New Year's Day Lecture 2012

by Curtis Devereau


Over the years, much of the history of the Islands Railways and rolling stock has been written and researched. This work has been undertaken by many, including some of the leading Railway historians. However, missing almost completely from this work is mention of the Manx Fully Ventilated or “Kipper” van.

There are understandable reasons for this omission, the vehicles only operated at the edges of normal working patterns, and were almost never left in sidings when not in use. There are no known full photographs of them, although a part glimpse may be had in one of the early prints of the first editions of Mr Boyds Isle Of Man Railway history.

The vans themselves may be described only from a set of drawings overseen by one of the IMR’s office staff, who glimpsed then being removed from the attic room at the Companies Headquarters during the clear out of the mid nineteen seventies,by a dubious looking character, prior to the auction of Railway goods at the winding up of the original company, although strangely the drawing were not catalogued and certainly did not come under the auctioneers hammer in that sale. The only other sighting of these drawings was some years ago as part of an article in a model railways magazine.

At about eighteen inches shorter than the standard “G” van and six inches less in height, the vans were diagonally planked at their sides, with one diagonal strengthening bar running opposite to the planking each side of the double centre doors. At three quarters the way up the sides, a set of vents ran the full length of each van, in much the same way as on the Manx Northern Gr vans. These vents were also present at each end of the van, with the end planking horizontal.

As far as livery goes, the vans were painted brown, with the wording KIPPERS in white at the right hand side of the doors, and VAN 1 to 6 on the left hand side.

The normal traffic pattern for these vans would be for them to be sent out from Peel on the last train of the evening, for subsequent delivery to the hoteliers and boarding house keepers of the Islands resorts early the following morning via the Railways handcarts and wagons. Vans bound for the southern resorts would be attached to the first train from Douglas in the morning, to arrive in time for breakfast.

An interesting variation on the Northern line was that for a time, the kipper van would be shunted out along the harbour tramway as far as the swing bridge before being unloaded on to the carts.

The vans were noted as being in use up until the mid 1920’s, but were eventually withdrawn from service when the Peel curing houses obtained their own small fleet of road vehicles.

With one exception all the vans were scrapped before 1930, parts from them being used to repair other goods vehicles, indeed I recall some of the goods yard men being able to identify planking from the Kipper vans that had been used for refurbishing by the soaked in smell.

Now here is the surprise in the story….

After years of extensive research through the numerous documents on the island's railways, I can reveal that there were actually seven Kipper Vans, not six as originally thought. Yes, the Isle of Man Railway did own six of these unique vans, but recent evidence has come to light that Manx Northern Railway, at one stage, also owned its own Kipper Van.

Clearly, the MNR management decided that there was enough demand in the north of the island for fresh daily deliveries of Manx kippers to the hotels and boarding houses in Ramsey to construct their own version.

Little is known about the MNR Kipper Van in service, apart from it must have been transferred at St John's joint station on a daily basis on to the IMR metals for onward transportation to Peel and back. Equally, little is known of the fate of this van either. It does not appear on the books when the Manx Northern Railway was absorbed by the Isle of Man Railway in 1905.

There have been reports of an old railway van used as store shed for the empties behind the old Swan Inn in Approach Road in Ramsey, which could have been the former Kipper Van.

Equally, there is the tale of a derailment on the Ramsey quayside line on a dark and stormy December day, when a van ended up in the harbour at low tide close to the swing bridge. The van was so badly damaged that it was promptly scrapped. Recently Harbour Board workers, making repairs to the swing bridge, found a set of W irons and a MNR axle box cover in the silt at the base of the bridge opposite Harbour House.

Like all the MNR's good stock, the Kipper Van was painted dark brown, and doesn't appeared to have carried a number, just simply referred to as the 'kipper van' in the records. It did have 'MNR' and 'Kipper Van' in white lettering on the sides along with the usual tare details etc.

As with the IMR's own version of the Kipper Van, details are vague at best, but begs the question, did the Isle of Man Railway copy the Manx Northern Railway or the other way around?

Only history has the answer to that question. As for a picture of the MNR's Kipper Van, there are precious few pictures of the MNR in service, and to date, none have surfaced with the Kipper Van on a train.

And so to the fate of the last remaining unaccounted for IMR van. This was found at the rear of one of the old mines buildings in Foxdale during the 1980's. The story goes of how Captain Kitto ordered a full van of kippers as a Christmas treat for his mineworkers sometime during the 1890's. The van having been duly despatched to Foxdale with the kippers, was shunted into the shed for safety sake, as there was no way of getting it back to St. Johns after Christmas Eve. However, it seems it was simply never sent back at all, the mines management utilising it as an explosives store when no-one contacted them enquiring as to a date for its return.

After the mines closed, and the buildings either put to new uses, or boarded up and abandoned, the van was left to quietly slumber. Eventually, the shed it was stored in was put into use by the Bettacrete concrete products firm. They rediscovered the van and contacted the management of Isle Of Man Railways to ask them to remove it.

Unfortunately, what should have been a happy tale of repatriation and refurbishment was never to be written, as the then traffic manager, visiting the site to make arrangements, accidentally left the smouldering butt of his cigarette on the floor of the van. Of course, with the presence of gunpowder and dynamite residue left over from its previous use, the van was blown to a thousand pieces, one of the axle box covers was later found on the top of the Foxdale Clock tower.

Although, it seems that both the IMR and MNR Kipper vans have been lost in the mists of time, with precious little evidence available to document them with any accuracy. However, who knows what might turn up in the future. There is always the possibility of a never seen before photograph or two of the vans in traffic turning up, or somebody finding one being used as a hen hut located on a remote farm up Little London or near Peel.

Finally, with both railway companies actively using specialised ventilated vans to ship kippers, the spot light has now been turned onto the Manx Electric Railway. Did the MER also have a Kipper Van or two in its Goods fleet to ship kippers up the east coast? Research into this is currently ongoing, but initial findings looking very encouraging.

The official reports of the 1930 Laxey carshed fire are being re-examined in detail to see if all the stock destroyed was fully accounted for after the fire. This will add extra fuel to the MER tramcar No.1 and tramcar No.3 switch conspiracy theory. Was it actually MER No.1 lost in the fire, and management decided to switch identities of MER No.1 and No.3? What else disappeared in that fire too? A redundant MER Kipper van or two?

Watch this Space…

A Happy New Year to you all...