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Milk Tankers

photograph by John Lewis

Milk Tanker NºW2002 - Built originally as a 4-wheel tank, by the GWR, in 1927, at Swindon, GWR diagram 034, lot no. 1387, subsequently rebuilt as a six wheel tank to diagram 044. Earlier tanks had the central manhole with a round ladder and this tank exhibits a different style of ownership plate, it reads 'Unigate Creameries Ltd 2002'.

Milk was once one of the most important of railway consignments. With the need to get it from the farms in the country to the workers in the towns in a fresh condition it was always transported in trains running to passenger schedules, in the early days frequently in vans attached to said trains. From the origins of milk traffic, when churns would be carried in "perishable" vans, often with fruit and vegetables for company, the conveyances used developed into the milk tanker that was such a common sight on the railways everywhere until a few decades ago. Modern ones were steel-lined to keep the milk in perfect condition and were built in great numbers with both four and six wheel variations. Some were railway owned but many were bought by the big dairies and used exclusively for their own product.

Milk Tank workings were not restricted to the 'Company of Origin' and examples of the types built by the 'big four' could be seen on all the other Railways and Regions. Where they worked was dictated by the needs of the Dairies. Examples from photographic evidence, of those built by the Southern Railway, that emphasise this are SR tanks at Hemyock, Cricklewood and on the Wensleydale Branch.

In general the tank was owned by a Dairy and the underframe was owned by the Railway. The early tanks were 'glass lined' but the later tanks were 'Staybrite Steel', more familiar to us as stainless steel.

There were a number of Depots on the SR and S&D and examples are:

Torrington - United Dairies
Lapford - Express Dairies
Semley - United Dairies
Seaton Junction - Express Dairies
Wincanton - Cow & Gate

Below is a selection of photographs of tankers used on the Vauxhall milk traffic, all of which were taken at Waterloo or Clapham Junction in the 1970s. The tanks were tripped from Clapham to Vauxhall for unloading on platform 1 (now the reversible line). They were then tripped to Waterloo and sent back to Clapham. The notes are from Glen Woods.

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  • W44555
    NºW44555 - Built, by BR, in 1951, at Derby, to LMS diagram 2173, lot Nº1640. It carries the post steam, orange and white, St. Ivel livery (Ivel was derived from the old name for Yeovil and was a brand name owned by United Dairies). When built it was a 3000 gallon tank but here a 2000 gallon tank is fitted and evidence suggests that such re-tanking did occur on a number of vehicles. Of note is the fact that the vehicle has roller bearing axle boxes. Despite the change of prefix it is clearly identified as an LMS underframe as it has round section axle box tie bars with cross bracing between the wheelsets; a feature unique to LMS built vehicles.
    Photograph by John Lewis.
  • B3135
    NºB3135 - Built, by BR, in 1950, at Swindon, to GWR Diagram 060, lot no. Nº1743. It carries no Dairy identification although it was built for United Dairies and is probably in 'silverette grey' livery. Later United Dairy tanks had this end manhole with a platform ladder arrangement. Only one discharge valve was fitted and the tank sloped slightly from the Manhole end to the discharge valve end. Again roller bearings are fitted but the axle box tie bars are of rectangular section.
    Photograph by John Lewis.
  • W3004
    NºW3004 - Built, by the GWR, in 1946, at Swindon, GWR diagram 057, lot Nº1700. An earlier version of the end manhole tank this time with oil axle boxes and has six tank saddles whereas B3135 (above) only has four. This time the tank is plated 'United Dairies (W) Ltd', the W in brackets stood for wholesale. The GWR worksplate, on the solebar, has only the 'W' picked out in white.
    Photograph by John Lewis.
  • W2002
    Another view of NºW2002. United Dairies amalgamated with Cow & Gate to become Unigate in 1959.
    Photograph by John Lewis.
  • Milk train at
    Clapham Jn
    D5409 (later 27210) arriving with a milk train at Clapham Junction on 21 November 1966.
    Photograph by Ray Soper.

This page was last updated 29 March 2003

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