BD-type container BD49908B in Medfit M480222 at Horsted Keynes in April 2015 (Martin Skrzetuszewski)
The origins of intermodal transportation can be traced back to the 18th century and predate railways, when coal containers were employed on the early canals for waterway-road transfers; road at the time meaning horse-drawn waggons.
Wooden coal containers used on railways go back to the 1830s on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. By the outbreak of the Great War wooden containers were used by the GER to trans-ship passenger luggage between trains and sailings from the port of Harwich.
The use of containers placed on railway flat wagons for the carriage of furniture and other goods has its origins in the early 1900s. The pre-Grouping era saw the development of this practice and there are photographs of privately-owned furniture containers being carried on short, flat LBSCR road vehicle/machinery wagons.
The practice was developed by the "Big Four" railway companies, which produced their own containers which could be transhipped onto company carts or motor vehicles for local collection/delivery. Containers became standardised between the companies with the introduction of RCH standard dimensions, the most common being the "B" size which could be carried on or in a standard railway wagon. Variations were built to accommodate specific goods such as bicycles (BC) and furniture (BK) in addition to the general merchandise B and BD types.
British Railways attempted to develop container use to retain and recover certain business by running dedicated container trains in certain parts of the country and regularly shipping containers to and from Northern Ireland.
The BD container is a general merchandise container and probably the most common design; 9080 examples being built between 1948 and '58. It has a pressed steel corrugated "front" end, with the opposite end having double hinged outward-opening wooden doors and a hinged tailboard. There are also double hinged outward-opening wooden doors on both sides.
BD49908B was built to BR diagram 3/050 at BR Wolverton Works in 1957 as part of lot 3080. It was purchased by the late Ray Denton to house equipment used on the Bluebell. Following his death, ownership passed through Chris Cooper to the Bluebell Railway.
Clearance work prior to the C&W workshop extension in 2015 made the container redundant for storage. With the need to clear the site at Horsted Keynes, it was lifted and placed in BR(M) medium open wagon M480222 for safe-keeping while awaiting repair/restoration. The placing is quite appropriate as, although purpose-built container-carrying wagons were built to carry them, they were often carried in 3-plank open wagons when they were destined to be transhipped for further carriage by road or sea.
Like wagons, each container was fitted with a cast numberplate.
The container is at present in what remains of BR Railfreight Door-to-Door bauxite livery from the 1960s. The original livery would have been BR crimson lettered in yellow. If you click on and enlarge the photos, this can be seen peeping through the later paintwork in places.
Wooden containers were built to be light in weight and for a limited lifespan; the philosophy probably being more one of replacing them rather than giving them heavy repairs. BD49908B is the best of those still on site and has been designated a heritage item. It is in better condition than many we have seen, but needs some timber replacement to say the least! BD containers still appear from time to time when people contact us to say that they have a "railway carriage" in their garden! However, most are beyond moving and economic repair.
All containers were fitted with label clips. The labels (approx. 5"x4") were used to give information on the origin, destination, consignee and weight of the contents of the container. The traffic labels for loaded and empty containers were, in general, identical to those for ordinary wagons. One for an empty vehicle is shown. However, those for defective containers were specific, one also being shown. These date from the 1960's, prior to the introduction of the TOPS system. At that time BR had introduced an alpha-alpha-numeric destination/route coding system to speed up the classification of freight vehicles in marshalling yards. One example is the code for Ipswich (EN1), where the leading alpha denotes the destination region. The green card would have routed the container when empty to a designated repair workshop. The term "cripple" was used to denote a defective vehicle.
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