For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

Fish Trucks – Diagrams 23 and 24


By the mid 1870’s at least 30 wagons, referred to as mail fish trucks, were allocated to the fish traffic originating from Yarmouth. In anticipation of new arrangements with foreign companies for through working concerns were raised about their suitability to travel at passenger speeds and although new sets of wheels were purchased to enable them to travel further and at a greater speed the decision was made to obtain new trucks specifically designed to run in passenger trains. The decision to adopt the Westinghouse brake for all passenger and passenger train stock had been made recently and a consequence was that the 80 trucks ordered from the Derbyshire Wagon Co in April 1878 were the first miscellaneous stock vehicles to be built having the Westinghouse brake, Mansell wheels and running gear to passenger train standards, equipment which would characterise all future new construction.

The trucks had 4 plank bodies 2ft deep and16ft long; and a pair of side doors 5ft wide with vertical planking. Although the use of corner plates for open bodied stock was now commonplace by now these trucks had individual corner braces, two to a plank, a rather outmoded concept and marking them out from all of the other trucks.

The order for 80 vehicles was unprecedented and it soon became apparent that some could be released for other purposes. As already noted, 8 were fitted with saltwater tanks in 1880 but still listed in the returns as fish trucks, and in about 1883 another 6 were taken out of fish traffic and converted into yeast vans, under which heading they will be described, thus leaving 66 in their original condition.

In 1893 a new design of open fish truck was built, to diagram 24, having the same overall dimensions but constructionally quite different. Now the body and side doors had outside framing, similar in concept to the diagram 15 covered goods wagon introduced in 1888. Fifty trucks were built in 1893 followed by another 30 in 1903, bringing the stock of fish trucks up to 154. Although steel frames were being used on most passenger rated stock and wagons at this time all the fish trucks had wood frames with flitched solebars, suggesting that this form of construction was more resistant to the effects of fish liquor seeping through the floorboards.

From 1909 stock numbers seriously declined; in that year all 80 of the diagram 24 trucks were converted into fruit vans, achieved with a blend of ingenuity and subtlety, by adding a completely new section on top of the existing open body and secured by wood screws and a selection of corner irons. Even the existing side doors were retained as they were matched with new upper sections and on casual inspection there was little to suggest that the van started life as an open truck.

By contrast, the original diagram 23 trucks of 1878 were long lived, 65 were still in stock in 1912 but in 1921 the majority were withdrawn, the type becoming extinct in 1922.   The disappearance of this class of truck by no means meant that the fish traffic had come to its end; its conveyance had steadily been transferred to a variety of vans which from 1897 had been included in the category of sundry vans.