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British Railways 'Palbrick' Wagons - A History

Why a Palbrick?

As a regular user of the Midland Main Line, I had often wondered about the curious wagon with the funny ends which spent many years languishing in the sidings at Cricklewood. It never seemed to move, and then one day it was gone, presumably scrapped.

Some years later, I noticed another one at Derby as I passed it on the train. I managed to note down its number and was thus able to find out that it was an 'adaptor wagon' converted from a 'Palbrick B'.

Delving a little further I discovered not only that the story of these wagons is rather interesting, but also that, as far as I could find out, nobody had attempted to preserve one in its original condition. So, when I discovered that one was for sale, there was really no choice - I had to buy it, or maybe nobody ever would!

Of course, I knew that this was a silly idea, but I think what persuaded me to take on the project more than anything else was when a certain individual (who shall remain nameless) said something like 'you'll never restore that - it will sit there for years and you'll eventually have to sell it to someone else'. Well, I'm quite willing to have the difficulty of the task spelt out to me but I don't like it when people question my determination, so that was it. I'll prove him wrong!


Prior to Nationalisation in 1948, the only railway company to own any wagons specifically designed for carrying bricks was the LNER, which had inherited 25 such wagons from the GNR and had added another 25 itself. These were monstrous bogie open wagons capable of carrying 50 tonnes each; do any survive?

Elsewhere, bricks were simply placed in ordinary open wagons packed with straw, but in 1950 British Railways built three experimental brick wagons with drop sides and bodies which overhung the ends. These were not successful and were transferred to engineers' use; the last was condemned in 1981.

In an attempt to make handling brick traffic more efficient, in the mid-1950s some 'Medfit' or medium goods open wagons were converted to become the first 'Palbrick' wagons, designed (as the name suggests) for carrying bricks loaded onto wooden pallets. These were followed by newly built 'Palbrick' wagons to three basic designs, with different widths of body to allow for different pallet sizes.

The 'Palbrick A' could carry 13 tons, whilst the 'Palbrick B' and 'Palbrick C' could carry 16 tons. The 'B' had the widest body, at just over eight feet, whilst the 'C' had the narrowest body at just over 6'6". The 'C' was also distinguishable by having six end-tensioning screws, whereas the other types had only four.

Internal lengths also varied, and there were other detail differences too; the last 490 wagons including all of the 'C's were built using a different underframe which featured roller bearings, clasp brakes and Oleo pneumatic buffers.

All of the wagons featured plywood side panels each with two re-inforced slots which allowed them to be lifted out by a fork-lift truck. The side stanchions were then removed to allow pallets to be loaded by fork-lift, and the aforementioned end-tensioning screws, at one end of the wagon only, allowed the pallets to be clamped firmly in place.

Excluding the 'Medfit' conversions, 1420 Palbricks were built, all at Ashford, to 10 different diagrams, but the brick traffic was already in decline in the face of road competition and orders for a further 150 wagons were cancelled. By the late '60s most Palbricks were out of use, and many were converted into other types.

22 Palbrick Bs became 'Shellcase' wagons, designed for carrying shell cases between ordnance depots. Many were converted into various types for carrying steel plate coils, such as the 'Coil P' and 'Coil Y'. And an unknown number (at least 55), all from lot 3243, were converted into match wagons (adaptor wagons) for Freightliner vehicles. These conversions were fitted with Freightliner couplers below their conventional drawgear, and were used in yards to assist in shunting. As far as I have been able to establish, all of the surviving vehicles are from these conversions.

Between 1975 and 1978 394 Palbricks were converted into 16 ton mineral wagons and were re-numbered in the series B596000 to B596393. These are not easily recognisable as Palbrick conversions but they are not the same as other mineral wagons either, as the other 239,673 examples had a 9' wheelbase instead of the 10' of the Palbrick conversions. A rare survivor is B596329 which forms part of the 'windcutter' rake on the Great Central Railway, and although the underframe is of the earlier type it will no doubt provide some helpful clues!

This picture shows 16T mineral wagon B596329 at Quorn & Woodhouse on the Great Central Railway. This wagon started life in 1957 or 1958 as B462129, a Palbrick B from Lot 2724. In about 1970 it was converted to a 'Coil P' for carrying steel strip coils, then on 6/2/78 it was converted again to its present form and renumbered.
Photo © P. Hetherington 25/03/05.

Further details of the diagram numbers and lot numbers may be found here.

The information on this page is drawn from a number of sources including several of the books and articles listed on the acknowledgements page.

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© Phil Hetherington 2005-07
Last Modified: 12.12.07