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)


The Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters’ Association 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 photo above and later photos below show, there was considerable wastage to the timber framing of this vehicle and severe rusting and wastage to many of the iron fixings and fittings; it required major restoration work to see further use on the railway and prompt stabilisation work to ensure its survival intact.

Unfortunately there was no economic argument for any substantial expenditure to be made on the vehicle by the Isle of Man Government / Isle of Man Transport, as there were and continue to be pressing needs for the overhaul of service locomotives and rebuilding of carriage stock with which to maintain future day-to-day passenger services.

The Supporters’ Association therefore took a lead role in the restoration project by raising the necessary funds and 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 contracted out the majority of the required joinery, metal fabrication and component machining to local Manx businesses and tradesmen where requisite skillsets and capacity were available.


Follow the restoration project in the series of photographs below (click images to enlarge) and on our Facebook page

Goods Van G.1 at Castletown, 1955

In Douglas Carriage Shed, 2015

Braced ready for transport off-site to joinery contractor Greenfields of Santon, Sept 2019

Chassis after removal of body
Oct 2019

Replacement Rood Sweeps
Oct 2019

Replacement Door Framing
Oct 2019

Replacement Body Frame Components
Oct 2019

Dry Assembly of Body Frame
Nov 2019

Replacement plasma-cut 'W'-irons
Nov 2019

Refurbished Chassis - Dry Assembly
Dec 2019

W-Irons & Spring Brackets
July 2020

Wheelset no.1 & Axleboxes
Oct 2020

Wheelset no.2 Re-profiling
Nov 2020

Body planking in progress
March 2021

Body planking in progress
March 2021

Body planking in progress
March 2021

Completed body on its way back to Douglas
June 2021

Re-united with wheelsets, Douglas Workshops
July 2021


Railways for the Isle of Man were promoted in the second half of the 19th Century equally for the conveyance of freight as for the carriage of passengers. The ability to move all manner of goods, livestock and materials by steam railway across the Island in a matter of an hour or so, firstly between Douglas and Peel (1873), then Castletown and Port Erin (1874), Ramsey (1879) and Foxdale (1884), directly contributed to the expansion of many towns and villages and an exponential growth in tourism, agriculture, fishing, mining and manufacturing on the Island.

Goods Van G.1 was delivered to the Island in early 1873, before the Isle of Man Railway Company’s first line from Douglas to Peel opened on 1 July of that year. The ‘covered goods wagon’ (only later to be termed a 'van’) was used by contractors in the latter stages of construction of the line and is the only remaining example of its design type. It is the oldest surviving piece of railway rolling stock on the Isle of Man, pre-dating Locomotive No.1 ‘Sutherland’ and all other surviving Isle of Man railway vehicles.

On these determinations, Goods Van G.1 merits conservation and recognition as an item of significant Manx and British railway heritage. The vehicle was suffering dry rot and much metalwork and timber wastage; therefore intervention to save this historic vehicle was time critical.

The case for restoring Goods Van G.1:

    • It preserves on and for the Isle of Man one of the most historic non-locomotive, non-passenger, railway vehicles anywhere in the World.

    • It attracts attention and interest from the international railway heritage community for the Isle of Man Steam Railway; participants in the restoration project; supporters of the restoration project; and custodianship of Manx railway heritage assets.

    • It enhances the visitor appeal and experience of the Steam Railway by allowing Isle of Man Railways to operate historically more authentic Manx train formations (with goods vans and wagons being attached at the front or rear of carriage rakes) whilst meeting current health and safety regulations with regard to the positioning of braked and un-braked rolling stock.

    • It provides additional mobility space for the conveyance of wheelchairs, pushchairs, bicycles and the like on more of the service trains, as presently only one braked carriage with any meaningful ‘luggage’ space is available for use by the Railway. In the peak season, three service trains are in concurrent operation.

    • It furthers the education of the public with regard to 19th century design, development and use of covered railway goods wagons, both on the Isle of Man and wider afield, achieved through static display and interpretation in the Railway Museum at Port Erin, demonstration use on special event trains and more practical use on service trains.


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.


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.


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 deteriorated considerably in more recent times after several years in the siding at Ballasalla Station.