Manx Northern Railway Six-Wheelers

No.1 - No.14 (Later N” Series : 40 - 51)

For the opening of the railway between Ramsey and St. John’s on 23rd September 1879 the Manx Northern Railway Co. Ltd., made enquiries with a number of manufacturers including The Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance Co., Brown Marshall & Co., The Ashbury Carriage & Wagon Co., and The Bristol Wagon & Carriage Works Co. And finally settled with The Swansea Carriage & Wagon Co., for a set of fourteen six-wheeled carriages with which to commence their passenger operations.  This was at odds with the existing Isle of Man Railway Company who began operations in 1873 using exclusively four-wheeled rolling stock until the introduction of their first bogie vehicles which would not be until 1881.  The first two were of First Class accommodation, with the remaining twelve  Second Class including two with brakes and eight without; as the fledgling company did not have sufficient capital, ownership was initially retained by the builders and vehicles carried iron plates denoting  the Welsh company as their owner.  The yearly rent was set at £123 4s. 2d., £482. 17s. 0d. and £112 2s. 2d. respectively for the various classes.  

The hire-purchase arrangement with the builders stated the railway was to pay £359 ls. 8d. (£82 10s. 3d. interest) on a six-monthly basis, and Swansea Carriage & Wagon assigned it to Isaac Jenks, Ironmaster of Wolverhampton on 10th December, 1879.  The plates referred to were to carry Jenks’ name until the contract ended on 31st December, 1885 when they were to be removed and the Railway Company would then have the option to buy the stock for 20s. each.  The carriages were said to be an improvement on the four-wheeled stock which had been supplied to the Isle of Man Railway six years previously and there were several features in which they bore likeness to the six-wheeled vehicles of the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways, which just pre-dated them. James Cleminson’s Patent Flexible Wheelbase was adopted (which was in use in Wales, Southwold, Donegal and other narrow gauge undertakings).  The Cleminson system was commonly adopted on railways with sharp curvature which was not prevalent the Manx Northern but nonetheless the system was extremely popular at this period and reportedly the carriages rode well, the patent being particularly in vogue at the time.

The principal involved three separate wheelsets, a set at either end with their own axles and trucks, the central set being mounted on slides to give radial play on curves, thereby protruding from beneath the body on such alignments.  The two outer wheelsets were connected to the central one by pivoted radial links; this arrangement was less expensive than the more common bogie arrangement and also meant the same lateral strength of the frames was not required, as was the case on the bogie stock on the I.M.R.  The carriages were 30’ 0” long with axle centres 12’ 0” apart, constructed on oak frames with the solebars featuring ¼” facing plates and tie rods located centrally along the length of the frames; the bodywork was economically produced in teak, featuring square-cornered windows apart from the first class carriages, the upper corners of the window on these had curved corners; a lower running board was carried the length of each carriage, while the upper steps were individual beneath each compartment door.  It is recorded that when delivered the finish of the teak bodywork was found to be lacking with further varnish required, and the coupling arrangement was unsatisfactory, being modified almost immediately upon delivery.

Their use on “through trains” beyond St. John’s was initially banned when a derailment occurred at Union Mills in July 1882, with hot axle boxes also being a regular source of problems.  Other issues involving the wheels themselves resulted in separate tyres being fitted to several of the carriages.  The Second Class, in common with the Isle of Man Railway was quickly altered to Third Class and these held a total of sixty seated passengers.  As James Boyd noted in his definitive work on the railway “the ride might have been better but the I.M.R. provided more room!”  There were six compartments arranged in pairs with half-height partitions, to carry five passengers on each bench seat as opposed to the four of the early bogie stock.  The two brake carriages had guards’ compartments which were also capable of passenger accommodation when not in use, these had an external brake ducket to carry the hand-wheel, and pigeon holes for paperwork in the bulkheads.  First class carriages had more lavish accommodation and the two first class examples varied in design, one being open compartments, the other a saloon arrangement.

When the Manx Northern Railway Company was bought out by its competitor in 1905, they were renumbered F.40-F.51 continuing the series at that date; however in 1907 further bogie stock was purchased and fleet numbers amended to N.40-N.51, this being the next available lettering prefix.  They were not favoured for regular use after this period, commonly being pressed into service on busy days such as Tynwald Day each July, but regular usage was uncommon; it is speculated that they were never used on the South Line and no photographic evident exists to support this.  By the 1930s they were all but withdrawn and relegated to storage in the carriage shed at Ramsey Station.  The last recorded use in traffic by any of them was on 5th July 1950.  Following the lease of the carriage shed they were relocated to open storage on a spur to the side of St. John’s carriage shed known colloquially as Harry Cubbon’s Wing, which is where they remained until the closure of the railway.  Six of them were badly damaged in the shed fire on 10th December 1975 and later destroyed by controlled fire the following year.  Prior to this four examples were saved, two entering the collection of Peter Rampton and being removed from the island in 1975, with a further two sold locally. 

One was superficially restored by the now-defunct Isle of Man Railway Society and entered the new railway museum that year, with a further example entering private preservation in the north of the island, saved by a member of the Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters’ Association.  It is this example that is displayed in the railway’s museum on long-term loan from the owner.  One example managed to survive and was stored at Douglas Station until succumbing as late as 1972, while another was used to replace a crew “bothy” outside the workshops in 1964, the original (another six-wheeler, grounded on a base) having deteriorated to the point that is was beyond repair.  This survives today and is now used as a store room, retaining its unusual internal accommodation.  One of the fleet did not survive beyond the takeover and was never allocated with an “N” series fleet number.

Manx Northern Railway

Six-Wheel Carriage Fleet

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.1

(Later N.40)

Sold Phyllis Rampton Charitable Trust 1975

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.2

(Later N.41)

Extant Douglas (Storage Room)

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.3

(Later N.42)

Three Foot Gauge Railway Society 1978

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.4

(Later N.43)

St. John’s Shed Fire 1975

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.5

(Later N.44)

Lost, St. John’s Shed Fire 1975

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.6

(Later N.45)

Extant & Fully Restored

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.7

(Later N.46)

Lost, St. John’s Shed Fire 1975

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.8

(Not Renumbered)

Ramsey Station Oil Store 1905

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.9

(Later N.47)

Destroyed Controller Fire 1972

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.10

(Later N.48)

Lost, St. John’s Shed Fire 1975

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.11

(Later N.49)

Lost, St. John’s Shed Fire 1975

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.12 

(Not Renumbered)

First Douglas Station Bothy 1964

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.13

(Later N.50)

Lost, St. John’s Shed Fire 1975

Carriage M.N.Ry. No.14

(Later N.51)

Phyllis Rampton Charitable Trust 197

N.41 survives as a grounded carriage body outside the workshops at Douglas Station where it was first situated in 1964, seen here undergoing maintenence in 2022 with new lower panelling fitted.

Several of the series were stored in the open on a siding at St. Johns Station latterly, as seen here in May 1966, photograph by Michael Bishop showing one of the all thirds in a poor state of repair.

Restored six-wheeler M.N.Ry. No.6 on a trial run following completeion of through vacuum pipings, paused at Castletown Station in the summer of 2022 as the owner inspects the central wheelsets.

M.N.Ry. No.3 departing home shores being loaded onto the Silver River at Ramsey harbour in 2012; this carriage is now in open storage at Weetings Farm in Suffolk, having been painted brown and cream.

Another survivor for several years after withdrawla, M.N.Ry. No.5 stored on Harry Cubbons with at St. Johns Station, photograph courtesy of Michael Bishop during a visit in May 1966.

M.N.Ry. No.6 shortly after arrival at its home in the north of the island showing its pre-restoration condition; this carriage is now back on the railway and commonly displayed in the railway museum at Port Erin.