros in service for Inner London traffic.

The final decade of the 19th Century and the first six years of the 20th were the busiest for the condensing members of the class in the City; single-handedly they dealt with through services from the main line to Aldgate, the Middle Circle services from Mansion House via Earls Court, Addison Road, and Bishops Road to Aldgate, half the trains on the Hammersmith & City service to Aldgate via Bishops Road, and most trains on the Aldgate to Richmond via Bishops Road, Grove Road Junction and Gunnersbury, and of course the Extended Widened Lines Services to Basilica Fields.

From 1900 the Middle Circle service was cut back from Mansion House to Earls Court, and in 1905 trimmed again to Addison Road. Electrification of both the Circle and the Hammersmith & City in 1906 prompted the first withdrawals of the class, and stripped all bar six of their condensing apparatus. Limited services continued on the Extended Circle to Basilica Fields until 1913 when that line was electrified alongside the East London Railway.

No.1407 was released to traffic in June 1878 as a medium Metro to Lot 47. In June 1898 it was reboilered, given large tanks and volute springs, and is seen here sometime between 1898 and early 1906 stationed at Paddington. The loco is heavily stained and weathered from working in the Metropolitan tunnels, and shows that even the proud Great Western in the pre-Grouping era wasn’t as shiny and sparkly as many modellers presume.

So far I’ve discussed the Basilica Fields project running c1890-1898, and I’ve already admitted that this is quite a big timeframe to deal with, especially as it is one in which a great many changes took place. However, dealing with so many railway companies and a very incomplete historical record when taken as a whole, I’m left with little choice, and it has proven impossible to narrow things down further. Even with this very large window in time of almost a decade, there are still gaping holes where I’m simply going to have to make a best guestimate based upon the information and advice given to me by those who are well respected in their areas of historical railway knowledge.

Nevertheless, despite the pitfalls, 1898 isn’t the end of the Basilica Fields story, and I also intend to run a 1899-c1906 period. Again, this is very feather-edged with no delineated start or cut-off point, and like in the earlier period there will be times when there will be anachronistic pieces of stock running…but not in the same train.

‘Why?’ is a very legitimate question, and is one which I’ve been asked more than once. The answer is simple; the last decade of the 19th century saw the pinnacle in artistic locomotive and stock design, and one which contrasts with the early years of the 20th century when there was a move towards more powerful looking designs. It’s a fascinating change, and one of the big advantages of modelling such a wide timeframe – indeed, one of my earliest ideas, and something that I kept coming back to when planning all of this – is the opportunity to show not what the railway looked like at a certain date, but to show the changes that took place over a period of time. Few modellers have attempted anything quite so daft, and to be honest, I now know why!

Head in the sand or not, this is what I plan to do, so without further ado…

I’ll be digging deeper into the history of the Great Western Metro tanks on the main site once that’s up and running, but for now, the first instalment of a two-part précis on the locomotives which single-handedly looked after all the passenger movements on the ‘Middle Circle’ services between 1869 and 1906, and also handled the goods services until members of the 633 class were drafted in to help.

The class as a whole fell into three sub-classes, based on the size of tanks, viz, small (740 – 800 gallons), medium (820 – 860 gallons) and large (1080 & 1100 gallons). Built to nine Lots between 1869 and 1899, only the first Lot of 20 locos had small tanks, and the final two Lots of 1899, another twenty locos, were built with large tanks. Therefore the overwhelming majority of the 140 locos were built with medium sized tanks, however, 33 medium Metros were rebuilt with large tanks between 1898 ans 1900.

No. 968 was built in 1874 and remained a Medium Metro until withdrawn in October 1906. The locos working the Metropolitan Lines wore condensing apparatus and retained open cabs, despite the long periods spent in tunnels on the system.

968 is a serious contender for Basilica Fields, using the Roxey kit as a basis, and this is a gorgeous photograph, full of detail. The photo can be dated fairly accurately due to the boiler type fitted 18 months or so before it was withdrawn, and is obviously shedded at Paddington indicated by the P on the toolbox.