Skip to main content

Rites of Passage for a Model Railway - 7: Brake & Goods Vans + Reading List and Gallery

Goods... often overlooked, under-represented on layouts with expresses whizzing past  The humble 0-6-0 and its workload. An ex-Midland Railway 0-6-0 mixed freight locomotive clanks past an industrial north-western backdrop with a lengthy trip-working

Goods... often overlooked, under-represented on layouts with expresses whizzing past The humble 0-6-0 and its workload. An ex-Midland Railway 0-6-0 mixed freight locomotive clanks past an industrial north-western backdrop with a lengthy trip-working

L M S and L N E R brake vans

As with the Southern Railway and its predecessors, the London Midland & Scottish (LMSR) and London & North Eastern Railways (LNER) were 'conglomerates' of several older companies from the post-Railway Mania era. In the case of the LMSR and LNER railways from both sides of both borders had been drawn together, English, Scottish and Welsh. The GWR had absorbed the Taff Railway from South Wales before Grouping, the LMSR had just crept over the border and the LNER had absorbed the Wrexham Mold & Connah's Quay Railway by their request.

In the North of England the LMSR drew in the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (L&YR), The L&YR owned a fleet of short six-wheeled brake vans with double verandahs similar in appearance to the NER's four-wheeled brakevans, although the L&YR did not adopt the same type of side duckets for the guard to check along the side of his train. Another detail difference was that the cabin doors on the L&YR guard's vans were solid planked features and offset with a large framed window. The NER vehicle's cabin doors were fitted with windows and centrally positioned between narrow vertically framed windows, thus allowing much more daylight into the guard's cabin. A fairly small, flat-framed side window was centrally positioned on either side of the L&YR van that displayed little foresight in design for the goods/mineral guard to keep watch in urban areas. Early MR brakevans also displayed severe design flaws in having a balcony only at one end, rectified by diagram D1240 with verandahs at both ends but no side duckets. Diagram 1657 of 1927-31 demonstrated this oversight to be rectified, the only difference between the LMS van and its LNER counterpart being a centrally positioned vertical pillar. Steel 'V' bracing was added late in LMS days. A standard LMS design was adopted with D1657 on its 20 ft wheelbase underframe, later adapted with D1890 in 1933 from Derby Works including a more enclosed verandah style.

On the LNER front the Great Central Railway (GCR) had built brake vans of an altogether different appearance to those of their fellow LNER constituents. The Great Nothern (GNR) and Great Eastern (GER) were no further advanced than the GCR with their brakevan designs. All three companies' vans featured solid timber side walls, although the GER and GNR at least designed verandahs at both ends, the GER variant featured steel bracing as company practice, the central side panels with cross-bracing, either side with converging single bracing. The GNR had solid timber, waist high doors as safety features in common with later GCR types. As on the NER and later LNER vans the GER van had steel bars that could be secured, also at waist height, to prevent the guard being thrown off his verandah in rough riding.

The standard LNER design 'Toad D' would feature weighted.platforms at either end on a 20 ton overall weight vehicle with 16 ft wheelbase underframe to Diagram 158, still being turned out until 1949 to the LNER Diagram 1/500 It's British Railways (BR) development built from 1950 at Faverdale, Darlington, would feature handrails along either side of the outer end weighted platform. This would become the Standard BR. Diagram 1/506, widespread throughout the nationalised system between Cornwall and Caithness, although GW, LMR and SR examples could be spotted all over the same system on through workings or on departmental service..

Until Nationalisation in 1948 the design of GW single verandah brake vans had followed the same ground rules since the 1880s

The overall impression was that having seen one Great Western brake van that was it. However 23 diagrams were available in the AA index. The vans in service since 1948 followed two categories:

  • Those built until prior to WWI were of 13 ft wheelbase with a common body pattern, 20 ft over headstocks, or
  • Thereafter built on a 16 ft wheelbase underframe with a body 24 ft over headstocks including an 8' - 6 inch verandah - standard dimensions until Nationalisation. New diagrams were laid down for vehicles with similar bodies and underframes with differences in buffer design as well as other outer and inner fittings;

By the nature of the Southern Railway's origins a greater variety of brake vans could be seen before and after Nationalisation until scrappage.

The originating companies ranged from south east London and Kent to Cornwall, one being the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR), each with their own characteristics, underframe and cabin layouts. From 1923, with Grouping several standard designs emanated from the different works, the best known being the twenty-five 25 ton express goods brake vans built in 1936 [S56282-56306] nicknamed 'Queen Mary' for their palatial dimensions and style of cabin, the only brake vans on Britain's railways to run on bogies, giving a more comfortable ride on long distance diagrams. Length o.h.s. was 36 ft 6 inches with 8 ft bogies, bogie pivot centres 21 ft apart. Their running life was also longer than most, their range extensive. Departmental brake van DS56292 was seen at Crianlarich in Scotland at the end of April, 1983. These vans were purpose-built following the successful 1934 conversions from 1925 built bogie motor coaches for the LBSCR overhead electrification, the whole Southern electrification being changed to third rail by 1929. Large sandboxes were fitted to verandah ends, droplights with ventilator bonnets (two on one side, one on the other with one fixed light on S56264 seen at Brockenhurst in 1954) and self-contained buffers. On the 1936 purpose-built vehicles guard's duckets for forward and rear view were added off-centre right.

General Goods Vans & Covered Wagons

What is a covered wagon? It conjures up images of white canvas four-wheeled wagons trundling over the prairie behind teams of horses, mules or oxen (depending on what the wagon owner could stump up by way of investment in 'motive power'). No, what I'm talking about here are, or rather, were four-wheelers, but that's as far as the prairie wagon resemblance goes. When I say "covered wagons" I'm referring to railway goods wagons with roofs. Some, like the Great Western (GW) or Midland (MR)-type salt wagons, had ribbed hoods added that resembled gabled house roofs. Most were furnished with elliptical roofs (a shallow upside-down 'U' shape). Others, like the London Brighton & South Coast/Southern Railway (LB&SCR/SR) vehicles, were built with roofs that curved more sharply around the rain-strips to contend with restricted clearances in tunnels.

In the early days, trussing and framing was in timber. Just look at photographs of early Midland Railway wagons that looked almost like half-timbered medieval buildings on wheels! Later frames were angle-iron or plain strip with holes (like Meccano) for the rivets. Longer roofed vehicles were vans in their own right, including many six-wheeled or bogie vehicles, but I'm just talking here about shorter four-wheeled vehicles and open goods wagons of 9 or 10 foot wheelbase, 12-14 foot overall length. I won't be discussing open bogie, fuel tank, or longer four-wheeled vehicles in this article.

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, to begin with all vans/wagons were built of planked wood with diagonal and vertical framing. Open wagons were generally built with horizontal planking, and covered wagons, or vans, were built with vertical planking. Later vans were built with plywood sides when a timber shortage hit the railway wagon builders. Open wagons began to be built out of steel in the 1930s, with the LMS leading the way. All underframes were originally wooden, and gradually replaced with steel ones in the 20th Century. By Nationalization almost all vehicles were steel-underframed, with some wooden survivors making it through to museum status. In the late 1940s experiments were made with plywood, as I've mentioned. These discoloured with use and often rotted. They had to be re-done from time to time or salvaged by timber planking. This gives scope for interesting modelling, such as 'distressing' and painting to resemble the beginnings of rot setting in. You'll see what I mean when you study the pictures.

General goods vehicles were built to fulfill the railways' obligations to carry goods from A to B, paid for by manufacturers, farmers, and the general public. There were variants, such as fruit vans and wagons and general goods vans and wagons. There were also fish vans; open wagons in earlier days until the fare-paying public objected to having to smell the fish whenever they stuck their noses out of the carriage window. Meat vans followed with other farm produce traffic that had been partially processed for wholesale. Bananas were also transported in designated vehicles with steam-heating pipes for connecting to the engine and protecting the goods against our very un-tropical climate between the port installation and the wholesale market, then again on their journey to retail outlets from Fyffes or Geest warehouses.

Trains of divers freight/goods would be marshalled in one part of the country, ferried in express goods trains to another large yard, and then attached to cross-country goods workings and finally branch pick-up trains that dropped off laden wagons to smaller towns (to be delivered to shops, warehouses, dealerships, or with private individuals). This was the 'common carrier' obligation of the railway companies that began with the first public carrier, the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR), and ended with British Rail, the mid-1960s successor to British Railways, when block trains were introduced on the system. The 'common carrier' system was extremely wasteful in terms of time and energy spent loading and unloading, shunting, and waiting empty for the next pickup to take the empty vehicle to the nearest major marshalling yard (if it was 'common user' designated). If not, it would run empty all the way back to its originator for reuse. When general goods trains ceased to run, I imagine some workers in the efficiency department breathed a sigh of relief. But it signalled the end of a very long and important era in rail transit. Now every train is telegraphed 'en bloc', and if the load doesn't cover, as on a container or car flat train, then some vehicles run empty! Industries that ship materials like aggregates, coal, bricks, or fluids generally don't leave vehicles empty, which is a sort of blessing, although 'balancing loads' are often sent by road if the trainload is insufficient for needs.

Each company, beginning with the S&DR owned fleets of goods wagons. Originally these would all have been open wagons, but experience taught us that not all goods could be carried in open wagons (like the fish I mentioned before). Tarpaulins were used if a load only needed sheltering from wet conditions. Roofs were added for specialist loads like fish and meat. Later, refrigeration was introduced for these goods, and covered wagons carried fruits and some vegetables. By and large vegetables that did not spoil with water exposure only needed to be boxed and ready for moving around by a specialist wholesaler. Some produce, like potatoes and mushrooms, had to be kept dry and were shipped boxed (in the case of mushrooms) and in large hessian bags in vans or tarpaulined open wagons. .

Why the History and Materials Matter

So what does this mean to the modeller? It means detail. While some details are not very noticeable in 'N' gauge, once you get into Trix Twin 3mm, 4mm ('OO'), 'S' scales, and upward, detail is a boon for the modeller. It means you can put labels on vans/wagons for foods and general goods carried, add large destination labels to cover a whole van/wagon consignment, and in the painting/weathering stage, you can show wear and tear from handling, staining, chalk marks, and crossed-out markings. In some cases, a wagon might even be taken off the train and left in a siding because of a hot box (dried-out axle boxes were a constant source of frustration) with chalk marks to warn others against use. Now and then an irreparable wagon might be taken out, shunted, re-shunted into the siding, and the train made-up again to carry on its way. The chalk mark used on these would be an 'O' with a cross through it, to show it as 'condemned'. You may have a 'botch job' of a wagon you don't wish to scrap, so you designate it a 'cripple' and condemn it, to leave it in an overgrown siding at one end of your layout.

These are ideas you can adapt for your own purposes. Look at photographs in books, magazines, and online. Some of the books in my reading list below show abandoned wagons as well as cripples and assorted 'scenic detritus'. Keep an eye open while on your own travels. You might spot something new that you haven't seen before, or you might see something that will give you ideas in terms of wear and tear.

List of Pre- and Post-Grouping Railway Company Initials

[PG = Post Grouping, 1923-47]

Scroll to Continue

CR - Caledonian Railway

GCR - Great Central Railway

GER - Great Eastern Railway

GNR - Great Northern Railway

GNoSR - Great North of Scotland Railway

GWR - Great Western Railway (same PG)

H&BR - Hull & Barnsley Railway (absorbed 1922 into NER before Grouping)

HR - Highland Railway

K&ESR - Kent & East Sussex Railway

LB&SCR - London, Brighton & South Coast Railway

LMS - London, Midland & Scottish Railway (PG)

LNER - London & North Eastern Railway (PG)

LNWR - London & North Western Railway

LSWR - London & South Western Railway

M&GNJR - Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway

MR - Midland Railway

NBR - North British Railway

NER - North Eastern Railway

RH&DR - Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (remained in private ownership PG)

SR - Southern Railway (PG)

TVR - Taff Vale Railway (absorbed by GWR before Grouping)

Insul-fish - insulated refrigerated fish van designed by the LNER, built by British Ralways (later Blue Spot)

In a quiet corner of the NRM's Peter Allen building, a British Railways' built LNER designed fish van with the later 'Blue Spot' livery stands at the platform next to a trolley loaded with fish boxes

In a quiet corner of the NRM's Peter Allen building, a British Railways' built LNER designed fish van with the later 'Blue Spot' livery stands at the platform next to a trolley loaded with fish boxes

A Comprehensive Reading List

This is my recommended reading list which contains titles from my personal collection. Many of these titles are rare and hard to find, but check with your local library, try railway museums, and don't forget to search eBay in case any of them pop up for a good deal.

LNER Wagons by Peter Tatlow, publ. Pendragon Partnership and Peter Tatlow 1998, ISBN 1-899816-05-4 :- A lexicon of wagons by a railway-writing authority, exclusively photographs, diagrams, drawings, detail and numbering sequences covering the range from four-wheeled to six wheeled and specialist bogie freight wagons.

Railways in Retrospect No. 1 - LNER in Transition by Michael Blakemore, publ. Pendragon, ISBN 1 899816-11-9 Following the company from private into public ownership with black & white images through a general overview, top link traffic, the industrial partnership, local and suburban traffic and a look behind the scenes;

Railways In Profile No. 13 L.N.E.R. Wagons Before 1948 - Volume 1 Opens, Vans & Special Stock compiled by David and Claire Williamson (of NERA publishing fame), edited by Peter Midwinter, publ. Cheona Publications 2003, ISBN 1-900298-16-3:- A knowledgeable introduction leads the reader into a detailed survey of pre-LNER and LNER wagons up to Nationalisation. Mainly b&w images, there are a number of colour photographs on the cover and inside, showing vehicle close-ups as well as general aspects and serious weathering on older vehicles (including some condemned).

British Railway Goods Wagons In Colour: For the Modeller and Historian by Robert Hendry, publ. Midland Publishing Ltd. 1999, ISBN1-85780-094-X :- As the title says, colour photographs... Lot's of them. However the accent is not on British Railways vehicles but British railways vehicles, including pre-Nationalisation and pre-Grouping items. Exhaustive cover of wagons in different states of repair and disrepair with notes on numbering and building ranges where many were built to a diagram - including BR wagons built to GW, LMS, LNER and SR diagrams. Brake vans from the various companies are included, as well as BR brakevans - both fitted and unfitted. There are some privately-built vehicles, such as rectanks (rectangular tar or spirit tankers) preserved by enthusiasts.

Railways in Profile Series - British Railway Wagons No5 Cattle & Brake Vans compiled by G Gamble, publ. Cheona Publications 1997 ISBN 1-900298-05-8:- A specialist book this, showing pre-Grouping, pre-Nationalisation and BR Cattle and Brake Vans in mainly b&w again, with a number of colour images on covers and within. Each Grouping company is taken separately, GW, SR, LMS and LNER, and then BR standards beginning with Brake Vans, pre-Grouping types included. Thorough-going, as the others above, numbering and building series covered. Cattle Wagons were by and large dispensed with by the late-1950s when road haulage snatched the traffic away from BR with the connivance of the anti-railway lobby and Ernest Marples. (Fixed tariffs for the railways, variable tariffs for the hauliers. Also, the hauliers could take their lorries onto farm premises, whereas in the case of railway cattle wagons farmers/drovers had to take the animals to the station). Imaginative use was made of some cattle wagons by the Western Region in tunnel maintenance.

British Railways Wagons - Their Loads and Loading, Vol 1 by Brian Grant and BillTaylor (MCIT, MILT), publ. Silver Link Publishing 2003, ISBN 1-85794-205-1

British Railways Wagons - Their Loads and Loading Vol 2, (including Departmental and non-Passenger Carrying Coaching Stock), Silver Link 2007, ISBN 978-1-85794-300-9 These gentlemen are experienced in freight traffic handling and management. Brian has told of his forty years on the railways in 'Home and Distant' (another Silver Link book), whilst Bill was Chief Loads Inspector on the Eastern Region, BR. There are diagrams, drawings and b&w photographs showing the wagons in different categories, their loading and trouble-shooting (instances of badly-laden wagons and the possible outcome of oversight). Wagon types are covered in these editions that I will broach in a later piece.

British Railways Wagons - The First Half Million by Don Rowland, publ Leopard (Random House UK Ltd) 1996 (first publ. David & Charles, 1985), ISBN 0 7529-0378-0: Another book written by an ex-railway employee, now writer. Copious black & white illustrations, Lot numbering and serial number listings by classification, original diagrams, appendices and diagram details covering open merchandise wagons, mineral wagons, mineral hoppers, covered vans etc. You can't go wrong with this book, and it covers rebuilds as well as variants.

Specialist loads, such as fertilizers, paint etc needed to be carried in ventilated vehicles

A pair of early British Railways' vans, on the left a plywood-sided version of the planked one on the right (both Parkside kits with bought-in detailing)

A pair of early British Railways' vans, on the left a plywood-sided version of the planked one on the right (both Parkside kits with bought-in detailing)

You stand at the level crossing, watching as a train nears...

It's a Class V2 2-6-2 tender locomotive. The locomotive carries the lamp code for a through express freight, one at the smokebox door top lamp bracket, and one on the right of the buffer beam. Inside the signal cabin you see someone note down the time and train classification.

Then the locomotive thunders past with vans, laden container wagons, and a few tarpaulined general goods wagons. Then, before you know it, the brake van glides past with its oil-filled, red-glass tail lamps aglow. A guard stands on the rear veranda, watching the scenery vanish into the distance. As the train gathers speed you see the guard open his door to disappear inside. And then all is gone. The crossing gates open for road traffic again and motors start up.

Now think back. What do you remember of the train itself? How old were the wagons? What type were they; general merchandise, meat, fruit, pallet vans? What about the container wagons? The containers themselves? Did you see large labels attached to the chalkboards (top right) or were they written on in large letters for the shunters to read from ground or goods depot platform level? Were the tarpaulins on the wagons old, worn, new, freshly stencilled?

When you put your train together on your layout, imagine that you are at that level crossing near the front of the layout or near the end of the station platform. You see the train as that pedestrian would. You might want to know how trains were assembled at each stage on the way to their final destination. From time to time 'Hornby Magazine' publishes train make-ups for different eras from steam to diesel and electric power traction. Past editions have included passenger, express goods, pick-up goods, specific load freight and mineral workings. Booklets are often included in the magazine package to augment a particular themed edition.

A last glimpse into the past - special goods

In Southern Railway green, preserved 4-wheeled Utility van seen on the Bluebell Railway in Sussex - often ran as passenger baggage vans on boat trains to the south coast,. some on Red Bank parcels trains as far afield as Darlington in late B R days

In Southern Railway green, preserved 4-wheeled Utility van seen on the Bluebell Railway in Sussex - often ran as passenger baggage vans on boat trains to the south coast,. some on Red Bank parcels trains as far afield as Darlington in late B R days

"Internal user" plywood bodied, metal framed Cadbury's chocolate van on the Severn Valley Railway

"Internal user" plywood bodied, metal framed Cadbury's chocolate van on the Severn Valley Railway

Ex-LMS Cadbury 'ventilated' van of an earlier vintage with timber plank body, sliding doors (to avoid accidents) and 'X' frame sides

Ex-LMS Cadbury 'ventilated' van of an earlier vintage with timber plank body, sliding doors (to avoid accidents) and 'X' frame sides

While memory is fallible, this guide and reading list should help you note, remember, and maybe research details you may have forgotten or missed in the romantic passing of the roaring train. You can then translate those details to a beautiful, intricate, and accurate model. Best of luck!

© 2011 Alan R Lancaster


Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on March 09, 2014:

Thanks for the input Shaun. Feel free to drop in on the other pages...

Shaun on March 08, 2014:

Hi Alan.

The picture of the ballast brake van is a LNER built example distinguished by the steel under frame and smaller grab handles below the main grab rails. NE versions have wooden under frames. Both examples could however be found with steel duckets. The LNER continued with the basic design an example of which can be found at Goathland.

Regards Shaun aka Sasquatch.

Related Articles