Living Museum of the Great Western Railway

Home » BLOGS - Going Loco

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.

 

Latest Blogs


FRIDAY 21 JANUARY

Wonderful Winter Wagons: Old King Coal

Coal was once the lifeblood of industry. That scenario is fast becoming a memory, with it coming down to limited heritage use to show how things were once done, but its historic legacy remains. Especially at Didcot. The beginning of the restoration of our unique coal stage and water tank led me to think about coal and how we really haven't had a chat about it in Going Loco.

This drawing of a GWR standard coal stage was published in an article on Fuelling our Locomotives in the Great Western Railway Magazine in May 1940.

The movement and distribution of coal was key to the Great Western for two reasons. Firstly, it was a business opportunity. The movement of coal from the Welsh coalfields to consumers was of massive importance to the G.W.R. financially. However, the other big issue is that without coal, the railway didn't move! The transport of coal as a goods item we will deal with another time but let's look at the subject of coal as the lifeblood of the locomotives.

The main point to know about the coal used by the G.W.R. is that it was of a very high calorific value. This means that it has a lot of energy bound up within its chemistry. More so than most other coals burnt in the industrial era. This is obviously good from the point of view of the locomotives but it does come with a price. This coal was also very easily broken. If roughly handled, it could turn into dust and you can't easily fire a steam engine on powder. With the draught caused by the heat of the fire and the exhaust beat of the engine, it's just gets picked up and blown out the chimney!

The mechanical coaling plant at Leicester (Midland) in 1957, typical of many built in areas where hard coal was used at a locomotive depot. Photograph by Ben Brooksbank.

On railways using coal such as the hard Yorkshire variety, the fuel could be loaded into huge mechanical contrivances called coaling plants which would pick up the whole coal wagon and tip it into a large bunker, thence into the bunkers and tenders of waiting locomotives. With Welsh steam coal this couldn't happen. So, all of the coal on the Great Western was moved by hand. Incredible as it seems, it was all moved on a shovel by blood and sweat. The coal stage at Didcot is the last link in that chain.

Trains of specialised coal wagons would come from the mines in long trains, being split up to various destinations based upon need. The largest depots like London Paddington's Old Oak Common had a locomotive allocation of well over 200 engines and chomped its way through about 3,000 tons of coal a week! Didcot's allocation was about 50 locomotives so was nowhere near that hungry... The loco coal trains would be put into sidings adjacent to the shed. From here, they were split into 5 wagon sections. These 5 wagons would then be pushed to the top of the coal stage ramp. Each of the wagons held on average 10 to 20 tons of coal.

Wetting the coal in one of the tubs to dampen the dust before tipping it into a locomotive.

The wagons were unloaded in the coal stage building into one of fifteen 10cwt tubs. These little tubs are on four wheels and have a door on one end. There are two types of tub. One had an end door all the way across and the other has a narrow end door. The wide ones were for tender engines and the narrow for the bunkers of tank engines. Their wheels are quite close together and the reason for this is that they are designed to interact with the drawbridge like doors on the locomotive filling side of the coal stage. There are little tracks on the drawbridges that the tub wheels engage in. As you push the tub forward it eventually gets caught in the end sections. You then unlock the door with a lever at the rear of the tub and then tip it into the awaiting engine below.

Tipping coal into a locomotive from the Didcot coal stage.

The now empty coal wagon was then allowed to roll down slowly to the ramp side of the coal stage. The coal men used a brake stick to control the descent of the wagons. This was a big chunk of wood that looks like the handle of a cricket or baseball bat at one end but is a large square section at the other. The idea was that you place it in between the frame of the wagon and its brake lever. Pulling down on it applied the brake. Usually. Despite the skill of these men, it wasn't unknown for the wagon to get away from them. Sometimes the wagon handbrake wasn't great. Sometimes they didn't put the brake on hard enough. The outcome was the same, a 12 to 20 ton wagon slowly creeping off down the ramp, gaining speed, on its way to Paddington all on its own! There was a catch point at the bottom of the ramp and this derailed the wagon before it got away. This inevitably buried it up to the axles in the ballast and then it had to be re-railed. I can't think this was a fun time for anyone involved...

1340 shunting our coal wagon into the coal stage.

The job of coal man required a singularly tough and fit man. They almost never wore gloves - even in the freezing cold - it was seen as a sign of weakness and they were famed for their calloused hands. Over a shift, they might load 25 to 30 locos. An 0-6-0 pannier tank loco takes about 3 tons of coal. The G.W.R. tender engines take about 6 tons. This was quite the job for the team. In his book Didcot Engineman*, Bernard Barlow remembered a coal man called ‘Tad’ Jones. His house was 4 miles from the shed. He would walk to work in all weathers, do his shift, have a swift pint in the Prince of Wales or the White Hart pub and then walk home. These men were made of some very tern stuff...

 

Working Volunteers Ali Matthews and Leigh Drew's Clean(!) but well worn hands.

The wagons used to transport the coal were all labelled under the N series of diagrams or designs. They have their origins with a set of wagons built in the early 1880s. The biggest difference between these and the majority of those that came later was that they were made of timber. The earliest of the more familiar metal ones came along in the Diagram N6 10 ton versions that were built between 1889 - 1893. They shared a lot of features with the very similar ballast wagons in the P diagrams also being developed at that time. For extra nerd points, if you see a G.W.R. Loco coal wagon with rounded corners, it's a pre WWI example. The N20 design was the first of these square cornered design in about 1915 and in the end there were 10, 12 and 20 ton 4 wheeled versions and even a few 40 ton bogie coal wagons which were quite impressive looking things!

A 40 ton loco coal wagon. This photograph was published in an article on Fuelling our Locomotives in the Great Western Railway Magazine in May 1940.

Our loco coal wagon is a rare survivor of the 20 ton version. No. 63066 is built to diagram N34. It was completed in 1946, right at the end of the reign of the G.W.R. as a private company. The 20 and 40 ton wagons came about as a result of a study into the efficiency of coal trains. The findings were that, obviously(!), the smaller the wagons in the train were the longer and heavier the train would be. A train to carry 600 tons of coal was the basis of the calculations. The worst case scenario was a train of 8 ton capacity wagons. This would have needed 75 vehicles plus the loco and brake van. It would be 1,350 ft long and its tare (empty) weight was 400 tons! The rest of the figures were for:

10 Ton wagons = 60 vehicles, 1,080 ft long and a tare weight of 369 tons.

12 Ton wagons = 50 vehicles, 975 ft long and a tare weight of 350 tons.

20 Ton wagons = 30 vehicles, 735 ft long and a tare weight of 288 tons.

40 Ton Bogie wagons = 12 vehicles, 690 ft long and a tare weight of 280 tons.

Our 20 ton Local Coal wagon No 63066.

This was a dramatic demonstration of the economies of scale and while this idea was pushed forward for both loco and commercial coal traffic, it never really bore the fruit it deserved to. The reasons for this are quite complex and despite a great many 20+ ton coal wagons being produced, the traffic of coal in 10 and 12 ton wagons persisted into the British Railways era. The coal stage at Didcot is now unique in the fact that it is still in operation - it has been almost constantly since 1932 when it was built. Understandably, it's showing its age a little now and the current work being undertaken it to ensure its long term survival as the unique piece of working industrial heritage that it is. The 75,000 gallon water tank on top of the coal stage is first to receive attention and work will progress down the structure as time and funds allow. The coal stage and No. 63066 tell an important part of the Didcot story. It's comforting to know that the remarkable working lives of people like Didcot’s ’Tad’ Jones and Freddie Knapp, some of the unsung contributors to the steam age, will thus be remembered by future generations.

*ISBN 1 874103 20 8, published by Wild Swan. It’s WELL worth a read!

This footnote to the coal story was published in the second part of the article on Fuelling our Locomotives in the Great Western Railway Magazine in June 1940. The photograph shows the centenary celebrations of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in October 1927. The article explains: ‘The exhibition authorities did the Great Western Railway Company the honour of allowing their engine King George V, No 6000, to lead the procession. When reaching the judges the procession was stopped by them to ascertain whether it was really using the same class of coal as the other engines. It was established that the engine was burning the same coal, only the one source of supply being available to all the locomotives.’ The photograph illustrates the perfect combustion achieved in the firebox of the Great Western engine, compared with the black smoke emitted by the following locomotives.


FRIDAY 14 JANUARY

Wonderful Winter Wagons: Let's Face The Moosic And Dance!

Welcome back to Going Loco for 2022 and a happy new year to you all! The new year brings the going back to work or education or both(!). That means it's really important to have that first meal of the day. Milk on the cereal or in the porridge and in the tea is a must to fortify yourself for the challenges of the day. Today, milk comes via the supermarket but if we were in the middle of the last century, milk - in large towns and cities at least - came via a train, and onward to a milkman, who delivered it to your doorstep. So, given our wonderful winter wagon series, I thought we'd have a look at the three wagons in the collection that were purpose built to carry milk.

Arrival of churns of milk at Paddington station during the General Strike in 1926.

The railways were a positive boon to dairy farmers since their inception. Although large towns and cities kept herds of cows locally well into the second half of the nineteenth century, the fact was that the railway enabled these dairy farmers to tap into new markets. Previously, the lack of refrigeration technology meant that the milk could only be delivered as far as it would go and still be fresh enough to consume(!). Even early passenger railways were capable of travelling at 30mph and the early G.W.R. was capable of 60mph. This meant that the milk could go a lot further without going off.

Milk was now coming into towns and companies and cooperatives were set up to handle this trade. The first being the famous Express Dairies in 1871. But many others followed. The main method for transporting milk had gone from the wooden pails or buckets that were slung on a wooden yoke over the shoulders of milkmaids to the use of a conical shaped wooden version. The wide base making them far less likely to fall over. These wooden ones were heavy though and in the 1850s a steel version was made. These two things combined to make it possible to transport milk long distances from its point of production. As always, a specialist form of wagon would be along to carry it.

On the G.W.R. these became known as the SIPHONs. They operated on a very simple principle. Theywere wagons with vents in the sides. Originally this was done on the basis of just leaving out every other plank on the sides of the wagon but progressed to being proper louvres. The idea was that the motion of the train speeding along would cause the air to circulate thus creating a cooling effect on the cargo. Of course, this leads to the assumption that the train is moving fast and freight trains in general didn't move that fast in the steam era. Until that is, situations like this turn up where the cargo needs to go fast. This is where we use vehicles that are rated to travel at express passenger train speeds. With the SIPHONs they eventually evolved from a long wheelbase 4 or 6 wheel wagon into what essentially looks like a passenger coach with no windows.

Siphon G No 2796 preserved at Didcot. Note the ventilation slats and four sets of double doors for loading and unloading the milk churns.

Our SIPHON is a SIPHON G model. This example, No. 2796, was built at Swindon to diagram O.33. This shape of SIPHON is the most recognisable amongst those that know these things. It was a typically G.W.R. design and was ubiquitous on their system. They and similar designs were built into the British Rail era and they lasted well after the steam locomotives that originally hauled them had been withdrawn. They had a hand in moving newspapers and parcels with their vents sealed shut and eventually as service vehicles, moving spare parts and the like around the system. These often had the code ENPARTS on the side and could still be seen at work in the early 1980s.

Didcot's milk tank No 4409, now painted in Co-operative Wholesale Society livery.

While the movement of milk in churns was traditional, the railway always does best when it transports one thing in bulk and so, the dairies went from the moving of unprocessed milk in churns to using bulk tankers to move it instead. The first of these were put into service on the G.W.R. and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (L.M.S.) in the late 1920s. The arrangement between the railway companies and the dairies was a strange one. The railway built and owned the chassis of the vehicle. It had to run at passenger speeds still, so unlike the tens of thousands or private owner open wagons that waddled up and down the country at 25mph, the level of technology and consequent maintenance was that bit higher. The tank itself however was owned by the dairy, despite the fact that the two were essentially inseparable without dismantling the wagon a fair bit! They were first produced as 4 wheeled tankers, that claimed to be glass lined. It doesn't take a genius to realise that even in the best of circumstances, a wagon like a glass lined Thermos flask won’t last the bumping about that the railway will dish out! They were actually lined with a vitreous enamel - a bit like old metal baths. The issue was that the action of the swaying of the 4 wheeled chassis combined with the fact that there were no baffles in the tank lead to two things:

  1. The milk was effectively churned as it went along - spoiling the product.
  2. This made them very unstable and resulted in a number of derailments.

A rethink was clearly required...

This came in the shape of the 6 wheeled chassis in the early 1930s. This gave a much smoother ride, stopped the derailments and ceased the inadvertent butter production. The 4 wheeled ones were all withdrawn by the late 1930s. The six wheeled versions were still being built new by British Railways in 1955 so something was right! They had a capacity of 3,000 gallons and this weighs about 13 tons. Given that the wagon itself weighs 12 tons and we are getting on for a situation where each of these wagons weighs nearly the same as a passenger coach. The milk trains, once the wagons had been collected from the smaller dairies on the branch line, needed to move fast so it may be surprising to some to realise that it was fairly usual to see one of these trains being pulled by a Castle Class express passenger locomotive. It needed that level of speed and power to do the job.

Castle class No 7000 Viscount Portal heads a westbound train of empty milk tanks through Southall in the early 1960s, photograph by Mike Peart. The tanks were taken back to the west country in the afternoon to be loaded and return full of milk to London's dairies overnight.

0-4-2T No 1450 during a visit to Didcot in 2019 hauling a mixed milk and passenger train.

In preservation, there are a great many G.W.R. and L.M.S. built milk tankers. So that's why we've got a rare Southern Railway (S.R.) one(!). No. 4409 was built to diagram 3152 in 1931 as a 4 wheeled vehicle at the S.R.'s works at Lancing. As we have discovered, 4 wheels bad, 6 wheels good*, and it was rebuilt at Ashford in 1937. It has a stainless steel tank rather that the ‘glass’ version and as such, the tank has survived very well. So much so, it's still used to transport water around the railway centre. You may also see it occasionally tagged on to the back of a passenger coach on the branch demonstration line to demonstrate the working of wagons to and from the local dairies and the main line.

Our final version of milk on rail is wagon No. 3030. This is known as a ROTANK. The idea here is that the tank section of the wagon is actually a road trailer that can be loaded onto what is effectively a flat wagon for high speed rail transport. This gave an added level of flexibility to operations, a milk tank could be hauled along a road from a creamery to the railway, loaded onto the flat wagon, taken to a destination and either treated in the same way as the fixed tank wagons or be unloaded onto the road for further shipment.

Didcot's Rotank No 3030 has recently been repainted by Ann Davies, in a bright red for the road tank vehicle.

The road tankers were fairly similar in design and came in both 4 and 6 wheeled varieties. Initially they had solid tyres and looked much like the early lorries of the day but soon evolved to having modern suspension and pneumatic tyres. Our version was built to diagram O.58 in 1947 and the 6 wheel road tanker that sits on it was built for the Henry Edwards and Sons Dairy. These were nowhere near as long lived as their fixed tank brethren, the last being taken out of service in the mid 1960s.

The westbound milk empties train heading towards Plymouth, where the tank wagons were distributed to various milk depots. This train behind Hall class No 4941 Llangedwyn Hall was photographed near Frome by Ben Brooksbank on 22 August 1959.

At its peak, in 1923, the railways of the U.K. moved a staggering 282 million gallons of milk. When you consider that it was judged that a single 3,000 gallon tanker could provide enough milk for 35,000 people for one day, it gives you some idea as to the enormity of the job! This wasn't to last and despite all the advances in technology in the bulk tankers and so on, it was inevitable that the roads would take over. By 1969, there were only two major routes still being used on the railway to carry milk. Dairies in Fishguard, Devon and Cornwall delivered their milk by rail to London. It may seem like a small deal but this still accounted for 25% of all the milk being transported in the U.K. and totalled 70 million gallons per year. This ended in May 1980, bringing to an end a historic trade route. Milk today is only moved up to 100 miles on the road by the dairies and supply chains and logistics take care of the rest. The delivery of milk on the railways is a surprisingly interesting subject and this blog only scratches the surface. There is a great deal of quality information on the internet about it that is well worth reading. Still, I'm going to stop now - I don't want to be accused of milking it now do I? Have you herd of such a thing? That would be udderly unacceptable.

I'll get my coat...

...and moove along.

*With sincere apologies to George Orwell...


 FRIDAY 24 DECEMBER

A Guest For Christmas 2 - T'was The Night Before Christmas

Is it that time of year again? Already? Well, well, well. or is it Ho, Ho, Ho? Who knows really. While Slade are being removed from their stasis chambers to give us another hearty round of ‘So Here It is...’, thoughts turn to Christmas past and future. Next year, Nos. 4079 Pendennis Castle and 1466 should be fully back in the fold, which will be amazing! As we are currently doing Christmas present (and who doesn't like presents - am I right?), I suppose we ought to do the full Dickens and look at Christmas past. Another winter's tale from the pen of Ted Abear awaits...

T'was Christmas Eve 1952 - a Winter's Tale

Southall engine shed as it was in 1952.

For bank holiday workings or on days just before bank holidays, it was not unknown for Southall shed to be offered to work some of the extra relief trains that were scheduled to run. On many occasions, my mate Driver Jack Stratford and I worked additional trains to Banbury or Swindon from Paddington. One classic trip took place on Wednesday 24th December 1952. We were booked to work a Christmas relief passenger train from Paddington to Banbury, the 10.00 pm Paddington to Wolverhampton, calling at High Wycombe, Princes Risborough and Banbury where we were relieved by Wolverhampton men. We were then to travel home passenger ‘on the cushions’. Our guard from Paddington was Southall guard Ted Dobbs. A second set of Southall men had also worked a relief train from Paddington to Banbury that night, Driver Jack Brown and his mate Ken Sweetzer, and we all met up to travel home together.

Banbury station as it was in 1952 with the rather dilapidated overall roof. This was removed in the mid 1950s and the station was then completely rebuilt.

The train we caught from Banbury on Christmas morning was known as the “Yorkie”. It started from York and ran to Swindon. It was the 2.35 am off Banbury, 3.10 am off Oxford and there was an unscheduled stop on Didcot West Curve at Foxhall Junction for train crews to alight. We joined the ‘Yorkie’ in the compartment labelled ‘Train Crews Only’ in the rear coach. Most trains at the time had compartments labelled for train crews or staff only. This was so that train crews did not get in with fare-paying passengers when travelling home passenger wearing dirty overalls. The train looked quite full considering it was Christmas morning.

We had just settled ourselves in and pulled down the blinds when the compartment door was opened and four American airmen appeared. They asked if they could sit in with us as there was no room on the train. They said they were getting out at Oxford to go back to their base after a night out on the town – Banbury of all places! We let them in and the next minute they said, “Would you guys like a drink with us?” They produced a couple of bottles, one of ‘Southern Comfort’ and one ‘Old Grandad’ Kentucky Bourbon.

There was no hesitation on our part, and out of our tea-cans came our cups and we all received a cup full each. By the time we were getting near Oxford I was on my second cup full. My mate Jack and Jack Brown and his mate had had a couple more then me and were already quite merry. Our Guard Ted Dobbs had only had two cups. I said to one of the Americans, “What a lovely drop of stuff this Southern Comfort is”. He then asked me if I wanted to buy a bottle. I told him that I only had a pound note and a couple of shillings in my pocket. He said, “just give us the pound”, and so I'd bought a quart bottle of Southern Comfort which was enjoyed on Christmas night by the family.

A quart bottle (well, 1½ litres, the modern equivalent) of Southern Comfort enjoying Great Western comfort in a compartment of coach No 7371.

As the Americans left us at Oxford, they left the remains of a couple of bottles with us. We were then joined in our compartment at Oxford by a set of Swindon locomen and a guard. They willingly partook of some of the Christmas cheer along with my mate Jack and Jack Brown until the bottles were empty. We eventually arrived on the Didcot West Curve at Foxhall Junction. Here a real performance took place as we attempted to alight without a platform. Guard Ted Dobbs and I managed to drop to the ground without damaging ourselves. We first assisted fireman Ken Sweetzer down, and then between us we got our two drivers, who by now were quite merry, safely down to ground level with the assistance of the Swindon crew.

We had to do all this within a few minutes before the “Yorkie” moved off. We then had to walk from Foxhall Junction to Didcot station along the sidings and up relief line to await the up Penzance Sleepers. This was the 5.06 am from Didcot, due to arrive at Paddington at 6.27 am. It was a good job it was dark and that there was nobody about. I don't think it would have gone down well seeing two firemen and a guard assisting two staggering drivers to walk along, all while attempting to sing Christmas carols!

Southall engine shed after it was rebuilt in the 1950s.

We eventually got back to Southall and took our drivers to the Guards' Room as guard Ted Dobbs had said he would take them both home in his car. I took our ticket off Jack and Ken Sweetzer took his off his driver and we went down to the shed to book us all off. When we next booked on, my mate Jack couldn't remember a thing about that night. He didn't understand why he couldn'd find his bike at home, and he thought it had been stolen until he saw it in the cycle shed rack.

Happy Days and Ho Ho Ho!

Thanks Ted! Turns out it WAS Ho, Ho, Ho - who knew? Well, I'm going to have a rest until the new year - hang up my blogging gear and eat some Christmas pudding. I'm thinking we might start the new year with some more wonderful winter wagons again - you all seem to like that last time round!

As always, as the year draws to a close, I need to say thank you to the Going Loco eam. Ali and Leigh as my fact checkers, Frank for both ensuring what I've written is in some way both English and legible(!) and for being the ‘photomeister extraordinaire’. Thanks also to Kevin for the occasional drawing from the archive, Chrissy who takes time to post my scribblings and to our roving reporter Phil for his No. 1466 updates. Thanks ought to also go to you good folks in internet land who take the time to read it. I’d look a bit silly without you!

I'm sure I speak for all the volunteers in the Carriage & Wagon and Locomotive Department when I wish you all the very best over the holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous new year. See you all in 2022!

Happy Christmas!

Drew


FRIDAY 17 DECEMBER

Hot Stuff?

A few small steam heat pipe leaks on a cold day provide spectacular effects!

Winter is upon us. If you hadn't noticed by the gloomy mornings, dreary evenings, lousy weather and extra blankets in the bed. I give you the Great British Climate ladies and gentlemen! Obviously, this had its effects on the railway and its passengers in the past as it does today. There have been a number of different attempts to combat the cold. For example, the G.W.R. not only had jet powered trains*, it also had a go with using jet engines to clear snow. An outstanding solution to the problem right up to the point where it removed the ballast from under the track too...

Jet engines being set up to blow snow off the track.

The care of customers was not always, and let's be charitable here, at the very forefront of the G.W.R.'s mind in the early days. If you look at the replica 2nd and 3rd class broad gauge coaches we have, you will see that 60mph in winter as a passenger was no joke. There were occasions where patrons in the open third class wagons (that's really what they were!) were discovered quite literally frozen to the spot.

Not much chance of heating here – Ragged Victorians in the 3rd class broad gauge coach at Didcot Railway Centre.

A few acts of parliament later and minimum standards of passenger comfort were enforced by law. Such ‘luxuries’ as walls and windows were now vigorously applied. This was still a world away from comfortable and heating became the next issue. Now, you'd think that this was a simple job. You have an enormous kettle up front. That's hot isn't it? Pipe from boiler to coaches, jobs a good 'un. Right? Well, the major issue here is that we're are dealing with quite high pressures. Easy to contain in the confines of the locomotive itself but if it has to go through flexible hoses from vehicle to vehicle that need to be turned on and off when coupling and uncoupling then we have an issue.

The steam heat valve and connector pipe at the rear of the tender of 2999.

It is said that a jet of dynamic fluid at 100psi +, at close range will cut into human flesh. Being between two vehicles while uncoupling with that sort of thing getting loose would not be high on the list of anyone's priorities. Indeed, where this was tried, it was as dangerous as you think it was. A better solution is called for. This comes in the form of a pressure reduction valve. In the case of the G.W.R. this is known as the Mason's valve. The Mason's valve takes its steam from the top rear of the boiler. This is a large casting known as the fountain. On here there are a number of different valves and there are steam outlets for things such as the whistles, injectors and so on.

The Mason's Valve and steam heat pressure gauge in the cab of locomotive 5322

The Mason's valve is mounted on the upper left of the cab controls as you look at them. It is easily distinguishable from the other controls by the white insulation on the pipe leading away from it. This was asbestos back in the day but we now use a much safer ceramic alternative. Also leading off the pipe as it goes down to the cab floor is a smaller pipe. This is to feed the pressure gauge. This is marked off in P.S.I. and has a sort of in-built ‘cheat sheet’ to relate the pressure to the number of coaches the loco is pulling. This pipe then goes down to the underside of the locomotive. On tank locomotives, they were provided with connections to the stock at both ends. Larger tender locomotives were intended to pull trains only in the forward direction, so the gear was only fitted to the rear of the tender.** They tended not to be fitted to freight only engines so the use of a 28XX Class or a 72XX Class machine in mid December really was the last resort in terms of passenger comfort at least...

At the end of the locomotive where it will connect to its train, there is a small brass casting. This has three roles to play. The first is that it incorporates a small safety valve into it. Should the Mason's valve fail and let past full boiler pressure, then it will show where the crew can see it and enable them to shut it off using the valve on the fountain. It is also home to a valve to turn the system on and off. The last thing is that it has a spigot on the end to which the flexible hose connects. The end of this hose has a sort of quick release connector that will only link up with other steam heat hoses. You don't want it connecting with the vacuum brake for example!

Steam heat pipes being fitted in a compartment of 4-wheel coach No 290. The pipe is quite beefy to withstand steam pressure up to 80lbs sq in.

The equipment in the coaches is pretty simple. There is a corresponding fitting on the coach for the hose. Then there is a series of pipes that lead along the underside of the coach and into the various passenger compartments. From here, provision varies a little. Some of the oldest coaches in our collection simply have a loop of pipe to act as a heater. Later versions have a pipe with a series of gills on that look a lot more like a radiator. The highly appointed coaches even have individual heater controls in the compartments.

Steam heat control inside a compartment of coach No 7371.

The system was simple and it worked. It was so widespread that one of the issues that the modernisation plan brought about was the fact that so much of the coaching stock that existed at that time was steam heated. Eventually it all became electrically heated but the interim period brought about the weird situation that the early B.R. diesels had small boilers to generate steam to operate the heating in the coaches. Even more strange was that a full tank of water wasn't enough for some long distance services. To counter this, the diesels were fitted with water scoops so they could pick up water on the move. Just like their steam forebears. Funny old world isn't it?!

A Deltic diesel hauling the Flying Scotsman picks up water for the steam heat boiler on Scrooby Troughs in 1966.

*See my blog ‘The Turbine Twins’ of the 13th August 2021.

**In preservation, most steam locomotives have them fitted - even heavy freight and shunting types - and steam heat gear is fitted to both ends due to the fact that heritage lines tend not to turn their locomotives at the end of each run.


FRIDAY 10 DECEMBER

Hidden Treasures - Part 2

The magnificent sight of a Dreadnought in the fully-lined chocolate and cream livery of 1905 could be replicated when No 3299 is restored. This photograph of No 3277 has been colourised by Adrian Knowles.

One of Didcot's most discussed hidden treasures is coach No. 3299. This is a very special vehicle and as such has been on the ‘hit list’ of the carriage and wagon department for a long time. It's also a big one. It is really big for a UK coach at 70’ long. It's an imposing prospect for a full restoration. There's a reason why these vehicles were known as Dreadnoughts...

Paddington station in 1908 with a train of Dreadnought coaches at platform 8 on the extreme right and clerestory-roofed coaches at platform 5. Most of the other coaches in the photograph are clerestory roofed.

We have regularly espoused the virtues of Swindon's greatest ever genius, George Jackson Churchward, this is usually in connection with his locomotives, but he had great influence in all areas of engineering in the great factory. Coaching stock was no exception. Up to his appointment, most of the G.W.R. coaching fleet were clerestory vehicles. These are the coaches that have the raised section in the middle of the roof, running fore and aft along the coach. These were to give extra daylight and ventilation, and house the lighting - usually gas powered in this period. They were likely to be bogie coaches (set on two usually four-wheeled trucks) but were also quite small at about 50’ long. At Didcot, we are very lucky to have examples of this type of vehicle.

Churchward thought big in both locomotives and coaches! This is 4-6-2 No 111 The Great Bear at the head of a train in which the first three vehicles are Dreadnoughts.

One you may have ridden in recently is Dean third class coach No. 1941 which was built in 1901. The design dates back to the 1890s and came in a variety of different arrangements. It has 8 compartments that can seat up to ten people each. They are not connected together and there are no toilets either. Fine for going up and down our demonstration line but not so good on a long trip! Clearly something better was needed. Cue Mr Churchward.

In this photograph the leading vehicle is a concertina coach showing the visual effect created by the recessed doors. Taken by Ben Brooksbank on 25 July 1953, the photograph shows No 1011 County of Chester speeding through Taplow with the 11.30 summer Saturday Torquay to Paddington. The nearly 50-year-old concertina has probably been added to the front of the train to provide additional seating for holidaymakers.

His design wasn't just new, it was revolutionary as far as the G.W.R. was concerned. The first thing he was going to do was to take as much advantage of the extra width that standard gauge trains on ex broad gauge lines offered. His new coaches were built to a width of 9’ 6”. This meant that interiors could be spacious and offered a whole new world of options to the engineers. The next big innovation was the extreme length. 70’ from end to end meant that these coaches were among the first to feature the recessed ends to prevent their body shells overhanging on tighter corners. Having given themselves a broad canvas (pun intended), it was time to fill in the details.

No 3299 as first preserved in 1964 and parked on the cattle dock siding at Totnes. Between the left hand door and the centre door is the corridor side with four compartments. Beyond the corridor crossover the five sets of three windows are the compartment side, with a droplight as the centre window in each set. The last window before the right hand door is the lavatory.

The first point of interest was that they had corridor connections. The first time this was used on the Western was in the 1890s but initially they were considered the province of staff and were certainly not for passengers. Despite the fact that it was possible to move from one end of the train to the other, if you wanted to eat in the restaurant coach then you got on that coach and stayed there. This attitude slowly changed over time. This stock also introduced the G.W.R. to the side corridor. There were a series of seating compartments with a corridor running along one side of the coach. This meant that it was now practical to provide toilets and for the passengers to easily get to them. That was a relief (pun 2), in more ways than one...

 

1964, Angus Davis, Great Western Society founder member, making a billy can of tea in No 3299 (Each compartment had been converted to have two bunks) and Frank Dumbleton in No 3299 in 1964, with cine camera and some reels of Kodachrome II 8mm film ready to be posted to Kodak for processing.

The next point of note is the fact that the corridor on Churchward's new coaches went down one side of the coach to the middle and then changed side and went down the opposite side to the other end. The change side was not quite in the middle because there were nine third class compartments, so four one end and five the other. This quite unusual arrangement in theory at least helped to balance out the weight in the vehicle. It was to be an unfounded fear and was not repeated in later years. The biggest change in design was however the doors. Up to this point, each compartment on a coach had a door both sides to let passengers on and off. With no corridor, this was important of course but the long corridor meant that Swindon could reduce the number of doors. No. 3299 has just six. There are two at each end and a pair in the middle. This is a remarkably modern outlook. Remember that the later HSTs and 800 Class EMUs have doors in just the ends of their coaches. This also had advantages from a construction point of view. Fewer doors is less complex and less expensive as well!

The coaches quickly got the nickname of Dreadnoughts. This was in response to the huge Dreadnought Class warships of the Royal Navy, the first of which was launched in 1906. These vessels were radical new designs that changed the way war at sea was undertaken overnight. Everything else afloat became a Pre-dreadnought. To a certain degree, the G.W.R.'s Dreadnoughts did similar but it wasn't all plain sailing (pun number three and I'm not sorry!). The seeming lack of doors was not popular with passengers. They were of course used to a door at their side at all times. The lack of doors on the Dreadnoughts was not popular. Paddington was receiving copious amounts of complaints from their customers. It is rumoured that, far from Dreadnought, they gained the rather less desirable nickname of Deathtraps.

The heroic journey from Devon to Didcot on 2 December 1967, with 6998 Burton Agnes Hall and 1466, hauling four coaches, arriving at Westbury. The Dreadnought's bulk is emphasised by the white painted roof. Photo by Adrian Vaughan.

They were unpopular with staff as well and despite being the latest technology, they only saw front line service in the crack expresses for a relatively short time. They were cascaded down through the ranks and went out to less and less glamorous services as time went on. The resistance to the Dreadnoughts resulted in Churchward going from the sublime to the ridiculous in some ways. The next coaches retained all the features of the previous design but with a door to every compartment. These doors didn't follow the curved profile of the side of the coach or the ‘tumblehome’ as it is known. They were flat in cross section and as a result they gave the sides of the coach an ‘in and out’ feel that put people in mind of accordions. They therefore gained the nickname Concertinas!

Our example is now unique. No. 3299 was built to diagram C.24 in 1905. It was built not at Swindon but by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company. It was actually constructed so that the G.W.R. has some redundancy in its fleet. It was a spare vehicle and was used to cover for other coaches while they were under maintenance and for enlarging rakes of coaches during the busy summer season. It lasted into 1951 as a passenger coach and found subsequent employment at Newquay. Here it was used as a dormitory for the staff who did the catering on the summer train services. The seating in each compartment was removed and replaced by a pair of bunks on one side and a cupboard on the other. At Newquay it was spotted by society member David Rouse who apparently gained quite the reputation for finding and purchasing such items. He bought the coach in 1964 and gifted it to the G.W.S. This makes it one of the first coaches in the collection so it's historic to us in that respect as well.

The open day at Didcot in September 1969 with the Dreadnought on display. At this time it was still used as sleeping accommodation by volunteers.

Thanks to David, one of the most important coaches of the early 20th Century was saved but unfortunately all is not well. The coach is in a very poor state and requires a great deal of work in order to bring it back to a condition in which the public could ride in it once again. With the completion of No. 2999& Lady of Legend, thoughts naturally have turned to having authentic stock to pull behind it and while the likes of No. 1941 look the part, No. 3299 really would be a very authentic choice. This is why one of the aims of the Diamond Jubilee Fund is to begin the restoration of this historic vehicle. There is a LOT to do but with your help, this dream can become a reality. It’s been the hidden elephant (or Dreadnought) in the room for far too long...


FRIDAY 3 DECEMBER

14:48 Time for a design classic

Having struck me that we hadn’t had a chat about the Terrier last week, it has struck me again that despite the fantastic blogs that Phil is doing about the restoration to life of our founder loco, No. 1466, we really hadn’t looked at where these iconic little engines fit into the history of the G.W.R. Let’s fix that shall we?!

The class had seen its origins way back in the 19th Century. The job of working branch lines was an important one. At its height, the GWR network had many facets. The easy association with the G.W.R. in the public consciousness is with the Castles, Halls, Saints and so on.* These engines however, are what is known as ‘Red Route’ machines. This means they have high axle weights and were not able to go along the lightly laid rural routes. Not only did the locos on these lines have to be light but they were also small. The shorter the engine, the tighter curves in the track it can go round. They also tended to be tank engines. This meant that they maintained this compact package and could run just as well backwards as forwards without turning.

Great Marlow station in 1880 with 517 class No 522 built in June 1868 as a saddle tank. The locomotive was in service until October 1935.

What is also interesting about this lineage of locomotives is that, rather unusually for branch line engines, they have quite large driving wheels. This meant that while they were able to do all the little jobs on the branch lines, they also have the ability to put the pedal to the metal and go fairly quick! The first of these 0-4-2T passenger locos were the 517 Class. These were designed by George Armstrong. He was one of a pair of brothers (the other being Joseph) who ruled over the designing and building of steam locomotives for the G.W.R. in the third quarter of the 19th Century. This was still the era of the broad gauge and so Joseph worked at Swindon on the 7’ 0¼” gauge locomotives and George worked at the Stafford Road Works in Wolverhampton where he built standard gauge machines.

Box station with 517 class No 1157, built in December 1875 and ran until November 1935.

The first of the ;517 Class was built in 1868 and it was not a class in the same way we would think of it today. These engines came in both saddle and side tank form and with a choice of three different wheelbases.** There were several different boiler variations and the cylinders went from 15” to 16” over time. The configuration of cab roof and side sheets also changed. To complicate things further, they were rebuilt several times too. The final version having an enclosed cab, neat coal bunker and side tanks with 5’ 2” diameter driving wheels. Which should start to look familiar. The final upgrade made by George Jackson Churchward in the early 20th Century was the fitting of some of the class with auto working gear.*** These engines were very long lived. The first was withdrawn as early as 1904 but they soldiered on until the last survivor went in 1945 at 70 years old. Most members of the class racked up a total millage of 2.5 million miles. A terrific achievement for such small machines.

Swindon Works in 1904 with 517 class No 528 under overhaul. She was built in August 1868 and worked until October 1935.

By the 1930s, the surviving 517 Class engines were looking very tired but the design was still very relevant. In his finest tradition of being the great refiner of Swindon Steam, Charles Benjamin Collett took the design and basically built some new ones! There are a few differences between the two classes, but not much. A classic case of ‘If it 'ain't broke, don't fix it’! They were initially known as the 48XX Class and the first, No. 4800, entered service in 1932. It became the starting point of another 74 of these little auto fitted gems. There were also another 20 of the same design but without the auto working gear. These were known as the 58XX Class, and were built in 1933.

 

517 class No 1428, built in July 1877, and worked until October 1932. AND Trumper’s Crossing Halte on the Brentford branch with 517 class No 833, built in November 1873, enclosed with dummy coachwork to look like a railmotor. The disguise was fitted about 1906, and removed in 1911. The locomotive worked until March 1934.

They soon took the place of their elder brethren and became part of the landscape. So much so that the classic image of the country branch line in the U.K. is stereotypically represented by a 48XX Class and an autocoach. They also showed a clean pair of heels on the main line sections of their schedules. Speeds of 80mph are recorded, which must have been ‘exciting’ in such a small machine. There are even stories of 14XX Class locomotives with a single coach chasing and keeping up with the mighty Kings on express trains!

An auto-train headed by a 48XX 0-4-2T and let loose on the main line.

So why do I keep referring to them as the 48XX Class? Well, that goes back to the immediate post World War II period. During this time, the G.W.R. was experimenting with powering its engines by burning oil instead of coal. While this experiment was abandoned for a host of reasons, it did affect our little locos. One of the classes converted was the 28XX Class 2-8-0 heavy freight engines. In order to distinguish between the coal and oil fired engines, they were going to use the numbers in the 48XX series.**** Right where the 0-4-2s were. In preparation for this, they were all renumbered into the 14XX series. The renumbering of their 2-8-0s never happened but, having gone to the trouble of sorting out the 0-4-2s, they weren't going to change them back any time soon...

West Ealing station with 14XX class locos passing each other, No 1438 pushing its train and No 1426 pulling, on the last day of steam working on the branch line to Greenford, summer 1958.

Even such fine machines as the G.W.R. 0-4-2s couldn't resist the onslaught of the diesels. The 58XXs went early on as their lack of auto working gear made them less useful. The final one of them went in 1961. The first of the 14XXs went as early as 1956 and the last went as late as May of 1965. Pretty much the end of steam traction on the Western Region of British Railways. This ended nearly a century of service from this basic design. Happily, 4 of the 14XXs were preserved to represent this important facet of locomotive design. No. 1420 lives with our friends on the South Devon Railway, No. 1450 is privately owned and is based on the amazing Severn Valley line. No. 1442 has never run in preservation, being preserved in the Tiverton Museum in Devon as a representative of their local ‘Tivvy Bumper’ train service. Which leaves us with No. 1466. Which has an amazing story about its journey into preservation.

Hemyock station in 1962 with No 1442, built in April 1935, at the head of a mixed train of milk tanks and a passenger coach. Now preserved at Tiverton Museum. Photograph by Mike Peart.

 

No 1445 at Slough engine shed in the early 1960s. Photograph by Mike Peart. AND Tiverton station in 1962 with No 1450, built in July 1935. Now preserved on the Severn Valley Railway. Photograph by Mike Peart.

Which is a tale for another time...

If you would like to contribute to the appeal to restore No. 1466, please feel free. Thank you!

 

*Famously, the Kings had double red circles due to their high axle weight. This restricted them to just 14% of the network or 522 miles.

**The distance between the first and last driving axles.

***See my blog of 24th July 2020 called ‘Auto Working Wonders’ for more information on this amazing system.

****They couldn't use the 38XX numbers as there were already members of the later 2884 Class Collett update of the 28XXs 2-8-0s in there. No. 3822 at Didcot is an example of this.

 

 

Didcot Railway Centre Newsletter

Stay up to date with events and what's going on at Didcot Railway Centre.
You may unsubscribe at any time. We do not share your data with 3rd parties.

Subscribe

Make A Donation

Click To Donate