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Going Loco

BLOG - A closer look at our collection of historic locomotives

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


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GWR Steam on the Road?

You know how I said I'd have to get my virtual pen out and write something myself last week? Well...

Photo Frank came up with the fabulous idea about tying into the upcoming Didcot Transport Rally. “Why don't you write something about the fantastic range of Road locomotives that the GWR had?” said Frank. “Great idea”, says I, “except for two minor issues”. “Firstly, I have no reference material about GWR road locomotives and secondly, I know nothing about GWR road locomotives at all...” “Ahhhh” said Frank “leave it with me.” And so I did.

With the Transport Rally this weekend (Sunday 22 May) organised by the Thames Valley and Great Western Omnibus Trust in conjunction with Didcot Railway Centre, we thought it would be an opportunity to look at some GWR road motors, in particular those powered by steam for heavy haulage.

We looked in the GW Trust archive of road motors at Didcot, which contains a massive collection in papers, drawings and photos, thanks to key donations from the late John Cummings and Mr Verner-Jeffreys; the latter was the last head of the GWR Road Motors Department. Note: the GWR always described its road vehicles as Road Motors to distinguish them from Rail Motors.

The first two photos are of a vehicle, U 308, built by the Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co of Leeds about 1905. The novel double-ended transverse-mounted boiler was used to avoid problems on steep hills. With a horizontal boiler mounted fore and aft, skill is required to keep the inner firebox crown covered with water when descending a steep hill.

Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon

The Diagram of Yorkshire Patent boiler

Yorkshire Patent boiler, mounted side on, internally resembles a Fairlie boiler with a central firebox and multiple fire-tubes to each end. In the Yorkshire though, a second bank of fire-tubes above returns the hot gases to a central smokebox and a single chimney, as shown on this diagram.

The third photo shows the wagon with trailer working at Henwick, near Worcester.

S-17 shown side-on in the photograph was fitted with a winch. The photograph is dated March 1933 and written on the back, rather ominously, is ‘obsolete’.

S-18 was fitted with a dropside load bed and is seen here loaded with sacks of grain at Exeter on 6 December 1929. If you are fortunate enough to be a member of the Great Western Society you will already have seen this photo on the back cover of the Echo.

The final photograph is not of a GWR vehicle, but a scene at Paddington Goods depot with a traction engine owned by Coulson & Co Ltd of Park Royal towing a large girder mounted on two primitive four-wheel trailers. The traction engine was built by William Foster & Co of Lincoln.

We hope you all enjoy yourselves at Sunday's Transport Rally.

Thanks Frank! That's an interesting take on Going Loco. It also leads neatly into our Transport Rally at Didcot on Sunday 22 May. We have a whole host of vehicles both cars and commercial vehicles, and other attractions at the park in the Ladygrove Estate. There are a number of extra attractions on at the Railway Centre too.

Which leads me to an interesting thought - perhaps we are now Road Going Loco?


Blast Sharpeners, Jumper Tops and Illegal Jimmies.

Well, there's a title! Before you stop reading, considering your blogger to have finally taken a dive off the sanity deep end and gone completely barking*, let's take a look into the strange world of draughting. That is the steam flow of exhaust from a steam locomotive. This is a bumper issue with contributions from two great guest writers so grab the beverage of your choice, take to the comfy chair and have a look into some seriously esoteric stuff! This first fascinating section was prepared by our drawing archivist Kevin, so, without further ado, we have our first report ‘From the Drawing Archive’...

The other Thursday was a particularly tough day of drawing scanning for me and 'er indoors. We've reached roll T81 in the grand scheme of re-scanning all the drawings to high res, but four drawings were no more than jigsaw puzzles. They needed best part of a 30 metre roll of archive repair tape and some tense moments, even though the new scanner is designed for delicate drawings.

However, T81 is an interesting roll full of early smokebox blastpipe drawings covering a subject not too many will know about, namely, ‘Blast Sharpening’.
Blast Sharpening??… say what?? Well here goes.

GWR locos are well known for their rather loud exhaust when working hard due to the necessity of pulling air up through their narrow deep fireboxes, as opposed to the shallower wider fireboxes of other companies. This ‘working heavier’ exhaust blast dragging air through the fire can have detrimental effects such as jumping the coal all over the place and pulling holes in the fire bed, especially if the fire is too thin, thus letting in too much cooling air. The solution??

Preservation crews on GWR engines will know about ‘Jumper Blastpipe Tops’ (see 46504 below).

As an engine is worked harder, the exhaust ‘blasting’ up the chimney gets stronger and without the jumper top, the increased draw would start to tear the fire apart. Under these circumstances the jumper top lifts, opening the top of the blastpipe to a wider diameter, thus reducing the fierceness of the exhaust blast and hence the draw on the fire. Note, the date of the drawing is May 1912.

5322's smoke box with Jumper Blast Pipe top.

Now, let us rewind to the days before the jumper top, which is what some of the drawings in roll T81 are all about.

Drawings 9901 from 1892 above and 12418 from 1895 below, show a fireman operated version of the blastpipe top. A Handle on the fireman’s side of the cab was pulled or pushed, which operated a rod within the handrail along the side of the boiler, to a crank through the smokebox side, to a pivot that hinged open or closed the blast pipe top.

This blastpipe top is a slightly smaller diameter than the blast pipe itself. It's probably best described as a manual version of the later Jumper Top! When pulled into the closed position, the top flips down, the diameter is smaller thus ‘sharpening’ the exhaust blast and drawing more air through the fire. When working hard, push the handle, the top flips up reducing the exhaust blast.

Drawing 34173 above shows the later 1907 version, now called BLAST SHARPENING GEAR, fitted to Stars, Lots 161, 168 & 173, but also The Great Bear 111 of Lot 171. They were also fitted to a variety of other engine classes, some that would eventually make it into the realm of preservation. But, as far as I'm aware, this manual version was superseded by the later jumper top, certainly by the Collett era, so none of the manual type actually made it into preservation. Have a look at some of the earlier pre-jumper top photos below. Look out for the crank just behind or below the handrail on the smoke box side.

Lot 102 of 1896 Duke class ‘TREVITHICK’ (GW Trust)

Now you know where to look, here's an even earlier photo.

Dean single Lot 84 – 3005 built as a 2-2-2 (later converted to 4-2-2 in 1894). Again, look just above the lubricators on the smoke box side and you can just see the blast sharpening crank. (GW Trust).

Lastly, 2915 Saint Bartholomew, Old Oak Common round house.(GW Trust).

Russell's GWR Locomotives Vol 2 ** has four photos where you can see the blast sharpening gear on the firemen's smoke box side just under the handrail ,… if you have the book, see if you can find them.

Now then, if you spot something on the driver's side of the smokebox in old photos, it's not Blast Sharpening gear. That's Superheater Dampening Gear! Say what (again!) That's probably another article in itself. Once more, something long lost and done away with. As for me and 'er indoors, it's back to Didcot for scanning roll T82, which is the much more mundane ‘Boiler Details’, or if you prefer, butt plates, that join the rolled boiler barrels.

Cheers & stay safe.

Thanks Kevin! We have also had a short reminiscence from another previous friend of Going Loco, footplate man extraordinaire, Mr Ted Abear who has graced us with a few words on his experiences in similar areas too. These are ALWAYS worth listening to. So, with even less ado that the previous sample...

“Most of the locos I worked on had jumper tops on blastpipes. I had heard from the old boys that in the old days if the loco was not steaming well some drivers had a gadget called a "Jimmy"*** that they had made and it screwed across the top of the blast pipe to sharpen the blast. When preparing a loco you (Fireman) checked the smoke-box ensuring baffle plates were secure and no blows in steam pipes, also blastpipe jumper top was loose not stuck. The only locos I knew and worked on [with this style fitting] were the 9700 Class Pannier Tank Condensers (or Tunnel Motors as we knew them).”

“We had them on the Smithfield jobs. They had a lever in the corner Firemans side which was secured by a pin. This was for a baffle plate to drop across the blastpipe when on Undergorund lines to divert steam in smokebox back into water tank which eventually made water hot hence the water pump fitted on side of the smoke box to put hot water into boiler. I never had the pleasure of using these.

My first trip to Smithfield I was told not to bother trying to use them as they were not used very often and there was the likelihood of the baffle going in and you can't get it back off again. Also the water pump was nor regularily used and might not work, so they were left alone.”

Horses mouth, check! Nice one Ted and thanks to both you and Kevin. I guess I'll have to get my virtual pen out again next week but this has been a pleasure to let others have a drive in this fine old engine we call Going Loco. See you next time!

*Steam engine exhaust note joke - intentional...

** A Pictorial Record of Great Western Engines Volume Two: Churchward, Collett & Hawksworth Locomotives. Here's the cheat,… look at the very first picture in the Preface, just above the driver's head on the smoke box side is a lubricator, look just to the left of it under the handrail. Also on pages 37 (both photos) & page 64, 4-4-0 County.

***Amazingly, one of these devices is preserved in the National Collection. It was presented to photographer Kenneth Leach by Top Link Old Oak Common Driver H. Jermey on his retirement circa 1960. They describe it as follows:

“[An] illegal device for fixing across blast-pipe cone to split the exhaust which makes an engine steam better. Iron square bar with 2 points bent to right-angles with screw adjuster. For Great Western Railway Churchward Jumper top blast pipe.”

We also have this wonderful photo of Driver Harry Jermey on the right with Fireman Jack Rose on the left next to their Castle Class steed, No. 5066 Sir Felix Pole. Jermey earned the nickname 'Rommel' because of the style of goggles he wore when driving!


Oil Be All Right!

In this age of great uncertainty of supply of coal through various problems ranging from deep international crisis to national government's shortsightedness, the quest for the eco-friendly alternative has certainly intensified. I am personally sure that there will be a solution of this nature in the future, but that we also need to allow the scientists the time to develop and test it. I'll climb down off my soap box... Steam in the past has been powered on a number of alternatives to coal, so let's take a look.

No 3951 Ashwicke Hall after conversion to an oil burner in April 1947.

The very early steam engines were powered by coke. This is a fuel produced by roasting or heating coal in an oxygen free environment. The idea here is that it gets rid of many of the impurities associated with burning coal. The reason for its use back in the dim and distant past of the railways was that it was effectively a smokeless fuel. A very early piece of environmental legislation demanded that steam locomotives ‘consume their own smoke’. This only really became possible much later on with the introduction of the brick arch. The arch makes the hot gases and combustible stuff in them travel much further than straight up and out, giving it more time to burn. This enabled the lower grades of coal to be burnt but didn't preclude the smoke from a poorly performing or poorly fired locomotive!

A Swindon drawing from the GWS archive of brickwork modifications to the firebox of a 28XX class steam locomotive.

Wood – in use today as a modern renewable fuel in several forms – was also common in certain parts of the world. The early railways of the United States saw a lot of wood burning steam engines. They have great forests on that continent so it was one of those ‘no brainer’ type decisions to try it. Whilst it works – you CAN fire engines on wood – it has a massive drawback. It's the amount of energy you can get out of it. The wood they were using could release around 3,200 British Thermal Units (BTU) per pound, but even average coal can give off 10 - 14,000 BTU per pound.

Refuelling oil burning 2-8-0 No 4801.

You had to REALLY stack that tender to go the same distance as your coal burning brethren. Lots of other variations on this theme have been tried successfully. They are usually waste products from an industrial process. The most famous being the little steam engines used in the production of sugar beet. The fine particulates of this fuel can be still alight as they exit the chimney, giving a real fireworks type show. Not a great idea in dry brush though it has to be said.

When the GWR emerged from the dark days of the Second World War, it did so with renewed optimism. It was not in the best state financially but there were other railways FAR worse off than them. They began to look forward. For the medium and long term they started to look at new forms of traction. The gas turbine locomotives Nos 18000 and 18100* were ordered and much talk was given to electrification in other areas. In the short term, their dependence on coal came under scrutiny.

The reason for this was simple – economics. Before the war the fuel needs for the GWR were met by the superior South Wales steam coal. This is an energy rich fuel, with around 14,000 BTU per pound. During and after the war, access to this fuel became harder and harder. The government had restricted access to it and labelled it for export only. This left the engines to consume coal of an inferior quality. This put the fuel consumption up. If you then make this fuel more expensive, things get tricky. In 1939, average coal consumption and cost was 44.21 pounds at 4.44d (1.85p) per mile. In 1944 this went to 55.18 pounds at 11.88d (4.95p) per mile. Then, in 1947, one of the worst winters our nation has suffered in recent history hit. A coal crisis had ensued.

The oil fuelling depot at Swindon.

The GWR consulted with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and Swindon converted several locomotives from coal to oil burning from 1945. Oil is even more energy rich than best steam coal – 18,000 BTU per pound. They started with 28XX class 2-8-0 freight locomotives but eventually expanded to Hall and Castle class 4-6-0s and a single 2-6-0.

The oil was a heavy fuel oil and was really thick. It needed heating with steam pipes inside the tank to get it to flow easily. Handy that there were all these steam engines around when you think about it... Putting it on board the engines was relatively easy, the coal space of the tender had a tank fitted to it. The firebox of the engine however was a bit different. The lower firebox was lined with refractory brick. The same stuff that is in storage heaters and that we make the brick arch from in our coal burners. The oil burners then went inside. The fire hole door was different in that it wasn't regularly opened and so just had an inspection hole flap.

Oil firing was a great boom to the crews. No more shovelling tons of coal for a start! It also meant that the fire hole door was not being constantly opened and closed. This going from pitch black to blazing fire and back had a marked effect on the crew's night vision. Not good when you are looking for signals – something the fireman could now do far more of so there was a theoretical gain in safety margins too. Ash wasn't produced and neither was clinker. This meant the fire was at the same efficiency at the beginning and the end of the day. Also, imagine the joys of those crews upon returning to shed – no emptying the ash pan out at the end of the day!

The fireman at the controls of an oil-fired locomotive. This drawing was in Next Station, a book published by the GWR in 1947 to describe its plans for the future.

Speaking of ash, the amount of dust produced and floating around went way down. The footplate became a much cleaner place, coal dust from the tender was a thing of the past. Most noticeable when tender engines went backwards. Not a pleasant experience with dusty coal... The controllability of this system of heating water was far easier. Putting coal in a firebox and getting it to burn at the right temperature at the right time is a genuine art but oil firing was endlessly and instantly controllable and heat was there on demand. It actually made it more difficult to excuse lifting the safety valves and wasting water through them so there may have been an economy there too.

There was so much interest in the scheme that the government funded the conversion of 1,200 locomotives on all railway companies to help offset the coal shortages. A technically excellent solution, which made working lives better and had the backing of the government. So why are there no preserved GWR oil burners? The programme had got to a total of 93 engines across the UK and 36 of them were GWR machines. In 1948, the railways had been nationalised and this formed the nascent British Railways. When they looked at it from a governmental funding perspective, the penny dropped. Where were they going to get the finance to pay for all this fuel?

A diagram from Oil-Fired Steam Locomotives, a handbook for enginemen published by the GWR at Swindon in May 1947.

A post WWII UK wasn't in the best health financially so it isn't surprising that the oil burners were returned to coal firing in just 9 months. The UK to this day still has vast reserves of coal. It's one of the major factors in us becoming the seat of the industrial revolution and with the scarcity of foreign exchange for a fuel we couldn't produce ourselves, oil firing just wasn't on the cards. So is there nothing left of this bold experiment? Not quite. If you look opposite our preserved lifting shop at Didcot, you will see two single storey flat-roofed grey brick buildings and some saddle-shaped constructions. These are the remains of fuel oil storage tanks and pump houses that were being built at Didcot before the programme was cancelled. I have to say that I have personal thanks for this as one of the buildings is used as a mess room and hot tea served in there over the winter months has kept many a locomotive restorer on track.

Pun intended.

So there!

*There's a blog for that! Look at ‘The Turbine Twins’, August 2021.


The Halls of the Mighty – Part 3: The Next Generation*

The final part of the Hall Class story is also that of the last Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the GWR – Mr Frederick Hawksworth. A man not well remembered due to his unfortunate sandwiching between the Second World War and the nationalisation of the railways in the UK.

F W Hawksworth in his office at Swindon.

We really haven't had much to do with Hawksworth in Going Loco as the majority of our fleet has its origins with his predecessors, Collett and Churchward. He was born in Swindon on 10 February 1884 and joined the GWR in 1898, aged just 15. He became an apprentice draughtsman in 1905 under Churchward. When Churchward retired in 1921, Collett became his successor and the strict seniority rules of the railway at the time meant that William Stanier became his deputy and Hawksworth, his chief draughtsman.

A British Railways official photograph from 1950 of No 7920 Coney Hall, with the Hawksworth welded tank tender.

Stanier was headhunted by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1932 to become their CME, causing Hawksworth to become Collett's deputy. Collett himself was never particularly comfortable in the role – especially after his wife Ethelwyn died in 1923 – and his somewhat pacifist tendencies meant that his retirement in 1941 wasn't a surprise. Hawksworth was restricted by the circumstances described earlier and a wartime Swindon works was busy building war materiel as well has putting out utilitarian locomotives such as Collett's Halls. Instead of great innovation, he had to settle for streamlining production and he started with the 49XX class.

Banbury-based No 7905 Fowey Hall showing off at Eastleigh on a cross country service in 1961. The loco looks very spick and span and survived for a further three years before withdrawal. The first two coaches of the train are of LNER origin. Photograph by Mike Peart.

The first thing he did was to simplify the front end of the locomotive. Up to this point, the GWR 2-cylinder 4-6-0s had a front end that went like this. The front buffer beam and all the locomotive forward of the cylinders was a separate structure, based around what was known as the extension frames. The cylinders and the saddle upon which the smokebox sat were two huge iron castings. The extension frames were bolted to the front and the main frames of the locomotive started behind the cylinder block. This was common to a vast number of different G.W.R. classes.

No 6970 Whaddon Hall in another official photograph from 1950, and coupled to the earlier design riveted tank tender.

What Hawksworth did was to continue the main frames from the front buffer beam to the far end of the cab. The cylinder castings were greatly reduced in size and simply bolted to the outside of the frames. The steam and exhaust passages that were in the old casting were replaced with pipes under the smokebox. The saddle that held the smokebox was incorporated into the stretchers that held the frames apart. The complex Swindon - de Glehn bar-framed front bogie was replaced by a simpler plate framed version as well. The boiler was updated too – this time a three-row superheater in a combined Molesco header / regulator valve was developed. This was in response to the increasingly poor coal being received at the sheds. More superheating surface means you get more energy out of the coal you have burnt.

No 6998 departing from Oxford on 3 January 1966.

The biggest external difference that Hawksworth caused was his tender design. He noted that riveting a tender tank was a laborious and time consuming process. His solution was a redesigned unit that sported an all welded tank. They are instantly recognised by their slab sided appearance where the flares at the top are incorporated into the sides. These were not just limited to the Modified Halls either, featuring on other classes too. They weren't fitted to all the Modified Halls, they were just added to the pool of available tenders for use.

To reflect their lineage, the numbering series of the Modified Halls simply carried on from the previous Collett Halls. The last of the latter being No. 6958 and the first of the former being No. 6959 Peatling Hall. Although, it wasn't. Due to the wartime conditions, number plates to tell the engines apart were really important. Names were a frivolity, so the first 12 were built in plain wartime black with no names. These Halls had to wait until 1946 to start getting their identities.

The first Modified Hall, No 6959 Peatling Hall heading a westbound express through Southall on 28 October 1961. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank.

There were several subsequent batches of Modified Halls, built both under the auspices of the G.W.R. and the Western Region of the newly formed British Railways. The Last were in fact finished as late as November 1950 with No. 7929 Wyke Hall. The total reaching 71 machines alongside their Collett sisters. Given that the first Saint class engine was built as far back as 1902, a nearly 50 year production run is quite the achievement. Given their late construction date, their tenure on the railway was understandably short. No. 6962 Soughton Hall was the first to be withdrawn and scrapped in January 1963. The last went late however – in December 1965 there were no less than 14 survivors.

No 6998 and train departing from Westbury with the stock move from Devon to Didcot on 2 December 1967. Photograph by Adrian Vaughan.

One of those is our very own Modified Hall, No. 6998 Burton Agnes Hall. She was built in January 1949, making her our example of a BR-built engine to a GWR design. She has a real claim to fame in that she was the engine selected on 3 January 1966 to pull the very last steam hauled regular passenger train from her Oxford shed. This, coupled with the fact that she was in far better condition than all the other surviving Halls at that point, meant she was an obvious candidate for preservation. The amazing thing is that at this point No. 6998 was going to be the only 2-cylinder GWR 4-6-0 to survive. It was only Barry Scrapyard that provided the other 5 Modified Halls in preservation today.**

She was bought for the then princely sum of £2,500 not long after her star turn and was delivered to the then GWS depot at Totnes. In 1967, she was the leader of a cavalcade of society vehicles that included 14XX class No. 1466, and the coaches: Dreadnought No. 3299, all third No. 5952 and auto-trailer No. 231. This was the exodus to her new home at Didcot. From here she ran in almost constant service until 1996 when her boiler certification expired.

No 6998's Hawksworth welded tender tank being lettered by the Crawley brothers at the final stage of the locomotive's first restoration at Didcot, August 1972.

The legacy that she and her Saint and Hall sisters of all varieties represents is second to none. They are the influence for a great many other classes - notably the London, Midland and Scottish Black Fives and the London, North Eastern Railway's B1 class. They were a seminal design that set the standard for much of what was to come and although they themselves were a little outdated by the time the last one was built, they were immensely successful. You don't build well over 200 engines if they don't do the job they were designed for. For that job, on the GWR, they were perfect. They are a milestone in British steam locomotive design and truly deserve the title I have given them – The Halls of the mighty.

No 7903 Foremarke Hall on a visit to Didcot in June 2019.

*With apologies to Captain Jean-Luc Picard...

**The seventh was No. 7927 Willington Hall but this has become a parts donor for the Grange and County 4-6-0 projects.


The Halls of the Mighty - Part 2: The Classic

Last time we looked at how No. 2925 Saint Martin was chosen to become the basis for the hundreds of G.W.R. 2 cylinder 4-6-0s designed by Charles Collett and Fredrick Hawksworth. Let's take a dive into the production machines that follow on from that ‘Saint Hall’ leader.

5989 Cransley Hall on the Basingstoke goods leaving the up yard at Reading West Junction. This is a wartime scene, note the blanked out cabside window. Photograph by Maurice Earley.

There were just a few differences between the prototype – No. 4900 – and No. 4901 Adderley Hall, built in December 1928. The bogie wheels at the front were changed from 3’ 2” diameter to 3’. There was a slight change in the rocking arms and the travel of the valves that they moved. The tenders at this point were all the same as their Saint class forbears, the 3,500 gallon type although in later life these were swapped out for the larger 4,000 gallon versions. There were several batches of Collett’s Halls, these machines proving so successful that they continued to be built into 1943 to a total of 259 engines. From No. 5921 Bingley Hall onwards, the engines gained a tool tunnel, to house the various tools used to manipulate the fire.

3953 Leighton Hall running as an oil burner between April 1947 and September 1948. When converted back to coal burning she reverted to her original number, 6953.

While the Castles and Kings were seen as the most glamorous machines and featured in all the publicity that the G.W.R. put out, the Halls were the maids of all work. The first 14 of them went to work in the South-Western section between Penzance and Plymouth. There is some challenging geography in this area and they coped magnificently with it. The class were then cascaded throughout the whole system as new locomotives were built. The one disadvantage they had was that they were ‘red route’ machines - their axle weights were quite high at 18 tons 19 cwt. This meant that they were restricted to the more sturdily constructed main and secondary routes. A smaller, lighter, go anywhere version of the Hall class was needed. That is another story for another time...

4958 Priory Hall on a down fast goods train, climbing the 1 in 36 gradient of Dainton Bank in Devon. The locomotive has lost her painted buffer beam number, but has not yet been fitted with the BR-era smokebox number plate. Photograph by John Ashman.

World War II was the ultimate test for these fine workhorses. They were put under immense strain, as was the entire U.K. railway system. They were not found wanting. As with all the G.W.R. classes, blackout restrictions were applied and the Halls had their cabside windows replaced with steel sheets to stop the light of the fire lighting up the night sky and attracting the attention of enemy aircraft. The Halls did suffer a casualty. No. 4911 Bowden Hall was at Keyham Station on the night of the 29/30 April 1941 when a Luftwaffe air raid struck the area. The engine was at a standstill and the crew had taken shelter under the steps of a nearby signal box when a bomb struck the ground next to the driver's side of the cab. The damage was extensive to both the signal box and the locomotive. The crew and the signalman thankfully survived but the engine was a write off and its remains were scrapped soon after.

5957 Hutton Hall at Exeter St David's, painted in early British Railways lined black livery with red background to her name and number plates. Unusually she is coupled to an eight-wheel tender.

Post war, there was an experiment undertaken that saw a number of G.W.R. designs converted to burn oil instead of coal. This was applied to a number of Halls, Castles, and 28XX class heavy freight 2-8-0s. The Hall class engines that were converted to oil firing were renumbered into the 39XX series. The cost of the fuel oil and the parlous state of the finances of the U.K. at the time, coupled with the fact that this country has vast coal reserves soon put an end to the oil experiment. The locomotives were all converted back to coal firing.

Apart from No. 4911, all of the Hall fleet lasted intact until the late 1950s. The march of modernisation meant that it was only a matter of time before they went. The first to go, as mentioned last time, was No. 4900 Saint Martin in 1959. The axe fell on the class during the early 1960s and it was extinct on the main line by 1965. The sad thing was that despite the significance of the class, not one was put aside for preservation in those early days. However, the South Wales Retirement Home for Old Steam Engines was to come to the rescue once again!


5959 Mawley Hall at Dawlish on 26 July 1958. She is hauling the summer Saturday 9.10 am Kingswear to Birmingham Moor Street train & 5960 Saint Edmund Hall on 24 February 1962 hauling a northbound goods train through Stroud. Both photographed by Ben Brooksbank.

Dai Woodham's Scrapyard became a bolt hole for the class and no less than 11 of them found their way there and thence to preservation. Of these, 7 of them have run in preservation as Halls. Another, No. 4942 Maindy Hall, was rebuilt by the G.W.S. to become Saint Class replica No. 2999 Lady of Legend. That leaves 3 to go and some of these engines are being restored as I write this. A weird off-shoot to this was that No. 5972 Olton Hall has gained movie star fame in the Harry Potter franchise, in its red liveried guise as Hogwarts Castle at the head of the Hogwarts Express train in the films. Such is the fame of this engine that it has been put on static display at the Warner Brother's Studio Tour at Leavesden. One of its classmates, No. 4920 Dumbleton Hall, has recently been bought by Warner Brothers and sadly shipped away to far-flung Japan. There it will deputise as No. 5972 in a ‘Potter’ attraction there. Hopefully, this isn't the start of a trend for restored but out of ticket Halls...

5972 Olton Hall leaving Didcot on 18 July 2009 and heading towards Oxford with the Hogwarts Express.

The miracle of preservation that was Barry Scrapyard also enabled the Great Western Society to not only give the Saint class back to the world but it supplied an original Hall class machine for the collection too. No. 5900 Hinderton Hall was built in 1931 and was the 101st member of her class. She was a West Country machine for the vast majority of her life, being withdrawn from Bristol in December 1963 and being sent to Barry. She was rescued from there in 1971 and was back in traffic by 1976. She saw extensive use on the main line as well as on site but is now on static display, welcoming visitors to her footplate to see how things are done. She has an interesting modification that was applied to a number of the Halls. She has an updated 3 row superheater and this means that she is slightly more powerful than other members of her class.

All of which just leaves us with the Modified Hall class to have a chat about. Which is the subject of the final in this three-part extravaganza...

5900 Hinderton Hall at Didcot Railway Centre.


The Halls of the Mighty – Part 1: Evolution

Enough Pendennis Castle for now – she's running this weekend if you are interested by the way... Back to the matter at hand which is the wide smorgasbord, pantheon or vivid panoply of Great Western rolling stock. Having had a chat with Photo Frank at the weekend, we noticed that some of the various big classes of the G.W.R., which are represented in our collection, haven't been discussed on Going Loco. So, in order to redress the balance, let's start with one of the big ones. The Hall class 4-6-0 mixed traffic machines.

The Halls are related to an engine that we have already had a chat about – the Saints. That means we get to rub shoulders again with the greatest of the great – George Jackson Churchward. Certainly the greatest locomotive engineer of his era. His designs and his standardisation policies set Swindon Locomotive practice until the end of steam traction. There is one hole in his fantastic career though. His Saints and Stars were fantastic Passenger locos. All manner of heavy freight machines, tank locos and the mighty mixed traffic 2-6-0 Moguls were produced. He did propose a large mixed traffic engine that would sit in neatly between the passenger machines and the Moguls but he never did anything about it. Quite why is a mystery.

No 4900 double-heading with No 4960 Pyle Hall and descending Rattery bank with the 8.15am Newquay to Newcastle on 27 July 1957. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank.

By the time of his successor, Charles Benjamin Collett, the increased traffic on the railway was beginning to put a few of Churchward's classes a bit too close to the limit on a more regular basis. The traffic department was introducing more and more fast freight services at the time too and there was a need to power these trains as well. Having taken the Star class 4-cylinder 4-6-0s and modified the design to become the Castle class*, a similar idea presented itself regarding the Saint class 2-cylinder 4-6-0s.

The basic design of the Saints was outstanding. Really, the only possible area of improvement was to increase the tractive effort (the pulling power)** to allow it to cope with the increasing traffic and to take on the freight duties with the same style as the passenger services. Given that the cylinders, boiler, boiler pressure and most of the mechanics were pretty much spot on – don't fix what ‘ain’t broke! – there was just one sure fire way of increasing the tractive effort. Make the wheels smaller. And that's what he did.

No 4900 double-heading with No 5055 Earl of Eldon, climbing Dainton bank with the 8.25am Paddington to Penzance on 27 July 1957. Saint Martin was evidently on pilot duty over the south Devon banks that Saturday. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank.

He not only did this as a paper exercise, like he did with the Castles, he did it in reality as well. The plan was to take a Saint and modify it to be the prototype of this new mixed traffic machine. No. 2925 Saint Martin was chosen to be the guinea pig. She was built in 1907 and was withdrawn from service on 8 August 1924. The engine entered Swindon Works shortly afterward. This is where the transformation began. It wasn't too radical to be honest. The driving wheels were changed from the 6’ 8½” diameter versions fitted to the Saints to a fresh set of 6’ diameter versions. The only other major change was the addition of a new Castle style cab with such luxuries as side windows and a roof large enough to effectively keep at least some of the weather off the crew.

No 4900 with a milk train at West Ealing in the late 1950s.

No. 2925 reborn as what they were calling at the time the ‘Saint Martin Class’ (guess why?), re-entered traffic on the 6 January 1925. There was an idea that a further 9 Saints would be converted the same way but strangely, this never happened, leaving No. 2925 to soldier on as the only testbed. She ran on passenger, fast freight and in as wide a variety of different situations as befits the moniker ‘mixed traffic’. She accrued an impressive 182,835 miles until the 15th October 1928.

The results were an immediate success. The tractive effort had been raised from 24,395lbs to 27,275lbs. She accelerated faster than before and passed all the tests with regard to reliability, fuel consumption and so on. The reaction was so positive in fact that in December 1928, an order went out for 80 of these machines to be built. We will look at those next time but we really ought to finish the story of the first of them all. The first of the new engines was originally numbered No. 4900, almost as of the intention was to discard No. 2925 after the test period ended. Shortly afterwards however, a decision to keep the engine was made and No. 2925 became No. 4900 on 7 December 1928 to denote her rightful place as class pioneer.

For comparison, No 5976 Ashwicke Hall at Exeter engine shed on 12 April 1953. The taller smokebox saddle to compensate for the smaller driving wheels compared with a Saint can be seen. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank.

She was always unique. Certain of her dimensions didn't quite match the productionHall class locomotives. The boiler and the frames were set 4” lower than the rest of the class for example. This isn't easy to spot in pictures but was readily apparent in real life according to those that had the pleasure of seeing her. She also had something no other Hall ever had. A name that didn't end with Hall! She kept her original name right through to the end. The end came on 3 April 1959. A sad end for a pioneer such as she was. She had lived two lives over 52 years of faithful service to the railway. In that time she travelled 2,092,500 miles. A remarkable record for any machine – especially a prototype that possibly wasn't going to be kept past an experiment.

While she was lost, she was the progenitor of not just the Halls. The evolutionary tree she started lead to the Granges, Manors, Modified Halls and the Counties. She was therefore the genesis for nearly 500 engines in all these classes. She also opened an unexpected door many years later. A bunch of enthusiasts decided that if Collett could turn a Saint into a Hall, then they could go the other way and bring back to life the then extinct Saints from the still corpse of a dead Hall. A story I have already told,*** but a testimony to the solidity and practicality of that original Churchward design and the common sense Collett showed in mostly leaving it well alone! Next time we do a Hall blog, we shall look at the production machines and finish off part three with the modified halls. Until then good reader...

The first discussion on whether a Hall could be converted back into a Saint was published in Great Western Echo, Summer 1973 edition.

*Yes, I know we haven't done that yet - there is a reason...

** There's a blog on that! Look up Working This Out Was A Real (Tractive) Effort!, February 2021 in the archive.

*** There's a blog on that too! Look up my Saint Series Called Very Virtuous Vehicles?, Posted between August and September 2021



Return of the Champion Part 10 - Go For Launch!

Well, there we are. It's almost a week since we let Pendennis Castle loose for the first time. I thought we would have a quick round up and a look at some of the fantastic pictures taken by Frank at the event. A bit of a reflection on what went on if you will...

We all had a fantastic weekend. The preparations were numerous and there was a good deal of work that was done between the initial runs and the launch day. It took a great deal of effort from the team to get us where we were by Saturday morning and I am really grateful to them all for what they have done. Thursday saw a second test steaming to check though a few more points and then a working party on the Friday to do the last few things to get us ready. The upshot of all this was that there was a wonderfully shiny looking Pendennis Castle sat ready to go by the evening.

Pendennis Castle giving train rides on the main demonstration line.

The obvious bit we didn't get right - you couldn't really miss it - was the less than steam tight cylinders. There&aposs a number of issues here, not least of which is the entirely new set of cylinder drain cocks. We really couldn't do any more tests than we did, especially given the fuel shortage the heritage sector is currently suffering. We still haven't got it right either. We were left with the stark choice of leaky front end and happy people or a still No. 4079 and unhappy people. Guess what we went with? Every steaming we do, we get a little closer to sorting it out. We did a bit of work on Saturday evening and this was a step in the right direction. As one of her former owners once said: “We're getting there”...

We started off on the Saturday morning by being pulled out of the shed by No 1340 Trojan while we worked to bring the fire round. The little warrior then went to its duties on the branch line. We were joined on the Saturday by the other Pendennis Castle - No 57 604. The Class 57 was very kindly loaned by today's Great Western Railway and I would like to thank them for doing so. They had met before, but No 4079 was just a set of frames at the time! We were posed alongside No 57 604 to start with and many a photograph was taken to record the event.* Working the main demonstration line was our Class 14 0-6-0DH No. D9516. The cool connection here is of course that it was built at Swindon the same year that No 4079 was withdrawn - 1964!

4079 and 57 604, two Pendennis Castles.

We moved off to the turntable for the launch ceremony at about 10:30hrs. We had invited a large number of people that have had association with the engine over the years. There were three speakers at the launch. Our vice president, Richard Croucher, regaled us with the tale of how he helped return the engine to the U.K., remembering how the agreement was signed in the Great Northern Hotel. Upon looking up, it was discovered that the painting over the table was that of No 4472 Flying Scotsman. These two really do have an entwined history don't they?!

Richard Croucher, Lady Judy McAlpine and Drew Fermor on the turntable for the launch ceremony.

Lady Judy McAlpine gave us some excellent reminiscences about Sir William's association with the locomotive and paid us some really lovely compliments about the restoration. Then it was my turn. My first job was to thank Lady Judy and give her a gift of a section of boiler band that we removed during the overhaul, framed with a photograph of her and Sir William on his last meeting with No 4079. I then turned to the family of Doug Godden. Doug was famous for wearing his grease top hat and we invited them to allow us to place the hat in the cab for her first passenger runs. A place where we would have dearly wished for the man himself to occupy.

The next order of business was ‘the last piece’. I had put the large brass washer that goes between the two smokebox door handles in my pocket when I noticed it loafing around in the works with a “I'll put that somewhere safe later on” sort of general idea. I forgot. It ended up becoming a sort of game as to where could this small bit of Pendennis go! It's been to Poland on the footplate at Wolsztyn for example... My good friend and No 4079 team member Harry Pettit was selected to return it to its rightful place. Maybe this will start a new tradition on launch day?

The members of Team 4079.

I thanked Richard for his work in giving us a project to work on and to keep us funded. No small task and one he is very humble about too. Thanks again Richard! I then turned to my team. I invited them all to stand with us on the turntable so that I could thank them too. Without them, I'm just a bloke in a shed with a broken engine... I then paused to remember those members of my team that didn't make it to see the locomotive finished. With the pleasantries over and the ribbon cleaved in twain by Lady Judy, we ambled up to the demonstration line and did something that hadn't happened since 1994 - we pulled a passenger train with Pendennis Castle!


Lady Judy McAlpine cuts the ribbon. She was wearing one of Sir William's hats to give him a presence at the ceremony & Richard Croucher and Lady Judy McAlpine with Pendennis Castle on the turntable.

I will let Frank's amazing pictures tell the rest of the story but I will end with these few words for today. The day had long been in my imagination but there was one element of it that I wasn't prepared for. That was the emotional reaction caused by the engine. There were certainly smiles all round - there was no chance of that not happening - but there was also a deeper connection to No 4079 that I had failed to realise. I'm obviously a bit attached to the old beast but a young lad came up to me with a box of chocolates to say thank you to you for restoring his favourite engine, families turned to me with tears in their eyes thanking us for keeping their father's or husband's memory alive and complete strangers came up to me and shake me warmly by the hand for our work. It's only then that you fully appreciate what my incredible, dedicated, hard-working and loyal team and I have achieved here. It's a very humbling experience. One that I am very grateful for, and that I will never, ever forget.

Pendennis Castle and train entertains the audience in the picnic area.

I dedicate this Going Loco to all that have worked on Pendennis Castle over the years. Thank you! We've only got to look after it for ten years now...

Drew & Team 4079

* If you then went into the museum, one of No 4079's original nameplates is on display. The letters on these were first applied to the Duke of Cornwall Class 4-4-0 locomotive of the 1890s. Three Pendennis Castles for the price of one?

The original Pendennis Castle built in 1895. This locomotive lost her nameplates in May 1923 to avoid confusion when the Castle class began to appear, and we believe the letters were removed to make the nameplates for 4079.


Return of the Champion - Chapter 9: From Defeat to Victory?

The last time we left our 4-6-0 hero sat at Old Oak Common, about to take flight on a final mission to 100mph and glory but with an uncertain future ahead. Let's finish the report of the events of the 9th of May 1964 in time for the loco launch tomorrow!

So there No. 4079 stood, old but in fine condition. Gleaming in the early morning sunlight. She had been polished to perfection. Her old GWR numbers had been put back on her buffer beam as well as the British Railways cast iron numberplate that now adorned her smokebox. There had been much hype surrounding this trip and it remains to this day a remarkable venture. Quite what it cost to put on is unclear but it can't have been cheap for B.R (W) to do. Still, the day was here, the crew was here and they were ready to go.

Except, they weren't. There was a disagreement going on between the inspector, Bill Andress and the driver, Alf Perfect. Pendennis Castle had been supplied with Ogilvie 1A steam coal. This was coal that had a huge calorific value and was very potent stuff. Alf's problem was that he was sure that the heat this was going to generate would damage the locomotive. He was arguing for one of two solutions to the problem. 1st, the spreading of lumps of old brick arch brick on the cast iron grate to protect it from the fierce heat. His 2nd option was to reduce the potency of the coal a bit by mixing in some slack or poor coal with the hot stuff to lessen the punch. Both these suggestions were denied him and he wasn't best pleased about it either...

When the time came to go to Paddington, the engine slowly backed down from the shed to the platforms. The sight that greeted the crew was unbelievable. There were people everywhere. It was a major event and they weren't quite prepared for this. The crew were being treated like celebrities, with them all signing autographs and being wished the best of luck on their trip. Everyone had determined that if this was to be the last great Castle trip, then it was going to be one to remember.

Upon leaving Paddington, the engine leapt into action. The decision to carefully select both crew and engine was vindicated in the most spectacular manner. The flying section out of London passed in a blur. She flew through Reading, Doug Godden – one of the two firemen with Brian Green – later told me that speed limits were ‘liberally interpreted’. All on the authority of the railway. You can't imagine that today can you?! Alongside that was Bill Andress and Alf Perfect's steely determination to ‘break the ton’. Surely, it was in the bag?

Doug Godden visited Pendennis Castle in the loco works on 8 November 2008. Is that a smile or a grimace as he holds the heavy numberplate for the photographer?

The best chance for the train to hit the magic three digits was thought to be going down Lavington Bank, not far from the town of Westbury. The gradient would be with her and the scene was set. Doug told me what it was like on the footplate at the top of the bank. His description was intense. The vibration and rocking around got more and more evident. Although the Castles were quite smooth at speed, No. 4079 was being pushed hard. The tender and loco have their own rhythms and the fall plate that join the two responds to both. Brian was at the fireman's side cab window, on the look out and had been tasked with keeping the water level in the boiler topped up. Doug himself was firing, for all he was worth. He told me that he had never seen a fire like it before or since on a steam engine. He likened it to being “as white as a sheet of paper”...

Alf and Bill were on the other side of the cab. Alf was being the consummate professional that ever he was, eyes on the road and with Pendennis Castle responding in kind. She was in full cry – the noise must have been incredible on that footplate but there was one voice ringing out above it, Bill was calling out the speeds. Past 90 she went, as she approached 100mph, the forces involved are hard to imagine. The front set of driving wheels on a Castle weigh over 5 tons. At 100mph, they are revolving at nearly 7 times a second. Every revolution means that the pistons are reaching one end of the cylinder, changing direction and going to the other at that same 7 times a second. Add to that the weight of all the rods, motion and all the other moving parts and it starts to become quite amazing really!

The count continued.




The leading driving axle of Pendennis Castle is the crank axle driven by the inside cylinders. Imagine that lump of metal with rods attached rotating nearly seven times a second at 100mph. It doesn’t bear thinking about!

It was then that things went wrong.

The issue wasn't spotted in the cab but had been seen by the guard who had looked out of the window to see sparks and lumps of molten metal flying off the engine. Seeing this he pulled the emergency cord. This put the brakes in and Pendennis Castle was brought to a rather unceremonious halt on the bank. To say that the crew were annoyed was an understatement but when the guard ran to the loco and explained what he had seen, it was found that Alf's prediction had come true. The intense heat of the fire had melted the fire bars. This had dumped a large part of the fire into the ash pan. On a Castle, this has a design whereby the rear driving wheel axle is in the middle and thus there are two ‘bottom sections’ to it, with fore and aft damper doors on each of them. The fire, sat in here had heated the rear axle bearings to the point where they melted and it was this that the guard had spotted. The only words out of Alf's mouth apparently were “I told you so...”

This is the ashpan of 6023 King Edward II being test fitted during the locomotive's restoration. It is similar to a Castle's ashpan, with a slot in the middle to fit over the rear driving axle and two bottom sections into which the ash drops.

The engine limped to Westbury, where decisions had to be made. There were spare engines placed at various points along the route but Westbury was supposed to be passed in a flash. It was a fair distance to the next one. There was no way that No. 4079 could continue as she was. It was then that a weary looking locomotive was spotted, coming onto the shed after a day's work. This was Hall Class No. 6999 Capel Dewi Hall *. Now, compared to the preparations that No. 4079 had benefited from, what was to happen next was equally remarkable. The Castle crew became a Hall crew! The engine was pressed into service.

Pendennis Castle at Westbury engine shed on 9 May 1964, with smoke drifting ominously around the rear driving wheels.

6999 Capel Dewi Hall became the hero of the hour. This photograph shows her hauling a Festiniog Railway Special on another occasion.

With almost no preparation, No. 6999 became the centre of attention. Later on, she was reckoned to be by many to be the star of the show, plucked from nowhere, she ran at over 90mph on very poor quality coal. She was only stopped and replaced by one of the official engines as the tender was becoming a bit empty and the crew weren't sure that there was enough to get them through to Plymouth. They all wanted to go on with the Hall though! Throughout the day, neither No. 7029 Clun Castle (Plymouth to Bristol) or No. 5054 Earl of Ducie Bristol to Paddington) managed to reach 100mph.

But what of our engine? Pendennis Castle had given her all and it had cost her dearly. She was done for the day and possibly forever. This level of damage was a death sentence at this time. Steam was on the way out and investing time and money of this magnitude into an engine that was going to be withdrawn very soon was simply not going to happen. As the engine cooled on a siding reserved for broken engines at Westbury shed, an era ended. She had served the railway for 40 years. Had been a great champion and a wonder of the age. But now it was all over.

Or was it? The silver lining in all this was that while the damage had prevented her going on with the train, it prevented her going back to work. It also prevented her moving. This meant that, for a time at least, she had found sanctuary. All the while she was there, although she had been withdrawn from traffic, she wasn't in the hands of a scrap merchant. This is where a book seller by the name of Mike Higson comes in but in ‘Return of the Champion's’ finest traditions. I'll finish off this tale next week.

An anonymous clerk wrote Pendennis Castle's epitaph on her record card: “Firebars dislodged following speed of 97 mph on Spotters' Spcl Paddn to W of E 9/5/64”.

We hope to see you all at the locomotive launch tomorrow. There are still tickets available to buy on the door for both days so if you haven't booked, there is a last minute opportunity for you to join us to welcome the G.W.R.'s mighty warrior back to the land of the living.

Excited? Us? Yeah – more than just a little bit!

All the best,

Drew and the 4079 Team.

PS: I told you last time that the 100mph test that Pendennis Castle did before the run was significant. I think it might be but I need your help. If none of the other engines reached 100mph, was this the last time a Castle hit 100mph. It was certainly after the tests of the other engines, so does No. 4079 have another claim to fame? If you know different, please let us know!

* I've always loved the irony that the last three numbers were 999 - like a call to the emergency services in the U.K.!

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