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Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd: misc_brc&wc144

Birmingham Carriage and Wagon Works constructed one hundred low sided, 10 ton, open wagons with ‘Butterley Patent Steel Bodies’ for Tarmac Limited in 1925

Birmingham Carriage and Wagon Works constructed one hundred low sided, 10 ton, open wagons with ‘Butterley Patent Steel Bodies’ for Tarmac Limited in 1925. They were numbered K3633 to K3732 and registered by the LMS. One of these wagons is thought to be part of the freight train seen in photograph 'gwrrj1773'. The wagons were supplied on a ten year deferred purchase arrangement. In the previous year, the Birmingham Carriage and Wagon Works had constructed one hundred 12 ton timber wagons with steel plates on the floor. They were numbered 3493 to 3592, registered by the LMS and supplied to Tarmac on a seven year deferred purchase scheme.

Before the 20th century, roads were made by compacting successive layers of crushed stone, but with the steady increase in the use of mechanical vehicles, roads needed a better protective surface. The Tarmac company was originally formed in 1903 by Edgar Purnell Hooley as the ‘Tar Macadam (Purnell Hooley’s Patent) Syndicate Limited’. In 1901, he had patented the technique of mechanically mixing an aggregate with a tar compound prior to spreading on the road surface and then compacting the mixture with a steamroller. The tar compound was made using small amounts of Portland cement, resin and pitch, but the most distinguishing feature of the new process was that instead of expensive roadstone, the company used cheap blast furnace slag, which was a waste-product from the iron and steel industry.

The Tarmac company was initially based at Ettingshall, near Wolverhampton and close to the large Spring Vale Furnace complex. These furnaces were owned by Sir Alfred Hickman who saw the potential, invested in the new company and in 1905 became the Chairman. The Hickman and later Martin (a son-in-law) connection continued for many years. The company expanded, setting up several semi-independent companies. This included one at Kidsgrove, north of Stoke, where there were more iron and steelworks. The wagons with the prefix ‘K’ nominally belonged to this concern.

Although road surfacing and other improvements were being carried out before 1920, the ‘Roads Act’ introduced a tax on mechanical vehicles in that year, which was paid into a Central Fund to pay for improvements to roads and highways and in 1925, the ‘Road Improvement Act’ introduced powers to remove obstructions from roads and to widen streets. The road administration was centralised and roads were classified into four divisions depending upon their importance. Grants from the Central Fund were then allocated to improve roads and bridges depending upon their classification and as a result there was a huge increase in road surfacing activity from this period onwards.

Although Railway Companies were common carriers, they had no obligation to carry materials which could cause damage to their wagons. Both the caustic raw furnace slag and the tarred aggregate were difficult materials to handle, causing timber damage and requiring wagons to be thoroughly cleaned before reuse. Road surfacing contractors therefore invested in their own private owner wagons and these would usually be provided with steel plate floors or be of all steel construction. It was common practice for all the wagon manufacturers to offer lease hire and deferred payment schemes to their customers.

Robert Ferris