How the North East Branch of the Friends of the National Railway Museum acquired a Merry Go Round

The North East Branch meets every Tuesday at ‘Locomotion’ the National Railway Museum which opened at Shildon, County Durham in 2004.

Members usually meet in the café for a cuppa before starting their volunteer duties and it was over a cuppa that a member suggested it would be a good idea to have a Shildon built Merry go Round Wagon (MGR) at Locomotion as over 10,000 of these wagons had been built at the Railway Works in the town which closed in 1984. This would complement the prototype MGR wagon on display which had been built at Darlington.

This was raised at our regular committee meeting in 2009 attended by the museum manager, George Muirhead. In principle, George said he would welcome a Shildon built wagon but he could only promise that it would be on display in the sidings at the front of the museum. He said it would be ideal (if the funds could be found) to mount it on a plinth at the entrance to the museum. It was also discussed if two wagons became available we could have one mounted near the former railway works as a reminder of 150 years of Shildon Railway Works.

No further progress was made as the branch finances could not fund this project. We contacted the NRM at York to see the possibility of York purchasing a wagon but were told that as they already owned the prototype MGR wagon they would not purchase another.

It was while, for some unknown reason, I was browsing the EWS Ltd railway website that I found a number of diesel locomotives and the last Shildon built MGR wagon for sale. I reported this back to our committee who were keen to

purchase the wagon but did not have sufficient funds. It was agreed that I would try and purchase the wagon up to an agreed price and donate it to the branch. The branch then would pay for transport to bring it to Shildon.

After talking to the EWS representative I was told that the wagon was to be sold in an on-line auction. The wagon was situated in South Wales and unfortunately an appointment to view could not be agreed but if we bought the wagon it was our responsibility to collect from site on instruction from EWS.

In the meantime I was told to contact Railwayana.net Ltd who were selling the wagon as Lot 210 on Sunday 28 November 2010. Having registered with Railwayana and declaring an interest in lot 210, I also requested a ‘final bid’ which meant I would receive a phone call on Sunday evening between 7.00pm and 8.00pm to find out whether I was the successful bidder.

Sunday 28 November proved quite challenging as bidding was from 10.00am to 2.00pm and not helped by slow internet speed and our family round for Sunday dinner.

Monitoring the bids for four hours required me placing a number of bids, however as the 2.00pm deadline approached I was required to increase my bids and was not sure if I was successful with my final bid. It was a long wait until 7.00pm but shortly after I received a phone call to say I was the highest bidder but had not met the reserve price. I was given the option of increasing my final bid to meet the reserve price. This I agreed to as the price plus commission was just under my pre agreed price. Our branch had bought an MGR wagon! Not any old MGR wagon, but the last wagon built at Shildon Works. Now it was returning to Shildon to be displayed at Locomotion.

In a phone call received Sunday evening from George Muirhead, Locomotion manager, I was able to confirm our purchase and George thanked us and said he was delighted.

Our branch obtained three quotations for collecting the wagon and delivering to Shildon. The price quoted by one was accepted and I visited their depot in the midlands to confirm the details and I would give them the go ahead as soon as EWS released the wagon.

Unfortunately EWS had problems releasing the wagon although they had received payment. Due to operational difficulties, EWS even suggested that they returned our money and they would scrap the wagon. This offer was refused and eventually the wagon was released and brought to Shildon in early May 2011, as our photos show.

The last MGR wagon built at Shildon arrives back on a low-loader from South Wales.

Very gently, the wagon is unloaded back onto rails at Shildon while waiting for our wagon to arrive, our branch was active making plans for the arrival. We commissioned a banner we could attach to the side of the wagon informing visitors about the significance of our purchase.

Also we discussed with George Muirhead how we could exhibit our wagon at Locomotion. It was agreed that both MGR wagons would be on show for a short period at the front of main museum building (Welcome Building). Thanks to funding being provided by our local councillor Brian Stephens, we were able to commission a DVD on the wagon by a production company at Newcastle upon Tyne. This included interviews, both MGR wagons at Locomotion and film of MGR workings. We are pleased that the short film is still available in Locomotion for our visitors to view adjacent to the prototype MGR wagon.

The two wagons are exhibited in the Collections Building at Shildon with a display board describing the role of Merry-Go-Round wagons in the delivery of coal from collieries to power stations. Coal could be loaded at collieries whilst the train was moving slowly and then unloaded at the power station, again without stopping, the empty wagons then going back to the colliery for more. Hence the name ‘Merry-Go-Round’ as the train made multiple journeys back and forth every day.

Actually they were not called MGR wagons in Shildon Works -they were officially High Capacity Wagons and were HiCaps to the workers.

A display with both wagons was held in early 2012 and we had the pleasure of Frank Paterson of the Friends to open the display. This was particularly appropriate as Frank in his British Rail days had attended the ceremony to celebrate the manufacture of the 10,000th MGR wagon build at Shildon.

Our MGR wagon can usually be seen in the sidings at Locomotion and is often used as a barrier wagon for shunting, so still keeping the wheels turning after covering just under 1,000,000 miles in its working life.


By Dave Camp


All photo by Dave Camp


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