Foxfield Railway Virtual Stocklist
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BR 16ton Mineral Wagons, numbers B29551, B594225, B568839,B126447, B266409, B555261, B556132, B558411, B556132, B565154, B575554, B578488, B595308 and three unknown

Above: MoWT 16ton rivetted mineral wagon B29551 restored at Foxfield Colliery July 2000

The greatest influx of wagons to the Foxfield fleet over the last few years has been the ubiquitous BR 16 ton mineral wagon, and the railway now has a varied fleet with which to demonstrate authentic trains of coal wagons from Foxfield Colliery to Blythe Bridge. 

The design originated from the needs of wartime, when the lightweight steel wagons developed by private builders (for example the Butterley patent wagon) were developed for mass production. All-steel construction and altered regulations allowed a payload of 16 tons, whereas conventional wooden wagons carried only 12 tons (uprated to 13 for WW2). Initially built mainly for the Ministry of War Transport, it was quickly realised that the major railway works did not have the capacity to build the numbers required, and so the private wagon builders suddenly found themselves with full order books alongside their urgent munitions work. Three basic designs emerged:

  • the common type preserved at Foxfield with vertical sides, drop doors, top flap doors, bottom doors and end door, based on LMS diagram D2134
  • the sloping sided type featuring drop doors, bottom doors and end door, developed from a Charles Roberts design, and
  • the "French" type with side hinged doors, many of which served overseas before 1945; some never returned.
In peacetime, when wagon repairs were caught up and the infant BR started to identify standard wagon types that it could build in quantity, the "Ideal Stocks Committee" recommended the 16 ton unfitted mineral wagon as suitable for almost all coal traffic, and durable enough for other traffics such as scrap metal. In a desire to eliminate all grease-lubricated axleboxes from old privately owned coal wagons, BR constructed  over 300,000 to this basic design. Production-line construction using welding was preferred over rivetting for light weight and cheapness, but many wagon works did not have the equipment or skilled workers to weld large numbers of wagons. Hence many early example were built using rivets, even if some welded components were incorporated. The incorporation of bottom doors ceased in 1951 and some batches, or "lots" had no top flap doors. Some lots were very large - indeed the Pressed Steel company was promised orders of 10,000 wagons per year from 1951 and built a special factory to cope with turning out almost 200 new wagons per week. 

Above: Pressed Steel example B578488,  by 2004weathered down after restoration at Foxfield in the late 1990s

The wagons were also largely built without any vacuum brakes, a cheap but very short-sighted policy. Despite some early trials (see B126447 below), by 1965 only about 11,000 had been built with vacuum brakes mainly for use on certain workings in the north Midlands and Yorkshire. They had an 8 shoe clasp-brake system with two vacuum cylinders. Vacuum braked wagons were resisted in many areas: staff at collieries objected to the extra work of coupling up brake pipes, and the vacuum brake gear was consistently ripped off wagons on some dockside tipping equipment! But in 1966 BR acknowledged that continuous brakes would permit longer trains with greater safety and fewer staff, so carried out a conversion programme of 5,000 wagons from four lots: 2919 to 2922. These wagons had their Moreton push brakes modified with an extra set and twin vacuum cylinders.

The other major development was rebodying. Corrosion from holding wet coal and other materials led to continual patch repairs to the floors, doors and lower bodysides. In 1970 it was decided that any wagon with a welded underframe likely to have at least 10 years further life should be equipped with a new prefabricated body. This was virtually identical to the original but has a distinct curved bottom corner and lacks top flap doors.The rebodying was carried out at BR workshops such as Derby and Horwich, and a small plate was affixed to indicate the date and place. The rebodying programme ceased about 1979.

The 16 ton steel mineral wagon gradually eradicated the familiar wooden bodied coal wagon completely and continued in regular use all over the railway system until 1987. They dominated the landscape of every colliery railway and coal yard to the extent that no-one took much notice of them, until only a few hundred were left in existence, relegated to BR departmental service as spoil carriers, or tucked away in private sidings. Several preservation railways have been building up fleets of these vehicles, most notably the Great Central Railway at Loughborough which has resurrected the nickname “Windcutter”, an appropriate name for the fast coal trains which ran on that line. Searching for a typical train of these vehicles, Foxfield first borrowed a short rake in reasonable condition from the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum. They were all BR diagram 1/108 wagons that had ended up in local NCB internal use, and carried a variety of NCB liveries. Not to be outdone, the name “Windbreaker” was coined for them at Foxfield. The name stuck, but the wagons had to return to Whitfield on its liquidation, were overvalued by a scrap merchant at the ensuing auction in April 1994 and most were promptly cut up. To replace them a rake of six wagons were acquired in 1994 as a bargain buy via the pages of "Exchange & Mart" from Padiham Power Station, but their condition was reflected in their low price. They were early examples, including a very rare rivetted design, but had lost several side doors and required extensive repairs. It soon became clear that better wagons had to be acquired if Foxfield was to have a reliable operating "Windbreaker" rake. So two of the Padiham wagons have been sold on to thePreston Steam Railway, and two of the others may be retained for spares, but it is hoped the other two may be fully restored.

Above: MoWT 16 ton rivetted mineral wagon B29551, delivered as CEGB number 5 in 1994

The majority of the regular working fleet was acquired the following year, in 1995, and comprises all vacuum braked examples, of ex-Westinghouse, clasp and push brake varieties. Each was re-bodied by BR in the 1970s and maintained in good working order in departmental use throughout the 1980s, but all still have interesting features and no two are exactly alike. The fleet currently comprises fifteen vehicles, in order of acquisition being:
 
BR no Other nos Diagram Lot Builder Date Source Moved
B29551 CEGB 5       1945 Padiham 23/1/94
n/k CEGB 1/108 n/k n/k n/k Padiham 23/1/94
n/k CEGB 1/108 n/k n/k n/k Padiham 23/1/94
n/k CEGB 1/108 n/k n/k n/k Padiham 23/1/94
B594225 n/a 1/108 R 3062 Butterley 1958 Stoke Cockshute 6/3/95
B568839 n/a 1/108 R 2920 Pressed Steel n/k Bescot 7/3/95
B126447 n/a 1/108 R 2385 Derbyshire 1953 Leamington 14/5/95
B266409 n/a 1/108 R 2810 Gloucester 1958 Leamington 14/5/95
B555261 n/a 1/108 R 3144 Teeside B+E 1957 Leamington 14/5/95
B556132 n/a 1/108 R 2915 Metro Cammel 1957 Leamington 14/5/95
B558411 n/a 1/117 R 3146 Pressed Steel 1958 Leamington 14/5/95
B556132 n/a 1/117 R 3146 Pressed Steel 1958 Leamington 14/5/95
B565154 n/a 1/108 R 2920 Pressed Steel n/k Leamington 14/5/95
B575554 n/a 1/108 R 2921 Pressed Steel 1956 Leamington 14/5/95
B578488 n/a 1/108 R 2922 Pressed Steel 1957 Leamington 14/5/95
B595308 n/a 1/108 R 3063 Derbyshire 1957 Leamington 14/5/95

R = new prefabicated body without top doors fitted in 1970s, typically at Horwich wagon works

There are two wagons that deserve special mention due to their rarity: 

B29551 was constructed in 1945 with a rivetted underframe and body, incorporating side, end and bottom doors but no top flap doors. The doors were originally pressings rather than rivetted or welded - evidence of this can still be seen on the patched end. It was never re-bodied and was sold from BR service for internal use at Padiham Power Station. On arrival from Padiham it was found to be half-full of coal, which eventually found its way into locomotive fireboxes, but this meant its floor is badly decayed. It is now believed to be the only surviving MoWT or BR mineral wagon of rivetted construction in the country. Cosmetically restored to BR livery on one side, and a fictional NCB internal use livery "Foxfield NCB 5" for a photographic assignment on the other, it is awaiting full body repairs.

B126447 was one of 100 wagons built by Derbyshire Carriage & Wagon with Westinghouse air brakes as an experiment to compare the merits of this system over vacuum equipment. Trials were carried out on the Midland mainline between Toton and Brent. The trials proved the air brake was far superior but BR could not contemplate the costs of adopting a new system and it was 13 years before more airbraked wagons were built. After the trials the experimental wagons were converted to vacuum brakes but retained their self adjusting linkage, which automatically changed the brake force according to loading. After rebodying in the 1970s and use in the departmental wagon fleet, B126447 came to Foxfield simply as part of the batch from Leamington in 1995. It is now unique; a reminder of BR's short-sighted re-equipment policy as well as a Derbyshire-built wagon.

Above: Official photograph of BR 16 ton vacuum fitted Mineral Wagon as built

Full restoration of the fleet will take some time. The vehicles bought direct from BR had all been in departmental use, the numbers prefixed with D, and slots had been cut midway up each side to discourage overloading with spoil or ballast. Each slot is being welded up and a full repaint into BR grey then follows; B594225 and B568839 were the first to be treated but only six have been tackled so far. Some vehicles have an NCB internal use livery on one side for variety. This is not a strictly authentic livery for vacuum braked wagons but it does enable creation of a typical Foxfield train of the 1950s. One or two of the vacuum fitted wagons such as B126447 may yet appear in correct BR bauxite instead.
 

For more information on the Foxfield Steam Railway, its passenger services and special events please see the official website at http://www.foxfieldrailway.co.uk.