Restoration of Goods Van G.1

Built in 1872 by the Metropolitan Carriage & Wagon Co Ltd, Saltley Works, Birmingham.

Photo: Castletown 1955 (PECO Publications / David Odabashian) 

Fundraising Appeal:

The Island's steam railways were originally promoted equally for the carriage of freight in addition to passengers. The ability to move freight by rail across the Island in a matter of an hour or so, firstly between Douglas and Peel, then to Port Erin and later Foxdale and Ramsey, directly contributed to the expansion of many towns and villages, and the growth in tourism, agriculture, fishing, mining and manufacturing on the Island.

As the most historic item of railway rolling stock on the Island, Goods Van G.1 when restored will allow the earlier years of the Steam Railway to be better recounted to the public, both by static display and interpretation in the Port Erin Railway Museum, and by active demonstration on special event and normal service trains. The restoration of Goods Van G.1 as proposed (see details below) will also allow the Steam Railway to operate historically authentic Manx train formations and satisfy current health and safety requirements with regard to positioning of braked and un-braked stock.

We would ask our members and the wider heritage railway interest community to support this restoration project by making a kind donation to our "G.1 Appeal Fund". You can donate in the following ways:

Online ...  
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Historical Significance: 

Delivered in early 1873, before the Isle of Man Railway Company’s first line from Douglas to Peel opened on 1 July 1873, Goods Van G.1 is believed to have been used by contractors in the latter stages of construction of that line and is the oldest surviving piece of railway rolling stock on the Isle of Man, pre-dating Locomotive No.1 ‘Sutherland’.

Goods Van G.1 is also of wider historical significance in the UK heritage railway sector. The rolling stock register maintained by the Vintage Carriage Trust, which identifies and records historic surviving carriages and wagons throughout the UK & Ireland (but not in the Isle of Man), indicates that Goods Van G.1 is actually the oldest surviving goods van in the British Isles.

Original Specifications:

The original specifications for a covered goods wagon, shown on a drawing submitted by the Metropolitan Carriage & Wagon Co Ltd to the Isle of Man Railway Company for approval in 1872, states that it would be a "Covered Goods Wagon capable of being used as Third Class Carriage", but the order was amended for the supply of four ‘goods-only’ vehicles. The proposed small side windows, wheel operated brake gear, bench seats and side steps were omitted. 

The early covered goods wagons (more generally referred to as ‘goods vans’) supplied to the Isle of Man Railway were built to carry a load of up to six tons with a tare (un-laden weight) in the region of three tons. The first nine goods vans were all of similar design, 14' 6" in length, 6' 6" in width, 8’ 11” in height and with a wheelbase of 8' 0". The vehicles had rudimentary hand brakes with a side operating lever pressing an oak block against a single wheel.

Suspension on the first four goods vans was by way of rubber blocks mounted above the axleboxes, a somewhat basic (cheap) design which was also used with the original 4-wheeled passenger carriages delivered to the railway in 1873. The rubber block suspension was found to be entirely unsatisfactory and was quickly replaced with coil spring suspension. This ‘improved’ design fared little better and was itself replaced by proper leaf spring suspension from 1876 onwards. Vans and wagons supplied to the railway after 1876 had leaf spring suspension fitted from new.

Early Livery & Identification:

The original livery of the Isle of Man Railway goods vans and other types of wagon was noted contemporarily as being a pale grey on delivery; as repaints took place in later years, each vehicle took on slightly different shade of grey, latterly becoming much darker. The metal fixtures and fittings on the bodywork and chassis were painted black. The arched roof, formed from longitudinal wood planking, was overlaid with heavy linen cloth, its weave filled with white paint which quickly turned to a dark charcoal grey colour in service. No evidence has been found to show the style or existence of stock identification numbers applied on the goods vans and other types of wagon supplied in 1873, although that was customary practice for railway companies at the time.

However, after arrival of the first bogie carriages in 1876, an improved rolling stock identification system was introduced by the Railway Company. The Goods Vans were allocated the letter prefix ‘G’ with sequential numbers. This identification was painted on each side of the vehicle in large white letters and numerals with a black drop shadow. Tare and maximum load information was painted similarly along the solebar on each side of the vehicle.

Use of Goods Vans on the Railway:

Covered goods wagons (goods vans) were purchased for the conveyance of perishable and spoilable items on the railway which were unsuited for transport in open-top wagons. The Railway Company records indicate a wide range of products carried, including fish, meat and dairy products, grain, royal mail and parcels, drinks and, in some instances, even prize livestock as owners refused carriage by (at the time) open-top cattle wagons.

There were nineteen goods vans in total used on the Isle of Man Railway, falling into three main types:
  • The first 9 vans (G.1 to G.9) were to a smaller design and built between 1873 and 1899. 
  • 5 additional vans (Gr.10 to Gr.14) were ‘inherited’ from the Manx Northern Railway on amalgamation of the two companies in 1905, built to a slightly larger design and with slatted top vents on the sides. 
  • The final 5 vans (G.15 to G.19) were noticeably larger, built by the Railway Company itself between 1915 and 1921, using redundant chassis from the original 1873 four-wheeled carriages. 
The photograph below taken at Port Erin in the late 1940’s shows the three main types of goods van described.

One example of each type remains extant on the Isle of Man Steam Railway:
  • G.1, the oldest van, an original type, but in very poor unstable condition; 
  • Gr.12, a Manx Northern Railway type, fully restored to running order in 1999; 
  • G.19, the youngest van, of the later type, on display in the Railway Museum, Port Erin, but in poor condition. 
Goods Van G.1 remained in regular use for the carriage of freight on the steam railway up until the short-lived ‘Mantainor’ scheme in 1968, operated under Lord Aisla’s tenure of the steam railway.

Fortunately, having been kept in relatively good condition throughout its working life, G.1 was earmarked to be retained by the Railway Company, whilst virtually all of the other surviving non-passenger rolling stock was disposed of in what later become known as the ‘Ballasalla Bonfire’ of 1974.

Goods Van G.1 was to see use as a permanent way department mobile store and mess room until 1989, when it was deemed unsafe to use out on the line. Having been stored in the open for long periods when used by the permanent way department, the condition of the timber has deteriorated considerably in more recent times. This van is now in storage in the plant shop at the back of the workshops at Douglas Station and is in very poor condition after several years in the siding at Ballasalla Station.

The Restoration Project:

The Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters’ Association, a registered Manx charity helping to promote and conserve Manx steam railway heritage since 1966, has agreed with the Department of Infrastructure / Isle of Man Railways to undertake the full restoration of Good Van G.1 back to working order, with a view to the vehicle then being used on the steam railway for demonstration purposes on special event days, photographic charters, promotion of Manx transport heritage, periodic display in the Railway Museum at Port Erin, and other appropriate non-intensive uses.

As the accompanying image shows, there is considerable wastage to the timber framing of this vehicle and severe rusting and wastage to many of the iron fixings and fittings; it requires major restoration work to see further use on the railway, or at least major stabilisation work to ensure its survival intact.

Whilst the immediate future of G.1 is secure from disposal and the ravages of the elements, unfortunately there is no economic argument for any substantial expenditure to be made on the vehicle by Isle of Man Railways, as there are pressing needs for the overhaul of service locomotives and rebuilding of carriage stock with which to maintain passenger services.

Although Goods Van G.1 remains in covered storage, dry rot decay continues apace and therefore restoration (or conservation) of this historic vehicle is time critical.

The Supporters’ Association will have a lead role in the restoration project, its member volunteers contributing project planning and management, technical drawing, recording, finish preparation and painting services, in addition to sourcing required parts and materials and assisting with the dismantling and re-assembly activities.

The Association will contract out the majority of the required joinery, metal fabrication and component machining to local Manx businesses and tradesmen.

The Goods Van G.1 restoration project is divided into four phases:
  • Phase 1: Transfer of the Goods Van by road to a specialist joinery facility; complete piece-by-piece dismantlement and recording of the vehicle; assessment of each component’s condition and suitability for refurbishment or replacement with new similar material and parts. 
  • Phase 2: Sourcing of new materials and parts; refurbishment of retained original components; machining and finishing of new components. 
  • Phase 3: Preparation and primer painting of all components ready for re-assembly; re-assembly of the Goods Van; top coat painting and lining out; attachment of information plates. 
  • Phase 4: Return of the Goods Van by road to railway premises; fitting of refurbished axleboxes and wheelsets; fitting of brake and coupling gear; acceptance and re-commissioning by the Railway.

Thank you for your kind support.