16mm Projects

Alan Poxon : Penrhyn slate wagons

Penrhyn can claim to be the pioneer of most designs of Welsh narrow gauge slate wagons. From 1801, those for carrying completed slates were of a basket design consisting of a horizontal and vertical bars to hold the slates safely in place. By 1817, Penrhyn had no less than 220 wooden wagons of this type, all with double flanged wheels. In 1859, iron bodywork on wooden framed wagons, built at the Coed-y-Parc quarry workshops, were being introduced.

1878 saw the opening of the Penrhyn Quarry Railway. This had involved re-routing and re-laying the existing tramway to avoid the inclines between the quarry and Port Penrhyn. Steam locomotives were then used in place of horses and a new generation of all iron slate wagons were ordered. These wagons were often assembled at the quarry workshops using single flange wheelsets, usually from Hadfields of Sheffield.

Several manufacturers produced these late-era Penrhyn iron slate wagons. All had similar dimensions with a wheelbase of about 3 feet and holding about 2¼ tons, or just over 24 cubic feet, of finished slates. Between 1877 and 1879, deWinton & Company of Caernarfon built 200 such slate wagons for the Penrhyn quarry. These wagons had sprung drawgear and a brake lever on one side that operated brakes on all four wheels.

Over the years, these slate wagons , along with those from other manufacturers were heavily rebuilt and some survived in use until the 1950s. Many of the deWinton wagons had their brakes removed as it became the practice to lock down the brakes on only the rear three wagons in a consist for the locomotive crew to retain complete control of the train during the journey from the quarry down to Port Penrhyn.

Ratcliffe & Sons of Hawarden supplied 150 iron slate wagons to Penrhyn in the 1880s. These were all unbraked and assembled at the quarry workshops at Coed-y-Parc. The wagons featured internal wooden planks at each end, that were fitted from 1908, to further protect the load of slates. Another visible difference was the additional metal brace on each side between the wagon ends and the frame.

Between 1886 and 1895, the Midland Railway Carriage & Wagon Company of Birmingham built the bodies of the final slate wagons to be delivered to Penrhyn. These wagons were unbraked and most had curved buffing plates instead of buffers. The wheelsets, from either Hadfields  of Sheffield or Charles Hanswell & Company, were added at the quarry workshops. At the peak of slate production, Penrhyn had some 400 operational iron slate wagons from the three manufacturers.


The first 16 mm kit of any of the late-era Penrhyn iron slate wagons was from Houstoun Gate Loco Works. The model is of  the Midland slate wagon and is 3d printed to a high standard. This required no sanding,  or cleaning, of the component parts. Included in the kit is a laser cut plywood floor, brass bearings, Binnie wheels and coupling hook assemblies. The kit goes together easily with a tongue and groove arrangement to positively locate the wagon sides to the end pieces.

Houstoun Gate Loco Works Midland slate wagon unpacked.

The plywood floor has to be fitted before final assembly of the bodywork. The floor was distressed around the edges and upper surface with a coarse file and craft knife. NailArt 1.5mm half-moon rivets were added in the places marked before the planks were stained with Humbrol dark brown enamel wash and weathered with Humbrol black powder.

Floor boards riveted, stained & weathered.

Although the bodywork is printed in grey plastic, the correct shade of Penrhyn livery was applied.

Slate wagon bodywork complete.

First two Midland slate wagons completed in Penrhyn colours.

The wagons ran well using the hook and chain couplings. Additional weight was added underneath the wooden floor to assist stability when the slate wagons were run empty. The supplied axles were slightly shortened, and the ends filed smooth, to give more end float and better running. I built a total of six of these wagons with discounts being available if you order a batch of five. Quarry slate wagons had a hard life and the basket of one model was prototypically bent out of shape.

Fleet of six Penrhyn Midland slate


The next 16 mm kit on the scene was the Penrhyn Ratcliffe iron slate wagon from Harecroft. The model, designed by Harry Billmore, features a one-piece sintered nylon body with the wheels and axle boxes included in a single moulding. The body appears very robust and has a textured surface compared to other resin models. Laser-cut individual floor planks are supplied but not couplings. I used 3d printed hooks to match those used on the Midland slate wagons.

The moulding has crisp detail  and the individual components take very little preparation. Assembly was very quick using the three pages of instructions, as two of the axle boxes are already moulded in the correct place. The planks were detailed as before and the wagon painted in the Penrhyn livery of grey with black axle boxes. With the addition of a small amount of weight underneath the frames, the slate wagon ran very well when empty.

Harecroft Ratcliffe slate wagon unpacked.

Ratcliffe slate wagon in Penrhyn colours.

The third kit to appear was the deWinton slate wagon, again from Houstoun Gate Loco Works. These kits were similar in construction to their Midland slate wagons but with individual laser cut ply planks. This allowed the bodywork to be assembled before fixing the planks. The sprung draw-gear is moulded separately and all components are of the same high quality as their first Penrhyn kit. Construction was equally straight forward.

Houstoun Gate Loco Works deWinton slate wagon unpacked.

Penrhyn deWinton slate wagon ready for final assembly


Unbraked deWinton slate wagon in Penrhyn colours.


The deWinton slate wagons were supplied to Penrhyn with brake gear although the majority of wagons had this removed over time. I turned to the the 3d design and print skills of Roy Plum to produce the necessary brake gear for two out of my three deWinton slate wagons. This was duly added and the wagons painted in Penrhyn livery. Coupled together using hook and link, the wagons completed my rake of ten late-era Penrhyn iron slate wagons.

Two braked Penrhyn deWinton slate wagons.


Complete fleet of Penrhyn late era iron slate wagons.

March 2023




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