For enthusiasts, researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

Horse Boxes – Diagrams 15, 16, 17, 28 and 52


As a type horse boxes were always by far the most numerous of the miscellaneous stock vehicle types on the GER and although over the years there were variations in design and their overall length all provided three essential elements-accommodation for 3 horses, a grooms compartment and storage space for harness, etc.

Horses always travelled standing parallel to the running lines, facing the grooms compartment, and separated from each other in the main body of the box by two removable transverse partitions. The interior of the box and the partitions were covered with heavily padded leather to protect the animals, which were usually much more valuable than the average passenger, and the whole side of the box could be opened up for loading. The side was divided into two sections, the lower part was in the form of a hinged flap which when lowered onto a platform or dock acted as a loading ramp while the upper part was divided into a pair of vertically hung doors, incorporating louvred ventilators and a sliding inspection hatch at the head end of the box. The grooms compartment had a full width seat fixed along the inside end and the partition which separated him from the horse box had access to a mangers for each horse.

In the early 1860’s the new boxes being delivered had a length of 16ft, incorporating a small groom’s compartment with a harness compartment with double doors at the opposite end. Sixty boxes were delivered to this design between 1862 and the end of 1865. For the orders delivered between 1868 and 1870, totalling 80 boxes, the body was reduced to14ft 1ins long, the shorter length being achieved partly by reducing the length of the box by a few inches and dispensing with the separate harness compartment. The groom’s compartment was marginally increased in compensation as he was now obliged to share his space with any harness and other equipment that needed to accompany the horses. A new feature was a self contained dog box located under the grooms seat with an access door on the outside.

The next batch of boxes, built from 1875 to 1884, to diagram 15, was to a design which saw a reversion of body length to 16ft. The layout provided a greatly enlarged compartment for the groom but no separate harness compartment and a dog box beneath the grooms seat. It was recognisable as a type by having quarter lights either side of the door. A total of 144 were built, achieving both an increase in the overall stock numbers with sufficient to replace all the remaining pre GER vehicles.

Up to mid 1880’s horse box design had been uninspired; no attempt had been made to design horse boxes to resemble contemporary carriage stock but the appointment of Holden saw a completely new approach. His design, introduced in 1888, not only saw the introduction of bulb angle steel frames to the GER for the first time but also an increased body length of 16ft 8ins. The horse compartment was slightly reduced compared to diagram 15 stock but the separate harness compartment was reinstated, this enabled the groom’s compartment to be reduced in size with a single quarter light. This design established a layout maintained in all subsequent construction. The noteworthy feature of the external design was the adoption of a tumblehome for sides and ends, in character with Holden’s contemporary carriage designs, mouldings on the grooms compartment and the harness compartment doors and radiussed tops to the droplights and quarter lights. The only visible concession to economy was the use of boards and battens on the box compartment and ends rather than the more expensive teak panelling reserved for carriages.

In comparing the design with contemporary carriage stock their overall height was some 8ins higher at 11ft 11ins, while the body was 3 ½ ins narrower at 7ft 8 ½ ins so although by design more in sympathy with carriage stock they were by no means identical in profile. The new boxes were to diagram 16 and between 1888 and 1902 no less than 340 were built at Stratford. In 1903 the design was revised, the differences were slight the most obvious being that the drop light and quarter light in the grooms compartment had square tops in place of the rounded corners of diagram 16 stock, again reflecting current carriage stock design. The overall height was increased to 12ft 1½ ins and body width to 8ft 2 ½ ins and the steel frames had channel solebars. Production of the revised design, to diagram 17, continued until 1910 and totalled 160 boxes. This brought the horse box total to about 500 and the result of this sustained building programme was to standardise the entire stock to just two diagrams, nos 16 and 17, of uniform design and layout and the oldest no more than 23 years.


The final design, introduced in 1910 to diagram 28, had a wood underframe and an increase in body length to 20ft 2ins, this addition providing a much larger grooms compartment, although retaining the single quarter light, and extra space for the harness compartment. The greater length was probably not related to a requirement for enlarged accommodation but to achieve a longer wheelbase giving a smoother ride for horse and groom at a time when overall speeds were increasing. Between 1910 and 1913 50 boxes to this design were built, bringing to an end construction of this type by the GER.

In 1879 a single 16ft horse box built for the Felixstowe Railway in 1877 was absorbed by the GER, becoming an addition to the diagram 15 stock as it was built to the exactly the same design. In the same year 4 boxes were received from the Thetford & Watton Railway. They were 15ft long and quite unlike anything else and as a consequence had a short life, all being withdrawn by the end of 1894.

Horse boxes were of distinctive design, built for a specific purpose and unlike many other passenger train vehicles did not lend themselves to conversion for other purposes, consequently they were all used exclusively for the conveyance of animals until their final withdrawal. The only conversion recorded was for the internal modification of a single box in 1933 to convey two instead of three horses, the reason for this being unknown to me.        

Practically all the boxes built to diagrams 16, 17 and 28 were in service at the Grouping but the withdrawal of the diagram 16 boxes, constructed between 1888 and 1902 proceeded steadily throughout the LNER period leaving a solitary example to be inherited by British Railways. The diagram 17 boxes remained intact as a class until the end of 1936 when their withdrawal started and by the end of 1949 the type was extinct.   About 40 of the last boxes to be built to diagram 28 were still in service at Nationalisation and thereafter declined in numbers until the withdrawal of the last example in 1955. On average the boxes saw 40 years service and overall the LNER inherited more than sufficient of this type during the Grouping period, which was in decline numerically consequently the LNER built only a modest number in the late 1930’s.