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Ex-GCR C4 No 6091 is captured near Sudbury & Harrow Road with the down Dorrington Milk, on this occasion a single 6w milk tank with the guard riding in a cascaded ex-ECJS 56'6" BG. The GC Section received a lot of them between 1935-38 and half were York-built with the distinctive ex-NER ducket as seen here.

At the time, the loco, in lined black livery, changed many times between Woodford and Neasden but it was the latter shed which usually worked this train, usually with 2-3 tanks. It's a winter's view, when less milk was produced, hence the lighter load. Photo: Lens of Sutton (repaired).

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The forgotten design... introduced by Gresley for the GNR and ECJS after he had taken over from Howlden in 1905 and precursor of the 61'6" designs. The final ones were built in 1922 and they lasted through LNER days and quite late in BR days too. The preceding design had been a clerestory only 46'6" long (see link below), Gresley's design was a quantum leap forward, its salient features being:

- elliptical, domed-end roof with skylights
- body with no toplights and sliding "plug" doors
- ducket, mostly the Howlden type, some with the NER design
- Fox 8ft bogies.

Useful sources in the public domain are:

The Illustrated History of East Coast Joint Stock, Ken Hoole, 1993, OPC.
Great Northern and East Coast Joint Stock Carriages from 1905, Michael Harris, 1995, Oakwood Press.
Plans of East Coast Joint Stock, David Williamson, NER Association, 2017*. Showing the Diagrams.
GNR Carriage Diagram Book, Terry Henderson, GNRS Archive, Disk 04, 2011.

* Note new edition, with 19 new Diagrams and some corrections. See Useful Links.

All of the above are highly recommended and labours of love by the authors for the picture is complex, partly because ECJS carriages were built by its members, the GNR, NER and NBR, at Doncaster, York and Cowlairs, respectively, plus the ones built for the GNR. There were also some GN&NE Joint Stock vans. A useful shorthand is to precede the Diagram numbers - which were retained by the LNER - by "EC", "GN" and "JS" and as far as I can tell, the complete list of 56'6" types was:

EC.34A, 35, 38, 39, 39A, 39B, 39C, 39E.
JS.13, 18
GN.286, 287, 308

David Williamson who produces the NERA publication advises that the typo I referred to re EC.39A (1910) being mis-titled as "39B" has been corrected in the latest edition (2017) - see above, and that there is now a complete set of Diagrams for these EC BGs. Also, he has found a note in Ken Hoole's book on p.135 against EC.39A which states "originally Dgm.39B" which is inexplicable. They differed with 39A having narrow panels and 39B, wide ones. David now has several issues of the Diagram book and is unable to explain this note, which may have arisen via a typo somewhere in the system.

Below, are two specimen Diagrams, beginning with an EC.35 built by Cowlairs, which I have chosen because it is a little more detailed compared with other Diagrams.

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This is based on the Diagram in the NERA publication (and is hence of medium resolution) to EC.35 and shows all the aforementioned features of the type. Source: Plans of East Coast Joint Stock, David Williamson.

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The GNR equivalent, again based on a published source, shows how the outline was identical. Note the annotation referring to later removal of the Howlden-style duckets. Source: GNR Carriage Diagram Book, Terry Henderson.

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There were other variations, in the trussing, for example (all turnbuckle with conventional truss posts, or the York style. Some of the duckets were changed. And while gas lighting was provided initially, electric lighting was applied later. I hasten to add that this is a work in progress, and that I have always felt guilty for not having built a model of the type, for it was exceedingly numerous. I already have 12 pictures of them in LNER and BR days. The good news is that Rupert Brown (RDEB Models) is preparing an etched kit.

Meanwhile, I am going to open an illustrated file of pictures to hand which will grow as things progress. The portraits are easy to caption but in train pictures, precise origins are impossible to identify which, thankfully, is a blessing for modellers and, as the song Little Boxes went, "they all look just the same". :)

Different bodies

There were three areas where differences stood out:

Duckets - the Doncaster Howlden ducket was used a great deal for the 56'6" bogie vans, for the ECJS and GNR fleets. The exceptions as far as I can tell, where the more elegant York-style ducket was fitted was with:

EC.34A - 1910 - York (3)
EC.39B - 1914 - York (6) and Doncaster (6)
EC.39B - 1916 - York (1)

The main difference between EC.34 and EC.39B was in the trussing - with the earlier Diagram having the distinctive York style with deeper and wider trussposts.

Here are examples of both types of ducket:

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A 56'6" BG originally built by the GNR in 1914 to GN.308 and in LNER days on the GN Section carried the number 441, is seen on 24.8.57 at Stratford with the late BR version, E441E. This is a wide panel version - both types were built and are easily recognised on static and most of the train views. The original gas lighting had been replaced by electric lighting. Photo: H.C. Casserley.

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A fine example of an EC.39B van built in 1914 at York and seen at Stratford in 1957. The trussing is conventional but the guard's ducket is the classic NER York style. Again, electric lighting had replaced the original gas lighting. Between 1935-37 eleven vans from various EC Diagrams were cascaded to the GC Section, including this one, which was renumbered 5266 and in BR days eventually became E5266E. It has just been serviced and the Fox bogies are freshly painted. Now 43 years old, there was plenty of life left in it. I have lightened the underframe to show the separate battery boxes (one appears to be on the far side) and dynamo on this side. Photo: Denis Seabrook, LNERS.

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Upper panelling - another variation was between normal or narrow panels, Doncaster occasionally using the latter, Cowlairs as well. The normal (wide) version was most common but, by chance, both Diagrams shown above had the narrower panels. Click for full size image in a pop-up window. Use 'X' to close

An enlargement from a train picture. Immediately ahead of the carriages is what looks like a freshly built (or recently shopped) 56'6" BG to GN.287, same as the Diagram shown above. The fittings show very well, and as-built, no destination board racks on the roof. The number is partly legible and appears to be 980, built in 1908 with narrow panels above the waist.

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Roof destination board racks - most variations were seen in the early days with no racks, one, two, or three. I cannot find a pattern except that in LNER day racks of one kind or another became the norm. All versions can be seen in the photos.

In service

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GNR large Atlantic (LNER C1) No 1433 is near Potters Bar with a GNML or ECML express. Behind the loco is an NER horse box, which may have been added at York or Doncaster and, in the enlargement below, you can see by the white label in the middle of the drop flap that it's loaded.

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Built without destination board racks on the roof, here is one still in that condition in 1923, behind C1 No 251 with an Up express near Brayton Junction, near Selby. Standing high in the sky is an NER slotted post, lower quadrant home signal. Photo: LGRP.

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On the what appears to have been the same day, the sun shines on C1 No 286 with another Up express near Brayton Junction. This 56'6" BG has been fitted with a single destination board holder. Photo: LGRP.

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Train pictures showing the ECJS BG built with the York-style ducket are not so common but here's a classic from around 1924. A1 No 2548 Galtee More is near New Southgate. Behind the tender is an ECJS 56'6" BG to EC.39B.

A common hazard is faulty captions, even those penned by the photographer on the back of the print which, in this case, describes the train as the "Down Flying Scotsman". I'm not so sure. It was before a headboard was carried, so no clue there, but the formation isn't right, there's no destination board on the roof - and the sun is to the west of of the train, when it should have been on the other side.

Using a solar calculator I would say that this was the KX 1.15pm Scotch express. Photo: F.E. Mackay.

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This image has been doctored for publication with finely drawn black and white lines to raise the contrast. No date but it can be placed as 1924-25 when A1 No 2543 was built but not yet named. It became Melton and was captured passing Hadley Wood.

The BG behind the tender would have been a Doncaster-built 56'6" one from the ECJS fleet.

Like the picture above with Galtee More in charge, the pencilled caption of "Down Flying Scotsman" is suspect and this too looks like the KX 1.15pm Scotch express. Miscaptioning of train photographs has always been a problem and I'm wondering if photographers deliberately chose the name of the LNER's most prestigious train to enhance the chances of publication, knowing that an editor could be fooled? Photo: Real Photographs.

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New addition - A new find which shows ex-NER C7 "Atlantic" No 733 at Reston (near Berwick) in 1929 with a heavy express and, behind the tender, a BG to EC.39B with the elegant York-style ducket. The rest of the train is quite blurred and I'm not sure what the next carriage is (possibly an empty EC sleeping car)? In the distance, three white roofs can be seen belonging to an LNER Restaurant Triplet Set. Photo: LGRP.

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A1 No. 2562 Isinglass in the mid- to late-1930s rounds the curve at Marshmoor near Hatfield with a fairly high quality Up express of recently built Gresley 61'6" carriages on steel angle trussing. A 1st Class carriage (FK) is leading, followed by a 1st Restaurant Car (RF), the rest alas obscured by the exhaust. Behind the tender, however, is a 56'6" BG still in top flight service. Photo: Photomatic.

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Cascading and distribution of types

The mixture of types described above was built for the principal expresses on the ECML and GNML but during the late 1920s and 1930s, as the ECJS and JS 56'6" BGs were replaced by newer, 61'6" designs, cascading spread them around into general service on several Sections:

GC Section 15
GN Section 11
GE Section   8
NB Section   5

It's not generally realised that by cascading stock like this fewer brand new 61'6" BGs had to be built for the Sections. Besides, the GN Section already had a large number of its own 56'6" vans - 34, in fact. It rose to 46.

I've said it before but the all-Gresley-carriages scene on so many layouts was never true - by 1939 half of the LNER's carriage fleet was still made up of pre-Grouping stock and these 56'6" BGs were a significant part of it. Service as luggage vans with expresses remained until early BR days, but the trend was already towards use in parcels service running with secondary passenger and parcels trains.

A good example of the actual distribution of the 56'6" BGs can be seen by looking at the GN Section, which covered the GNML, West Riding and several secondary lines.

At the Grouping in 1923 this Section had, and continued to use, a large fleet of 6w and non-ganywayed bogie vans but if we look only at the gangwayed ones, and the additions made by the LNER of teak-panelled vans, here is the picture for the 1930s:


ex-GNR clere













LNER D.113


This illustrates that even by the late 1930s, LNER construction of 61'6" BGs for the GN Section only accounted for a quarter of the fleet. Three-quarters was still of pre-Grouping origin and the 56'6" type was the dominant one.

Why don't we see this? After all, the numbers are in the public domain and so are many photographs. By WWII the LNER fleet was still 50% pre-Grouping carriages - but most books, kit makers and RTR manufacturers only "see" LNER construction.

There have been really good GNR-period layouts, based on kits from D&S, for example. But for the LNER period the pre-Grouping inheritance tends to be under-played or is completely missing. It's also true for the BR period because pre-Grouping carriages, especially NPCS, carried on into the 1950s.

RTR manufacturers will never produce pre-Grouping designs because of the skewed perceptions and today, and for the foreseeable future, the gap - and it is a HUGE gap - is being filled by a small number of kitmakers and suppliers of parts. Good news is that Rupert Brown (RDEB Models) is working on the 56'6" BG. :)

More about general service in the Sections

The GN Section

As described above, the 56'6" BG was native to the GN Section and was added to later by cascading similar vehicles from the ECJS and GN&NE JS fleets which broke down as follows:



COW 1906

4021, 4031, 4180



DON 1906

4037, 4039, 4044, 4075



DON 1910




DON 1910




DON 1907




DON 1912


The photographs above include service on the GN Section and I can add some more info, beginning with attachment as a luggage brake with an express passenger train:

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A1 No 2547 Doncaster is seen on the last leg of the Up "Scarborough Flier" (as it was spelled at the time). The corridor tender places the date between 4/28 and 7/33. This was a GN Section express normally rostered for a 3rd Brake at this end and, in its absence, it would have been replaced by a TK and BG, both from the GN Section's fleet. In this case it's a 56'6" BG, confirmed by the 3-digit number, possibly 43x. Photo: Author's collection.

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Use of these BGs in parcels service was part of the work they were built for and they were rostered in two ways. Most visible was the GN Section's use of secondary passenger trains to carry the vans and King's Cross-Leeds/Leeds-King's Cross trains were much used, as this example shows, headed by A4 No 4490 Empire of India in the late 1930s. The train had been modernised by a gangwayed "steel quintuple set" and on the rear there are five bogie vans, three of which are 56'6" BGs. They also served as through van and were rostered in the overnight parcels service, of which there are of course no pictures; the Carriage Working books show them well, though. Photo: Photomatic.

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It's a cold 26th of February 1948, the first year of the BR era, and also seen near Potters Bar is A3 No 107 Royal Lancer, with the Up "Yorkshire Pullman". This was a GN Section working and the 3-digit number on the 56'6" BG indicates a van built for the GNR and still working on the GN Section. Photo: D.A. Dant.

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The GC Section

A look at the vans owned by the GC Section is helpful because at the Grouping it contained, as elsewhere, the usual assortment of elderly vans, many quite short and, unusually, bogie fish vans converted to general service. There was room for improvement and three GCR-design matchboard BGs were built in 1923, followed during the 1920s and '30s by several batches of LNER 61'6" BGs.

However, for a two and a half year spell between 1935-38, this was all but halted and, instead, 15 former ECJS 56'6" BGs were cascaded to the GC Section. This was the largest cascade of these BGs from the ECJS fleet and it was carried out gradually as it received new 61'6" BGs. Hence by the late 1930's the GC Section's BGs comprised:

  3  ex-GCR   56' matchboard
24  LNER       61'6"
15  ex-ECJS   56'6"

In short, the GC Section's fleet of BGs ended up with just over a third (36%) of the 56'6" type. They broke down as follows, along with the GC Section's renumbering:

6  EC.39B  DON 1914   5250-54/61
5  EC.39B  YOR 1914   5262-66
3  EC.39C  YOR 1921   5215/58/69
1  EC.39C  DON 1922   5267

As can be seen, they divided almost equally between Doncaster construction with the Howlden ducket, and from York with the NER-style ducket. There's a good picture (see above) of one of the York-built examples in the late 1950s, No E5266E, at Stratford. It isn't known if some of these vans had been sent to work in East Anglia or, more likely, this was just an example of common user wandering in BR days.

Coming back to the 1930's, however, it's significant how long these 56'6" BGs had been retained in the ECJS fleet, into the late 1930s, before being replaced - many had been built relatively recently, after all, and the sheer size of the cascade to the GC Section.

Services - the GC Section conveyed a lot of through vans via the cross-country expresses but attachment to internal expresses was to a large degree in two overnight services and thus not photographed - the "Down Mail" between Marylebone, Manchester and Liverpool, and the opposing Up working which carried passengers, parcels and mail. There was also the 2.32am Marylebone-Sheffield which carried passengers and newspapers. Some of these vans came back to Marylebone in the afternoon attached to an Ordinary Passenger from Leicester, as the picture below shows:

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Seen near Stoke Mandeville in the summer of 1939, with the afternoon-Leicester-Marylebone Ordinary Passenger, is Neasden-based ex-GCR B3 No 6169 Lord Stuart of Wortley as converted with Caprotti valve gear. Behind the tender is an ex-GCR matchboard BG and an ex-ECJS 56'6" BG to EC.39B with the distinctive York-style ducket. Photo: H.C. Casserley.

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The NE Area

The NEA was high in the pecking order for new carriages and received no cascades of former ECJS 56'6" BGs. However, it did operate the ones that arrived via through workings, the NB, GN and GC, for example.

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It's 1926 (and alas slightly blurred) near Covey and A2 No 2402 City of York has a secondary express made up with ex-NER clerestory carriages and, behind the tender, a through van. It's a 56'6" Doncaster-built BG which may have been in the ECJS fleet or from the GN Section. Photo: LGRP.

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This undated picture from the mid- or late-1930s shows D.49 "Hunt" No 235 The Bedale (built 6/32) heading south at Chaloners Whin with a York-Leeds working and, unusually, carrying Class D "goods pick up" lights. It looks like a normal ECS/parcels working. Below is as far back as I can resolve. Photo: Cecil Ord collection.



Horse box



ex-GNR or ECJS








Remainder unclear...

Behind the tender is a vintage ex-NER Open Carriage Truck (OCT) with drop sides and still with LH manual brake lever. It's followed by an early GWR horse box, and a Doncaster-built 56'6" BG with Howlden ducket, examples of which were in the ECJS fleet until 1937/38 and, in this SW-bound working, was more likely than a GN Section van. Externally similar, of course, but it helps to know about the flows in practice.

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One of the all-time great pictures of an ECS/parcels train shows ex-NER C7 No 2198 in 1937 heading south near Thirsk. Among the vans, mainly LNER plus some LMS, are two 56'6" BGs with Howlden duckets. By this time all the 56'6" BGs in the ECJS fleet had been replaced so these two would probably have been in circuits off the NB, GC or GN Sections. Photo: E.R. Morten.

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The GE Section

Finally, the GE Section which received a goodly batch of eight of these vans as cascades from the ECJS fleet in 1928-29 and renumbered them tidily:


Which broke down:



YOR 1910

6726, 6727



DON 1906




DON 1910




YOR 1916


Most of the gap in the numbers above can be explained by the GE Section also taking 4 of the 46'6" version with clerestory roof (Nos. 6730-31, 6737-38), which are covered separately.

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B17 2806 Audley End is seen near Romford with a Down Felixstowe Ordinary Passenger with at least two Gresley 51'1 1/2" 3rds leading. Behind the tender an ex-ECJS 56'6" BG has been placed. Its number is just about legible as 6736.

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The modelling options

A model of such a numerous and widespread type would be very nice and I can reveal that Rupert Brown (RDEB Models) is researching the subject for a set of etchings. But, it's tricky because of the variations and changes over the years. Personally I like that because you can choose how to finish your model and add another that won't be the same.

I've already described that York builds had the NER-style metal ducket and that all the others had the Howlden ducket but an equally visible variation was in the vertical panelling, which can be described as "narrow" or "wide" (a variation which also applied to GNR-built non-gangwayed bogie vans). The LNER eventually standardised on "wide" panels that modellers will be familiar with.

As for changes over the years, as-built there were duckets on both sides but the LNER converted some to single-ducket. For the lighting, gas tanks were fitted on the underframe, although the position varied: either centrally or towards one end. In LNER days they were gradually converted to electric lighting with a dynamo and battery boxes, the arrangements of which are hard to resolve.

That's a lot of variations! Rupert is doing his homework and making choices, so an ETA cannot be given. It is great news all the same. My layout is based on the GCR London Extension so I shall probably go for one of the 1930s cascades. :)

Related NPCS via these links:

ECJS and GNR clerestory BG: is here.

56'6" ECJS and GNR BG: is here.

D.86 and D.87 general and milk vans is here.

Gresley all-steel BG prototype and model is here.

Gresley all-steel BG service is here.

Thompson 61'6" deal BG: is here.

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