NWNGR slate wagons

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The NWNGR had a considerable number of slate wagons. While the Official Returns do not separate slate wagons from other open goods types before 1921, the published accounts presented to shareholders every 6 months do, and they show that by June 1881 there were 90 slate wagons out of a total goods stock of 120.

28 more slate wagons were acquired in 1891 and 2 more in 1895. From 1909 the total went down to 97, 95 in 1911 and 74 in 1912. The considerable drop in slate traffic and the dire financial state of the company in later years probably led to the withdrawal rather than repair of damaged wagons.

From 1913 the figures were re-analysed as a result of the Accounts and Returns Act 1911 with a heading of 'Mineral Wagons Under 8 tons' - a total of 98. Of course slate and coal are both minerals.

After 1921 there is confusion as the 2-plank fixed-side wagons sometimes called ‘Slate Box Wagons’ are sometimes included with the crate-type slate wagons, and sometimes as ordinary open wagons. In his Report of 1921 Major Spring reported a total of 90 slate wagons but this seems to include the ‘Box’ wagons. Robert Williams’ 1922 report gives 29 Iron Crate Wagons, 46 Box Wagons and 15 ‘Iron Crates, tops minus bottoms, and wheels in good condition’ – this last item is open to interpretation but if they are counted as wagons this gives a total of 90.

The following is based on examination of the available published photographs. Unfortunately very few of these show slate wagons in use, the photographers of the day being mostly interested in passenger trains. By WHR days slate traffic was significant only on the Bryngwyn line, but very few photos were taken there. A number of pictures were taken in 1935, by H. F.Wheeller and others, showing lines of derelict wagons at Dinas, but there are not many slate wagons visible in these.

Of the open-frame ‘crate’ type, there seem to have been at least six varieties.

1. Wooden body

An early photo (the excursion train picture at Dinas, c1892[1]) shows a wooden-bodied type with outside bearings, looking exactly like the FR ‘bobbin’ type. The FR influence is to be expected, but it is odd that the old wooden type was used, as the FR had been using the iron type from 1857. However a Gloucester works photo shows that they built some of these in 1877[2] or iBase 112. Wooden wagons were considered less damaging to the slates but required more maintenance, but maybe their lower first cost appealed to the always-impecunious NWNGR.

Close examination of the works picture reveals that the unsprung axlebox casting is almost identical to those on the FR wooden slate wagons (eg 79, 137) but the whole wagon is larger, nearer the size of FR 3-ton wagons, as can be seen by the length of axle visible between the wheels and the axleboxes. These extended axles would not have been interchangeable with those on other NWNG stock. A picture of wagons at Bryngwyn [3] shows one of these wagons fitted with W irons inside the main frames with axleboxes probably sprung (the springs are not visible) which would not need the axle extensions. It is not known if this wagon had been converted or if it was a later build, the former seems more likely.

2. Iron crate, wide frame, unsprung.

Several pictures show wagons with wooden mainframes and iron crate bodywork, a combination not used by the FR. The main frames are as wide as the crate, with the uprights fixed directly to the solebars. One version of these has unsprung pedestal axleboxes below the frames. (No 127[4]).

3. Iron crate, wide frame, sprung

A variant of the previous type has small W irons with springs concealed behind. One of these was used during the demolition[5].

4. Iron crate, narrow frame

There were also some with underframes significantly narrower than the crates, necessitating wooden spacing blocks between the solebars and the uprights[6]. Williams’ report mentioned ‘15 Iron Crates, tops minus bottoms’. Could these have been the upperworks from wagons which had suffered from rotten wooden mainframes? Or wagons which had had their chassis converted into timber wagons? Maybe these tops were later fitted to existing smaller wagons such as timber runners, of which there were several during the WW1 period but significantly fewer after. (This is mere speculation but is there a better explanation? There was not much timber traffic in the WHR period and this would be a way of getting serviceable slate wagons at minimal cost.) See iBase 3007, 3041.

5. All-metal, small

There was an all-metal type, probably of later construction but unknown date and maker. They had upperworks similar to the foregoing iron crates but notably smaller, more the size of an FR 2-tonner, a steel mainframe with volute-sprung axleboxes in hornguides, with tiebars between them and to the underframe, and (apparently) sprung buffers. A picture of one appeared in the Railway Magazine for 1917 (p38 according to Boyd – that would be either the January or July issue as the RM had half-yearly volumes at this period). At least one of these was seen without its bodywork used as a bolster on the demolition train.

6. Small iron crate, wooden frame

One picture [7] shows a wagon (NWNGR 88) with a small iron crate body similar to the above, fitted to a wooden underframe. It has unsprung axleboxes and a square metal buffer assembly similar but not identical to the above.

A curious feature of types 2-6 which differentiates them from the FR iron wagons is the arrangement of the uprights, which are all of angle iron with the flanges outward, three on each side and two on each end. There were no uprights at the corners. By contrast FR wagons had angle iron corner uprights (with flanges inwards) and intermediate uprights of flat strip.

The ‘Slate Box Wagons’ were also used for slate as well as coal. Some quarries required coal, and the box wagons were used for this incoming traffic and for outgoing slate. For pictures and a discussion of the varieties of these see here[8].

A photo of the transhipment wharf at Dinas in 1920 shows two crate wagons (details indeterminate) and three box wagons (all different sizes) in use[9].

The Schedule for the 1934 FR lease of the WHR gives a total of 62 slate wagons (crate and box type) of which 20 awaited repairs and 20 required rebuilding.

Festiniog wagons were also used in the WHR period. A 1935 photo[10] shows wooden slate wagon 314 at Dinas, and this definitely looks like an FR wagon. There were a couple of wrecked FR iron wagons at the foot of Bryngwyn incline[11].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Prideaux, J.D.C.A., The Welsh Narrow Gauge Railway, David & Charles, 1976, ISBN 0 7153 7184 3 p31. (this photo also appears in Boyd but has been cropped, the whole wagon can be seen in Prideaux)
  2. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1988). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, Vol. 1. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-365-6.
  3. ^ Welsh Highland Heritage, Issue 74, page(s): 3
  4. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1989). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, Vol. 2, The Welsh Highland Railway. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-383-4. after p70, pic 13
  5. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1989). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, Vol. 2, The Welsh Highland Railway. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-383-4. after p102, pic 1
  6. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1989). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, Vol. 2, The Welsh Highland Railway. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-383-4. after p70, pic 12,
  7. ^ Welsh Highland Heritage, Issue 74, page(s): 8
  8. ^ Welsh Highland Heritage, Issue 72, page(s): 7
  9. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1972). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire. Lingfield, Surrey, England: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 9780853611158. OCLC 707587. after p192 picture 6
  10. ^ Johnson, Peter (2002). An Illustrated History of the Welsh Highland Railway. Hersham: Oxford Publishing Co. ISBN 0-860935-65-5. OCLC 59498388. p120,
  11. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1989). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, Vol. 2, The Welsh Highland Railway. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-383-4. after p6 picture 6