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Going Loco

BLOG - Facts and stories about GWR locomotives & rolling stock

With a collection of locomotives and rolling stock dating from Victorian times to the 1960s, there's plenty to discover.


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The Shed 5 - Holiday Snaps

As part of our Going Loco series on engine shed related matters, we have realised that Didcot Engine Shed is much travelled and has popped up in many parts of the world as a film star. Now that we are in the summer vacation season, we present for this week’s Going Loco a selection of holiday snaps from the Engine Shed’s journeys.

1. Copenhagen: The Danish Girl (2015) with Alicia Vikander

2. Paris: The Danish Girl (2015) with Eddie Redmayne


3. Dover: The Incredible Sarah (1976) with Glenda Jackson being photographed on departing for Paris


4. Dover: The Incredible Sarah (1976) with Glenda Jackson


5. Paris: The Incredible Sarah (1976) with Glenda Jackson


6. Paris: The Incredible Sarah (1976) with Glenda Jackson


7. London Waterloo: Three Men in a Boat (1975) – Michael Palin and Tim Curry depart from Waterloo for their boating holiday. The third man (Stephen Moore) joins them at Kingston


8. London Waterloo: Three Men in a Boat (1975)


9. Moriarty’s armaments factory: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). A masterpiece of computer generated imagery but you can still identify the real Engine Shed within the picture


10. Moscow: Anna Karenina (2012)


11. Moscow: Anna Karenina (2012), Keira Knightley boards a snow-covered carriage


12. Moscow: Anna Karenina (2012)


13. Moscow: Anna Karenina (2012), Keira Knightley inside the Engine Shed as Moscow station


14. New York: Genius (2016), Colin Firth and Robert Downey Junior at New York Central railroad station


15. Occupied France: François, proof of concept film (2018)


16. Occupied France: François, proof of concept film (2018)


17. Soviet Russia: Thank You Comrades (1978), just after the Bolshevik Revolution, Russian movie makers travel abroad to buy much-needed film stock. Ben Kingsley on left


18. Soviet Russia: Thank You Comrades (1978), after the Bolshevik Revolution travelling cinemas in trains took propaganda films to the population


19. Didcot: The Architecture the Railways Built (2021), back home the Engine Shed was a backdrop for continuity shots in Tim Dunn’s documentary series


The Shed 4 - Keeping it going.

We have to keep things moving. That’s true of life in general, certain species of shark in particular* and is a truism as far as the railway is concerned. The steam locomotive is a maintenance-hungry beast. They are finicky in the extreme at times and some engines in particular will constantly do their level best to not work when you need them to. The old thing about engines having their own distinct ‘personalities’ is in many ways true.

To make sure these quasi-alive beasts kept moving, there were a whole host of different arrangements. We will continue looking at the post-war era under the guidance of our friend from last week – Bernard Barlow in his book Didcot Engineman. The first of which he described was the maintenance schedule. This was known as the MP11. This was essentially the title of the document.

Repacking a piston gland on 2999

The mechanical examinations included all the moving parts of an engine such as the valves, pistons, wheels, valve gear and so on. These were done every 6,000 and then 12,000 miles. There was also something called the X Day examination which was usually undertaken while the crew was preparing the locomotive for either a vacuum-fitted goods or passenger service. This was due to the inherently higher speeds that would be involved. Engines working as pilot, shunter or goods trains which had lower top speeds, were examined once a week. This brought to the attention of the fitters (maintenance staff) any issues that needed attention. Of course there were then mechanical issues discovered by the crews out on the road. These were booked upon the return of the engine to the shed for the fitters to deal with.

The pump and hoses ready for washing out 1340

While the mechanical parts were done on a mileage basis, the safety critical systems on the boiler were examined on a time based schedule. This was on a three, six or twelve monthly schedule. As well as the mechanical and safety systems, there was keeping the boiler clean. Apart from the regular emptying of firebox, ashpan and smokebox, the most regular of the maintenance jobs on a steam engine – then as is now – is the washing out of the boiler.** This too had its own schedule, according to the class of locomotive. 60XX and 50XX (Kings and Castles) were washed out after every four days in traffic. The 59XX, 69XX (Hall and modified Hall) and 28XX (2-8-0 tender locomotives) were done every seven days and the smaller tank engines were done after fourteen days and so on.

The process at Didcot was done by a team of boiler washers that were three strong. There was also a boilersmith and boilersmith’s mate that was sometimes a young cleaner - a boy training to become an engineman. One of the jobs that Bernard Barlow remembered doing with the boilersmith was raising steam on the old Dean-era boiler (No 947) that was installed to provide steam and hot water to the wash-out pipework and to pump the water up into the the oil tanks in the oil store. The boilersmith would remove all the boiler wash out plugs and the mud hole doors and the loco was then turned over to the wash out team.

Washing out 4144

The boiler washers had a series of tools at their disposal. The hoses they used had a variety of different nozzles that could be fitted to the ends of them. There were differing lengths and angles of jet that enabled the washers to get to all the nooks and crannies in the boiler. There are quite a few areas that are difficult to get to as well. The fire and flue tubes get in the way as does the fact that there is an inner and outer firebox with only a few inches between them and all the stays in there too. The silt and scale is washed from the top, downwards and in theory is flushed out. The reality is though that the silt and scale can compact and solidify and this necessitated the use of metal rods and the like to poke in the cramped spaces to loosen it up first.

Young volunteers with one of the washing out nozzles after 4144’s wash out

The teams worked together and there was a man working the hose and another working the valve to turn the water on and off. The hose man would shout to the valve man on or off. When the valve was turned off, the man working the hose would move to another mud hole door or wash out plug hole. This is all well and good if you can be heard but the problem came in the fact that Didcot shed was at times extremely noisy. This meant that it was not uncommon for the man on the hose to get an unexpected soaking! Bernard Barlow remembers that the boiler washout worked on a piecework basis and that were only so many hours allocated for each locomotive. He said “I’m convinced that the work was hurried – the sooner the job was done, the earlier they could finish. I don’t think that some of the locos had the really thorough wash they needed, in between boiler inspections, and I was later to experience the problems this caused”.

Replacing the tapered plugs in 2999’s boiler after a wash out

Whatever the reality of the situation, the truth is that a dirty boiler does not allow heat to be transferred from the fire to the water efficiently. this clearly means that the locomotive will not operate efficiently and can cause a lot of problems for the fireman trying to provide steam to his driver. The more heat that is wasted, the more coal that has to be shovelled by the fireman to keep the engine working. You can see why Bernard was not impressed, as a trainee fireman, when he got an engine that was badly washed out.

That will do for our look at the basic data today maintenance of steam locomotives on Didcot shed during the steam era. What we will do next time is take a look at the various trades and skills that were used at Didcot to keep the steam locomotives running. We will also have a look at the shed staff structure to see how this all fitted together, and the maintenance areas such as the lifting shop. See you next time!

Of course even Great Western Engine sheds don't last for ever, and Didcot remains as the last such shed in use for, broadly, its original purpose.  You may be aware that we are currently fundraising towards a major refurbishment of the main shed roof, and should you wish to find out more or contribute, please look at our shed roof appeal page.

* For those that don’t know this particular nugget of information, some species of shark require oxygenated water flowing over their gills constantly in order to breathe. No flow = dead fish …

** There is an excellent British Transport Films production which is on YouTube that I encourage you to watch if you want the in detail story on how boiler wash outs were performed in the steam age. It’s called Wash and Brush Up and you can click the link to see it.

31 MAY

The Shed 3 - All the World’s a (Coal) Stage and Ashes to Ashes

The coal stage with No 4953 Pitchford Hall during her visit to Didcot in September 2023

That got a bit too close to literature didn’t it?! Well, for my humble scribblings at least … The traffic of coal in and ash out was a major concern of the engine shed and led to much traffic and organisational headaches. Hundreds of tons of coal were consumed by the locomotives of the Great Western Railway every day, and all that coal became ash. The ash needed to be removed as fast as the coal came in. There were other goods coming in and out of the shed as well. Sand came in to help the engines grip the rails. Oil and grease to keep the engines running smoothly. Spare parts, firelighters, even engines themselves that were in need of maintenance or overhaul. The steam locomotive shed generated a huge amount of traffic in its own right and that was before the railway was hauling anyone else’s freight!

No 1340 Trojan shunting the 20 ton coal wagon up the coal stage in September 2022

Coal is the obvious traffic. It came into the sheds in its own dedicated wagons. The way that it was distributed to the locomotives was unique to the Great Western Railway due to the grade of coal used. Welsh steam coal was of high calorific value – it had lots of chemical energy bound up within it – but it had a disadvantage in that it was soft. It broke up and turned to dust if roughly handled. The way the GWR dealt with this issue was to not use mechanical coaling plants like other railways. Instead the coal was moved from wagon to locomotive on shovels.

A GWR 40 ton coal wagon

The amount of back-breaking work this generated over the years must have been truly staggering. The only way that it was done efficiently even at medium size sheds was to use a coal stage. It was a truly herculean task undertaken on a daily basis. The wagons ranged in capacity between 10 to 20 tons*. They were propelled up the coal stage ramp by a locomotive so that 5 of them were at the top of the gradient. They were unloaded one at a time and them shunted down the man-made hill under gravity. This clearly didn’t go well 100% of the time. There was a pedal and lever trap point at the bottom of the ramp to prevent errant wagons making their way onto the main line but this just derailed them into the soft ground. It was apparently a royal pain to put them back on the track …

Young Volunteers shovelling coal into the tubs on 13 January 2024

The working conditions of the men on the coal stage were really quite primitive. It was just men and shovels. In Bernard Barlow’s fantastic book Didcot Engineman, he remembers Tad Jones and Freddie Knapp. These were hard men who would walk to work – four miles a day wasn’t uncommon. They would shift around 20 tons of coal by shovel and then walk home. Filthy doesn’t cover the conditions here. Up on top of the hill at Didcot, the wind would whistle through the building and in the winter the coal could be frozen in place. Only prying with iron bars would free it off. The coal was loaded into 15 ten cwt tubs on wheels that were then tipped, via a drawbridge arrangement into the bunkers or tenders of 25 to 30 hungry engines a day. Cleaning themselves in a bucket of hot water from the injectors of the nearest steam locomotive before changing, possibly a quick pint at the Prince of Wales or The White Hart and then walking home. Not for the faint hearted …

Coaling GWR No 813 during her visit in April 2017

Dealing with ashes at the other end of the cycle was equally difficult and unpleasant. The fire droppers were the individuals tasked with this job and having done it myself, I can tell you that it can be really trying at times. Fortunately, I have only had to do it on one engine. The fire droppers were doing it all shift … I can tell you that it can be really trying at times. The first job is to knock the fire through the firebars in the firebox. This is either easy, if the coal and the crew has been kind, and there is no clinker. It’s still hot and difficult, as with large engines like the Castle and Saint, you will find that the front end of the firebox is some 11 feet away from you. This means that heavy steel tools of longer lengths are needed to reach it. If the fire has clinkered then you are in for a real fight. This glass like substance forms a sheet over the firebars and can only be chipped, chiselled and smashed off in chunks. With the correspondingly huge and heavy tools. Large lumps that will fit through the fire hole door can be shovelled out, smaller bits can be knocked down through the bars.

No 1466 inside the ash shed while it still existed

We then move down to the ashpan. On the Castle and Saint (as with all the GWR 4-6-0s), there is a two section ash pan with the axle for the rear driving wheels placed in the middle of it. This means that there are 4 damper doors which will be opened fully to allow the rakes to get in to clear them out. So, you’ve been roasted by cleaning the fire and now you are trying to breathe in a hot, dusty environment which, if the wind is up, will be swirling around you. It is advised to damp the ashes down first. This helps. A bit. So you come out of that bit covered in white dust.

Dropping the clinker out of the firebox is a spectacular sight, even if it is a fight for the fire dropper to shovel it out through the fire hole door

Now we are going to the smokebox where the soot produced during the day will be hiding. This will turn everything black. The ash and soot ended up in the pit under the ash road alongside the coal stage ramp. There was a shelter built over this to prevent glowing ashes being seen by enemy aircraft in WWII but this was taken down in preservation as it had become structurally unsafe.

Shovelling ash out of the smokebox of No 4079. This was during the Great Western Envoy railtour from Birmingham to Didcot and back on 29 May 1977, before No 4079 Pendennis Castle was exported to Australia

So, how did the ash get out of the pit? Well, there was a man and a shovel. One particular individual that Bernard Barlow tells us of is a gentleman called Ted Betteridge. He was tasked with loading 10 tons of ashes into the awaiting wagons in the adjacent siding per day. He is described as an ‘artist with a shovel’ and was quite capable of filling the 10 tons in half a day. In the summer he started at daybreak and went home by lunchtime. He was an exception and if he was away, it was said that very little ash was moved until he returned! This hot ash sometimes still smouldered and there was unburnt fuel in there too. The net result was the sudden and unwelcome combustion of the contents of the wagons. It was not unusual for an engine to be brought alongside and the coal watering or pep pipe being used as a sort of mobile fire engine to put it out.

Back where she belongs – No 4079 Pendennis Castle in the identical position to the previous photograph, on the ash road during the Four Castles weekend at Didcot in March 2023

Then, what happened to all that ash and clinker? Well, to find out, you just have to look to the floor the next time you visit Didcot. If you look closely, you will find that the ground you are stood on is made up from ash and clinker. Thousands of fires, generated thousands of tons of very handy fill-in material and this is easy to see all over the railway. If you look down for less than 5 minutes, if you are lucky, you will find a piece of the ground that looks a bit like the inside of a Crunchy chocolate bar. This is clinker. As you hold this little bit of history in your hand, remember the people that put the coal in the engines and took the ash out. It’s not the glamour side of the Steam Era, but it is vital social history and these hard working men of the past deserve to be remembered for their efforts in keeping the nation moving.

* There were a few largely experimental 40 ton bogie coal wagons that were constructed in the early 1900s but they weren’t built in large numbers.

24 MAY

The Shed 2 - Bricks and Mortar

In our series of shed-related matters, the organisational structure of the whole affair was looked at to start with. The next step therefore is probably to look – as the title suggests – at the actual buildings themselves. There was a wide range of different structures perpetuated by the Great Western Railway, as you might expect with a company with such a long history and in a wide range of different terrain.

The original timber broad gauge engine shed at Truro, photographed in 1899. British Rail photograph published in An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds 1947 by E Lyons

As we said last week, the size of the sheds was of course dependent upon the size of the allocation of locomotives. Allocations could range from one or two engines to a few hundred. At its simplest, a shed would ideally need a building in which to keep its allocation, a source of water, a structure to help coal the engines and a pit to enable easy access to the underneath of engines for oiling up, maintenance and disposal of the fire at the end of the day.

Wellington engine shed on 24 May 1952, possibly converted from a goods shed in 1876. Photograph in the R J Hill collection, Great Western Trust

As sheds got larger and as locations demanded, a method of reversing locomotives might be provided. Turntables being provided even in some small sheds such as Fairford. As sheds got bigger still, you may have methods of drying the sand required for adhesion in slippery conditions and the provision of maintenance resources such as lifting gear and workshop space. This had its own range of different provisions and we will look at that separately.

The timber Oxford engine shed dating from 1854. Note Fair Rosamund, the Woodstock branch line engine, standing in front of the 1931-built repair shop on the right. British Rail photograph published in An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds 1947 by E Lyons

The arrangement of the main shed buildings was equally varied. Small sheds were exactly as you’d imagine. A single road, doors at one end and enough space inside for one or two engines. As the allocation got larger, so did the buildings. The building would gain extra roads and doors. Larger still and they became through sheds with doors each end. Didcot’s layout is a great example of this design.

St Blazey engine shed opened c.1872. Photograph in the Great Western Trust collection

Even larger saw the use of a roundhouses. These massive structures incorporated a central turntable with a series of storage roads leading off them. The Old Oak Common steam shed at Paddington in London was an impressive example. This was a conjoined quadruple roundhouse with four turntables and buildings covering them all. These buildings were often known as ‘cathedrals of steam’ and for good reason when you see photographs of their interiors.

Plymouth Laira engine shed under construction in 1900. British Rail photograph published in An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds 1947 by E Lyons

Construction of early sheds was almost entirely timber and some of these lasted very well indeed. The recent excavations for the ramp into and out of Didcot Railway Centre revealed the brick footings of the first of Didcot’s locomotive sheds. Oxford remained as a timber shed through to the end as did Fairford. Later structures were brick all the way up to the roof with a metal roof framing and were quite substantial.

Old Oak Common engine shed, the ultimate cathedral of steam, opened in 1906. Great Western Trust photograph

The locomotive shed at Didcot is quite interesting in that it is only brick half way up the walls and then has corrugated sheets up to the roof. This is a sign of its rather interesting creation. It is what is known as a ‘Loans and Guarantees Act’ shed. This was a programme set up by the government to get men to work during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. This project gave employment on a range of projects across the country – one of which was the renewal of old locomotive sheds on the Great Western Railway. So, the most important surviving example of a steam locomotive shed in the UK was in fact built on the cheap!

Leamington engine shed when completed in 1906. This was the first of Churchward’s standard straight road sheds. British Rail photograph published in An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds 1947 by E Lyons

There were of course outliers. Local conditions might dictate that it was cheaper to build from local materials. The most obvious being the substitution of brick for stone. Other outliers included such famous examples as the semi-roundhouse at St Blazey in Cornwall. This was of a design much more common in Europe and North America than it was here in the UK where a semicircular building wrapped around a turntable. Many of the GWR oddities were also caused by the amalgamation of other railway companies into the company – particularly at the 1923 Grouping.

Swindon engine shed roundhouse under construction in 1908. Great Western Trust photograph

It’s worth mentioning the track layout at this point too. The idea with this is to provide as many different ways to access as many of the facilities of the shed as is possible within the confines of the site provided. This is because there is a risk that an engine that is being coaled or having its fire disposed of could in theory block access to other things such as the turntable. We will go back to Didcot again as that one you can visit and examine for yourself.

Penzance engine shed as built in 1914. British Rail photograph published in An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds 1947 by E Lyons

If you look at the original track plan, you will see that there were two roads into the shed yard. The loop around the ash wagon road meant that the coal stage could be accessed, even if there were locomotives having their fires disposed on the ash pits. There were also two roads to the turntable, allowing a number of locomotives to come and go. On that route was a number of passing loops too.

Didcot engine shed when new in 1932. Impeccable social history as a Loan Act shed and now Grade II listed. British Rail photograph published in An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds 1947 by E Lyons

There was quite the art to making the best of these situations and spending a moment tracing your finger up and down the tracks on the map, will help you see just how clever it is. Whether you make chuff, chuff, chuff noises while doing so, I will leave up to you …

The interior of Didcot engine shed in 2011, when emptied after a filming contract. Now Grade II listed as the only surviving example of a medium-sized GWR engine shed

The track plan of Didcot engine shed published in An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds 1947 by E Lyons

Of course even Great Western Engine sheds don't last for ever, and Didcot remains as the last such shed in use for, broadly, its original purpose.  You may be aware that we are currently fundraising towards a major refurbishment of the main shed roof, and should you wish to find out more or contribute, please look at our shed roof appeal page.

17 MAY

The Shed 1 - Let's Get Organised

The senior managers of the GWR’s locomotive department were posed together at the opening of the new Old Oak Common engine shed in March 1906. This photograph, with the names of the Divisions they were responsible for, was published in the May 1906 edition of Great Western Railway Magazine

Photo Frank and I were wracking our brains to see what we would do for our topic on Going Loco this week and I had just completed a firing turn on No 1340 Trojan. We were sat on the bench in front of the bike shed when it struck me that the largest exhibit at Didcot, the shed itself, really deserved a mention. In fact GWR loco sheds of all kinds deserve a mention. They have a range of both physical and personnel structure all of their own and much of this history and context is now exactly that – a history.

Gloucester engine shed, photographed in the snow in 1961 by Mike Peart

I’m going to have to pick a period to explain their structure from and I’m going to choose post WWII as this is the one that most people are familiar with. Sheds were allocated, reallocated and had their importance increased or diminished over the years. The other reason for choosing this is the excellent book by E T Lyons – Great Western Engine Sheds 1947 published by Oxford Publishing Co. Out of print but very easy to find on the second hand market. Well worth a purchase if you want to know more than I can provide here! That will stave off at least some of the “I think you’ll find” type comments ...

The interior of the straight road shed when new at Plymouth Laira, which was added in 1931. Photograph in the Great Western Trust Jeffery collection

Locomotive sheds come in all different shapes and sizes. Organisationally, the Great Western had three levels when dealing with sheds. The first is the division. Think of this like a set of sheds in an area that are grouped together for administrative purposes. There were nine Divisions on the GWR. These were numbered as follows:

1: London
2: Bristol
3: Newton Abbot
4: Wolverhampton
5: Worcester
6: Newport
7: Neath
8: Cardiff Valleys
9: Central Wales

The Cardiff Valleys and Central Wales ones were the newest (to the GWR at least). This was formed as a result of the Grouping which amalgamated a number of small Welsh lines into the Great Western. Each of the divisions had a main shed. So, London, was Old Oak Common (London Paddington), Bristol was Bristol Bath Road, Central Wales was Oswestry and so on.

The bottom goods table at Old Oak Common in 1957. Photograph by Ted Abear

These could be quite large geographic areas. The London area will be the one we look at and for good reason – it’s the one Didcot was in! So, there were six main sheds in the London division and these ranged from London in the east and Oxford in the west, a distance of about 60 miles.

The full list is as follows:

Old Oak Common

Southall engine shed in March 1966, with 2-6-2T No 6106 about to depart for a new life in preservation, initially at Taplow then at Didcot

Well, no it isn’t the full list. That’s right, there’s another layer! These are the main sheds. Steam locomotives are maintenance-heavy beasts and there were a whole host of smaller branch lines that existed before the Beeching axe fell on them in the 1960s and they closed. To look after the locomotives on these smaller lines, limited facilities were provided at what is called a sub-shed. These sheds could be a building with a few facilities like the one at Fairford that even had its own turntable, but could equally be a water tank and a pit with no shed building such as at Newbury. Really, Newbury was just a special siding! The London Division sub sheds in 1947 were as follows:

Old Oak Common
Sub Sheds: None.

Sub Sheds: Watlington, Aylesbury, Marlow

Sub Sheds: Staines

Sub Sheds: Basingstoke, Henley

Sub Sheds: Wallingford, Winchester (Chesil)

Sub Sheds: Abingdon, Fairford

Boys from Eton College as volunteer cleaners at Slough engine shed during the second world war. Photograph published in Great Western Railway Magazine in 1945

So, how did they keep track of all these places? Well, for administrative purposes, each shed has its own code. There were a whole host of different codes but the system of sheds and sub-sheds were rationalised in the 1930s. The way it worked after that was that only the main sheds in the division got a unique letter code. Engines allocated to sub sheds, carried the code of the main shed that looked after them. These were usually to be found on the engines painted just behind the front buffer beam in our time period, but they were spotted in numerous places over the years.

Marlow, the sub shed to Slough, photographed in 1962 by Mike Peart

British Railways used the same ideology but different codes, being a numerical / letter code. The codes were generated on the former Great Western by using the number from the division and adding 80 to it. Therefore, London Division was division 1, add 80 and it becomes 81. Then they allocated a letter to each shed. So Didcot went from being DID to 81E. These codes were displayed on a small elliptical cast iron plate fixed to the lower half of the smokebox door.

Reading engine shed photographed in 1961 from a passing train in a blizzard by Mike Peart

The shed codes for the London Division for both the GWR and BR were as follows:

Old Oak Common = PDN, 81A
Slough = SLO, 81B
Southall = SHL, 81C
Reading = RDG, 81D
Didcot = DID, 81E
Oxford = OXF, 81F

Didcot engine shed on 5 May 1958 with 2-6-0 No 5322 and 4-4-0 No 3440 City of Truro standing on the siding alongside the engine shed, known at No 5 road (roads 1 to 4 being inside the engine shed). No 6 road has the wagons standing on it. Both these sidings still exist. No 7 road, with another 53XX 2-6-0 standing on it, is now a stretch of grass for visitors to the Railway Centre to enjoy watching trains on No 8 road, now known as the Main Demonstration Line. Photograph by J Oatway

The only thing we need to know about now is the allocation. This is the locomotives that are currently being looked after by that shed. Locomotives rarely lived at just one shed, most of the GWR classes were fairly nomadic, being swapped around as overhauls were carried out. The allocations were of course dependent upon the work that get local railway environment were likely to need. Slough’s allocation in 1947 was entirely tank engines. Out of 44 engines that lived there, no less than 28 were of the 61XX Class large prairies*. Slough’s main job was commuter work in and out of London. The rest of the allocation was the maid of all work 0-6-0 pannier tank engines of various vintages except for just one 14XX Class 0-4-2 auto tank. Old Oak Common in contrast, had no less than 232 engines with all the Kings and Castles you could handle as well as a whole host of other machines!

Wallingford station with the roof of the engine shed, sub shed to Didcot, visible behind the train. Photograph in the Great Western Trust collection

Didcot’s current allocation of the GWS collection is in some ways hugely unrealistic from a historical viewpoint! At the main shed in 1947 were 48 locomotives + one service loco. The most glamorous type represented was the Hall / Modified Hall. Just 4 lived on shed. There were 9 Moguls like our No 5322. 9 0-6-0 tender locomotives, a motley collection of outside frame 4-4-0s and a single 2-4-0. There were also 4 of the mighty 72XX 2-8-2Ts, 11 panniers and 3 of the ex War Department 2-8-0s from the recent conflict.

Oxford engine shed, photographed in 1964 by Laurence Waters

However, the shed’s mission has changed now hasn’t it? The rather extensive collection now housed with us is there to keep the flame alive. To demonstrate the amazing diversity of steam locomotive engineering and to inspire future generations. From that point of view, I happen to think that the allocation is just perfect – don’t you?!

Of course even Great Western Engine sheds don't last for ever, and Didcot remains as the last such shed in use for, broadly, its original purpose.  You may be aware that we are currently fundraising towards a major refurbishment of the main shed roof, and should you wish to find out more or contribute, please look at our shed roof appeal page.

* Including our very own No. 6106!

10 MAY

Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Sorry about the news blackout last week – I’ve been suffering with a pretty horrible case of a flu type thing that has laid your blogger low. I’m feeling a bit better now though thank goodness! I seem to have missed the visit of a fantastic and historic little engine in the middle of all that, but there is no reason not to have a chat about it, right?!

51456 shunting a string of locos on 3 May

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&Y) was established in 1847 and ran from Hull in the east across the country via Leeds and Manchester, to Liverpool in the west. They were quite a forward-looking company, being one of the first to electrify a main line route in 1904, with a great deal of suburban railway in the Liverpool area also being so treated. Initially this was a four-rail system – just like the London Underground – but was later converted to a three rail system akin to what is now predominant on the ex Southern Railway system. One of their very influential locomotive engineers was a gentleman by the name of William Barton Wright. He served in post between 1875 and 1886 and in that time, he managed to make the L&Y one of the most efficient carriers of freight in the United Kingdom.

The subject of our chat today originally started life as a Class 25 0-6-0 tender locomotive. These were known as Ironclads after the warships of the same name being developed at the same time. They were compact and yet powerful for the time. They had a set of 4’ 6” diameter driving wheels, boiler pressure of 140 psi and 2 inside cylinders of 17½” diameter and 26” stroke. This gave them a tractive effort of 17,545 lbf. They are externally quite reminiscent of the GWR Dean Goods locos, but predated them. The first Ironclad was constructed in 1876 and production went through until 1887 with 280 machines being built. The Dean Goods were built from 1883 to 1899.

51456 on passenger train duty on 4 May

These locomotives have their own story – the L&Y was merged with the London North Western Railway in 1922, which didn’t last long as the grouping act of 1923 ended that railway which became absorbed into the London, Midland & Scottish Railway! By then there were 50 engines left in service (for reasons that will become clear in a moment) and withdrawals of those began in 1930. Even so, their utility meant that there were still 23 working by the time the railways were nationalised in 1948.

51456 working hard to lift a coal wagon up the coal stage incline

Engine No 958 had been built by Beyer Peacock in 1887. She became engine No 12044 under the LMS and No 52044 under BR. She was one of the last two of her kind in service in the late 1950s. The other engine, No 52017, was due to be saved as she was in better condition. Sadly, she was involved in an accident and was so badly damaged that she was cut up on site and that just left No 52044. A gentleman by the name of Tony Cox fought very hard to save her and this resulted in her eventually being delivered to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in 1965. She still lives there to this day and found fame in the film The Railway Children as the engine called The Green Dragon.

So, what about the other 230 engines? They had been the victims of a tenderectomy! Barton Wright’s successor, John Aspinall, started a rebuild program with the Class 25s that saw them become 0-6-0STs, or saddle tank locomotives. This took place at Horwich works between 1891 and 1900. They were masters of their work – shunting and short trip freight workings. So much so that they also had very long working lives. Withdrawals of this class began in 1926 but so many of them were built that there were still 101 going strong at nationalisation. Remarkably, 20 were still eking out an existence in 1961! Sadly, not one of these historic machines was preserved.

51456 making her way down from the coal stage

What? Well, what visited Didcot? A ghost engine? No – a number of them, including No 752 (LMS No 11456), were sold into industrial service instead of scrapping upon withdrawal. No 11456 went to Blainscough Colliery Company of Coppull in Lancashire in 1937. The collieries were themselves nationalised in 1947 forming the National Coal Board and the engine remained working in the North Western Division until the late 1950s. She was preserved in 1967 but had been in open storage for nine years and as a result was in pretty poor order.

She was slowly rebuilt by the L&Y Saddletank Fund (later known as the L&Y Railway Preservation Society). The locomotives owners have subsequently become the L&Y Trust. The engine was restored by 1971 and took part in the Grand Locomotive Cavalcade at the Liverpool & Manchester Railway 150th Anniversary at Rainhill in May 1980. She was dismantled in 1982 and remained as a kit of parts until 2016, when the rebuild commenced. She is now based on the East Lancashire Railway, despite starting her operational preservation career at the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.

51456 resting in the engine shed before her next duties at Didcot on 11 and 12 May

The locomotive currently runs as No 51456 in BR livery. She was never part of the British Railways stock so this is a little fictitious but she did wear this number in 1968 when she was towed from Parsonage Colliery near Leigh to her first home at Yates Duxbury paper mill at Heap Bridge, Bury. She is, however, a fine tribute to her lost sisters that lasted in main line service into the 1960s. These engines were incredibly successful when you think about it. To have been originally conceived in the 1870s and to still be working in the 1960s is an amazing accomplishment and the fact that we have representatives of both the L&Y Class 25 and Class 23 is very fitting reminder of this indeed.


The Dean Goods’ Younger Brother

The older brother, Dean Goods No 2351

So, remember that lovely old Dean Goods from all that time ago and the amazing story which was told about a loco that went to war? Twice?* Fantastic stuff! Well, as with so many other things, Collett had a go too.

2212 from a similar angle to the Dean Goods, at her home shed of Reading in 1962. Photograph by Mike Peart

There is a weird gap in development here as there were so many Dean Goods about that Churchward really never needed to have a go himself. It may also be the case that because the Dean Goods was so good at its job, attention went elsewhere. The small goods locomotives perhaps were also seen as a thing of the past. Trains were getting heavier and longer and the Dean Goods looked antiquated even then.

3211 in the carriage sidings at Didcot, now the site of the access ramp to the Railway Centre

But it had a niche. There was still a need for a small goods loco that could go anywhere and do anything. Lighter laid branch lines and the Cambrian lines were the perfect arena for the Dean Goods to perform and as a result, they kept going. And going. And going. By the time the 1930s were on the horizon, they were all reaching the end of their working lives. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the Second World War calling them back to service, it might have been the case that we wouldn’t have the preserved example we have today.

2213 looking very smart in the new British Railways lined black livery on 10 November 1950

The ‘replacement’ was designed by Collet and his team at Swindon beginning with the original Dean Goods idea. It was really an updated version of the classic machine. As with the Castles and Halls, this goes to prove the excellence of Collett’s engineering sense. He may not have been the great locomotive innovator that Churchward was, but he was an outstanding production engineer. His ability to make something that was already good and reinvent it to keep it relevant and useful is undeniable. A massive cost saver as well – especially relevant when you consider that a large part of his tenure at the helm was during the Great Depression …

3210 with train near Winchester on the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line in the 1950s. Photograph from the Peter Lugg collection in the Great Western Trust at Didcot Railway Centre

The major dimensions of the two machines were basically the same. 5’ 2” driving wheels, 17” diameter by 24” stroke cylinders on the Dean Goods and a mere ½” extra diameter on the Collett version. The biggest difference between the two locomotives was in their steam plant. The original had a number of different boilers but the boiler pressure was 180 psi. The Collett boilers were altogether more advanced units. They were the Standard 10 design with a single row superheater. There were two versions of the superheater – a 4 element and a 6 element, but it was a big step forward in either version.

3218 leaving Glastonbury and Street station with an Evercreech to Highbridge train. Glastonbury Tor is in the background. Photograph by R E Toop

Boiler pressure increased to 200 psi and with that there was a corresponding increase in tractive effort from 18,140 lbf to 20,155 lbf. The Standard 10 boiler went on in the future to be fitted to the 94XX and 15XX pannier tank classes. Crew comforts were looked at as well. The minimalist roof and side walls of the Dean era machine were replaced by a full Collett style cab. This had the wondrous features of side windows and tip down wooden seats. These Collett cabs led to them getting the affectionate nickname of ‘Baby Castles’!

2241 shunting at Gloucester on 27 January 1962. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank

All these improvements did have a downside, however. The big problem being that all this extra weight in the boiler and cab meant that it was a heavier machine than the original – 43 tons 8 cwt as opposed to 36 tons 8 cwt. This gave a subsequent increase in axle loading and this then put restrictions on where the new locomotives could run, unlike the Dean Goods which was a go-anywhere machine. The Yellow route restriction wasn’t the worst but it wasn’t as good as no restrictions! The later 94XX and 15XX class panniers suffered even worse and were classified as Red route engines, the same as a Hall or a Castle! These new engines were classified after the first example No 2251, becoming the 2251 class officially.

2242 with a local train from Cheltenham St James’ entering Gloucester at Tramway Junction on 16 June 1962. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank

They were little altered throughout the entire production run of 120 machines, with a few minor exceptions. Differences in the number of superheater elements have already been mentioned but the big difference was for some of the engines built during WWII. Nos 2211 to 2230, were built as part of the sixth batch in 1940. Due to blackout regulations, GWR tender locomotives with the large Collett style cab had their large side windows plated over so that no light could escape and guide enemy aircraft. Lot 337 made this a whole lot easier by simply dispensing with the side window holes all together. They all eventually got side windows but No 2238 at least was still in her wartime configuration as late as September of 1957! The only other big difference I could find was that the first batch had lever reversers but all the subsequent locomotives had screw reversers. This was rectified when they went through the works and all of them ended up with screw reversers. Swindon standardisation at work …

2232 fitted with a plough and ready to take on the snow at Gloucester on New Year’s Eve 1961. Photograph by Mike Peart

The last batch was something of a watershed moment, No 3217 was, on paper at least, the last locomotive built by the Great Western Railway, being delivered in December 1947. The final two of the last batch, Nos 3218 & 3219 were delivered in January 1948, making them Swindon’s first British Railways locomotives completed. A technicality for sure, but kind of interesting! They were as humble and stoic as the Dean Goods in their duties and in the final analysis, sadly didn’t last much longer! When you think that the last Dean Goods was withdrawn from service in 1957 and that withdrawals of the Collett Goods started in 1958, to be completed by 1965, there really wasn’t a lot in it.

2217 not fitted with a plough and consequently stuck in snow between Cheddar and Draycott in 1963. Photograph by Bristol Live

There is a silver lining to this however in that one of these engines made it into preservation. No 3205 was found working on the Somerset & Dorset Railway after it was taken over by the Western Region. A fund was set up to preserve her with the late David Rouse as the principal trustee. The 2251 Fund was successful in its mission and she became the second locomotive to be preserved on what was then known as the Dart Valley Railway. She has had a slightly nomadic lifestyle, spending time at the Severn Valley Railway and then at West Somerset Railway before finally returning home to what is known today as the South Devon Railway. She is out of ticket at the time of writing awaiting a major overhaul, but I’m sure it can’t be too much longer before the Baby Castle comes back. To paraphrase the good Reverend – she’s a really useful engine …

3205 at Didcot engine shed in September 1967. She was on her way from the Great Western Society’s open day at Taplow to her then home at the Severn Valley Railway

* See our Going Loco blog on 6 August 2021


The City of the Future?

So, we had THAT discussion last week. You know, the ‘City of Truro / Flying Scotsman, which was first to 100mph?’ discussion. Who got there first? I very bravely dodged the issue and gave you a few facts and then left it to you. Which I think is the best we can do at this point in time. Whatever you thought of the outcome of the Ocean Mails train of 9 May 1904, it did have the wonderful effect of getting a superb locomotive preserved. So, let’s find out the rest of the story shall we?

She served dutifully until 1931 and in that time of course she had received the updated cylinders and superheating modifications as per the rest of her sisters. Also like her sisters, despite remaining useful for a good many years, she was outdated by the start of the Great War. An outside-frame 4-4-0 as an express passenger engine just wasn’t going to cut it any more. They were simply eclipsed by Churchward’s magnificent 4-6-0 designs that in one form or another would hold sway over the Great Western main lines until the diesels took over in the 1960s. March 1931 should have been the end. The Great Western Railway was, and still is, notorious for not preserving its own locomotives. Many historic machines went for scrap either straight from service or even after being ‘preserved’.

City of Truro at Didcot with the 12.42 pm train to Southampton on 19 July 1957

Thankfully, one of the men at the top clearly had a soft spot for the old engine. A quite unlikely saviour he was as well. Charles Collett, Churchward’s replacement as chief mechanical engineer, seems to have been determined not to let City of Truro go. The GWR had refused point blank to preserve it. Undeterred, Collett contacted the LNER, as they had a museum at York, and with his influence managed to get the locomotive donated there. She left Swindon that same month and travelled to York. Here, she was laid up and put on static display.

On Sunday 18 August 1957 the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society organised a railtour from London Paddington to Swindon hauled by City of Truro. This photograph shows the train racing through Hayes and Harlington in west London on the return journey. Note the station running-board proclaiming Hayes to be ‘The home of His Master’s Voice’. Photograph from the LCGB Ken Nunn collection

City of Truro was left there until the outbreak of World War II. The possibility (a certainty as it turned out) that the railway infrastructure around York would be heavily bombed, led the LNER to evacuate the inhabitants of their museum to a safer place. This was determined to be, in City of Truro’s case, a small engine shed at the station at Sprouston. This now closed branch line ran between Tweedmouth and St Boswells in the Scottish Borders area. She returned to the museum post WWII and continued to reside there until 1957.

City of Truro at Paddington station on 23 July 1958. During that month her daily routine was working up to Paddington from Didcot on a morning commuter train and back in the evening, and doing empty stock work at Paddington during the day. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank

Which was when something weird happened.

In the midst of a forward thinking, modernising and now nationalised British Railways, a whole bunch of museum exhibits were overhauled and brought back into service! That’s right – old engines, many that were 60+ years old at the time, were returned to service to pull special trains. City of Truro entered Swindon Works early in 1957 as No 3717 and emerged in an approximation of the livery she wore when new and sporting her original number of 3440. The approximation bit comes from the fact that the Indian Red that the frames were painted in was not a very accurate shade. One report, possibly apocryphal, said that in the absence of an alternative, the colour used was the bauxite red used for fitted freight wagons under the BR livery scheme of the time. It then had copious quantities of varnish applied to make it ‘posh’ …

The two preserved GWR 4-4-0s, City of Truro and the ‘Dukedog’ No 3217 Earl of Berkeley, double heading at Didcot on 14 May 1989. Photograph by John Cornelius

Whatever the reality of the paint situation, this almost Victorian locomotive was put back into service. People think that means special trains only but no, this engine was in everyday revenue earning service. And the best bit? She was a Didcot engine! When not engaged on several famous special services over the UK network, she operated regular service trains on the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line. She ran as such until 1961, when she was returned to the black-framed livery and No 3717. This time she was put on static display the Great Western Railway Museum at Swindon.

City of Truro during her visit to the Netherlands in 1989. Photograph in the Peter Lugg collection

1985 was the 150th anniversary of the GWR and the year before, City of Truro was taken to the Severn Valley Railway where she was once again restored to working order. After the celebrations, she was returned to the museum at York from where she operated until withdrawn from service in 1992. One amazing trip she went on during this time was as the ‘British Ambassador’ at the 150th Anniversary of the Netherlands Railways in 1989. It was the intention that this spot was to have been taken by A4 class Pacific No 4468 Mallard which was in traffic at the time, but she had failed a boiler test and therefore the GWR came to the rescue of the LNER! City of Truro was an excellent advert for UK steam, spending six weeks in the Netherlands and creating many overseas fans as a result.

City of Truro revisiting Dawlish in May 2004 on the 100th anniversary of her record-breaking run with the Ocean Mails train in 1904

The final time that the locomotive was been restored to operation was in 2004. This time done by the Flour Mill at Bream. She was thus able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of her record breaking 1904 run. As such, she was seen as No 3440 again in a somewhat more accurate livery than last time … She did haul a few services on the main line but served most of this boiler ticket on heritage lines. She made her way back into her No. 3717 / black framed guise in 2010 to play her part in the GWR 175th Anniversary. She was sadly not able to see out her full ‘ten year’ ticket. She was withdrawn from traffic in September 2011 with leaking boiler tubes and was put on static display at Shildon Locomotion Museum. She was put back into service for 2012 but this too didn’t last. The National Collection decided to withdraw her from service early and put on static display once again.

City of Truro, as No 3717, with vintage carriages during Didcot’s 175th Anniversary of the GWR celebrations in May 2010

She has moved about quite a bit since, being displayed at the National Collection Museums and at Swindon’s Steam Museum too, but for the foreseeable future it looks like No 3717 won’t turn a wheel in anger again. Which is a shame. With the withdrawal of this engine and the only surviving ‘Dukedog’, there isn’t a running example of a GWR outside-framed 4-4-0. But, she is still with us. A locomotive that has inspired pride and controversy in equal measure. In being preserved, the legend of the 1904 run was cemented. So much so that even the good Reverend arranged a fictional visit to the Island of Sodor for No 3440 to meet up with a certain little blue tank engine.

It’s not often that locomotives become icons. I think I can safely say that City of Truro is one of those special machines. Even if she never runs again, that magical ‘what if she DID do that 100mph all those years ago?’ question will keep her relevant and interesting for generations to come.


THIS City KNEW It Was Built On Rock & Roll!*

The big omission from last week’s blog was of course a certain member of the National Collection. City of Truro has led a charmed life. Considering the lack of preservation of a great deal of turn of the late Nineteenth to early Twentieth Century designs that weren’t part of Churchward’s modernisation plan, she is a remarkable survivor too. She is of course, as any Great Western Railway enthusiast knows, the first steam locomotive to achieve 100mph …

City of Truro in as-built condition

I won’t go into the whole thing I did last week where I went through the class history, but suffice to say that she was completed as No 3440 City of Truro in May 1903. The other claim to fame that ‘Truro’ has – and one that is often overlooked due to the controversial speed record – is the fact that she was the 2,000th locomotive built at Swindon works. A remarkable milestone in itself. The engine wasn’t that old when she notched up the 102.3 mph that she is so famous for achieving.

On the 9 May 1904, the GWR had invited famous locomotive performance expert Charles Rous-Marten to travel on the Ocean Mail service from Plymouth to Paddington. Which did exactly what it said on the tin – take mail from the ships docked at Plymouth and get it, as fast as possible, to London. Passengers weren’t normally carried aboard the Ocean Mail service that Rous-Marten travelled in, so his invitation indicated that something was afoot. I’ll let him tell you what happened from his point of view.

On one occasion when special experimental tests were being made with an engine having 6 ft. 8 in. coupled wheels hauling a load of approximately 150 tons behind the tender down a gradient of 1 in 90, I personally recorded a rate of no less than 102.3 miles an hour for a single quarter-mile, which was covered in 8.8 seconds, exactly 100 miles an hour for half a mile which occupied 18 seconds, 96.7 miles an hour for a whole mile run in 37.2 seconds; five successive quarter-miles were run respectively in 10 seconds, 9.8 seconds, 9.4 seconds, 9.2 seconds and 8.8 seconds. This I have reason to believe to be the highest railway speed ever authentically recorded.

I need hardly add that the observations were made with the utmost possible care, and with the advantage of previous knowledge that the experiment was to be made, consequently without the disadvantage of unpreparedness that usually attaches itself to speed observations made in a merely casual way in an ordinary passenger train. The performance was certainly an epoch-making one. In a previous trial with another engine of the same class, a maximum of 95.6 miles an hour was reached”.**

The east end of Whiteball tunnel with the railway beginning its descent towards Wellington, where City of Truro made the record run. Photograph: Geoff Sheppard by Creative Commons

And, with that, the controversy began. The first issue we have is that the reports of this record were covered up by the GWR as it didn’t think that locomotives racing about at over 100mph looked particularly safe to its customers. Only the overall start to finish times were published. It was in December 1907 that an issue of The Railway Magazine first mentioned the peak recorded speed. Coupled with that, sadly Rous-Marten died suddenly that same month after suffering a massive heart attack. That was 4 years later and the GWR – ironically using it as a measure of how they were both safe AND fast – didn’t admit to the event until the early 1920s.

So, the age old question is – did City of Truro reach 102.3 mph? Firstly, why isn’t this record ‘official’? Well, the timings were only recorded by one person. To rule out errors, two independent timers are usually required. On the plus side, Rous-Marten was an expert in his field, which is why the GWR had him there in the first place. He knew his stuff and it is unlikely that he made a mistake. It is perhaps surprising that it was only recorded over a short stretch and downhill. This is quite normal for railway records and if you look at the absolute speed record which No 4468 Mallard set in 1938 at 126mph, she only did that over a very short stretch. But she had a dynamometer coach attached which very accurately recorded the performance of Mallard.

A subtle homage to the location of City of Truro’s record is this Somerset County Council direction sign to White Ball, now erected at Didcot Railway Centre

The data provided by Rous-Marten has been analysed several times over the ensuing decades and most have agreed that it seems to be correct although in more recent years, doubt has been cast due to the fact that the log records that she was doing 62mph just three and a half miles before the peak speed was achieved. Bryan Benn calculated in 2017 that it would require 3,000 indicated horsepower to get to 102.3 mph and that in her original, non-superheated state, City of Truro was only capable of 1,000 indicated horsepower. His analysis concluded that a top speed in the 90mph range was more likely.

Mechanically, was she capable? A big question. We have to realise that the engine was pretty much in her as-built state. She wasn’t superheated so the use of steam wasn’t as efficient as it would have been just a few years later in 1911. This was when Swindon fitted the superheater and elongated the smokebox. The other part on the negative side is the fact that she was using flat, slide valves to supply the cylinders with steam. The much more efficient semi-plug piston valves were only fitted in 1915. Experience with steam locomotives with slide valves at over 100 mph is understandably a bit thin on the ground as piston valves were the standard for the sort of engines that did 100mph for the majority of the steam age in the UK. The data simply isn’t there and even if you reactivated No 3440 and convinced then National Collection to let you run her at 102.3 mph (good luck with that!), the engine has been so extensively modified in her service life that you will still have no real comparison.

Initially reluctant to admit to City of Truro’s record speed, the GWR featured it prominently in its book of W Heath Robinson’s cartoons published during its centenary year, 1935

We are never going to positively say for definite that Charles Rous-Marten got it right way back in 1904 or whether he got caught up in the excitement or simply made a mistake. Perhaps sophisticated computer simulation may someday enable us to make a determination but until then we can only make well-educated guesses as to whether No 3440 City of Truro was the first to the ‘Ton’ on rails.

There are so many variables that are involved. There is the quality of the coal and the crew on the day, how well the engine had been maintained, how well lubricated she had been that day, what the exact load behind her was, what the exact gradient she was going down, the exact atmospheric conditions, and so on, and so on … It has almost become an article of faith in some ways – not great for what is a scientific and engineering question. Whatever the reality, champion or fraudster, it did lead to this beautiful and historically significant machine being preserved. More of that next time. 

Her speed exploit earned City of Truro a place at York Railway Museum after being withdrawn by the GWR in 1931

* With continuing apologies to the band Starship.

** This comes from the October 1905 Bulletin of the International Railway Congress.


Was THIS City Built On Rock & Roll?*

No, clearly it was built in Swindon – I mean, duh! Sure, everyone has heard of the City class – there is a famous one preserved after all – but do we really know the class? Let’s find out …

No Name City – No 3433 at Bath, the city she was named after, but not carrying the nameplate although the brackets are there on the leading splasher

The City class locomotives really are the bridge between the 19th and 20th century design philosophies of Swindon, and the bridge between two great engineering heavyweights – William Dean and George Jackson Churchward. The story starts with a boiler – the Standard 4 boiler to be precise. This was part of Churchward’s grand plan for Great Western Railway locomotive development. A set of standard parts that could mixed and matched to provide interchangeability between classes and reduce manufacturing and maintenance costs.

No 3433’s official photograph in workshop grey livery

This plan had started before his reign as Chief Mechanical Engineer at Swindon. William Dean, his predecessor, was in declining health over his last years in office and he really was allowed to work his way out to retirement as a figurehead. In light of this, Churchward was developing this set of standard parts. If you are going to use these parts fleet-wide, you need to make sure they are good. Boiler technology was key and one of the things he did was to fit one of his brand new Standard 4 boilers to one of the existing Atbara class outside frame 4-4-0s in September 1902. These were on paper at least Dean designs, but really must at least be partially attributed to Churchward as the first was completed in 1900. The conversion of No 3405 Mauritius was a complete success.

No 3435 City of Bristol

This led to the construction of ten new locomotives to the same pattern. It’s interesting that Collett and Hawksworth are blamed for stagnation in Swindon designs but here is Churchward doing the very same thing. If Hawksworth can have the Modified Hall class then maybe the Cities should be called the Modified Atbara class? The locos were 4-4-0 designs and had the straight frames of the Atbara class that were designed to reduce cracking in the metal. They had two inside cylinders that were 18” in diameter and had a stroke of 26”. They had Stephenson valve gear and with their 6’ 8½” diameter driving wheels and modern boiler**, they had a tractive effort of 17,800 lbf.

No 3442 City of Exeter, which came at the end of the class’s number sequence. There is conjecture that the final city name was to be Worcester, in alphabetical order, but somebody then realised that Exeter was missing from the list!

The first, No 3433 was completed in March 1903 and was named City of Bath. This was quickly followed by nine more numbered from 3434 to 3442. These were all named after Cities in the GWR’s sphere of influence, being Birmingham, Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Gloucester, Hereford, London, Truro and Winchester. The last entering service in May of the same year. So successful was the class that nine more of the Atbara class were rebuilt to conform to the City design like No 3405 Mauritius. This lead to a twenty strong class.

No 3441 City of Winchester hauling a Paddington to Oxford train through Southall

They had some modifications along the way; a few had their original steam-controlled reversers replaced with screw-reverser controls. Other modifications were applied as Churchward’s march of technology continued. They had been built as saturated (or non-superheated) engines but superheating systems were fitted between 1910 and 1912, essentially as boiler overhauls became needed. The water feed into the boiler from the clack valves was originally on the bottom of the barrel which was found to be problematic. If you think about it, any chunks of solid debris can get into the non-return clack valves making them able to, er, return. In this case letting steam out of the boiler! Not a great idea. The clack valves were moved to the now standard GWR top feed position, one either side of the safety valve casting, from 1912. Again, boiler exchanges at overhaul enabled this modification to take place.

No 3718 City of Winchester carrying the later number, and with a longer smokebox than that originally fitted

The less efficient slide valves were replaced by piston valves from 1915 by the fitting of new cylinder blocks. New cast iron chimneys became the option of choice in 1921 and there was a rolling replacement scheme of the bogies from the original Dean design to a version based upon the now standard Swindon / de Glehn design, although some engines had been withdrawn before this could be applied class-wide. The other thing of great note was the class being renumbered in 1912 to Nos 3700 – 3719. The older Atbara conversions took the first ten numbers and the later purpose built Cities taking the last ten numbers. You will quite often see them referred to as the 37XX class as a result.***

This City of Winchester nameplate is now in the Great Western Trust collection at Didcot Railway Centre

There was a small blot on their copybook although this had nothing to do with the engines mechanically. No 3710 was involved in an accident on 8 August 1913. Distracted, the driver went through signals set at danger just outside Yeovil Pen Mill Station. The engine and its train slammed into the back of another passenger train that was in the station. Sadly, there were two fatalities.

No 3406 Melbourne – one of the Atbara class which joined the City class after being fitted with the larger Standard 4 boiler

And that really is it for the City class. They were great pieces of technology for what they were, but they were very rapidly made severely outdated by the Churchward and Collett 4-6-0 designs. Looking at them side by side, they are like chalk and cheese. The Cities, by 1920, looked old fashioned. And they were. Small express passenger locos of their kind couldn’t compete with the larger more powerful Saints, Stars and Castles. Relegated to lesser duties, withdrawals began in 1927 and the whole class was gone by 1931. They were participating in their own downfall in a way by being part of Churchward’s technology development programme. Fine machines in their own right but destined to end their days after about 24 years’ service outclassed and forgotten. End of story.

Well it would be the end of the story, if it wasn’t for the exploits, fame and later preservation of No 3440/3717 City of Truro. A whole blog on the Cities with no mention of this engine? What are you thinking?! I guess you will have to stay tuned for more 4-4-0 fun next time folks! 

* With apologies to the band Starship …

** For the time at least!

*** This gets confusing later on as the 37XX number series was reused for 0-6-0 pannier tanks of the 8750 class. Just ask our very own No 3738 …


A Four-Wheeled Avonside Shunter

No, not that one.

Our little Avonside warrior, No 1340 Trojan, is a favourite with our visitors at Didcot and quite rightly so. She’s the only surviving engine to have served the Alexandra Docks Railway, she is currently the oldest working locomotive to have served with the Great Western, being built in 1897. She is also really small and this makes her far less intimidating to our younger visitors. Dare I say she looks a lot like Percy the Small Engine too?

She is not however a locomotive with a long association with the Great Western Railway. Absorbed in 1923 and sold in to industrial service by the early 1930s. There was another small Avonside locomotive class that had a far longer association with the GWR. Although built close to the time that Trojan became part of the railway, they lasted until nearly the end of steam. They are not widely known today as none were preserved. Which is a shame, because given that they are from the era of Castles and Halls, they are also quite unlike the vast majority of their fellow engines.

No 1106 in an official Great Western Railway photograph taken on 27 August 1926 when the locomotive was brand new. The initials GWR on the numberplate are unusual as normally they were only added for locomotives absorbed from another company. There was a Cambrian Railways locomotive absorbed at the Grouping in 1923 and given the GWR number 1106, but renumbered 1110 on 25 February 1926, so maybe those numberplates were recycled onto the new 1106

The first thing is that it was quite unusual for Swindon to order a whole class of locomotives from an outside contractor in the twentieth century. There were of course many examples of contractors building directly to GWR designs – many panniers came into this world that way as did some of the 56XX class 0-6-2s. Some were not to GWR designs however. The ex Railway Operating Division 2-8-0 freight locos are probably the best known of these, but they were bought because they were available and not specifically ordered. These 0-4-0 locos were a wholesale order to an outside contractor to design and build a locomotive type ‘off the shelf’ as we would put it today!

They were ordered by Charles Collett’s administration from Avonside in the mid 1920s and first entered service in 1926. Let’s take a look at them. Outwardly, they were quite strange looking machines. They had just 4 driving wheels as they were intended as shunters in dockyards. The wheelbase (distance between the two axles) was just six feet, six inches, and this gave them a short and stocky look but enabled them to traverse all but the very tightest of curves. The second thing about them from the rails up is that they have outside Walschaerts valve gear. This was unusual on GWR engines – most being fitted with inside valve gear, usually of the Stephenson design.

This drawing of the 1101 class locomotives was published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, September 1926 edition

Aesthetically, they aren’t quite sure what style of tank engine they want to be! They are in fact side tank engines, but the side tanks have a cut away from the front of the smokebox end to almost the middle of the locomotive. This means that they look almost like pannier tanks! With their short wheelbase under this comparatively large structure, it makes them look top heavy – and heavy is the right word! They were incredibly heavy for their size.

At thirty eight tons, the weight pressing down on the rear axle was nineteen tons and eight hundredweight. That’s the nearly the same axle loading as a Castle class express passenger locomotive! This means that they were pretty specialised in their use. This axle weight means they were on the GWR’s Red Route list, and they were not permitted to travel down lighter-laid branch lines.

No 1105 with the original shape of cab

Another area where they were comparable with the Castles was in their cylinders. Both classes had sixteen inch cylinders although the 1101 class, as they became known, had a shorter piston stroke at twenty four inches as opposed to twenty six inch stroke on the Castles. OK, the Castle is a four-cylinder machine as well, but it’s still quite impressive! Let’s face it – you can’t easily fit four big cylinders like that on a little 0-4-0 tank engine! The boiler pressure was 170 psi and this led to a tractive effort of 19,510 lbf. This was the G.W.R. ‘B’ power class. Again, quite impressive for a diminutive little engine like this. It’s nearly twice the tractive effort of their Victorian grandmother, Trojan .…

There were six of these engines built and they were numbered 1101 – 1106. The one notable modification they underwent was to increase the curvature to the top corners of the cab and bring them in further. Clearly an act designed to stop them banging into the tightly packed structures on the narrow dock and industrial lines where they worked. And that’s what they did. Shunt. They had service lives in excess of 30 years too which shows what good value they represented as well! Time was called on the class in 1959 and the six members of the class were all withdrawn by 1960. They were all scrapped shortly afterwards, so we only have photographs and models to remind us of them.

No 1105 with the narrower cab roof, at Danygraig engine shed

Well, kind of. As these engines were very much an ‘off the shelf’ Avonside design, there are a few preserved examples of very similar machines. So their legacy lives on, after a fashion at least.

No 1105 photographed at Danygraig on 17 September 1946 by Ben Brooksbank

Going Loco 200(ish)!

Also, due to a slight miscalculation on my part, this blog is the 201st Going Loco blog! I was hoping to say thanks on the occasion of the 200th but, as it turns out, I can’t count .… There have been so many people involved in bringing you this blog over the years and I would like to thank them all. Also, dear reader, thanks to you for reading the weekly scribblings of myself and our many, many special guests.

The current Going Loco Team are:

  • Fact checkers: Leigh, Ali and Harry
  • Website Wizard: Rob
  • Drawings Wrangler: Kevin
  • Pictures and English Edits: Frank

And me!

All the best,



They Came, They Went, And Nobody Really Noticed Much …

Sorry about last week – I had a fair bit on and wasn’t able to do my usual Going Loco things and Photo Frank stepped up and filled the gap. Many thanks to him and for his fascinating article from the pages of the Great Western Railway Magazine. So, now I’m back, what lovely engine do we have a chat about? I think it’s about time we discussed one of the far less glamorous locomotive types from the era (just) of William Dean.

This type comes out of the ugliest locomotive types ever built by Swindon – the Kruger 4-6-0 and Mrs Kruger 2-6-0s named after the recently defeated Boer War Commander Paul Kruger and his wife. Clearly a derogatory move. They were a horribly ‘lumpy’ design with sandboxes on the boiler and square fireboxes. Not helped by their outside frames and general lack of success as a class. To be fair, they were hugely experimental machines and to give Dean still further benefit of the doubt, it was really Churchward experimenting in his name at this time period too.

No 2601, the 4-6-0 version of the Krugers

They were not long lived and the design of the new freight locomotives was in some ways an opposite to these monstrosities. While it is thought that some of the components from the Krugers were used in their construction, they were more closely related to the Bird / Bulldog or 33XX class and the Atbara / Badminton / Flower or 41XX classes of 4-4-0 passenger engines. These new engines were 2-6-0 or Mogul designs, so echoed the Krugers in being six coupled. Smaller driving wheels enabling the tractive effort to be increased at the expense of top speed.

No 2602, the 2-6-0 with large sandbox on top of the boiler

The first of these new machines, No 33, was completed in August of 1900. She’s quite an unusual looking beast. Outside framed locomotives with more than four coupled wheels are unusual in the UK, which makes it a little visually strange. The lower running plate caused by the smaller wheels also makes it a little odd. She still has all the Great Western Railway hallmarks – the brass safety valve bonnet, green paint and so on. The boiler was a parallel barrelled Standard 2 design with a Belpaire firebox.

No 2610, built in June 1903, with the prototype 2-6-2T No 99 behind

No 33 had a rather massive compensation system for the springing on the leading driving axles, something not perpetuated on the production versions of the machine. The success of No 33 lead to a whole class of these engines being constructed. Between 1901 and 1907 another 80 were built. They were numbered from 2601 to 2680, with No 33 joining them as No 2600 in 1912. As the class construction programme progressed, the boilers were updated to conical Standard 4 types to increase the locomotives’ production rate and reserves of steam. They also received superheating and top feed* from 1911.

The prototype Aberdare, No 33, as built with parallel boiler

They were used on coal trains that ran between Aberdare in the Welsh coal fields and Swindon and many stayed in this duty until displaced by the larger and more powerful 2-8-0 and 2-8-2 tank classes. They were generally fairly well regarded machines but did have an issue in that they had steam powered reverser gear. The reverser gear adopts the same idea (but working in a very different way) as the gearbox in a car. In the vast majority of GWR steam engines, this control is moved by hand, either with a lever or a screw. The Aberdares had this control moved by a steam-powered system. The issue with this was that the setting was prone to drift or move, very slowly, on its own. Because of this, it needed to be constantly monitored by the driver to keep it in check.

No 2615 with a goods train about 1907

They were originally paired with standard GWR tenders but some of them were eventually paired with tenders that were taken from withdrawn World War One Railway Operating Department (ROD) 2-8-0 engines that were bought from the war department at the end of hostilities. This began in 1929.

An Aberdare, with container on the leading wagon and a string of coal wagons at the rear of a lengthy train

The Aberdare class began to be withdrawn in 1934 but the Second World War put paid to further scrapping. By 1944, time was called a second time and the scrappings restarted. This was completed in October 1949 when No 2667 was withdrawn from British Railways service.

No 2656 paired with a ROD tender

Which is quite a surprising record when you think that these little freight engines were thoroughly outdated before the 1920s. They had been surpassed by the later Mogul, 28XX, 42XX and 72XX classes pretty early on in their careers. They weren’t the only outside frame tender engines to make it to the early BR period by any stretch of the imagination, but they were as odd at the end of their careers as they were at the beginning. What a shame that one of these curious locomotives didn’t survive into preservation.

No 2636 hauls an eastbound goods train through Swindon station on 23 April 1946. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank

*Top feed means that the water coming in from the boiler enters the pressure vessel at the top of the boiler. This is a great idea as it means that the water is spread out by a series of trays and that the cold water is spread out more evenly, not creating cold spots.


This week Going Loco looks at the comprehensive performance tests carried out 100 years ago with the second Castle class 4-6-0, No 4074, which was outshopped by Swindon Works in December 1923. The first Castle, No 4073, had been built in August 1923.

Was it a coincidence that the first six of the class to emerge from Swindon were all named after Welsh castles – Caerphilly, Caldicot, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Chepstow and Pembroke? Maybe to sooth ill feelings in the Principality after the independent Welsh railway companies were absorbed into the Great Western Railway, and lost their independent identities, with Grouping at the beginning of 1923?

So the brand-new No 4074 was painted workshop grey and wheeled out for the official photograph, when there was an ‘Oops red-faces-all-round’ moment. The nameplate had a spelling mistake and read Caldicott! So it swiftly went back in the works and had the offending second T removed.

The photograph with the misspelt nameplate must be incredibly rare and has found a home at Didcot Railway Centre with the Great Western Trust thanks to that expert collector, R King Bird.

The tests were described in the Great Western Railway Magazine’s May 1924 edition, text below:

Tests of ‘Castle’ Class Engines.

The Great Western Railway Company’s Chief Mechanical Engineer, Mr. C. B. Collett, recently made a very complete set of trials on one of the new Castle class engines, No 4074, Caldicot Castle, with a view to obtaining detailed information as to the performance of these engines.

Three sets of trials were made on special trains running from Swindon to Plymouth (North Road) and back. The load on the down trips consisted of fourteen heavy 70-ft eight-wheeled coaches and the dynamometer car, from Swindon to Taunton, eleven coaches and the car from Taunton to Newton Abbot, and eight coaches and the car from Newton Abbot to Plymouth.

No 4074 draped in cables and with temporary shelter for people working on the front of the engine, photographed at Millbay sidings. Note correct spelling of the nameplate! Photograph in the Christison album, Great Western Trust, Didcot Railway Centre

On the up trips the load was eight coaches and the car from Plymouth to Newton Abbot, and fourteen coaches and the car thence to Swindon. The trains were timed so as to run, at any
part of the journey, at a speed equal to the fastest expresses running over that* part of the railway.

Measurements and records were made of the following:

  1. Indicated horse-power.
  2. Pressure in the steam chest.
  3. Drawbar pull and drawbar horse-power.
  4. Speed.
  5. Steam pressure, cut off, opening of regulator, and height of water in gauge-glass.
  6. Coal consumed.
  7. Water consumed.
  8. Oil consumed.
  9. Vacuum in the smokebox and pressure in the ashpan.
  10. Temperature of the feed water in the tender.
  11. Temperature of the feed water entering the boiler.
  12. Pressure of the exhaust steam entering the exhaust steam injector.
  13. Temperature of:
    1. Superheater flues.
    2. Steam entering the superheater.
    3. Steam leaving the superheater.
    4. Smokebox generally.
  14. The chemical composition of :
    1. Smokebox gases.
    2. Coal (also the calorific value)
    3. Smokebox ashes.
    4. Ashes in the ashpan.
  15. Weight of the smokebox ashes.
  16. Weight of the ashpan ashes.
  17. Wind and weather.
Indicated Horse-Power and Steam-Chest Pressure.

The indicated horse-power and the steam-chest pressure were measured by means of four Crosby indicators, two of them being of the latest type, with outside springs. These latter were used on the right-hand inside and outside cylinders, being connected to each end of the cylinder in turn by means of a three-way cock. The older indicators were attached to the righthand inside and outside steam chests. Cards were taken from both cylinders and steam chests at predetermined spots, the operator in charge of the indicating giving word to those on the indicator, at the same time signalling the taking of the cards to the dynamometer car by pressing an electric push. The indicating gear was of the pendulum lever type, the lever actuating a longitudinal rod sliding in bearings attached to the footplate. When cards were taken the indicator cords were hooked on to brackets attached to this rod.

The technicians posed behind the temporary shelter on No 4074, at Chipping Sodbury. Photograph in the Christison album, Great Western Trust, Didcot Railway Centre

Steam Pressure, Cut Off, &c.

These were taken by an observer in the driver’s cab, the time at which each change occurred being noted and signalled electrically to the dynamometer car.

Coal Consumed.

In order to measure the coal consumed, the coal space of the tender was increased by the temporary addition of 1 ft. to its height, so that enough coal could be carried to run from Swindon to Plymouth and back. After coaling, the tank was filled to a mark and the tender weighed. On returning to Swindon after each trial the tank was again filled to the same height and the tender re-weighed. The difference in the two weights thus gave the coal burned on the journey. Only the coal actually burnt in running was determined. The fire was made up before starting with unweighed coal and the trip was finished with the same amount of coal in the firebox, as nearly as could be judged, as at the beginning.

Interior of the dynamometer car with apparatus for recording drawbar pull and other factors, Photograph published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, May 1924

Water Consumed.

To measure the water consumed a special indicator was fitted to the tender, enabling accurate readings to be obtained. This indicator was worked from the ordinary indicator float and carefully calibrated by filling the tender through a tested “Siemens” water meter. Previous experiments had shown that the water wasted at the injector overflow was well under 1 per cent, of the total quantity consumed, and therefore negligible. That used for watering the coal, however, was not necessarily so, and was determined in the following manner. An attachment was made to the coal watering cock which closed an electric circuit, and so deflected a pen in the dynamometer car whenever the cock was opened. The total time that the cock was opened could thus be determined. A unit was ascertained before the trials by opening the cock for a given time and weighing the water that passed through. The total amount of water lost in this way throughout any trip could thus be readily ascertained.

Oil Consumed.

The oil consumed was ascertained by issuing a known quantity to the driver before each trip and measuring what was left at the end of the journey. All oil cups and lubricators were filled with unmeasured oil before the trials and again at the end of each run. Only the oil actually used in running was thus recorded.

Vacuum and Pressure in Smokebox and Ashpan, respectively.

These were recorded by means of ordinary “U” tube manometers, the record being taken from the centre of both smokebox and ashpan The manometers were fixed on the front of the engine on the left-hand side, and read by an observer. The latter also operated the cocks for smokebox gas analysis and took the cold junction temperature of “Foster” pyrometer as subsequently described.

Temperature of Feed Water.

The temperature of the feed water in the tender was obtained by drawing samples at intervals and inserting an ordinary mercury thermometer. That of the water entering the boiler was taken by means of a Negretti and Zambra distance thermometer, the bulb being inserted in the delivery pipe.

Pressure of Exhaust Steam.

The pressure of the exhaust steam entering the injector was taken by means of a "Bourdon” pressure gauge specially constructed at Swindon to read low pressures.

Temperature of Smokebox, Superheater, &c.

The temperatures enumerated under item (13) were all taken by means of a ”Foster” six station pyrometer. This instrument is of the thermo-electrical type, and its operation depends on the fact that when two dissimilar metals are brought into contact and the ends in contact are hotter than the other ends, a small electromotive force is generated. By attaching wires to the cold ends and leading them to a suitable meter the difference in temperature between the hot and cold ends can be read. The cold ends in this case were all brought to a box fixed on the front of the engine, known as the cold-junction box. The temperature of this box was read by the observer by means of a mercury thermometer. From the cold-junction box five coils of wire were led to a switch-board in the dynamometer car, by means of which switch-board all of them could be connected in turn to a galvanometer graduated in degrees of temperature. The switch-board was provided with six sets of terminals, one being spare. Readings were taken at the same time as the indicator cards. When the operator in charge of the indicating signalled to the dynamometer car the fact of the cards being taken, the pressing of his push, besides deflecting the pen, rang bells on the front of the engine and in the car thus warning the operator to take readings.

Chemical Analysis.

In the dynamometer car, making chemical analysis of the smokebox gases. Photograph published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, May 1924

The analysis of the smokebox gases was made en route in the dynamometer car by means of the well-known "Orsat” apparatus. The gases were collected from points 9 in. from the front of the tube plate, at the levels of the superheater tubes and the bottom row of flue tubes respectively. Pipes passed from these through the “Orsat” apparatus to the vacuum train-pipe in the driver’s cab. When the observer noted that the conditions were suitable for taking an analysis he opened a cock on the vacuum pipe and at the same time operated an electric push which rang bells in the car and on the front of the engine. On hearing the bell the operator on the engine opened one of the two cocks on the smokebox, thus allowing the gases from the first point to flow into the “Orsat” apparatus. When the analysis had been made the analyst rang a bell in the driver’s cab to advise the observer there that this had been done. The latter then again rang his bells and the operator on the front of the engine closed the first cock and opened the second, thus drawing gases from the other point. When the operation was complete the analyst again rang his bell and all the cocks were closed. The analysis of the coal and ashes was made by collecting samples at the end of each outward trip, and analysing them in the laboratory at'

Wind and Weather.

The direction of the wind was taken by means of a vane and the pressure by a "Lownes” anemometer.


Special attachment to the crosshead on an outside cylinder for the tests. Photograph published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, May 1924


A Century Celebration!

Well, I had a good time last weekend … I think a good many other people did too. I thought we’d take a look at a few of the goings on and let everybody that couldn’t be there celebrate the 100th Anniversary of an iconic locomotive.

There were three locos in steam for the weekend. No 1340 Trojan took the branch line duty and the main demonstration line was shared by No 2999 Lady of Legend in the morning so that No 4079 Pendennis Castle could be posed alongside her 4-cylinder sisters, No 5051 Drysllwyn Castle and No 6023 King Edward II.

One of the aims of the day was to gather 100 Castle related items together in one place, one for every year of No 4079’s existence. Here are a few items that were on show and the stories behind them.

The Great Western Trust put on a magnificent display of their Castle class name and number plates. The first is from Cleeve Abbey. The Abbey series of Castles were rebuilt from Star class engines. Built as No 4071 in February 1923, she was rebuilt in December 1938. It was also interesting in that she was one of the oil-fired Castles and she was so fitted between 1946 and 1948. She was withdrawn in October 1964.

Also of interest were the plates from No 5073. She was originally named Cranbrook Castle when built in July 1938. She was renamed in 1941 to honour the aircraft and service personnel that fought in the Battle of Britain. There were 12 Castles so treated, this one was named after the Bristol Blenheim light bomber. No 5058 was similarly renamed. Originally Newport Castle, she was renamed in September 1937 to Earl of Clancarty. Notice that the aircraft and the abbeys got the little ‘Castle Class’ badge but the Earls didn’t …

In the education department coaches, a number of volunteers loaned some items from their personal collections to add to the total. This lovely O gauge tinplate live steam model of No 4073 Caerphilly Castle was provided by Thomas Macey. This is nearly as old as Pendennis – it was made in 1927 by Bowman Models, founded by Geoffrey Bowman Jenkins in the same year. They weren’t in business for very long and the company was wound up in 1935 after a bit of controversy with a certain Frank Hornby. They are pretty rare items these days and the GWR locomotives are the rarest of them all.

Thomas sent me a fantastic period advert for the toy which I had to include. Harry and Jimmy look well chuffed don’t they?!

Also on show was an item that is (sort of) my own creation. The main picture here is a typically beautiful Stuart Black study of Pendennis Castle but the rest of it is the signatures of not just my restoration team but also the signatures of her final fireman in service, Doug Godden, her former owner, Sir William McAlpine, and the person who launched her back into traffic, Lady Judy McAlpine. It rarely gets seen outside my house, so it is nice to be able to share it with people.

Something else on show was a range of Castle models. There were well over twenty on show from some exquisite O gauge Masterpiece Models owned by the society to a whole raft of the recent Hornby offering in a range of different guises. Here are my two from my ‘Little Didcot’ collection. No 5051 Earl Bathurst and, of course, No 4079 Pendennis Castle.

We also had books, badges and more. Here are two of the above. The book was written by Mike Higson and Kenneth Leech. What is far rarer than the book, is the badge. This is advertised in the back of the book and there aren’t that many of them around these days. If you are a No 4079 fan and you find one, snap it up …

Here is a selection of items from the Australian adventure. The guide is from the meeting of No 4079 and No 4472 Flying Scotsman in Western Australia in 1989. On the left is the press release given out when Rio Tinto kindly donated her to us at Didcot and the cylindrical item is a beer cooler from the afore mentioned tour. Quintessentially Australian …

So, how did we do? Did we get to 100 items? Yes! The only issue is where do we draw the line? I counted 108 items including the nameplates both wooden and real and the Hornby castle on permanent display in our museum. There was however a last minute controversy in that I had included in that first count a model of No 57 604. This is the Class 57 GWR diesel Pendennis Castle. To which I countered that if we wanted to be pedantic about it, I’d get all the photographs out of the four-volume set on display which had at least one picture of each of the 171 Castles in it and most engines had more than one image. That would have put the total way over 350 … Whichever one you believe, the lowest count was still 107, so we claim victory!


Another fabulous collection that was on display on the Saturday only was my restoration team! Every now and again, we gather again in the presence of our charge to see how we are all getting on. Tea was drunk, stories told and retold and in the finest traditions of the No 4079 Restoration Team, Dudley’s finest bread pudding was consumed. it was wonderful to see them all. Without them, the day wouldn’t have been possible


‘Let them eat cake!’ Well, we did! I had the honour of spending 20 years putting the real thing back together and therefore I also got the honour of cutting up and distributing her likeness in cake form to our visitors on the Sunday! I quickly renamed it Tasty Castle. It was too … Here I am with our events co-ordinator Sarah Jermyn. A fine job she did too organising this one!

A final fantastic addition was a visit from the Paton family. “Who are they?” I hear you ask … Well, Vicky Paton here had a rather famous maiden name. She was born as Vicky Higson. Pendennis fans will therefore have worked out that this is the daughter of none other than Mike Higson – the man who saved No 4079 from the cutter’s torch in 1964. Vicky was born the same year. Can you imagine being 26 years old, having a new baby daughter and then becoming the owner of 120 tons of then 40-year-old Castle class steam locomotive with 1.75 million miles on the clock?

She brought her children and one of her grandchildren as well. This meant that I had the honour of taking them all up to the footplate while she was in steam in the yard. While Vicky had seen Pendennis before, the rest of her family hadn’t and they were quite struck with seeing her for the first time. They hadn’t really understood how important their grandfather’s actions were in saving an enormously historic engine.

It’s one of the great privileges of the hobby that every now and again, you get to put people in touch with their past and their families in ways that wouldn’t be possible without access to objects such as Pendennis Castle. The weekend was well worth it just for that alone…

1 March

Watching the Trailers – the one that wasn’t, then was, but now isn’t again …

So, what’s all the hyperbole? Those of you that know are screaming Railmotor No. 93 at me! It’s a tale of success, over success, failure, rebirth and eventual salvation but to start off with we go way back to 1908. The Steam Railmotors were built in several batches. The last few were built around the end of the first decade of the twentieth decade. As there were a total of 99 Railmotors in use with the Great Western Railway, ours (No 93) was clearly one of the last!

A steam railmotor and trailer at Dawlish Warren. Photograph from Phil Kelley’s collection

They were intended to allow lightly-used branch lines to operate more efficiently. Their influence was a classic example of unintended consequences. The Railmotors made the services really efficient. This meant that they became really attractive to passengers. As a result, passenger numbers went up. Great! Well, yes, except for the fact that the Railmotors did have an Achilles heel. They weren’t that powerful. In order to fit inside the coach body, the locomotive units were small. This restricted what they could do. While they were designed to pull a single trailer coach like No. 92, they couldn’t pull much more than that. The increase in traffic meant that the GWR needed trains capable of moving more passengers. They were effectively made obsolete by their very success at the thing they were built to do.

Steam railmotor No 93 approaching Yatton on 22 May 1929. Photograph by H C Casserley, courtesy of John Lewis

So, what do you do with these machines now that they have become surplus to requirements? The power units were designed for such a niche application, they really didn’t have much use outside that. However, the rest of the coach was REALLY close to being an auto-trailer. So, given the frugal nature of the Great Western, that’s what they did. They became coaches. A little undignified for something that used to be a locomotive in a way if you think about it!

Auto-trailer No 186, converted from steam railmotor No 62, at Southall in May 1933. Photograph by W Potter from Great Western Auto-Trailers by John Lewis

These conversions started as early as 1915, showing how quickly the success or otherwise of the railmotors happened. It wasn’t a quick process either, happening in stuttering pockets until 1936. This seems on the surface to be quite simple, but in fact was quite complex. Firstly, as per overhaul procedure, the roof at the power bogie end was removed and the boiler lifted out. The rest of the power bogie was then removed underneath the frames. This left quite a big hole in the floor of the powered end. The frames were modified and a new bogie was fitted. The body shell required a lot of rebuilding as well. In the end, only one half of the body remained essentially original. They eventually had the same layout as the purpose-built trailers as described in the first in this series (scroll down to the Going Loco blog on 9 February 2024).

No 212 at Reading in 1958, with, left to right, Don Flook, CMEE Inspector (Plant); Jack Dowsett, CMEE Inspector (Road Motor); Ken Gibbs, CMEE Inspector (Plant); Horace Rhodda, Head of Section; Fred Kitchen, CMEE Inspector (Plant); Dennis Norris, CMEE Inspector (Plant). Photograph in the Great Western Trust collection

The diagram O and R Railmotors were among the last converted, No 93 succumbing in 1934 and she emerged from Swindon as auto trailer No 212 to diagram A26 in 1935. Not all of the O or R diagram Railmotors were converted. Six of them were scrapped in their entirety. Clearly their conversion was seen as just not worth it in every case. No 212 was fitted with a pair of 9ft ‘American’ style bogies and was turned out in chocolate and cream livery. She never gained electric lighting, remaining gas lit until withdrawn. She had sandboxes fitted too, to allow her to help the locomotive propelling in slippery conditions. She was fitted with the ATC (automatic train control) signalling system in February 1945 to allow her to work on main lines whilst being propelled.

No 212 soon after arrival at Didcot Railway Centre in 1970. Photograph by Peter Chatman

She was photographed at Wolverhampton in 1949 in a single colour livery – probably plain crimson. Despite being repainted and updated this late, she didn’t last in revenue earning service for much longer. The records indicate that she was withdrawn from passenger traffic in May 1956.

The power bogie for No 93 under construction in 2008. The motion was built in wood to prove it worked before the steel castings were made

This wasn’t the end for No 212. She was then pressed into another role – this time as a Work Study coach at Swindon, renumbered a third time to No 0799014. Auto-trailers were easily converted to mobile offices because the seats could be stripped out, leaving large open saloons for the new purpose. Work Study is a management fad which aims to find the most efficient method of doing a job. Workers under the Work Study gaze tend to carry out their tasks as slowly as possible, so they will not be expected to increase efficiency subsequently.

No 212 as a bare skeleton before conversion to a steam railmotor began

When No 212 arrived at Didcot in the summer of 1970 there was ample evidence of her final purpose in life. The floor was littered with discarded Work Study notes containing such gems as: “Puts on Wellington boots, 10 minutes.”

No 212 setting off, under green cover, from Didcot in September 2007 for conversion back to a steam railmotor at Llangollen, with Heritage Lottery funding

But her Work Study existence gave No 212 enough time to come to the notice of the Great Western Society and the rest is (preservation) history. After a number of years funds were raised to build a new power bogie and a successful application for a Heritage Lottery grant enabled the body to be rebuilt back to its original state. This gave us Railmotor No. 93, back from the dead! The Lottery grant also enabled the restoration of trailer No 92 which gives preservation an example of a Steam Multiple Unit – the forerunner of all the multiple units, both diesel and electric, that exist on the railway network today.

No 93 at Looe in November 2012

An opportunity made possible all because British Railways needed a Work Study office …

No 93 at Didcot Halt with trailer No 92


Centenaries - As Far As The Eye Can See…

No 4079 Pendennis Castle turns 100 this year. We have a special event to celebrate it on 2 and 3 March – why not come along to celebrate?! We had another century event last year, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the first Castle class locomotive – No 4073 Caerphilly Castle – being completed. There is another centenary next year – that of No 4079’s domination on the LNER / GWR locomotive interchange trials and her attendance at the Empire Exhibition in 1925. Plans for an event here are afoot too .… That’s a lot of centenary celebrations. But we aren’t the first to celebrate a centenary on the Great Western.

Signwriters painting carriage roof destination boards for the rebranded Cornish Riviera Limited and the new Cornishman trains. Photograph published in Great Western Railway Magazine, July 1935 edition

The Great Western celebrated their own centenary in 1935. There were a whole host of events that were conceived to celebrate this and promote the fact that they were basically still the same railway company that had been set up in the 1830s. A remarkable record in anyone’s book. A banquet was held in Grosvenor House Hotel in London for 1,100 people. There were a whole host of updates to reflect the forward looking nature of the company and the Art Deco design movement. Its sweeping streamlined lines, geometric patterns and polished metal and chrome defined the age and had become all the rage on the railways of the U.K. at the time.

The complete ten-coach Centenary Cornish Riviera Limited, alongside the river Teign in Devon. Photograph in the Great Western Trust collection

We have already had a look at the only surviving Centenary coach, No 9635, which is in our collection, so why don’t we take a look at how the Great Western themselves celebrated their 100th birthday way back in 1935. Our source is the Great Western Railway Magazine via our legendary image and information guru, Photo Frank …

The magazine’s July 1935 edition introduced the new timetable for the summer holiday period:

“With the constantly increasing holiday traffic to Cornwall an entirely revised schedule has become necessary, and in this connection the ever-popular and widely-known Cornish Riviera express enters a new phase in its history. The traffic attracted to this famous service has, in past summers, severely taxed the carrying capacity of one train, and to meet the heavy requirements a companion express will be introduced, the two trains to be known, respectively, as The Cornish Riviera Limited and The Cornishman.

The Centenary Cornish Riviera Limited crossing St Austell viaduct in July 1935. Photograph published in Great Western Railway Magazine, August 1935 edition

“The Cornish Riviera Limited will leave Paddington at 10.30 am and Penzance at 10.0 am, and will carry reserved seat passengers only. From Mondays to Fridays it will run non-stop in each direction between Paddington and Truro (279 miles) and convey passengers for and from Truro, Falmouth, St Ives, and Penzance only. On Saturdays, the non-stop run from London will be extended to St Erth (299 miles), and the train will serve St Ives and Penzance only, passengers for Falmouth and Helston travelling by a relief express, leaving Paddington at 10.25 am.

“The Cornishman will cater for intermediate traffic not served by The Cornish Riviera Limited. It will run each week-day, and it virtually becomes the train it is designed to relieve. The down train will leave Paddington at 10.35 am and carry passengers for Newquay, St Erth, Helston, Penzance (due at 5.7 pm), and other Cornish stations. The up train will start at 10.20 am from St Erth, and call at Gwinear Road, Truro, Par, and Plymouth, from which point it will run without intermediate stop to Paddington, where it will be due at 4.50 pm.”

An O gauge model, by Kenard, of Centenary first class dining saloon and kitchen. This is one of a complete rake of Cornish Riviera Limited O gauge coaches recently donated to Didcot Railway Centre. The original of this vehicle is stored in the carriage shed at Didcot

Then the next month, the magazine described the carriages:

“The New Great Western Railway Cornish Riviera Trains

“The article on the Great Western Railway summer service in the July issue of the Magazine intimated that an important new passenger train, The Cornish Riviera Limited, would be put into service on 8 July, leaving Paddington at 10.30 am – the same time as the former Cornish Riviera Express. The rolling stock comprising this train has been constructed in the Company’s Swindon works. It is of a new style and reaches a very high standard in travelling comfort and amenities.

The kitchen side of the Kenard model of the Centenary diner. Note the five circular gas tanks in the underframe, for cooking

“There are in due course to be two such trains, providing a daily service in each direction. At the moment only one has been delivered, confining the use of the new stock from the London direction to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the return journey of the new coaches being made on the alternate days. The new Cornish Riviera Limited carries booked seat passengers only, and runs non-stop to Truro* (279 miles) on weekdays, except Saturdays, when the down train makes its first stop at St Erth*, 299 miles from Paddington.

“Each of the new trains consists of ten coaches of the following formation:

• Brake Compo 36 seats
• Brake Compo 36
• Third Class 56
• Brake Third 16
• First and Third Class Compo 48
• First Class Saloon and Kitchen 24
• Third Class Dining Saloon 64
• Third Class 56
• Third Class 56
• Brake Third 16

The interior of the first class dining saloon in the Centenary diner, as built. Photograph published in Great Western Railway Magazine, August 1935 edition

“All the vehicles are 60 ft long and 9 ft 7 in wide, and have vestibule entrances with over hanging bow ends, which reduce the length of the gangway between the vehicles. The bodies are constructed with fire-proof floors and are completely encased with steel plating. They are carried on massive steel underframes mounted on pressed steel bogies of an improved design, which give very steady riding. The first class compartments are panelled in light quartered oak and walnut, with oval mirrors, and upholstered in various colour schemes in blue, green, and brown. The third class compartments are panelled in gaboon mahogany and walnut, with oval mirrors, the upholstery being in brown moquette.

Interiors of the first class and third class dining bays in the Centenary trains. Photographs published in Great Western Railway Magazine, August 1935 edition

“The windows throughout the train are of extra large size, of the drop type, and are fitted with rayon curtains. The floor covering is of linoleum laid on felt, with carpets and rugs to match the upholstery. Accommodation for twenty-four passengers is provided in the first class restaurant car, which is finished in light quartered oak and walnut. The saloon seats are of the fixed pattern; they are upholstered in brown repp, and have loose, spring-filled cushions.

A Kenard O gauge model of a Centenary brake composite coach. This has a guard’s and luggage compartment on the left, then two first class compartments (blue curtains) and three third class compartments. Note the subtle difference in the widths between the windows of the first class compartments and the third class, giving more space in first. Following habits at the time, first class has one smoking and one no smoking compartment (triangular label), while third class has two smoking and one no smoking

“The kitchen, which is separated from the pantry by a serving vestibule, is lined with stainless steel sheeting and equipped with gas stove, plate warmer, and hot water circulator for supplying hot water to the sinks in the kitchen and pantry. Two refrigerator cup boards are fitted, being cooled by an electrically- operated refrigerating plant carried under the coach. The pantry contains accommodation for the storage of china, cutlery, etc, in addition to wine cupboards, sinks, and serving tables.

The arrival of the St Ives portion of the Cornish Riviera Limited is formed with one of the brake composite coaches. The small road motor (GWR terminology for buses) is to take passengers to the Tregenna Castle Hotel. The photograph was published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, September 1939 edition, titled “Literally at the seaside”

“The third class dining saloon, which is panelled in gaboon mahogany and walnut, accommodates 64 passengers, tip-up spring seats being arranged in groups of four on either side of the centre corridor. Passengers using this service will readily appreciate that they have accommodation fitting to the dignity of a new Cornish Riviera express which, in its performance, adds lustre to an already great tradition.”

The Cornish Riviera Limited in Sonning cutting behind No 6022 King Edward III. Photograph published in Great Western Railway Magazine, July 1936 edition

Don’t you just love the language used in these old publications?! We of course are going to celebrate No 4079’s 100 by making some steam and noise, marketing a new beer and trying to gather 100 different Castle related items together including models, souvenirs and original nameplates being specially displayed from the Great Western Trust’s collection. Sounds like fun and I hope you can join us. The link for booking tickets can be found by clicking here:

Thanks once again to Photo Frank and we will see you again next time!

* Although the train was advertised at non-stop, there was a stop, not at a station, for the engines to be changed after the four-hour journey from Paddi


The Other McAlpine Engine at Didcot

We have a famous locomotive that has the very great fortune to be associated with that towering figure of railway preservation – Sir William McAlpine. He of course was once the owner of our very own No 4079 Pendennis Castle. He also owned No 4472 Flying Scotsman at one point too, but one of the locomotives less well known that was owned by Sir William is an engine that was part of his family firm of engineers. She has sadly reached the end of her current boiler certificate.

No 31 climbing the 1in 13 gradient at Fawley Hill

Thankfully, the overhaul was tendered for and won by our contractors Pete and Ali at Didcot. An agreement with the Great Western Society followed swiftly after as to the use of the works at Didcot as well. The strong links between Fawley Hill and Didcot are quite apparent and there are several volunteers that serve at both railways. The fact that the two venues are relatively close geographically also means that the Fawley volunteers are able to come and work on the loco.

A close up of the compensated suspension

No 31 has amazingly been owned by a McAlpine in one way or another since her construction. She was ordered from Hudswell Clarke way back in 1913. By then the company had been in existence for about 53 years, having been founded in 1860. They had been known variously as Hudswell and Clarke, Hudswell, Clarke and Rodgers (1870), Hudswell, Clarke and Company (1881) and finally became a limited company in 1899.

They weren’t just a locomotive builder either. They worked on prototypes of compartment boats which were an early form of freight carrying inland waterway vessels. Mining equipment was also in their inventory including pit props and other hardware. They ended up being responsible for constructing the casings for munitions in WWII and even post-war nuclear weapons such as the Blue Danube and parts for the Centurion main battle tanks.

During No 31’s previous visit to Didcot, in 2019, she is climbing the coal stage – not so steep as her home incline at Fawley!

On the railway front, they were limited in standard gauge at least to the smaller and industrial scale machines. 0-6-0 and 0-4-0 designs being the most common. This they did successfully for many years. They also built diesel locomotives that were used in a variety of industrial scenarios including underground in the mining industry. They built a range of narrow gauge machines, both steam and diesel. One of the most famous of the diesel versions are those that still operate today on the 20” gauge Scarborough North Bay Railway and the 21” gauge Pleasure Beach Railway at Blackpool. These are unusual in that they look externally like main line steam locomotives. They are in fact diesel hydraulic machines and are amongst the earliest versions of this power train in use on UK railways.

No 31 is a small, 0-6-0 saddle tank contractor’s locomotive that is typical of the designs of the early twentieth century. She is simple, rugged and easy to look after as suits this purpose. One of the remarkable features of the engine is the suspension. It is fully compensated and when you watch her go along you get the feel that she would go over a ploughed field! If you are watching her as she moves, it is much like watching the suspension on an off-road vehicle. Every bump is soaked up effortlessly and the ride from the cab, even at the maximum permissible preserved line speeds, is very smooth.

No 31 with Port Talbot Railway No 813, also built by Hudswell Clarke, at Didcot in 2019

She has Stephenson valve gear as is typical in industrial locomotive design, operating valves for two inside cylinders which are 15” diameter by 20” stroke. She has 3’ 7” diameter driving wheels and a tractive effort of 14,232 lbs force. Not bad for a little engine that weighs no more than 26 tons. Another remarkable feature of the engine is the efficiency and effectiveness of her braking system. This loco always performs incredibly well in this regard which is very fortunate when you consider that she works the steepest adhesion worked incline that we know of at Fawley Hill – an amazing 1:13 at its toughest!

No 31 working Santa Specials at Didcot in December 2019, and displaying the 81M shed code plate

No 31 was originally ordered by the Ministry of Fuel and Power but was delivered when completed to the Robert McAlpine & Sons depot at Cuffley in the southeast of Hertfordshire between Cheshunt and Potters Bar. She was painted in the company livery of Caledonian Blue which she was to remain in for her entire working life. She was used on a series of famous construction projects in her time. The Empire Exhibition and Stadium Complex at Wembley (1923-1924), RAF Boscombe Down (1944) and Llanwern Steelworks (1960-1961) were just a few examples. She was sent back to her builders in 1938 and the engine was extensively rebuilt. One of the biggest visual changes was the swapping of the saddle tank from a squarer original to the curved version she has today.

No 31 worked until 1961, after which she was put into store at the McAlpine yard at Hayes, west London. She went on the scrapping list in 1965 and that should have been that if it were not for a certain member of the McAlpine Family – The Hon William (as he then was) – spotting the engine and her plight. Like so many things railway, she was delivered to Fawley in September 1965 to be preserved. There wasn’t much of a railway at Fawley at the time and the solution to get the engine to her new home was nothing short of cartoon-like.

On 28 January 2024, No 31 was briefly coupled to Pendennis Castle when being shunted into the Lifting Shop

Remember if you will, that bit in the fantastic Wallace and Gromit film The Wrong Trousers – the bit when the train is going along the floor. Gromit is desperately laying track ahead of it to allow it to continue.

In a similar action, No 31 ventured off across the fields of the Fawley Estate on a couple of track panels. Rolling from the first to the second, the first then moved from behind to in front, and the whole process repeated until she was safe and sound! She was also repainted into Sir William’s favourite livery of GWR Middle Chrome Green with all the lining, a livery that has remained with her to this day. The shed at Fawley was also given its own shed code in the same style as the British Railways codes in use at the time. 81 was used as the number, as Fawley is near Henley-on-Thames and this puts it in the London Division of the former Great Western*. The letter code could only be M for McAlpine though. Thus she proudly carries the 81M shed code plate to this day.

On 3 February 2024, with the tank lifted off the boiler, Leigh Drew (left) Didcot’s Locomotive Manager is with three volunteers from Fawley Hill Museum, left to right Tim Breeze, Nigel Parker and Di Breeze

She needs a thorough inspection and will get a boiler overhaul and will be thoroughly inspected mechanically and repaired as well. She is also long overdue for a repaint and if there’s anywhere she is likely to come out of the works in Great Western Livery, I suppose it’s Didcot! The engine has had a thorough boiler washout using our high pressure gear and is being dismantled in order for the inspection and overhaul to commence. I will keep you up to date with the progress of this historic machine.

*The same as Didcot which was 81E under BR.


Let’s Watch the Trailers

Given that we are on the build up to the return of the pioneer Great Western Society locomotive, No 1466, I thought we had better watch the trailers. They come before the main show, right? I am of course not referring to the lurid advertisements of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster. I’m referring of course to auto-trailers. Depending upon how you look at it, we either have three or four in the collection at Didcot. We will explain that in a future chat .…

No 92 as first seen by preservationists, in use as a mess room at Cardiff docks

The first Great Western Railway auto-trailer was built in 1903. They were built in the matchboard style with the sides of the coach made up of thin, vertical planks of wood. They also had Dean type centreless bogies. This meant that the wheeled trucks under each end of the vehicle were supported on arms sticking out of the sides of the body rather than on a central pin. It is thought that these early vehicles were to be used with the then new steam railmotors of the same design then being built at Swindon.

No 92 had to be lifted and turned through 90 degrees to be reunited with the track before movement for preservation

The design of both the railmotors and their associated trailers progress with the technology and styles of the time. The match boarding went out early on and was replaced with the more familiar wood-panelled style. The sides were covered with a sheet of wooden panelling and where the joins occurred, wooden mouldings were fixed. This gave their outsides an intricate and complex appearance, enhanced by lining out.

No 92 at Taunton in 1976

The centreless bogies also gave way fairly early on, too. The centre pin variety being much easier to produce and maintain. The diagram U coaches, of with our very own No 92 is a member, sported what was known as the ‘American’ bogies. These were, not unsurprisingly, based on American practice of the time and employed a clever equalising beam arrangement to supply the suspension. They were available in both 8 or 9 feet wheelbase versions although the latter was more typical for trailers.

After the award of a Heritage Lottery grant for restoration of the railmotor and trailer, they moved to Llangollen for the work to be carried out. 92 is nearer the camera, 93 is under the green cover

By the time No 92 was built in September 1912, the designs had in some versions grown in size too. The railmotors and trailers were now 70 feet long and 9 feet wide. The internal layout became fairly standard. Going from the end that attached to the locomotive, there was usually a luggage compartment, a small seating area, the passenger doors, a large passenger compartment and then the driver’s cab at the far end. The seats in the diagram U trailers were of the tram or walkover type that could be easily rearranged so that the passengers could sit in the direction of travel.

The SMU (Steam Multiple Unit) coupled together for the first time at Llangollen in April 2013, after restoration. The train can be driven either from the railmotor, or the cab at this end of No 92

An unusual feature of the diagram Us was the fact that they had corridor connections at the locomotive end of the coach. In theory this enabled them to be coupled to railmotors also so equipped but this was not done very often as railmotors thus equipped were even rarer! The corridor connections were not for the convenience of passengers, but allowed the guards through to check tickets.

Coupling 92 and 93 together, showing the corridor connection at the end of 92

They were all gas lit from new, although the march towards the elimination of gas lighting on the railway caught up with No 92 in October 1931. These trailers were very long lived and lasted well beyond the demise of their railmotor partners who were all gone pretty much by the mid 1930s.

Showing off the gas lights (now converted to electricity) while in a tunnel on the Llangollen Railway

As they aged, their beautiful panelling became somewhat compromised in some cases. As the sections became damaged or deteriorated, they were unceremoniously replaced with plain steel panels. This could make these grand old vehicles look decidedly down at heel.

Inside No 92 at Didcot Railway Centre

The diagram U trailers began to be withdrawn in the mid 1950s but the last one in service, No 91, lasted into the early 1960s. Our example, No 92, was condemned in January 1957 and that should have been that but it was used as a mess room for staff from GKN at Cardiff Docks. From here it was noticed by members of the Great Western Society and eventually purchased in 1969.

The SMU passing Radstock signal box at Didcot Railway Centre

It moved from Cardiff to Swindon initially but migrated to the depot at Taunton in 1972 and thence to Didcot in 1977. It was cosmetically restored from then and used as staff accommodation. Eventually, the idea to rebuild the railmotor came to the fore and as part of the Heritage Lottery application, it was proposed to rebuild No 92 as the perfect partner to Railmotor No 93. The numbers are even sequential – clearly it was meant to be! No 92 now serves as a fantastic reminder of those early auto trailers and is a unique survivor of its type. To step on board is to step back in time and that’s exactly our aim at Didcot. Mission accomplished!

The SMU passing Radstock signal box

The auto-trailer that isn’t an auto-trailer next time .…


The Lucky Thirteen

We talked about No 1363 a LONG time ago in Going Loco. Some of the earliest blogs were on this engine * and while we have covered quite a bit of the engine’s history since she was built in 1910, the current restoration and overhaul has escaped us. Until now .…

1363 taking water in the snow, 1 January 1979

The locomotive hasn’t been steamed since the early 1980s. She was also nearly a century old when the current overhaul started so she has been through a thing or two .… As she hadn’t been touched in so long, she really was an unknown quantity both structurally and mechanically. Only stripping her down would reveal the extent of the work required to bring her back to life. Let’s just say, the answer was that there was a fair bit to do .…

Part of the original frames (upside down) after being cut away, showing the corroded state

The first bit noticed was the fact that the main frames and practically everything else around the cab area was in pretty poor condition. Most of the metal here looked exactly like it was a century old. The steel was thin and dented. Certainly no longer capable of being part of an operational steam locomotive. This rot went right down to the main frames of the engine. In places these were wasted through corrosion to less than half of their original thickness. Considering that this section is where the main brake shaft and the drag box where the coupling to the train goes, it’s an area that needs to be fairly durable .…

Riveting the replacement section of frames

The rear three feet of the frames were replaced in the end. The only major parts that were reused here were the cab steps and the fittings such as the buffers, vacuum pipes, brake shaft and so on. The rest is all new. This replacement programme has continued up from the rear frames. The bunker, in its entirety, was also very badly wasted. The bunker itself had a huge crease in it from a coming together with another rail vehicle sometime in the dim and distant past. The cab floor was in an equally poor condition too and has also been replaced. The cab sides and the front are the originals however. The sanding mechanism was also in pretty poor condition and has been overhauled throughout. The front drag box had been repaired a few times and was no longer fit for service. This is also now new.

The new part of the outer firebox throatplate being welded

The boiler has needed extensive repairs. The lower sections of the steel outer firebox were thinned to beyond acceptable limits and have been cut out. The process for doing this is quite involved. The tricky bit here being that the side panels are on top of the front and rear panels. This means that you have to remove a small portion of the side panel each end to get the front and rear sections off. The remains of the side panels hold the inner firebox and foundation ring in position while the new sections are welded in front and rear. These are then riveted in place and the remains of the side panels cut away and new sections welded in and riveted back together. It’s quite the job .…

The lower part of the throatplate in position, with the welded joint

A number of stays (the things that hold the inner and outer firebox together and prevent the plate work bending under the pressure) have needed replacement as well as the front tube plate. This is the flat panel at the front end of the boiler and, as its name suggests, it has holes for the boiler tubes and a few other items in it.

The crown stays are being replaced. They are caulked, then nutted, but to take account of the shape of the firebox, spacers are fitted between the nuts and firebox top

Each spacer is individually shaped and identified for its position with a code of numerals and dots. The spacers are cast in bronze and two of them have been polished for this portrait

The front tubeplate being marked out by Pete Gransden

Mechanically, the engine was also very tired. The list of parts refreshed or replaced is extensive. The main wheel bearings were the start of it all so that she could sit back on her wheels again. Whilst the wheels were out, the tyres were turned to restore the flange profile back to standard. All of the other white metal bearing surfaces have been replaced. This means the cross heads, the rod bearings and so on. The pins that hold the rare Allen straight link valve motion together were all renewed and the die blocks replaced too. The slide valves were found to be in good condition but the pistons required new rings to be manufactured and fitted.

One of the crossheads stamped with the loco’s number

The cylinders were still in good order and the overhaul uncovered the fact that the cylinders on the engine are not a matching pair. It is thought that one of them is a replacement that is of the same design as the later pannier version of the design. The upshot of this is that despite there being a 1361 class locomotive in preservation, there is only one surviving cylinder to that design! No 1363 also needed to have her suspension overhauled. The team found that there were several pins and other parts that were seized in place and required some quite determined removal(!). All of the pins were replaced and the springs were sent away to be remanufactured back to their original tolerances.

The new cab roof being fitted by Angus Pottinger (left) and Chris Handby (right)

The final big item for the overhaul will be the saddle tank itself. This is what makes the locomotive unique. She is the only saddle tank built at Swindon to survive in preservation. The problem with the tank is that it is quite a complex design with a series of overlapping and highly curved steel plates. An investigation carried out by cutting out a section known to be too thin has shown that the lower tank is in far worse condition than the upper section. The team working on her have a plan, but it’s not going to be a simple repair.

1363’s chassis outside the engine shed on 28 January 2024, with the cab sides and roof and the new bunker fitted

The team working on her have had made amazing progress recently and a project that took a back seat for a number of years while Castles, Saints and Kings ** were completed. It’s now time for this plucky survivor to come to the fore. It will be a great day when ‘the big thirteen’ steams again and she will be a fantastic thing to see. The oldest Swindon-built engine in our collection. A genuine machine produced in the white heat of Churchward’s technological advances and yet a strange anachronism in that she was based on a design that went back over 50 years when she was built.

1363’s chassis with the boiler alongside on its trolley, outside the engine shed during a rearrangement of the lifting shop and loco works on 28 January 2024

She is a lot of things to a lot of people, but the one thing she definitely is, is a rare insight into the small engines of the Great Western before the era of dominance of the pannier tank.

* 24 April 2020 and 12 June 2020

** Our little 0-6-0T King George, not the other one!


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