A little while ago I wrote about finding a crocodile at Didcot Railway Centre – not a dangerous reptile but a goods wagon.

Goods wagons were given shorthand names as messages went by telegraph and every letter had to be coded so to keep the messages short the Great Western Railway (GWR) used codes.

If you wanted to send something 10 metres long weighing 25 tonnes by train, all you asked for was a ‘Crocodile F’.

Goods wagons are a subject in themselves and we are starting to plan an event in September, ‘Delivering the Goods’, that will tell the story of GWR goods wagons and their role in railway and social history.

Out team of wagon restorers has already started work on restoring them for the event.

The main types of wagons were opens, vans, milk trains, flat & well wagons, specialised wagons, railway service vehicles and brake vans and Didcot Railway Centre has examples of every type.

Some were simply built with a wooden chassis on a metal under-frame while others were more specialised, such as our milk tank that is lined with glass.

The code names were first introduced in 1892, incidentally the same year that Brunel’s broad gauge was finally replaced by the modern standard gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches.

Some of them were self-explanatory so an open wagon for general goods was an 'open' and a 'fruit' was a van for fruit.

Some were a bit more obscure: a 'bloater' was a fish van but a 'beetle' was for prize cattle, not beetles, and a 'macaw' was for rails and timber.

Others were rather charming – a 'coral' was a glass wagon and a 'pollen' was used for large girders.

We have some specialist vehicles too: for our D Day commemorative event in 2014, one of our volunteers converted one of our wagons into an 'aero' – a wagon for aircraft propellers, together with a large three sided wooden propeller crate. You may be able to guess what a Tevan was - a van for tea. And everyone knows about one of Thomas the Tank Engine’s friend – Toad the brake wagon.

Didcot Railway Centre has a fleet of over 50 wagons, mostly of GWR origin. The oldest, dating from 1881, are twin mites single bolster wagons (a mite is used for rails and timber) and the newest are the modern OBA open wagons, built in 1978/ 79, which we use to move goods in and out of the centre. So when the centre is open, visitors can see everything from an Aero to a Toad as well as a Crocodile, Mink and Hydra.