In 1842 nine British railway companies set up the Railway
Clearing House (usually abbreviated to RCH) to sort out the charges due when
one company's vehicles travelled on another company's lines. This was a
practical move as the number of lines which were now linked was increasing
rapidly at the time and it was technically possible to cover great distances by
traversing a series of different companies tracks.
The RCH did not
represent a price fixing 'cartel' but it did make the railways more competitive
against the canals. In 1850 the Railway Clearing Act gave the RCH a statutory
basis and within twenty years virtually all railway companies belonged to this
The RCH introduced rules or guide-lines on the
construction of private owner vehicles in order to bring these up to a safe
standard for operation on the railway. The RCH wagon specifications were mainly
concerned with safe operation of rolling stock and covered the design of
couplings, brakes and buffers. This also ensured that rolling stock could be
repaired if it broke down on a 'foreign' company line and the railway companies
subsequently adopted the standard RCH chassis parts as this eased the repair of
their own rolling stock when it travelled about the system.
It is worth
noting that at about this time something like two thirds of the open wagons on
the North Eastern Railway were still of the chauldron type, although these
tended not to wander far, mainly running from the mines to various industrial
users and the ports.
The first real attempt at standardisation of
rolling stock was the Railway Clearing House specification of 1887, for a
minimum standard of construction for privately owned mineral wagons. This was
introduced following a serious accident in 1886 caused by defective private
owner mineral wagons.
Probably the most important RCH wagon design
specification from the modelling point of view was issued in 1923, based on a
seven plank 12 ton mineral wagon on a chassis seventeen foot six inches over
the headstocks with a nine foot wheelbase. It is this RCH standard chassis that
forms the basis of most Ready-To-Run models, although these favour the later
ten foot wheel base version. Again the railway companies switched to using the
new standard RCH chassis parts on all new stock in order to ease the problems
The RCH 1923 specification settled on a standard capacity
for vans and open wagons of twelve tons, although in the general merchandise
trade average wagon loads were now only about three and a half tons as it was
impractical to wait until a wagon was full before sending it on its way. Within
the RCH rules however the railway companies and independent wagon manufacturers
all managed to produce distinctive designs featuring their own ideas on the
best methods of construction.
The Great Western Railway favoured their
own design of hand brake, the Dean Churchward brake, which used a small lever
mounted on a frame under the wagon, resulting in a distinctly different look
from the standard long-handled Morton pattern brake. The various hand brake
designs are discussed in more detail in the section on Rolling Stock
Goods stock generally had a long life and even after the
1948 nationalisation there were a lot of older railway company wagons in
service which still did not meet the 1923 RCH basic requirements. These were
all railway company built wagons as the RCH repeatedly allowed the railway
companies extra time to implement their specifications and the financial
constraints meant that some stock was not fully modified. Examples included
bogie open wagons with the brake lever mounted on the front of the headstock
and wagons on which the brake lever did not act on all four wheels.
From a practical modelling perspective the most significant part of the
RCH specifications is the provision of a metal 'registration plate' on the
chassis of every vehicle. This allowed the RCH to tally up charges due when a
vehicle registered with one company travelled on another company lines. Adding
a black rectangle with some white dots on it serves to represent this plate,
which was normally bolted toward the left hand end of the solebar.
Fig___ Registration Plates
The picture shows the standard circular
Private Owner type of plate on the left with a railway company plate on the
right. I am not sure of the colour of the PO wagon plate, I was under the
impression they were always black with white markings.