For enthusiasts, researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

1890 to 1902


This period saw the greatest wagon building activity ever achieved by the GER. It resulted in a significant increase in total stock, an overall modernisation of the wagon fleet and a variety of special wagon types to deal with new traffic attracted to the railway.

Continental Traffic Stock

The Continental open wagon was introduced in 1890 and took the form of an elongated 5 plank high sided open. Like the egg truck, it was loaded by crane at the quayside at Parkeston direct from the hold of the ship and its contents chiefly consigned to Bishopsgate.

In 1891 an order for ten lard vans was completed, again to convey imports arriving at Parkeston. This was essentially a standard covered van but the body was fitted with an ample supply of louvres and a ventilated clerestory.

In 1899-1900 three refrigerator vans to carry imported butter were built. Unlike the lard wagons, which were designed to induce the entry of as much fresh air as possible, the new vans were insulated with ice chambers at each end to maintain a cool atmosphere for the contents. The stock of egg trucks was also increased by another 20, this time with steel frames.

Wagon Supply and Shortages

Concern was again expressed in 1892 by the Goods Manager regarding the supply of wagons. Although the GER had continued to increase its stock since the resolution in 1883 noted earlier, the attention of the Board was drawn to the even greater additions made by the GNR to its stock in the previous 10 years.

Figures showed that whereas the GER had achieved a respectable 32% increase in its stock the GNR's total had grown by a massive 82%. There was considerable apprehension that the GER would be unable to compete for traffic in the South Yorkshire coalfield and coal would tend to come onto the GER at Peterborough rather than at Doncaster and via the Joint line.

The forthcoming creation of the M&GN also pointed to increased competition in Norfolk from the Great Northern and Midland Railways. The Traffic Committee were duly alarmed and sanctioned an increased rate of additional wagon building from 400 to 600 per annum, principally in the form of high sided wagons.

Ballast Wagons

Until the late 1870's the stock of ballast wagons and brakes hovered at the 200 mark. As a type they were unsophisticated, built to carry ballast for the renewal of permanent way, returning from a job loaded with spoil. Dumb buffers sufficed and brakes were unnecessary as sets were topped and tailed in service by an engine at one end and a ballast brake van at the other. These vans also provided accommodation for the gangs in transit.

Until the late 1870's the GER did not build or purchase any new ballast wagons. Old low sided wagons were converted for departmental use and to meet exceptional demands wagons were hired.

In 1879 40 wagons were ordered, perhaps being the first to be built new, which had 11ft 2ins long dropside bodies and wood frames. Thereafter most new and replacement ballast stock was constructed at Stratford Works, the total gradually being increased in line with the expansion of track mileage.

By the early 1890's some variations of the basic low sided open ballast wagon were devised. First, a sleeper wagon appeared in 1891 and by 1898 this had been developed into a combined ballast and sleeper wagon, used to carry sleepers and ballast to site and returning with spent ballast and old materials. Despite their modern form of construction and use of steel frames they continued to be built without sprung buffers or brakes, these ancillaries being regarded as unnecessary for most permanent way stock.

Cattle Trucks

As already recorded livestock was an important traffic for the GER although receipts as a proportion of the whole were never great. Comparatively large numbers of wagons were kept in stock, probably because their use was not only seasonal but varied during the course of a week according to local market conditions.

The all time high of 2600 cattle trucks was reached in 1884; a mixture of medium and large trucks, but numbers thereafter diminished. Receipts certainly levelled off but better utilisation of the stock may also have allowed the total to drop.

In 1892 a movable partition in each cattle truck was introduced, a measure adopted by all the Companies to stop never ending disputes with the public as to how many animals could be loaded into small, medium and large cattle wagons. These cost 25/- each for the 2400 wagons then in stock.   One obvious consequence was that from now on only large cattle wagons were built, since the partition could be adjusted according to the traffic offered.

More Wagons

The vexed question of wagon supply was again aired early in 1896 when further statistics showed that the Great Northern and Midland were still vastly outstripping the GER in wagon provision. The response was to further increase the building rate the 600 limit set in 1892 to 900 per annum.

Aside from this annual order, authorisation was also given for an additional 500 trucks as a direct consequence of exercising running powers over the Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway. William Birt, now General Manager, also made a further successful bid later in the same year for a special order for 500 additional wagons, in the face of still having to turn business away through an insufficient stock of wagons. He was again persuasive enough to obtain sanction for another 500 at the end of 1897.

This vast increase in wagon building, all carried out by the GER over and above the normal replacement of worn out stock, puts into focus the need for greater manufacturing capacity, met by the opening of the wagon works at Temple Mills in 1896.

Less obvious was the requirement for what would be termed these days as an 'enhanced infrastructure'. A significant siding mileage was laid during the 1890's, for example, new yards at such places as Goodmayes and Park and the continued expansion of Temple Mills marshalling yards.   Increased trade gave rise to expanded goods handling facilities at existing goods depots, sidings extended and new goods sheds built or extended. Completely new goods and coal depots were established in London and the country districts alike, some sited quite separate from passenger facilities. The transship sheds at Colchester, Ipswich and Whitemoor, built as an early form of goods concentration depot, also date from this period.

The Renshaw Episode

With wagon building rates at an unprecedented level of over 2000 per annum in the late 1890's it came to the point that even with the new wagon works at Temple Mills James Holden could not meet the demands placed on him.   He defined its capacity in 1899 as being 2250 new wagons annually, consequently, in January 1901 the Company placed a contract with W.R. Renshaw & Co. of Stoke on Trent for 750 high sided wagons.   This proved to be something of a disaster for instead of delivering the order by the end of September 1900 less than half had been received and it was not until a year later that the last wagons left Stoke on Trent. Additionally the cost of the wagons was about 10% greater than for the same type being built at Temple Mills.

By the time Renshaw had finished its order the peak for wagon building was over for the GER and after 1901 virtually no more wagons were built on Capital account, that is, the overall total stock remained static at about 26,500.

Machine Trucks

Construction of Holden's steel framed 14 ton machine truck continued but variations of this successful design were introduced. A 10 ton furniture wagon, to carry horse drawn furniture vans, was introduced in 1896. Whilst the conventional machine truck could carry such vans, the 14 ton capacity was not usually needed. In the following year a single 10 ton truck of conventional design appeared, intended to carry a set of gallopers, reflecting the presence on the system of fairground machinery firms, the most renowned being Savages at Kings Lynn. It was uniquely equipped with Vacuum pipes and Westinghouse brake.

On the other hand there was the occasional need for a wagon with a greater capacity than 14 tons and this led to two new types evolving. The first appeared in 1894 as a 20 ton version of the traditional machine truck of which two were built. Secondly, the unique 40 ton crocodile wagon was built in 1901 in the form of a long well wagon which the GER itself found very useful in transporting turntables.

Other New Types

By the end of the century more specialised wagons appeared to handle new types of traffic. Liquid fuel for locomotive use was being imported and landed at Purfleet for which the GER provided tank wagons to convey it to Stratford.  Most were cylindrical, rather like a smaller version of the gas tank wagon, but six had rectangular tanks, probably to a Railway Clearing House design.

A solitary plate glass wagon was built, equipped with a well in which to carry glass packed in cases. In justifying its construction it was said to be equally suitable for general goods.

Messrs. Henry Pooley & Sons, which had a weighbridge maintenance contract dating back to the 1850's, were provided with two new workshop vans. Although classed as wagons they had Mansell wheels, Westinghouse brake complete and carried a passenger stock livery all their lives.

Gunpowder traffic also revived in the Eastern Counties and so a modern steel bodied van appeared, to replace and augment the 4 existing but ancient vans in stock.

Locomotive Coal

As described earlier, the GER established a large stock of loco coal wagons during the 1870's as the best means of getting prompt and reliable supplies of fuel from the collieries. In 1902 the stock stood at 2047, a remarkably modern fleet of which no less than 1800 had been built since 1891.

All but one of these was of 10 tons capacity, the exception being a 15 ton wagon, built in 1900, of conventional construction but with a steel floor. This was a first attempt to arrive at a higher capacity wagon but it was not destined to be the way forward.

High Capacity Wagons

At the turn of the century there was much interest country wide in employing higher capacity wagons on the basis that 20, 30 or even 40 ton wagons had a much lower tare to capacity ratio than the conventional 10 ton wagon.   The GER duly investigated the merits of this line of thought and late in 1901 hired at 30/- a week from the Leeds Forge Co. what the GER referred to as a 'truck of large carrying capacity'.

It had a 30 ton capacity and was set to work on the Parkeston to Bishopsgate service, later it visited other parts of the system, to the profound irritation of some consignees. It was difficult to unload, as it had only a single side door, and its ability to load to 30 tons was never realised whilst no colliery could accept it for loading. It was returned to its makers and the GER continued to regard the 10 ton capacity wagon as most suitable and practical for its general needs.

A Study in Steel

Another experiment made early in 1902 was to build an all steel high sided wagon, intended as a possible successor to the conventional wood sheeted open. This initiative failed as the steel floor allowed merchandise to slide around during transit, getting largely out of control and prone to serious damage. Scotches could not be nailed to a steel floor and although it later received a timber floor the wagon was destined to be a unique example.

Steel Loco Coal Wagons

As noted, the solitary 15 ton loco coal wagon, built in 1900, was not repeated. Instead Holden introduced an all steel wagon of 20 tons capacity in 1902. Unlike the 30 ton wagon experiment Holden received assurances from enough collieries that a wagon of this size and capacity could be accepted and fully loaded. As a result permission was given to build 100 more and the design proved to be successful. Further batches were built right through to 1920, to a total of 901, resulting in many of the 10 ton wagons, built in large quantities during the 1890's, being converted to high sided merchandise wagons.


No less than 21955 wagons were built between 1890 and 1902. Of this total 11619 were additions to stock, increasing the figure from 14893 to 26512, a 78% increase.

The remaining 10336, or nearly half the output, was devoted to replacing outworn stock. This resulted in reducing pre 1880 stock to fewer than 2000 wagons, thus the great majority of stock was less than 20 years old, a considerable improvement over the 10 year period.

Of the total built no less than 11300 were high sided opens; 1690 covered vans were completed together with 1800 loco coal wagons.

Some specialised stock:

11 wool wagon                       

12 butter wagon

09 gunpowder wagon

63 travelling gas reservoir

10 continental traffic wagon

20 10t plate glass wagon