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GWR Route: Banbury to Wolverhampton

Solihull Station: gwrs271a

Close up view showing the  numerous coal wagons which originated from many sources in Solihull's goods yard

Close up of image 'gwrs271' showing the numerous coal wagons which originated from many sources in Solihull's goods yard. Many of the wagons have their doors opened indicating that the local coal merchants are off-loading the coal directly into sacks to be placed on horse-drawn vehicles. The coal merchants would carry scales to weigh the sacks as they were filled. Many of the wagons are Private Owner (PO) vehicles with at least one being based in Solihull whilst two are owned by the LMS and GWR. Wagons only earned their keep when they carried goods so when they returned empty this was very costly. Various efforts were made to try to minimise wasted journeys such as pooling wagons for 'common' use but whilst the common user initiative was successful for the railway companies it wasn't for private owners. The GWR did not like common user arrangements because they considered that their's were built to a higher standard (e.g. all open wagons had sheet supporters).

Robert Ferris writes 'Below is a summary of the Common User Agreements up to the start of WW2:
13/12/1915 - GCR, GER and GNR - open wagons (unfitted), three plank and upwards
2/4/1916 - GWR, LYR, LNWR, MR and NER - open wagons (unfitted), three planks and upwards
5/6/1916 - Scottish Companies - certain open wagons (unfitted)
2/1/1917 - All British Companies - open wagons (unfitted), three plank and upwards
14/2/1917 - All British Companies - sheets
1/8/1917 - All British Companies - ropes (ended 1st August 1921)
2/4/1918 - Extended to other types of open wagons - principally Scottish Companies 'end door' types
3/6/1919 - All British Companies - Covered Vans (unfitted)
1/3/1922 - Certain Companies - four wheel single and bogie bolster wagons
11/8/1925 - All Companies (except GWR) - cattle wagons (fitted and unfitted)
4/2/1926 - All companies - end door mineral wagons of 12 tons and under
31/5/1927 - GWR - four wheel single bolster and cattle wagons 24/7/1927 - All companies - pig iron wagons of 20 tons and under plus end door mineral wagons of over 12 tons and up to 20 tons 31/12/1927 - GWR - Cattle wagons withdrawn
14/5/1929 - LNER and SR - double bolster (between these two companies only)
1/9/1933 - LNER,LMS,Met and SR - cattle wagons with fitted auto-brake withdrawn
9/10/1936 - LNER, LMS and Met - Open wagons with fitted vacuum brake
9/10/1936 - LNER, LMS, SR and Met - Covered wagons with fitted vacuum brake

According to Phillip Bagwell's 'The Railway Clearing House', in October 1848 Braithwaite Poole of the RCH secured agreement to the following resolution ' That it is highly expedient to discountenance the practise of returning wagons empty because it involves an unprofitable use of locomotive power and opens a door to unfair dealing in those cases in which wagons may be returned in either of two ways, and that each member be requested to give the subject his attentive consideration with a view to providing such a remedy as will prevent the present waste of locomotive power and ensure to the companies a fair remuneration for the use of their wagons.'

It was however only when there was an acute shortage of wagons during the first world war that things happened. Following the common user arrangements of 1915/17 some 300,000 wagons of the twelve principle railway companies were in the pool and this was considered a success. In 1913, 61% of railway company wagons were running empty and in 1919 this had been reduced to 20%. Savings were estimated £470,000 per annum and when the railway companies were returned to private ownership they decided to keep the common user scheme.

Also during the war, on 26th April 1916, Sam Fay and Walter Bailey reported to the RCH that they considered the common working of privately owned wagons was a feasible proposition. This was not to be and although there was a small scheme on the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, the best that could be done was the hire by the RCH of 10,000 PO wagons. The PO wagon population at this time was estimated at between 600,000 and 750,000, so this was not considered a success.

In 1925, The Samuel Commission found that there was excessive waste in the movement of PO coal wagons when compared with other European countries and concluded that demurrage charges should be increased, but colliery owners and coal merchants were a powerful lobby group and the result was a few regional coal wagon pools. These appear to be administrated by local interests and not the RCH. Only on the outbreak of the second world war when all non-specialist PO wagons were requisitioned by the Government was there a real PO common usage scheme.

As an aside there were attempts to reduce railway company costs in dealing with PO wagons: - The yellow double 'C' motif introduced in 1926 stood for Commuted Charge and indicated that the PO wagon owner had paid an annual levy (1 Shilling per wagon) to cover the cost of shunting and siding storage. - The yellow five pointed star positioned adjacent to the double C was introduced in 1933 and indicated that the PO wagon owner had paid a standard charge for this wagon to be returned to its parent colliery. These bulk payment arrangements reduced the amount of bookkeeping at the individual stations (and can provide a useful dating tool for historians).'

A Commentary on the wagons seen at Solihull by Keith Turton

This image taken between the wars at Solihull shows a rake of coal wagons in what is undoubtedly a siding devoted to inwards coal traffic. That only the wagons can be seen suggests that the image was taken on a Sunday, when no unloading would have taken place. Several of the wagons have been partly unloaded and their doors left open, an open invitation to thieves. However, the open situation could have been a deterrent.

Many of the wagons can be identified, although the running numbers are not always clear. from right to left:

  • Kingsbury Colliery. This appears to be one of the wagons which formed the basis of the Kingsbury fleet, transferred from the Hockley Hall Colliery when its operartions was the foundation of Kingsbury Collieries.
  • Thomas Hood Truelove and Sons of Knowle and Solihull no.7. Truelove operated a small fleet of wagons, of which ten were registered with the Great Western Railway between 1897 and 1909: No's 10 to 16 were built by the Birmingham RC&WCo, No.25 by S.J. Claye Ltd. and no's17 and19 by Thomas Hunter. No. 7 is not included, either it was registered elsewhere or purchased second-hand. A much later recorded Truelove wagon no. 233 arrived in 1924, built by Wright of Nottingham.
  • Arley Colliery, one of the first batch delivered by the Gloucester RC&WCo. in 1913.
  • East Cannock Colliery, from Wednesbury in the Cannock Chase coalfield.. This would have arrived on the GWR and commenced its journey on the L&NWR in a trip run to Bescot yard and reached the GWR via Bordesley.
  • Great Western Railway, showing that railway company-owned wagons were often pressed into service carrying coal.
  • Possibly Smithurst. That the door is down precludes positive identification but the letters SMI....RST are clearly identifiable. The only known wagon owner with this name was based at Ruabon in north Wales, and it's presence is a mystery. One explanation is that it could have been carrying gas coal for the local gasworks, several other gasworks in the general area purchased coal from north Wales collieries and the direct route via the GWR was very handy. A gasworks was in operation in Solihull at the time, but no re cords of its existence have survived.
  • An LMS 5-plank open wagon with its doors closed.
  • AR Banks of West Bromwich. This appears to be one of a 1927 order built by the Birmingham RC&WCo. They were beautifully turned out in a light grey colour with white lettering shaded black and most ironwork black.
  • The remaining wagons cannot be identified.

What is most surprising is the tidiness of the siding. The photograph was enlarged from a section of image GWR271 and if taken in a normal working week would have included a hive of activity, horse, carts, lorries, coalmen and coal scattered on the ground. The open doors are also an indication to shunters and other railwaymen that the wagon has not been completely unloaded. Remarkably there is no beris (beris horse bits are anatomically designed to fit the horse's mouth as part of a harness - Ed) or rubbish in sight. The circumstance of the image prove that it as not definitely staged for the occasion.

From my own well-remembered childhood observations at the land sale sidings of the Blidworth Colliery in Nottinghamshire doors were also left open when the wagon was empty, telling the daily shunt that they were ready for removal, Consequently, when a loaded wagon was broached, the coalmen started at the head of the siding to minimise shunting movements. A maximum of three wagons were worked at any one time. Despite the war time coal shortage, there was little theft.

'Hansard' October 7th 1942

'coal stacking at Solihull. List of merchants trading at Solihull who had authority to stack coal within the station yard: Gerge Harwood, F.Foster & Co, Proctor and Lavender, Evesons(Coals) Ltd, J.A. Burton & Son, R.W. Proctor,, J.F. Fryer, W.H. Gray, T. H. Truelove & Sons.