For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

Cattle Boxes - Diagrams 18 and 19


Until the mid 1880’s cattle conveyed by train either travelled in cattle wagons, attached to goods trains, or in horse boxes. For valuable breeding animals the horse box was the favoured method but they were expensive vehicles to build and maintain and accordingly rates for their use were high. On the other hand the cattle wagon was a rather basic vehicle in which to entrust a prize beast and its journey was usually slow and liable to long delays. In 1888 the railway companies were collectively approached by representatives of agricultural and other societies asking that either a new type of vehicle should be constructed, to be called a cattle box, designed to run at passenger train speeds, or that the existing cattle wagons should be improved and permitted to be attached to passenger trains.

This request was considered by the railway companies and the suggestion to construct cattle boxes was the chosen option. The GER’s response was to design a box 18ft 8ins long having a pair of side doors with a falling flap to act as a loading ramp. Louvres were inserted along the top side of the body and two small shutters on either side of the loading doors through which the animals in transit could be inspected. Unlike horse boxes no provision was made for a drover or attendant and the interior was entirely open, free of any partitions or obstructions but equipped with several tethering rings fixed around the inside to allow the animals to be restrained while in transit.

Twenty boxes to diagram 18 were built in 1888 and a further 25 in 1893, bringing the total to 45 vehicles. It would appear that the absence of accommodation for an attendant was increasingly seen as a disadvantage as an entirely new design of box was introduced in 1897. This was 21ft 5 ½ ins in length and by incorporating a small attendants compartment resembled in appearance an elongated horse box but lacking the exterior mouldings and tumblehome which had characterised horse box design since 1888. Loading was by way of a drop flap, deeper than the original design, and double doors while a door in the compartment partition gave internal access to the cattle box which like the original design was devoid of any partitions or fittings.  

The new design, to diagram 19, was built in some quantity starting with an initial order for 10 in 1897, followed by another 10 in 1902 and 20 in 1908, bringing the total to 40. All had steel frames, only those in the original order had bulb angle solebars and the remainder were of channel section. Final confirmation that the original design was not completely satisfactory was seen in 1908 by the conversion of all 25 boxes built in 1892 into fruit vans. These became diagram 25 and will be described in the section dealing with fruit vans.

Construction of the diagram 19 boxes continued, but now with wooden underframes in preference to steel. In 1910 25 were completed and later in that year the remaining 20 diagram 18 cattle boxes were converted into fruit vans. In 1913 10 more cattle boxes were completed and the final 10 appeared in 1914, bringing the total stock up to 85.

In terms of service most of the first 20 boxes built in 1897 and 1902 had been withdrawn by the outbreak of the Second World War and numbers continued to decline with 4 being lost due to enemy action. At Nationalisation the number in service stood at 40 and in 1959 the last 4 were withdrawn at the ripe old age of 45 years.