Daily Archives: December 11, 2009

Wagon Builders’ Plates

Cambrian Wagon Works Builder’s Plate

The cast-iron plates fixed to goods wagons can give a wealth of information and detail about the origins and use of a particular vehicle.

Wagons were either built in the workshops of the pre-Grouping railway companies or by outside carriage and wagon builders.  In either case, a plate would indicate the railway company and the wagon number.  A separate builder’s plate would be found only if built by an independent manufacturer.

Many wagons, especially in the days of privately owned fleets of coal trucks, were built not by the railway companies but by private wagon builders.  In some cases the builder’s plate would have a distinctive shape so that it could be recognized easily even if rendered illegible by grime.

R.Y. Pickering of Wishaw used a lozenge shape and the Standard Wagon Co. of Reddish and Heywood used a bell-shaped plate.  The Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. used an elongated capita; G – which gave the plate a fish shape – and the Central Wagon Co. of Wigan had a downward pointing crescent.  These were unusual; most makers used oval plates, some with fancy lettering and scrollwork on and around the plate.  The company’s initial letter often formed a feature of the design.

The larger main line railways generally had their own wagon works which met most of their requirements, and not all of them affixed separate builder’s plates.  Among those which did were the GER at Stratford Works, and the NBR at Cowlairs.

The Big Four railways settled on a standard design based on the final Midland pattern, which was shaped like a letter D with the flat side at the top.  The LNER plate carried the most detail with the wagon number, capacity in tons, builder and date built.  British Railways continued with this style, using the LNER plate as the final design.Ince Waggon & Ironworks plate with the double G spelling.

Wagon Plates

Midland Railway Wagon  Plate

Railways first came into being not to carry passengers, but to convey freight, especially mineral traffic like coal.  In the early days, when few lines were interconnected, the variety of goods wagon did not matter, but as railways expanded and through trains became common, it was essential to have wagons whose buffers, brakes, couplings and so on all matched up.

The Railway Clearing House (RCH) the body which liaised between the railways, looked into the problem early on and issued standards to all railway companies, wagon builders and private wagon owners.

LMS Wagon  Plate

The wagon carrying this plate was registered by the North British Railway Company and allowed to run on main lines.

The main line railways adopted these standards fairly quickly, but the private owners, especially collieries and coal merchants, were reluctant to comply, and damage and derilaments became common due to their wagons either lacking proper buffers and brakes or being poorly maintained.

In the 1880s, however, it became a legal requirement for all privately owned wagons to be registered by the railway company to whose sidings their owners were connected, and only those that reached the Clearing House standard were allowed to run on main lines.

Each wagon so passed had two plates, one on either side of the main frame, advising its date of manufacture, its registration number and its carrying capacity.   In 1907, the RCH designed a new star-shaped plate for tank wagons.

Many of the ordinary registration plates come with their lugs broken off, but these can easily be repaired usingfibreglass filler.  The normal colour seems to have been black with white lettering, and red with white letters for tank wagons.

However, some privately owned wagons were painted in quite garish colours, and it seems likely that their plates were similarly treated.  Nearly all plates were made of cast-iron, but examples in brass or lead alloy are occasionally seen.London & North Western Railway Wagon Registration Plate

Bridge Numberplates

London & North Western Railway Company Bridge Numberplate

Bridge Numberplates

Most railway signs were meant for the public and carried a variety of warnings such as ‘Beware of the Trains’,  ‘Shut the gate’ and ‘Do not cross beyond this point’.

A sign with a different purpose was to be found on the majority of bridges throughout the railway system.  These bridge numberplates had nothing to do with the public, being purely for the railways’ own operational purposes.

They have become very popular with enthusiasts, often being put to use as house numbers.  Almost every company used them, a major exception being the Great Western Railway.  Most plates were made of cast iron, though in the case of the South East and Chatham Railway, they were made of stamped, pressed steel.  The plates were located on the left-hand side of bridge piers – one at each end – facing the trains.Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway Bridgeplate.

Some of the cast-iron plates from pre-grouping days are still in place, the largest number being found along the route once worked by the London & Birmingham Railway.

Plates are often oval, though within this broad category there are plenty of variations of size and shape.  The type used by the London & North Eastern railway, for example, is less elongated than its LMS equivalent.

Among the most attractive and sought-after plates are those of the Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway (CKPR) in Cumberland.  This small company had 135 bridges in its system, with just a single plate on each bridge.  The plates, which faced Cockermouth and were numbered from that end of the line, feature an attractive lettering-face reading ‘CK & P Railway’ round their border.

Only 20 or so of the CKPR’s plates are known to have survived.  But it is not just their good looks or scarcity value that have led them to be so sought after by collectors.  They are also the only plates to feature the word ‘Railway’ in full. Their popularity has made them expensive, and even if you were able to find one,  it would cost in the region of four figures.

Some railways produced bridge numberplates showing only the numbers.  In the case of the Great Eastern, the plates were a lozenge shape and came in two sizes – the more elongated one being for siting by the roadside.West Riding & Grimsby Railway Bridgeplate No.24