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Fish Traffic

Technically fish was a freight traffic, of the perishable kind, but for most of the steam era it was delivered by goods and passenger trains. There were also different kinds of fish and that affected where they were landed and the routes inland that were taken.

The passenger side was the most interesting - and the most modellable - so I'll be focussing on that more than the goods side via captioned pictures in the usual way, and in chronological order because like most traffics, there were developments and things changed quite visibly through the pre-Grouping period, Big Four and BR days. Please forgive me for an LNER bias because that's my forte but the traffic was a cross-country one so other regions will get a look in.

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Before the Grouping there were two goods-rated flows of fish to London from east coast ports, to Marylebone and to King's Cross (in LNER days, combined and sent by the more direct route to King's Cross). This GCR official from 1903 shows the first Robinson Class 8 (LNER B5) 4-6-0 No 1069 posed by Neasden carriage sidings with the empties from a Grimsby-Marylebone fish train, the longest run on this company's line. Photo: LNER Press Section, author's collection.

The fish van fleet was being modernised and seven different designs of wagon can be seen (which I have gone into details under "GCR bogie fish vans", see link below). Some were on the point of being replaced but others lasted well into LNER days and show in pictures lower down.

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Another view of the GCR working to London approaching Rothley behind Class 8 4-6-0 No 1068 (LNER B5). The lights being carried were to the RCH code which included Class A express fish, meat or fruit train made up with goods vehicles and it's a Down working of empties. Judging by the ex-NER fish vans - and an ex-NER open fish wagon - much of this load was destined for Doncaster and then Hull. Photo: author's collection.

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Another pre-Grouping picture taken on the NER at Low Fell shows an Ordinary Passenger train headed by Tennant 2-4-0 No 1446. The passenger train has been made up with six early arc-roofed carriages and is conveying at the head, three NER open fish wagons which were used to deliver fish in tanks of water. This kind of delivery was gradually replaced by ventilated fish vans packed with ice.

See Peter Tatlow "LNER Goods Wagons-2 NE Area", p88. Some of these trucks were only about 25 years old when they were phased out in the 1920s. Photo: Author's collection.

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From about the same period, this scene on the GWR at Weymouth shows 517 class 0-4-2T No 1428 with a train of Dean clerestories. A 6w Siphon is being conveyed and a GCR 5T louvred fish van which would have been worked south from Grimsby, possibly carrying distant waters fish such as cod or haddock, which was landed in the north, or herring depending on the season. Photo: LGRP.

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About a mile south of Croft Spa in August 1924, Fletcher Class 901 2-4-0 No 367 has an Ordinary Passenger which comprises an ex-NER 5-set (4 clerestory, 1 elliptical roof) which has been strengthened behind the tender by another elliptical-roof carriage. The last manoeuvre before setting off was to add an ex-NER fish van, probably from Hull, for detaching later. This train may be heading for the Richmond branch. Photo: author's collection.

Apologies for the previous cock-up; I copied what was written on the back of the print, which is routinely wrong, and should have spent more time checking it.

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Still going strong c1930 is an ex-GNR open fish wagon clearly labelled "FISH" at the head of an Ordinary Passenger at York headed by D49 No 329 Inverness-shire. The loco was first allocated variously to Perth and York (the latter between 1928-31) and this looks like an empty Up working.

The fish truck looks in good condition although the tarpaulin bar is missing. (See Peter Tatlow "LNER Wagons-1 Southern Area", p.24). It's hard to say if it was still being used as a fish truck. Photo: Author's collection.

A closer look shows that the wagon number is 413214 and that the carriage behind it is recently ex-works ex-H&BR. The evening sun suggests the 7pm York-Hull train which in 1932 was rostered for a 4-set (BT,CL,T,BT) strengthened to 7 carriages for this trip with (CL,T) behind the loco and BT on the rear. So the fragment of the carriage visible could be one of the former. All three were taken off after arrival at Hull at 7.57pm.

Pity no more of the train is visible for this Hull-York roster was used to carry all sorts during the day, beginning with a 6w milk van first thing in the morning, the return trip carrying a 6w brake van, presumably with parcels for Hull. Attaching an empty fish truck at the the same time as the 7pm strengtheners would have been convenient.

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A 1930s scene on the Lickey with Johnson 4-4-0 No 529 heading a Worcester-Birmingham Ordinary Passenger made up with 5 coaches. On the rear are a couple of unidentified vans or NPCS and behind the loco, three empty fish vans being returned to the LNER. Photo: Author's collection:

- LNER steel ended van (1934+) with "fish" plate
- ex-GCR fish van
- LNER perishable van (1931) with "fish" plate?

The leading fish van looks recently built and suggests a date of mid-late 1930s. Note how pre-Grouping wagons were still in service, this GCR one lasting into the 1940s.

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A1 No 2572 St. Gatien at an unknown location on Saturday 14th May 1932 with a 6-coach secondary express, probably the 2.45pm Newcastle-York whose stock was rostered from Perth with almost an hour's pause at Edinburgh and another one of 35 minutes at Newcastle.

Along the way a bogie van was attached at Berwick and can be seen as a 56'6" rebuild on bowstring trussing to D.44 (see link below).

At Newcastle, three empty fish vans were added, possibly a prestigious service between Hull and Newcastle because all three vans are recently built LNER D.23. Note how one still has a white roof, probably after being serviced because it's showing a sag at one end.

Some more vans were attached at the far end but they cannot be distinguished. It's a classic example of a medium distance secondary express being involved in the movement of perishable traffic. Photo: William Rogerson, Photomatic.

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D49 Yorkshire is captured near Thirsk five years later in 1937 with the same train and a similar trio of LNER D.23 fish vans behind the tender.

This time the bogie van from Berwick is a non-gangwayed one (as rostered) and is an ex-GCR 50' BV of c1908. They were cascaded away from the GC Section as newer types were built and cascades arrived of ex-ECJS BGs. Photo: ER Morten.

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A classic view of an express passenger conveying fish vans, heading south out of York towards Chaloners Whin on 3rd August 1933. The two fish vans are:

LNER 10T fish

D.23

LNER 10T fish

D.87

The passenger train is just as interesting because it's the 3pm departure from York of the Glasgow-Southampton cross-country express behind Sheffield C1 No 3287. The formation is basically as Clive and I described although the precise sequence of the quartet on the rear is hard to analyse:

  TK

3rd

  TK

3rd

BCK

1st/3rd brake (GWR)

BCK

1st/3rd brake

  TO

3rd open (dining)

RF

1st restaurant

BTK

3rd brake

The fish vans appear to have come from a northern port and may have been destined for any of the cities on the GC Section. Photo: E.R. Morten.

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The goods side of the operation in LNER days is shown in this view from 25th July 1939 with K3 No 2443 on a Down fish empties from King's Cross near Burham, north of Corby Glen. You might have thought that by the middle of 1939 there would be plenty of LNER-built fish vans yet pre-Grouping ones are still dominating and the different heights and shapes are, for me, a joy to see:

ex-NER

Insulated

ex-NER

Fish

ex-GCR

Fish

ex-NER

Fish

LNER

Fish

ex-NER

Fish

ex-NER

Refrigerator

ex-NER

Fish

Rem unclear...

About fifty vans altogether. Photographer: H.C. Doyle.

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An introduction to modelling fish traffic (to come) begins with a view on Cliff Parson's "Gresley Beat". When I was an operator I found that this traffic had been overlooked and people were putting their fish vans inside normal goods trains, which didn't happen. I decided to bring my own fish train (which runs behind a Woodford Robinson 4-6-0, in apple green!) and take the misappropriated fish vans out of the goods trains and set up a shortened version of an actual working with one of Cliff's V2s, a beautiful etched brass model.

For those who saw this train at several shows and may be harbouring pictures of their own, please excuse my cheating with this picture for all the borrowed vans were ex-works with white roofs, which prototype pictures don't show; so Photoshop weathering has been applied. The period represented is a transitional one (weren't they all?) from the 1930s like the picture above, after the LNER designs were introduced but pre-Grouping vans still dominated, hence the pleasing variety.The loco could just as well have been a K3. I say all this to show that goods trains weren't random and had distinctive characters which can be shown. A little birdie tells me that a book is in the offing about goods trains which I hope will help educate modellers! :-) Photo: author's collection.

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Another goods-rated fish express but taken just after WW2 on 27th July 1946. King's Cross V2 No 4774 is attacking the gradient near Potters Bar with a fish empties for Grimsby and Hull. It's on the Down Slow line but is likely to be allowed on the Fast line once clear of the north-bound passenger service. Photo: LNER "official" submitted by Ken Nunn,

New info:

Nearly 40 vans can be seen with visible signs of modernisation at the head of the train, and a surprising variety of types employed:

LNER

Fish

1938 - D.134

LNER

Fish

1938 - D.134

LNER

Fish

1938 - D.134

LNER

Fish

1938 - D.134

LNER

Perishable

1924-31

LNER

Fruit

1937-38 on steel u/fs

LNER

Fruit

1937-38 on steel u/fs

LNER

Fruit

1937-38 on steel u/fs

Rem. unclear....

For the first time, pre-Grouping fish vans cannot be seen, at least at the head of the train. Their distinctive shapes don't appear further back either - there may be some that cannot discerned but that's just me being careful with a blurry back half of the train and avoiding conjecture. It's known that very old fish vans were scrapped but more recently built ones, such as LNER D.23 with outside framing, were transferred into general service as vanfits.

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A BR-period view from August 1958 shows another goods-rated fish working, hauled by V2 No 60884 near Grantham with Down fish empties. The variety of vans has reduced and the leading ten or so are what BR developed from 1954 as the plywood panelled, insulated "Blue Spot" fish van, some of which are carrying white livery. Photo: Peter Groom.

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This anonymous picture can be dated to spring 1960 when D49 No 62727 The Quorn was at Hull Dairycoates. In its last year of service it's been rostered for a parcels train somewhere in the East Riding and is seen passing an old, wooded cemetery. The train contains a BR Mk.1 BG and an ex-LNER Gresley steel-panelled lavatory composite. Behind the tender is an ex-LNER fish van on 12' WB of 1938 (D.134) that's been converted to an Insulfish. Photo: author's collection.

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Caption info added:

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It's always good to identify a location and Mark Hambly has delivered on this one (thank you) by dint of having travelled this way several years ago and remembering passing the graveyard, which is the beautifully landscaped Hull Western Cemetery not far from the city centre. The location is awkwardly close to the top right corner of the OS 25" map and the photographer would have been standing in the middle of the open triangle of land. The train was about to pass under the Hull & Barnsley line to its Cannon St. station. Source: National Library of Scotland.

From this it can be deduced that the train behind The Quorn is travelling from Hull Paragon towards Beverley, Bridlington and Scarborough, and the fish van would have been loaded, probably with "white" fish landed at Hull, ie. cod and haddock, to keep the fish and chips shops en route supplied.

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A final view shows the passage of time on the service in May 1963 between Hull, Grimsby and King's Cross as 9F No 92187 (New England) hauls an Up train past Sandy. Partial modernisation has made the train look more streamlined but variety remains and many ex-LNER vans (D.134), some Insulfish conversions, and BR Blue Spot types, of which there were several variations. Photo: D. Chandler collection.

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Related links:

GCR bogie fish vans and traffic - are here.

Building the models - is here.

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

56'6" to D.44: is here.

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