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Leamington Priors Gasworks

An article by Keith Turton in HMRS Journal, Volume 17 No 11

The Warwickshire spa town of Leamington Spa was, in the nineteenth century, a smaller version in elegance, style and architectural grace of Bath or Cheltenham. Its less attractive aspect was, like so many other towns around it exposed to the Grand Union Canal, where the town's industry congregated in the earlier days, long before the Great Western Railway' made an appearance.

Included in the less savoury industries on the canal bank was die gasworks of the Leamington Priors Gas Company, located similarly to those of the entire Black Country and beyond from Coventry to Wolverhampton. Transport of coal by canal from the time that the gasworks were built in the 1830s is unproven but the lack of collieries producing gas coal dial were connected to the canal network suggests a situation similar to that of Birmingham, where all coal deliveries were made by rail as early as 1 862 and long before railway sidings were laid into the gasworks themselves. The canals still saw extensive traffic in the form of coke and by-products until at least the Second World War and possibly after. In the case of Leamington all coal was delivered to the Great Western Goods Station regardless of its origin and transported the quarter-mile to the gasworks by road, first by horse-drawn cans, then behind traction engines and finally lorries. No siding was ever extended into the gasworks itself.

The Company purchased five 8 ton railway wagons from Thomas Hunter of Rugby in the early 1890s, followed by six unusual vehicles from the Gloucester RC&WGo in 1897. These were 10 ton capacity seven-plank wagons with cup- board style full height doors which may have been unique and would have been greatly appreciated by those who had to unload them by hand, as the present author, who can still remember how hard it was to shovel coal out of a standard seven- plank wagon either through the side door or over the wagon top, will testify.

At the time these wagons were delivered the gasworks was consuming, by annual contract, 16,000 tons of coal a year, in round figures over 2,000 wagon loads or between 40 and 50 wagon loads a week. Table 1 gives some indication of where the coal originated through contracts awarded in 1897.

Contractor Tonnage Colliery of Origin
Wilson, Carter & Pearson, Birmingham 1,000 Hoyland, Silkstone (Bamsley)
Evesons Ltd, Birmingham 2,000 Aldwarke Main, (Rothcrham
Ruabon Coal Co 1,000 Ruabon (North Wales)
J & G Wells, Chesterfield 4,000 Eckington, (Chesterfield)
E Foster & Co, London 1,000 Apedale (North Staffordshire)
Broughton & Plas Power Collieries 2,000 Broughton (North wales)
J Hackett & Co, Warwick 1,000 Wombwell Main (Barnsley)
Grassmore Colliery Co, Chesterfield 2,000 Grassmore (Chesterfield)
Hucknall Colliery Co, Nottingham 2,000 Hucknall (Nottingham)

Of these sources, Ruabon and Broughton were on the Great Western Railway and would be transported by that company all die way from colliery to gasworks. Possible routes for the remainder are: Apedale via the London and North Western Railway to Coventry and then via the LNWR branch to Leamington via Kenilworth Junction; all the rest were on the Midland Railway which in all probability would have trans- ported the coal lo Birmingham and handed it over to the GWR at Bordesley Street. However with the opening of the Great Central Railway's London Extension it is obvious that some coal from the Yorkshire and Derbyshire collieries which were also served by the GCR was being; forwarded by that company to Woodford and then via Banbury to Leamington. Regular payments to the GCR for cartage have been noted as early as August 1904 and these were consistent.

The meagre fleet of the gasworks would have carried only a small proportion of its requirements, at least 80 more wagons would be required to carry it all. therefore the shortfall would have been made up with wagons owned by the collieries, railway companies and coal factors. At any one time there would have been up to ten wagons unloading, in addition to all of the coal required at Leamington, for all other purposes. Other wagons loaded for the gasworks which would have been seen in Leamington carrying coal purchased on the spot market were from Brynkinalt Colliery, Chirk; New Hemsworth, Glasshoughton and Aldwarke Main in York- shire; Stanton in Nottinghamshire, Staveley from Derbyshire; ancl from North Staffordshire, Talk o' the Hill, Madeley and Birchenwood.

Moving on now to the 1930s, the Gas Company had purchased a further fleet of 20 standard eight-plank wagons with a much bolder livery, a drawing copied from A G Thomas's Modellers' Sketchbook Private Owner Wagons shows the body colour of red to have been retained with 'Royal Leamington Spa' diagonally across the wagon body between two broad bands and the words 'Leamington Priors' on the top plank left hand side and 'Gas Company' on the bottom right hand plank.

By 1933 coal contracts had reduced to 15,000 tons annually as shown in Table 2. The GWR no longer carried coal exclu- sively from pit to gasworks and die LMS had the lions' share of the traffic, although Birley, Waleswood and Old Silkstone were all on the LNER and it is presumed that this traffic was still worked through Banbury. During this period the Gas Company's wagons would have been seen on the GVVR only between Leamington and Banbury, travelling to the collieries listed in Table 2, and the tonnage contracted called for at least another 60 wagons which would have been obtained as described earlier.

Of other coal merchants in Leamington, one major supplier to the town was J and N Nadin who owned their own colliery near Swadlincote, Derbyshire. However, that Company sold much of its retail coal business to Sheppard and Co in the 1930s, including its Leamington operation.

Leamington Priors Gas Co wagon No 10 which was one of six wagons purchased from  the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co in 1897
Ref: gwrls3976
Gloucester RC&WCo
Leamington Priors Gas Co wagon No 10, one of six purchased from the Gloucester RC&WCo in 1897
Wagon No 13 built by the Gloucester RC&WCo in 1901 and lettered for the then Industrial Co-operative Society
Ref: gwrls3975
AG Thomas
Schematic of Leamington Priors Gas Company's Wagon No 24, one of 20 standard eight-plank wagons
Leamington Priors Gas Company wagon No 22, from the same batch of twelve wagons, purchased second-hand from one F Harding
Ref: gwrls3974
Leamington Priors Gas Co wagon No 22, from the same batch of twelve wagons, purchased second-hand

Additional Information

Keith's letter in HMRS Journal, Volume 18 No 4

Further to my previous article about coal traffic to the Leamington Spa gasworks, in which I included a reproduction of a drawing by AG Thomas of the gasworks wagon No 24. I have since located a photograph of another wagon which appears to be from the same batch of twelve' wagons, purchased second-hand in 1916 from one F Harding.

These were built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company of Smethwick. Based on the existing wagons owned by the gasworks, they would have been numbered 17 to 28.

The photograph was taken at Toton in 1939 and was computer enhanced from a very small image to highlight the white lettering. However, the wagon number was left untouched, so assuming that the wagon body was painted red as were the earlier wagons, the words 'Royal Leamington Spa' diagonally across the wagon body appear to have been painted a different colour, possibly yellow.

Unless newer wagons bought in the 1930s were given recycled numbers, it appears that the original information taken from Thomas's published drawings was incorrect, that is unless the number borne is from a previous wagon.

Update December 2019

Additional to my letter reproduced in the HMRS Journal, Volume 18 No 4, since this was written in 2002 further information has surfaced to warrant an update. as does my caption to the Leamington Priors Gas Company wagon in my notes (see under Misc) some details warranted updating as below.

The first wagons operated by the company were five built by the small Rugby maker Thomas Hunter. It is assumed that they were numbered 1 to 5. There is no evidence of numbers 6 to 9. A further six wagons numbered 10 to 15 (as illustrated) were supplied by the Gloucester RC&WCo in 1897 and registered with the Great Western Railway (no's 30459-30464) These wagons were painted red with white letters shaded black. Most unusually they were of seven plank construction with full height folding side doors. Normally a seven plank wagon has a four or five plank drop side door and the upper planks are the full length of the wagon. The stability of this unique design is questionable.

In 1907 the maintenance of the then sixteen strong wagon fleet was transferred from the Gloucester company to the Rugby wagon works of Thomas Hunter. At that time only fifteen wagons were known, where did the other one come from?

In 1916 a batch of twelve wagons built by the Birmingham RC&WCo was purchased second hand from one F. Harding.(I have been unable to trace who Harding was) It has to be assumed that they were numbered 17 to 28. A photograph exists of no. 22 which exhibits a totally different and very pleasing livery with 'Leamington Priors- on the top plank to the left and 'Gas Company' to the right of a broad contrasting diagonal band lettered 'Royal Leamington Spa' The body colour of these wagons is suggested as red also with white lettering. The lettering in the diagonal panel and the stripes which border it appears to be yellow. A drawing "off the wagon side" published by the late A. G. Thomas records that wagon no 21 bore a similar lettering style but all of the lettering was white and the diagonal band was the same colour red as the wagon body.

Incidentally it should not be taken for granted that gaps in a number sequence relate to unrecorded railway wagons. When identifying the fleet of one Yorkshire wagon owner, I found that the missing numbers had been allocated to other wheeled vehicles, horse-drawn carts, traction engines and steam lorries!

Contracts for the supply of coal were spread over four different mining districts. In 1897 the following were recorded:

Wilson Carter & Pearson (B'ham) 1,000 tons Hoyland Silkstone (Yorkshire)
Evesons Ltd, Birmingham 2,000 tons Aldwarke Main, (Yorkshire)
Ruabon Coal Co. 1,000 tons Ruabon (North Wales)
J.& G. Wells, Chesterfield 4,000 tons Eckington (Derbyshire)
E. Foster & Co, London 1,000 tons Apedale (North Staffordshire)
Hackett and Co. Birmingham 1,000 tons Wombwell Main (Yorkshire)
Grassmoor Colliery 2,000 tons Grassmoor (Derbyshire)
Hucknall Colliery 2,000 tons Hucknall (cannel coal) (Notts)

In the 1920's coal consumption averaged 27,000 tons per annum with regular spot purchases additionally, mostly from Staffordshire and North Wales collieries but also from more distance sources such as the Shaw Cross Colliery near Dewsbury in Yorkshire. Coal consumption in the 1930's rose as high as 27,263 tons in 1938.

The records of the Warwickshire quarrymasters and cement manufacturers Charles Nelson show that coke from the Leamington gasworks was supplied regularly and delivered by canal.

Keith Turton