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GWR 5 ton horse-drawn wagon



There was a time when men were men and horses weren't lasagna. I’m currently building some horse-drawn vehicles for the little yard behind my goods depot. I began with Langley’s whitemetal kit for a GWR 5 ton wagon. This represents one of the standard designs often seen in photos from pre-grouping days, especially in the London division.


It should be said at once that it isn't a finescale kit - indeed it's a bit rough in places. But with a little work I thought it would be OK for a position in the middle-ground of this little layout.





The kit as supplied. At 20£ this is no cheap kit, though I imagine the three horses and carter are part of the reason. There is little flash, but most parts do need a bit of filing and tweaking to make a good fit. The instructions are reasonable, although some details of the assembly are left to the imagination.






To improve appearances, I filed thick bits down to a leaner shape. I added rails between the side boards, and used wire in drilled holes to secure items (as per photo above). I compromised on the stanchions that support the "raves": These are moulded as solid triangles, but replacing them is not really practical, I think.






In primer. The seating arrangement follows the elevated “Paddington” pattern (as opposed to the much more basic “Birmingham” style). The parts provided for this looked overscale to me, so I basically rebuilt the whole seating arrangement. The fore carriage was fitted in a way that allowed it to actually pivot.






There are shire horses and then there are shire horses! The one on the left came with the kit along with two others. The one on the right is from Dart castings. I opted for two of the latter.






I replaced the supplied chain with something finer. To fit the chains to the horses, I sunk bits of wire into the beasts, fitted the chain and then bent the wire to form a small loop.






For the lettering, I needed yellow letters. There are no ready-made transfers available for these vehicles, so I plundered the HMRS GWR goods wagons sheet, building up the wording letter by letter. The spacing to accommodate the framing was also seen on the prototypes, although it is accentuated here due to the thicker castings. The HMRS sheet does have yellow letters, but not enough for my purposes, so as an experiment I used white letters and coloured them afterwards with a yellow marker. I wouldn’t really recommend this – it works OK at first but you have to be very careful with the subsequent varnishing or it will take the colour right off. I’m not entirely happy with the lettering, but life is short.





Done. The chain in the middle is a rough indication of the chains and skids used for locking and braking the wheels when parked.






I do like the ‘osses. I was going to call them "the Finching Sisters" in honour of the two lovely ladies on Robin's Brent layout. Then I realized they were male.





In position in one of the cartage bays. Although one or two details don't stand close inspection on this vehicle, I am reasonably satisfied with the overall outline and feel of it.






The wagon seen from inside the depot. Not sure what to add in terms of load. It is tempting to do one of the sky-high loads seen in some photos (eg here), but I think it might become visually over-powering on this vehicle. Maybe on the next one.





Off-topic: Looks like a leftover from the new year decorations has found it’s way into the goods depot. Happy New Year everyone!


Notes on the prototype

For what it’s worth, I’ve added here some of my own notes on these vehicles. Note that they are mainly based on my own observations from photos and drawings. I do have "Great Western Road Vehicles" by P. Kelley, but despite some useful illustrations, this book does not really go into much written detail on the horse-drawn wagons. Perhaps "Great Western Horse Power" by Janet Russell is better, and worth a purchase?



These wagons were used for standard and heavy goods cartage. There were different types built to this style, some with six “bays”, some with five. Some were built for a single horse, some for two or more. The tare and tonnage varied considerably across the different designs. They had the “Paddington pattern” of seat arrangement, where the seat was elevated above the wagon. Hoops could be fitted to accommodate sheeting. A light version of the same design was used for parcels delivery vans, with hard tops.



The wagons were especially prominent at Paddington, where photos suggest they were the all-dominant type in the 1900s. However they were also used elsewhere on the system (even as far as Cardiff, according to one drawing). In some areas they seem to have been rare though, eg at Birmingham Hockley the dominant goods delivery wagon was of a quite different design. A photo from Slough in the 1920s shows the type I have modelled alongside one of the Birmingham style vehicles, so the different types did appear together at some locations.



In Great Western Way (original edition), Slinn states that by the 1900s, station names were applied to larger horse-drawn vehicles whenever there was room for it (as seen on my model above). I have a theory, though, that this practice ended sometime after 1905 or thereabouts: Looking at photos after that date, station names are no longer present, and the “Great Western Railway” and numbering is all on one plank.


Slinn also states that numbering was in random positions, but as far as I can see the numbers on these vehicles were always at the front end of the wagon. Perhaps Slinn missed the fact that the relative position of the lettering and numbers was necessarily “handed”, because we read from left to right (ie on the left hand side, it would be written “667 Great Western Railway” and on the right hand side, it would be “Great Western Railway 667”).


According to Slinn, the lettering for horse-drawn vehicles in the 1900s was yellow or gold, shaded or not. I doubt gold would have been used for wagons like these, and there is no apparent shading in the photos I have seen. So presumably plain yellow (but the shade of yellow not clear?). I have sometimes wondered whether the lettering was in fact white on some wagons, because it stands out with very high contrast in some photos. However, looking at photos of parcels vans (which are known to have had white letters on their hard tops) it seems that the letters on wagons were darker than white, so presumably yellow. Later in the 1930s, horse-drawn vehicles adopted a different chocolate and cream livery and a different lettering style.


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Hi again Dave, that sounds promising. How about a blog update to show the points and double slip, with your standards they'll be works of art I'm sure!

I'm not sure about the "works of art" description, I'll be happy as long as the stock doesn't fall off them! I'll take a few pictures though and post something up in the blog.


P.S I really enjoyed the shunting horse footage, what a lovely bit of film.



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Superb work Mikkel. Mind you a bit of deft work with that scalpel and the hroses could have been ladies or Geldings. For what little knowledge I have Shires were preferred for Dray horses and the like being big they were suited to heavy loads. Others like the Suffolk Punch were smaller although very strong and seem to have been a popular choice for agricultural work. I seem to remember a photo of a GW Horse in  Adrian Vaughan's signalmans morning but cannot remember if the breed was specified. Cannot get to my books to look at the moment.



Thankyou Don, I cringe at the thought of that scalpel work! :-)


Dart have a Suffolk punch in their range, although the pose it is modelled in is perhaps not so useful: http://www.dartcastings.co.uk/dart/A18.php


Then they have two "trade horses", which seem to be a bit smaller, but in harness. I was thinking of using one of these for a light trolley I am currently building. http://www.dartcastings.co.uk/dart/A14.php

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I'm not sure about the "works of art" description, I'll be happy as long as the stock doesn't fall off them! I'll take a few pictures though and post something up in the blog.


P.S I really enjoyed the shunting horse footage, what a lovely bit of film.




Sounds good Dave, I look forward to seeing them.

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Janet Russell has a section about shunting horses in her book.  She records that, by the late 1880s, 115 horses were owned by the Company for shunting purposes.  Apparently, they were often well-muscled geldings standing about 16 hands high [5' 4" at the withers]  Looks like you need to use that scalpel, Mikkel :)


She also relates a story about 'Jack', the shunting horse at Banbury: "Having watched an express train go through, the horse got down onto the line to await the regular slip coach.  To the horror of waiting passengers and staff, a second relief train approached at speed.  'Jack' leapt back onto the platform with the agility and grace of a young colt and so avoided a nasty accident!"

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What a nice story Mike! It's especially fascinating if the horse really knew on its own when to get onto the line and ready for work - but then again it clearly didn't get the timing quite right!


Very good info about the height and castration of the shunting horses - thanks. I have a horse shunting cameo in mind for my next layout, so will make sure to get it right there. 

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Horses are pretty clever two instances from my family illustrate this. During the depression my Gradfather got a job driving a cart and four after lying about his experience. He said he was very lucky the lead horse new the route and the regular stops he felt almost redundant.

Earlier my Great Grandfather had been a milkman and also liked a pint. He had to have a day off for a funeral the foreman covered the round once complete the horse stopped at a pub and wouldn't go until one of the regulars gave him a pint of mild. End of job for Great Grandad.


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Priceless stories, Don! made me laugh out loud. Although I'm sorry your Granddad lost the job!


I'm just re-reading "The Didcot Newbury & Southampton Railway" by Karau, Pasons & Robertson. It seems that at Compton station the shunting horse was hired in, ie not the GWR's own horse. Apparently it lived in a shed in the station masters garden, and was fed leftovers from the horseboxes.


At another station on the DNSR the porter had a pet goat which fed on the grass along the line.  

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A friend of mine had a Shire for use on his small holding.  There was not enough land to warrent it but he wanted a horse.  It was 19 hands high. Yes, 6ft 4", or about 195 cm and was trained as a dray so did everything at the trot and so was not really any use for agriculteral work.  My friend sold him.  The horse's name is Joseph and may still be on the Shire horse show circuit.


He replaced the Shire with a Percheron which is about the size of the Langley horses compared to the Dart ones.  Very clever horse, and understood about 20 or so commands.


It is most likely that Shires were used as Percherons did not cross the channel really until the 20th century. (Wikipeadia is a wonderful thing!)


The model looks good.  I will have to dig mine out and see if it compares, (Don't be stupid, of course it won't!)  Very interesting information as well.


Finally, only just caught up. I should be getting email alerts but they appear not to be alerting me.

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Hello Chris, thanks for that info. 195 cms! What a lot of power it must have had. I've just read up on the Percherons after you mentioned them. They look like beautiful horses. But I suppose they would, being French :-)


I'm actually having a bit of trouble with the Shire horses now, because they dwarf every other horse in sight on the layout! It's not that the scale is wrong, it's just looks like that. Just as many trees would look unrealistic if we modelled them full size, because we don't expect them to be so high. Maybe I'll just have to use shire horses for *all* my horse drawn vehicles then, to avoid the big difference with smaller horses!


It would be good to see your model. I don't think I've ever seen any other models of this built up. 

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