Great Western Railway 16-ton “Toad” brake van with the guard reaching for the handbrake. Photo: NRM/Science & Society Picture Library.

The name “Toad” was the Great Western Railway (GWR) telegraphic code name for the goods train brake van. There was also the “Toadfit” which denoted a brake van fitted with the vacuum brake. In the mysterious world of the railway telegram code, “SPOON SWANSEA” meant that brake vans were in short supply at Swansea and that spares should be sent there as soon as possible. “JUNIPER TOAD” meant that a goods yard was in serious difficulty for want of a “Toad”!

Use of the “Toad” on the GWR started around 1852 when brake vans were placed at the end of a train with a guard riding in them. Sometimes a second brake van would be put into the middle of a train, again with a guard present. The early versions were little more than short wheelbase four-wheeled wooden underframed wagons with grease axleboxes, wooden brake blocks, a small central cabin