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Going Loco - May 2021


Ancient Artefact - Part 2

So last time we left little No. 1963 - a.k.a. ‘Shannon’, pottering around Crewe Locomotive Works. A change was about to happen to the engine that was to take it from this industrial powerhouse to a rural idyll. Read on ….

No 5 with a passenger train on the Wantage tramway

Remarkably, rather than being scrapped, ‘Shannon’ was sold on again at the end of her service with the London & North Western Railway in 1878. This time she was about to become part of the thing she was most famous for, the Wantage Tramway. The Wantage Tramway Company (W.T.C.) was established in 1873 and its reason for being was to transport passengers and goods from the GWR's station, Wantage Road, to the town of Wantage itself which was about 2½ miles from the station. The old trick of stating that a station was sort of near a place it was supposed to serve by adding the word ‘Road’ afterwards was common practice in those days and could mean a long walk for the uninformed!

No 5 poses with a single tramcar on the Wantage Tramway

The line was built to standard gauge (4 feet 8½ inches or 1,435mm) as it was built after the gauge commission decreed that no new lines could be built to the GWR's broad gauge (7 feet 0¼ inch or 2,140mm). The line opened in 1875 and started at Wantage Road station on the Didcot to Swindon section of the GWR main line. Here there was a passenger siding and eventually a connection to the goods yard of the GWR. It then followed what is now the A338* there was a halt** at Oxford lane, a passing loop to allow trains to pass each other at Gypsy Lane, another halt at Grove Hill, a second loop at where it met the Wilts and Berks Canal and then it triumphantly marched into the great metropolis that is Wantage.

The Wantage Tramway was built neither for comfort nor speed and was often the butt of jokes with its fleet of secondhand vehicles

Originally, its horsepower was exactly that - horses! The wagons were moved from place to place by horses. It was initially a place that welcomed experimentation using both a steam powered tram designed and built by engineer John Grantham and a less successful pair of pneumatically powered tram cars designed by a Polish Frenchman by the name of Louis Mékarski.*** Afterwards it became synonymous with the use of old railway equipment. Its passenger coaches were converted trams. Goods wagons were more often than not the ones delivered to them by the GWR and the locomotives were a really motley crew of different types. Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 6 were tram engines, No. 7 was a Manning and Wardle 0-4-0 saddle tank that came from the Manchester ship canal. No. 3 is unknown - that's right! This one slipped through the historical cracks and we have no idea as to what it was! Which leaves us with No. 5...

This was our engine, ‘Shannon’. She arrived in 1878. The amazing thing is that she got there under her own power. Imagine the little 0-4-0 who could only carry 250 gallons of water and ½ ton of coal going from Crewe in Cheshire to Oxford and then on the GWR to Wantage. It's about 150 miles! A long journey for a such a little engine. She saw out the rest of her working life here. Pottering up and down the short line and yet again endearing herself to all she met. She was known to the locals as ‘Jane’. She was overhauled and repaired by Swindon for the W.T.C. a number of times. Highlights include new cylinders fitted in 1882 and overhauls in 1896 and 1921. A change to Avonside**** of Bristol in 1929 and a final return to Swindon in 1939. And that's it. Any other small repairs were done on the railway. The advantage of this is that she has changed very little over the years unlike many of our GWR machines.

Fortunately No 5's light weight meant that rerailing could be accomplished using jacks following this unplanned excursion!

The W.T.C. did well in the pre WWI environment but after the Great War, the proliferation of road vehicles - particularly the ex-army ones - started to bite into their profits. The 1st of August 1925 saw the end of passenger services but it was the Second World War that ended the goods services. The massive amount of road traffic did all kinds of damage to the track and it simply became uneconomic to repair it. As a result the last train ran on the 22nd December 1945.

This should have been the end but the engine managed to charm even the normally stone faced GWR. They bought her for £100 and she went back to Swindon again. Restored with the name ‘Shannon’, she was put on display on the platform of Wantage Road Station. There she stood for 17 years until 1965 when the station closed. By this time, her historic importance had been realised and in order to secure her as part of the UK's National Collection, she was moved to somewhere safe. How about the grounds of the Atomic Energy Authority? Safe Enough?

Between Wantage and Didcot on 18 January 1969, No 5 photographed by Angus Davis standing on the front passenger side of a Hillman Imp with his head and camera through the sunroof!

Nuclear grade security is all well and good but it's not really a railway is it? It's not the rural idyll or historic industrial setting you first think of when placing a 1857 steam locomotive... These were exactly the thoughts of a couple of Great Western Society members who happened upon ‘Shannon’ in her bizarre circumstance. A chat with the National Collection about ‘the lovely engine shed that we now have and - oooh, how cool would it be to see it run again?’ began.

After positive discussions with both the National Collection and Wantage Council (who were originally looking to see her installed in their town), Didcot became her home. And she did run again. Well, couldn't not really could we? So after two year's work she felt fire in her belly once again in 1968. She managed to attend the amazing Stockton & Darlington 150 celebrations in steam and took part in the grand parade of 1975.

Setting off to the 1975 S&D grand parade, No 5 is loaded onto a wagon in the lifting shop at Didcot

Before setting off to Shildon for the Stockton & Darlington celebrations we decided it would be prudent to retube the boiler, as the age of the tubes was unknown. That revealed an unpleasant discovery as reported in the June 1975 GWS newsletter:

“When first brought to Didcot, there were legends of a crack in the firebox but despite much investigation no trace could be found. Upon removal of the top row of tubes, the firebox tubeplate sprung to reveal an old crack across the top row of ligaments. Although previously welded up, considerable care had to be exercised in replacing the top row.” The boiler inspector, an old BR hand with decades of experience, advised us to dress the crack with a hammer and chisel, and he would then give the boiler a year's certificate to get it through the grand parade.

The delicate operation to unload No 5 at Shildon

On the day of the grand parade in 1975, No 5, the smallest and oldest engine taking part, is behind Princess Elizabeth, the largest locomotive on parade

The final bit of history - other than continuing to charm the visitors that see her(!) is that a static restoration was carried out in 2017. During this, a bit of forensic sanding amazingly revealed original W.T.C. lettering under many coats of paint and this was fully recorded and sealed before the top coat of the earlier W.T.C. Red livery was applied.

No 5 cosmetically restored to Wantage Tramway colours continues to delight visitors to Didcot

Of all the locomotives produced by George England & Co., ‘Shannon’ and the four at the Ffestiniog Railway are the only ones left, which makes ‘Shannon ’ the only standard gauge survivor. Not only that but she was built at a time when the GWR had been running trains for less than 20 years! It certainly ranks fairly well in the list of oldest surviving steam engines anywhere in the world. The fact that it is still with us is nothing short of miraculous. That we at Didcot get to look after her and show her off to the public is a real privilege.****.

*Back in the day it revelled in the excellent name of the Besselsleigh Turnpike. We've lost something calling it the A338 haven't we? I'm sure it's nice and efficient but still...

**Halt = A really small station.

***More details here:

****Thanks National Collection!


Ancient Artefact - Part 1

In our journey through the 0-4-0s in the shed we find ourselves (virtually) stood in front of one of the most remarkable survivors we look after at Didcot. The Venerable Wantage Tramway Company's (W.T.C) No. 5. We are going to have to build a big fire in the boiler of our time machine for this one - it's a long way back...

No 5 ‘Shannon’ outside the Engine Shed at Didcot - 1 May 2021

George England was born in about 1811 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and moved to Deptford, London to train as an engineer when the time came. This was at the John Penn Boilerworks and Shipyards. The first time he really makes his mark on the world of engineering is in 1839 when he received a patent for a new type of traversing screw jack. Not unlike a set we have at Didcot. These have a ratchet driven screw which performs the lifting action and another screw thread that moves the jacking section left or right. These were once standard equipment on many steam locomotives and were used to put them back on the track - the up and sideways motion being very useful!

George England & Co. was set up in 1839 and built locomotives for a wide range of different railways. Not only our beloved G.W.R. but also the Caledonian Railway, the London Brighton and South Coast Railway, the Somerset and Dorset Railway and, in far flung Australia, the Victorian Railway.* Their most famous products are perhaps the engines of the Ffestiniog Railway. The diminutive 0-4-0s have become synonymous with the line along with something else pioneered initially at the firm. George England met Robert Fairlie in 1860 who began working as a consultant engineer for the company.

The Ffestiniog Railway's Prince in Boston Lodge works, September 2019, built by George England & Co in 1863

He also eloped with George's daughter... This ended up in court as England alleged that Robert Fairlie had forged a document to allow Eliza to marry him. For complex legal reasons, the judge threw the case out. To add to the drama, all his employees went on strike in 1865 over his poor treatment of them and despite them returning, lost orders meant that nobody really won that battle. Fairlie patented his unique twin bogie steam locomotive design in 1864 and the first was built in 1865 but the good salesmanship of England resulted in the order being placed by the Ffestiniog and the rest is history. England's retirement resulted in Fairlie taking over in 1869.** George England passed away in 1878.

The Ffestiniog Railway's Double-Fairlie ‘David Lloyd George’ at Porthmadog in September 2019. This is the most recent Double-Fairlie in the world, built at Boston Lodge in 1992.

Dropping back through the 19th century a bit, an order was given to Englands to build a little 0-4-0 well tank locomotive that was completed in 1857. She had an all up weight of just 15 tons, driving wheels that were 2’ 11” (0.889m) in diameter and two 9 in × 12 in (229mm × 305mm) cylinders. It had a boiler pressure of 120psi and coal and water capacity of 1/2 ton and 250 gallons respectively. Yours sir, for the princely sum of £800!*** The engine was built for the Sandy & Potton Railway which had been set up by Captain Sir William Peel V.C. K.C.B. R.N. Enough grandeur around that name? He was the son of Prime Minister Robert Peel - he of setting up the Metropolitan Police fame!

This drawing of ‘Shannon’ as built was published in The Locomotive magazine on 15 November 1905 in an article about ‘Shannon's’ history

This railway was a really local affair. The Great Northern Railway opened a station at Sandy, Bedfordshire in 1850. The attraction of connection to national markets for the produce grown in the area was very tempting and Captain Peel was most vociferous in gaining the support of local businesses to build it. He also did two other things. Gave the rights to allow the line to be built on his 1,400 acre (5.7 square kilometre) estate and he also offered to fund it too. Needless to say that a railway happened...

It cost him the mighty sum of £15,000 for over 3 miles of track. It didn’t require an act of parliament to build like most other railways as it was built on Peel's estate. The benefits were immediate. The produce traffic went from a £70 profit in 1853 to £500 in 1858. Passenger services commenced in 1857. Facilities were always quite basic but it did the job!

When our engine got there, it was named ‘Shannon’ after the ship H.M.S. Shannon. This was a Liffey Class steam frigate that Peel commanded. Peel sadly never saw his railway in action - he was killed while on duty. He was involved in landing a Naval Brigade and their guns ashore in the siege of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny. During this action, no less than 5 Victoria Crosses were won including the first black recipient, Able Seaman William Hall****. During the second relief of Lucknow, Peel was injured during the action and subsequently caught smallpox and died. The line was purchased in 1860 to become part of the Bedford & Cambridge Railway and only met with closure as part of the national network in 1964.

In 1862, ‘Shannon’ became surplus to requirements and was sold on to the London & North Western Railway (L.N.W.R.) and given No. 1104. The initial idea was for her to run on the Cromford and High Peak Railway. This was a mainly industrial line that serviced the Peak District minerals traffic. It passed through some quite arduous terrain so it’s probably of no surprise that a little 15 ton 0-4-0 of ‘Shannon's’ ilk struggled and she was transferred to Crewe Locomotive Works to be used as a shunter - a job more in line with her stature. In 1872 she was renumbered again, this time to No. 1863.

Shannon’ has such a long history that I've had to split this one into a two parter! Next time we get to look at the Wantage Tramway, her years as a station ornament and her brush with nuclear power. Stay tuned!

*Engines designed in the Victorian era by a Victorian engineer, built by Victorian craftsmen to go work the Victorian era Victorian Railway. A Victorian victory perhaps?

**They must have patched things up - nice to have a happy ending!

***1857 money of course! A quick internet calculation reveals that’s nearly £93k today!

****He was also the first Canadian recipient - being from Nova Scotia.


The Cardiff Connection

1338 in action on the main demonstration line at Didcot - September 2009

We had a chat about No. 1340 Trojan a few blogs back but there are a couple more 0-4-0 locomotives tucked away in the shed at Didcot. We will make our way through the list which comprises No. 1 Bonnie Prince Charlie, No. 5 Shannon and, the subject of today's blog - No. 1338. Like Trojan, we need to take a trip to another private manufacturer of steam locomotives. Instead of Avonside of Bristol, we head north to Leeds.

The company that built No. 1338 was established in 1835 by James Kitson and was based at Pearson Street in Hunslet. Kitson's partner in the enterprise was one Charles Todd. Todd had been apprenticed to a ‘founding father’ of the steam locomotive and leading industrialist of the time - Matthew Murray. A final partner in the form of David Laird, a rich farmer looking for investment opportunities, completed the early line up of the business and as a result the company was known at different times as Todd, Kitson and Laird, Kitson and Laird and Laird and Kitson.*

Lion in steam in 1961

One of their early products is amazingly still within us. The Liverpool and Manchester 0-4-2 No. 57 Lion was built by the firm in 1838 as one of a pair of ‘luggage engines’.** It went through a few rebuilds and ended up being withdrawn in 1857 and sold to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. In 1874 the engine was retired from work on the railway but was retained and modified to act as a steam pump at Prince's Dock. And there it stayed until it was ‘discovered’ by the Liverpool Engineering Society in 1923. It was sent to Crewe works in 1928 and restored to full working order as a railway locomotive. It has been a celebrity many times since - its starring role being that of the Titfield Thunderbolt in the film of the same name.*** Although no longer active, Lion still has a starring role being a key exhibit in Museum of Liverpool.

Lion and Evening Star at Didcot - 1982

Back to the plot. In 1842, Laird - who clearly wasn't getting the financial returns he had expected from the partnership - left and the company was joined by Isaac Thompson and William Hewitson. This saw a few more name changes through such combinations as Kitson, Thompson & Hewitson. The name changed again in 1858 when Thompson left (Kitson & Hewitson) and finally Kitson and Company after the death of Hewitson in 1863. They built locomotives for not just the UK but the world over and did so for just over a century. Almost every continent that had railways at the time seems to have seen a Kitson locomotive serve there. Sadly, the economic downturn of the 1930s along with the investment in a new and innovative method of propulsion that went nowhere**** caused them to cease to produce engines in 1938.

1338 passes the Coal Stage at Didcot with carriage 416 in tow - December 2010

Winding the clock back a bit, the other player in our story started as the trustees of the Marquis of Bute. They had operated the docks in Cardiff (known as the ‘Bute Docks’) since 1839 but they soon became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of coal traffic going through the port. Noticing that the railway companies around them were making large sums of money from this traffic, they decided that they wanted their own piece of that particular pie. So, being Victorians, they built their own railway. They however failed to make good friends and the railways that connected to them, over which they sometimes needed to run, weren't impressed. There were constant feuds between the Cardiff Railway (C.R.) as it became and its neighbours. This meant that it was always hamstrung, hemmed in by its competitors. It had just 120 miles of dock and colliery sidings and an impressive 11 mile long main line(!).

In 1898, our two stories collide as Kitson received an order for a pair of 0-4-0 dock shunting locomotives from the Cardiff Railway. These two saddle tanks were the only two of their class ever built and are a little different from its other Didcot shed mates. The most obvious from the outside is the valve gear. The rods and links take a decidedly ‘left turn at Albuquerque’ and end up going over the top of the running plate. This is quite unusual and is known as Kitson-Hawthorn valve gear. The engines were replacements for older machines and were slotted into the C.R. numbers 5 and 6. These engines went about their business until interrupted by the grouping of 1923 when the C.R. became the smallest absorbed railway.

1338's unusual Kitson-Hawthorn valve gear

They became G.W.R. Nos. 1338 and 1339 but the fates of these two machines could not be more different. No. 1339 was unceremoniously cut up for scrap in 1934. For some reason, No. 1338 was retained and put into store. It found itself on loan to Stewarts & Lloyds Ltd of Swansea during the first half of the second world war. She was returned in 1943 and then went on to work on Bridgwater Harbour from Taunton locomotive shed. And that's where she stayed until transferred to Swansea docks in 1960. She was the last of the absorbed standard gauge locos when she withdrawn from regular service in 1963. She accumulated no less than 340,000 miles in G.W.R. and B.R. service. When you think that was all generated on short shunting trips, you realise just how large a figure that is for such a small engine. Quite remarkable.

1338 at Bridgwater Docks. Photo by R C Riley

What is also quite remarkable is that she was saved from the fate that befell her classmate back in 1934. She was rescued from that in 1964 and became one of the prize exhibits at a small museum that was once housed at Bleadon and Uphill station in Somerset where she inhabited a space behind the up platform. Gradually disguised by bushes from the passing trains over the years, she eventually made her way to Didcot in 1987. She was subsequently restored to working order and had a good run, even making it out and about during her ticket taking in a visit to the Bristol Harbour Railway in 2000. She was (still is!) immensely popular with visitors - just like Trojan is. Her diminutive stature makes her less intimidating to younger steam fans, hopefully starting them on a lifelong fascination with the iron horses of yesterday. She is the only surviving Cardiff Railway engine and is incredibly important because of that too. For now, her boiler ticket has ended and she awaits her turn in the works. It seems that this indomitable little engine is taking a rest for now but don't count her out. The itch to add to those 340,000 miles can't be ignored forever...

Although not currently in working order, 1338 is still cared for by the team of volunteers at Didcot

PS: While we broke the 50 ‘Going Loco’ blogs in total a few issues back (has it REALLY been over a year now?!), this is the 50th that your regular blogger has had a hand in to a greater or lesser extent. While I get to scribble down the stuff in my head for you all to read once a week, it's the team that makes it look good so thanks to:

Leigh & Ali - Fact Checkers Extraordinaire.

Frank - Photo & Caption Wrangler

Kevin - Keeper of the Drawings Dungeon

Chrissy & Graham - Blog Construction Maestros

All the best.


50 Not Out! Drew, your regular blogger, is clearly going nowhere!


No. 1466 - The Pioneer’s Progress

Your regular blogger gets a week off! Yay! Our guest today is Phil Morrell who has the privilege of looking after arguably the most important engine we have. The collection wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the purchase of No. 1466! He took up the reins as project manager in September and has prepared a short update on how things are going. I'm handing over to Phil and I'm going to put the kettle on...

1466 at Taunton shed in 1964, prior to her purchase by the Great Western Society

No. 1466 is currently being overhauled by Western Steam Engineering Limited (WSEL) at the Dean Forest Railway and this is set to be the most extensive overhaul the locomotive has had since 1961.

Despite the difficulty and uncertainty that Covid-19 brought to the world, there has been a great deal of progress made on the engine. As well as me taking on the role of project manager, I'm pleased and also very grateful that we have Bob Meanley on board as technical adviser for the project and a valued mentor. What Bob doesn't know about steam locomotives, quite frankly isn't worth knowing!

1466 and 1369 October 1965

1466 Rewheeled - photo courtesy of Ed Freeman

At the end of February, after the completion of horn grinding and having the axle-boxes overhauled, it's great to report that No. 1466 is now sat back on its wheels. The wheels themselves have been extensively refurbished too, having new tyres fitted by South Devon Railway Engineering (SDRE). No. 1466 has had a brand-new bunker made as well as having both side tanks extensively overhauled with a lot of new platework. This effectively makes them as good as new. The cab roof has also been restored and refitted to the locomotive temporarily to provide space so that other work can continue. The locomotive's inside valve motion has been overhauled and machined or replaced where necessary. There is a whole host of other work that has been completed which includes:

The overhaul of the rear drag-box.

  1. The new steel cab floor has been made.
  2. The piston rods have been successfully MPI tested and refitted.
  3. The locomotive's springs have been refurbished.
  4. The front sander linkage has been repaired.
  5. And finally(!), the front buffer beam has been refitted as well as all the buffers and drawgear to both ends.

Front bufferbeam - photo courtesy Phil Morrell

As the locomotive's smokebox was found to be in a rather dire condition, a new barrel has been sourced as well as a new door and various other smokebox fittings which have been manufactured and supplied by SDRE. Moving forward, the next stage is to make the locomotive into a complete rolling chassis with all its motion, lubrication and vacuum systems along with their associated pipework and fittings. Once this stage is completed, our focus will then turn to the final elephant in the room - the boiler. As the elephant metaphor rather nicely mirrors, this will be quite a big job...

The boiler awaits the fitting of new platework - photo courtesy Phil Morrell

The boiler needs the front tubeplate and front barrel section replacing, which have already been sourced and manufactured. At the firebox end, about three quarters of the backplate will be replaced. About 12 inches of outer wrapper on both sides will also be replaced along the bottom of the foundation ring and the bottom 12 inches of throatplate. Of course it will also need the usual replacement of a number of side stays, crown stays and new tubes. Once the pressure vessel pachyderm has been laid to rest, we will be ‘on the home straight’ for finishing the locomotive. It is hoped that she will make a triumphant return back to Didcot later this alongside No. 4079 Pendennis Castle (scroll down to the 23 April blog for details). This overhaul should see 1466's future secured for a long time to come.

Thanks Phil! I can't wait to have these two engines back in traffic. The first engine in the Great Western Society Collection AND the first ever guest engine to a Society event. I'd better get the Castle team fired up (pun intended!). Is it possible to do a special double header with these two on the main demonstration line? Can we get all three autocoaches working with No. 1466? Which one will have the best place for the driver and fireman to heat their Cornish pasties in the cab? Find out answers to these important questions and more in future thrilling editions of Going Loco - The Blog!

Blimey, that was a bit much.

I need another cuppa...

Some funding is still needed to help complete this thorough restoration – you can donate online via the 1466 Restoration Appeal.

1466 in action at Didcot Halt - photo courtesy Frank Dumbleton


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