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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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FRIDAY 24 SEPTEMBER

Return of the Champion - Chapter 5

Seeing as Phil did such a nice job with his round up on No. 1466, I figured that we in the Castle community had better not be shown up and make a long awaited post! As you might have seen in the railway press, there has been a lot to talk about so - let's talk about it! But first, as always, we take a trip back in time. The G.W.R. and the L.N.E.R. were locked in combat but the supposed underdog, No. 4079 Pendennis Castle, had proved its mettle. Or should that be Metal? Who cares? On with the story...

4079 performing on the LNER in April 1925

Well, the results were in. The whole trial had been based not on speed (although it certainly ended that way, and in the Castle's favour!) but on efficiency and the figures were based on the amount of coal burnt per mile in pounds (weight, not cost!). Over the Great Western main line, The L.N.E.R. Pacific Victor Wild had racked up scores of 50, then 48.8 and finally 52.4lbs* per mile. Caldicot Castle was in a different league however. The figures being 44.1, then 45.6 and 46.8lbs** These were both on the down or away from London journeys. On the up or return to London journeys the figures were A1: 50.9, 45.2 and a very respectable 40.4lbs. The Castle's figures however were 40.6, 36.8 and 37.9lbs!

Now that was a performance of a loco on its home turf, with a very experienced crew and burning some seriously good quality Welsh steam coal. That could have been almost predicted. What was a massive surprise to all was the revelation that Pendennis Castle had performed equally well on the less potent hard Yorkshire coal. London to Grantham, the A1s were at 59.6, 58.1 and 59.2lbs but the Castle - with a windy last trip - was doing 55.7, 55.9 and 59.4lbs. Even when pushed hard, Pendennis was equalling an easy run for the A1s. The longer trips to Doncaster averaged out with the A1s at 55.3lbs and No. 4079 at 49.8lbs.

So why was the Castle so much more successful? Well, it has a lot to do with the work put into the development of G.W.R. locomotive design way back when Churchward was forging ahead with his standardisation programme. The combination and refinement of the technology was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. The higher boiler pressure combined with the long travel valves that allowed the steam to expand further and release more of its energy gave these machines their edge. The skill of the crews on both sides to get such amazing results with their respective machines cannot be underestimated either.

So, that went well then?

Sort of...

The issue post-trials was that the G.W.R. staff magazine got hold of and published the full results despite the agreement being to keep them private between Swindon and Doncaster. The press making people's lives difficult? Not just a modern problem it would seem. If you have access to copies of The Times of the era, the most polite furious argument ensued in the letters page between the two railways. The L.N.E.R. General Manager, Sir Ralph Wedgwood and his opposite number on the G.W.R., Sir Felix Pole, also entered into a similar although more private ‘discussion’ too! Sir Ralph was not happy but Sir Felix countered that as an L.N.E.R. employee by the name of Mr. Cecil J. Allen*** had broadcast their side of things in a talk on the Children's Hour radio show****, that they were quite entitled to do the same! The upshot for L.N.E.R. locomotive practice was that long travel valves and higher pressure boiler became standard on many of their locomotives... Next time we will jump forward to the end of No. 4079's career with the railway in 1964.

 

The Times cutting announcing GWR victory in the 1925 exchange, 29 May 1925 and The Times cutting with the LNER rebuttal, 30 May 1925

Back to the 21st Century.

Well, if you are a steam fan and you have seen any of the magazines, you can't help but notice that we have done a thing! That thing is light a fire in Pendennis Castle. We went through several boiler tests, starting at a lower pressure and working up through August to a point where we were confident that a boiler inspector would say yes. It was quite something being in the cab of this beast as it slowly rose from its slumber. The golden glow of the sun reflecting on the loco as she slowly settled back down, steam simmering and hissing from where it hasn't issued in over 25 years certainly caused your blogger a few moments of reflection.

4079 with the safety valves lifted during test for the boiler inspector on 25 August 2021

On the Wednesday before the end of August 60th Anniversary gala, the boiler inspector did indeed say yes and so, on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the bank holiday, we towed the locomotive out to greet her fans and lit a fire in her to ring in the 60th Anniversary in style. She also made an appearance at the Anniversary celebrations where a large number of Didcot volunteers past and present gathered to celebrate. She was the star attraction. Or was that the barbecue? Mmmmmm - food! Let's say it was the engine shall we?

 

4079 in the evening sunshine during the anniversary celebrations for Didcot volunteers, 28 August 2021 and 4079 serenaded by the jazz band during the anniversary celebrations for Didcot volunteers, 28 August 2021

What's next? Well, she hasn't moved under her own power yet. The reason being that there are a number of jobs that we need to do in order to safely make that happen. We want to ensure that the motion is all tight and ready to go. Call us paranoid but we won't take any chances with her at this stage. Check, check and check again! The more sets of eyes cast over the machine means that everything gets looked at. It's just good engineering practice.

4079 and 5051 displayed outside the Engine Shed on 30 August 2021

We also need to set the springs - at the moment her axle boxes are way up in their guides and this is limiting the springing action. This could cause her to part company with the rails at anything but a crawl. We need to spread the weight of the engine across those springs properly too. This is a bit of a pain to do. There are 4 nuts per spring, two lock nuts and two adjustment nuts, in order to increase or decrease the tension on the springs. When we say nuts, these things are the size of your fist and need a suitably monstrous spanner to move them. Guess what the weekend looks like for the myself and the team...

4079 inside the Engine Shed on 30 August 2021

The lubricator is also being a bit of a pain but it's nothing insurmountable. A few minor leaks and then it needs to have the whole system run to fill it full of oil. There are a few other jobs that need doing too but it won't take long. After that, it's a case of gathering the Pendennis Castle team together and winding the reverser to full forward, blowing the brakes off, pulling the whistle chain and opening the regulator. That first move will be for the people that made it happen. I'm under no illusions that it will be perfect out of the box but we have time until the official launch next year to get things absolutely right. I have again to give a massive thank you to the team in general and Ali Matthews and Pete Gransden for putting in the hours to make the 60th Anniversary rendezvous happen. It was close, but we made it!

4079 inside the Engine Shed on 30 August 2021

There is still a way to go. The engine might be breathing and almost ready to roll on her own. Just a little testing, adjustment and paint needed. Not long now No. 4079 fans, Not long now...

All the best,

Drew and the No. 4079 Team

*This slight rise on the last day is due to an increase in winds, which force the loco to work harder.

** This rise was due to the fact that Caldicot Castle's driver essentially started racing at this point!

***My fellow railway nerds will recognise the name here - he was a very famous writer on all matters trains!

****Clearly, locomotive efficiency trials were the X Box or PlayStation of their day...

Doug Godden

Doug Godden visiting 4079 on 8 November 2008

It is with heavy heart that with this blog we remember the passing in July this year of a Pendennis Castle celebrity. Doug was the fireman, and last survivor of the loco crew of the 9th May 1964 Ian Allen ‘Great Western’ trip where No. 4079 performed, nearly reaching 100mph. In Doug's memory, we will tell you that tale as we work up to her launch. He started his working life as a locomotive cleaner at Aberbeeg shed and ended it doing test trips on Eurostar. Quite the journey. He was a highly respected railwayman and a great friend to No. 4079, the project and the team looking after her. His wit, kindness and endless fascinating stories will be keenly missed.

We are saddened by the fact that he was so close to getting his wish of witnessing his steed of over half a century ago move once again. His family have of course been invited to the launch where we intend to place his ever present hat in the cab of Pendennis Castle to ride with her when she is launched. It's the very least we can do to honour this fine gentleman. The deepest sympathies of the No. 4079 Team and the G.W.S. go to his friends and family.

Doug Godden visiting 4079 on 25 May 2019


FRIDAY 17 SEPTEMBER

The Pioneer's Progress - Part 3

It's cup of tea time again... Phil has put together a really great update on the progress with G.W.S. founder locomotive, No. 1466. If I had any ado, I've just run out, so without any of that stuff further, it's over to the man with the 0-4-2!

Photo, taken from the shed roof, of 1466 during a steam test in March 1968

Well, it's certainly been a very busy time since my last update. It's great to report that work to No. 1466's boiler is ticking along very nicely. We had the initial boiler inspection by British Engineering Services (B.E.S.) on the 10th August & we now have their approval with regard to all the boiler repairs needed. Work has therefore officially re-started on the boiler. However, it's taken a fair bit to get to this stage.

3 quarter side-sheet to be replaced on both sides - Credit Phil Morrell

Having found some areas on the boiler that required a further inspection, we decided to remove the copper inner firebox. This gave us a fantastic opportunity to inspect all the usually inaccessible areas much more thoroughly. Even though this entailed a little more work, it has given us a greater assurance that the boiler - once completed - will be in tip-top condition once finished and will be in service with us for many years to come.

Now - this is where things get interesting. Contrary to what the original plans were for the boiler repairs, these have now changed (somewhat for the better). After the removal of the inner firebox, a more thorough examination and non-destructive testing program was possible. As a result, more parts of the boiler were found that will need attention or replacement. After some careful thought and consideration. It has been decided and agreed with our insurers that we will now be replacing & fitting:

  • A full backplate (instead of a ¾ backplate)
  • A new rear barrel section
  • A ⅓ bottom Throatplate (instead of the bottom ¼)
  • 2 x ¾ length outer-firebox steel side-sheets (instead of 2 x bottom ¼ side-sheets)

Alongside the originally planned:

  • New front barrel section
  • New front tube plate & angle ring to mount it with.

Third bottom throatplate to be replaced - Credit Phil Morrell

As well as all that, the copper inner-firebox is currently out and appears at first glance to be in excellent condition overall. Hopefully the latest N.D.T. tests will conform that it needs only need minimal repairs. Defective rivets on the copper ‘box have been repaired in the past with patch screws (a sort of bolt type thing) - which are perfectly fine - but as we now have access to both sides, we can replace these with rivets as it was originally built. A few areas of copper welding will see this finished off and ready for service in the 21st Century.

Put that all together with the myriad of other jobs on the boiler such as refitting stays, rivets, boiler tubes etc (I could go on and on…), there is quite a large and substantial amount of work needed before our ‘kettle’ can hold water and steam once again. Now, you may be wondering, ‘Why the change of plan?’ Well, there are a few reasons really:

  1. Ultimately, taking these well used pieces of engineering apart and having further inspections, it is almost inevitable that further things will be found that will require attention. In our case, that was very true!
  2. Unfortunately, these loco boilers aren't getting any younger & doing a bit more work now will effectively prolong the longevity of 1466's life once back in service and will (in theory) need very little major work for a good many years to come.
  3. It's actually more cost effective to do a bit more work now, than to have done the "bare minimum" and possibly face ripping apart the boiler again, to do further major repairs in 10-15 years time.

 

Delivery of new throatplate, material for mounting pads, backplate doubling plate and bottle ends - Credit Ryan Pope and Drilling all the applicable holes in the backplate - Credit Ryan Pope

Anyway, onto current work news. Ryan and his team are progressing very well with work to the new full backplate, to the point it's nearly completed; They've drilled all the holes ready for fitting the newly fabricated mounting pads for the Regulator, gauge frame & combination brake / ejector. The backplate has also been temporarily re-fitted to the firebox, whilst final fettling occurs - It has to be said, it fits beautifully! As I write this, work is commencing on the copper inner firebox and the preparation for the new throatplate section fitting, which was delivered recently. We are also finalising the selection of our steel & copper welding contractors with our boiler insurers.

Newly made gauge frame mounting pads ready for fitting and seal welding - Credit Ryan Pope

We are awaiting the manufacture and delivery of a number of new components.

These include the new rear boiler barrel section, all the reinforcing or doubling plates that go with it and the 2x ¾ steel side-sheets. These will all hopefully be delivered by South Devon Railway Engineering by end of the month. As you can probably tell, there's quite a lot of work going on and with all this work in mind - comes one inevitable drawback. It's the old factor of: "A lot of work = a lot of time" and unfortunately, we've had to face the fact that 1466 will sadly not be making its appearance back at Didcot this year. It's an inevitable consequence of the last few years world events along with a currently expanding work schedule as we have delved deeper into the boiler. Thankfully, we've nearly reached the point where the list of jobs stops growing and starts shrinking!

 

Backplate trial-fitting - Credit Phil Morrell” and Trial fitting of the new foundation ring on the new full backplate - Credit Ryan Pope

On a final note; Over the bank holiday weekend at Didcot visitors may have noticed we had small stand for 1466, showing current progress and what work was to come. I'd just like to say a big thank you to all the visitors that gave donations. It doesn't matter how big or small the donation. The recent increase in the scope of works has inevitably greatly increased the cost of the restoration, so we would be very grateful for any donations you feel you can make. In a restoration like this, every £1 counts and really can make a huge difference to enabling us to finish this fantastic, iconic, little GWR locomotive. If you're interested in donating, why not follow the link to our 1466 appeal?

Now - Did someone mention paint/livery? Well…

Until next time folks!

It seems our roving reporter has taken up my habit of leaving you all on a cliff-hanger! Which reminds me. We haven't looked at Pendennis Castle in a while and, as you might have noticed, quite a bit has happened. I guess I won't be putting the kettle on just yet...


FRIDAY 10 SEPTEMBER

The ‘Glamorous World’ of Steam Locomotives?

The thrill of opening the regulator, the surge of steam through the cylinders, the blowing whistle and that first blast up the chimney as the might iron horse begins to gallop. Yeah - that’s where many people's understanding of living with these ferrous equines begins and ends but like any horse, they do need a lot of looking after. Including mucking out. My fellow Pendennis Castle Team member, Clive and I were tasked with giving a little T.L.C. to the oldest and smallest member of our running fleet, No. 1340 Trojan. So, just how do you wash out a steam locomotive boiler? Read on and find out.*

So, the first thing you have to do is empty the boiler. If you have a big engine, this can take a while but as Trojan is only small (awww, bless!), her boiler isn't that big. We started by opening the regulator valve. Why you ask? Well, if you don't, the air can't get in to replace the water very easily and it becomes very slow to drain.

The next job is to open the blow down valve. This is conveniently located under the floor at the bottom rear of the firebox. The application of a large spanner later causes the floodgates to open.

You can see from the picture above that the water is a funny colour. This is why we are doing this in the first place. Just like a kitchen kettle, our giant kettles boil water and when they do so, sediment and minerals are left behind. In a kettle these are easy to deal with. Flush it down the sink! In a loco boiler however, they are trapped until we do a wash out as a boiler is a sealed pressure vessel. If you don’t do this, then the engine won't steam properly and it can eventually - if left to get bad enough - cause damage to the metal plates that make up the boiler as they will get heated and therefore expand at different rates, causing twisting and leaks. The water isn’t all this colour, it’s just the first bit from the bottom of the firebox.

Eventually, the water subsides and you can then get to opening the boiler up. There are two types of ‘plug’ that we can take out to help us flush it through. The first are known as boiler plugs. Pictured below, they have a tapered thread to provide the steam seal. Trojan has 10 of these plugs. 3 in the cab, 4 at the bottom of the rear of the firebox and another three in the smokebox. The larger engines in the collection have many more of them!

The other type of plug are the mud hole doors. These are elliptical pieces of metal that have a seal or joint around the outside of them. Trojan uses fibre joints but other engines use a lead joint. They are screwed in place with a strong back or bridge and a nut on the end of a stud. They only go in and out of the hole one way so it's a bit like one of those Christmas cracker wire puzzles! Trojan has two of these, located at the bottom front of the firebox. Again, the larger the loco, the more of these they have.

One thing I haven't mentioned is that each plug or mud hole door is fitted to an individual hole. You mustn't mix them up. We have a wash out diagram for each engine and on this, it maps out where all the plugs and doors are and assigns them a letter or a number. We have special wooden trays with numbered slots in and as they come out, the plugs go in the corresponding hole for later. The doors will have their letter chalked onto them and will also be placed on the corresponding side of the engine.

So, now we have the boiler open, we flush it out. You will need a few bits of equipment. First we use a water pump. We are trying to blast the sediment out of the boiler. Mains pressure won't cut it! This is a small unit driven by a little petrol engine. We use old fire hoses to connect it all together.

At the other end of the fire hose, we have replicated the tools used to flush boilers out. The valve will turn the water on and off. We can screw into the valve a range of different nozzles. Some have a flattened over end to give a spray and others have a sealed end with a hole in the side. These ones direct a jet at 90 degrees to the pipe. Excellent for washing down the water side of the inner firebox and tube plates.

So, we start at the front, highest point and work down. We use both types of nozzle in combination and the aim is to flush the sediment backwards and down towards the open mud hole doors and wash out plug holes in the lower firebox. Here, Clive is making a start in the smokebox - the furthest from the lowest point in the firebox.

As we do so, the water at first comes out in the ‘tomato soup’ colour...

...but it will eventually run clear. You then move onto the next hole and repeat...

We then tackled the plug holes in the top of the firebox. You can see that these old hoses are a little less than fully watertight but as they get bashed about and dragged around they are more than good enough for our purposes. You are going to get wet doing this anyhow...

We then swapped over and Clive drove the pump and I drove the valve and nozzles! This is where you get up close to the proceedings under the loco! This is the rear of the firebox...

...and this is the firebox front mud hole doors. There's a lovely little fountain down there to enjoy as well! That particular hose might well be getting a bit past it perhaps.

Once you get to the bottom of the boiler and it all runs clear, you have completed the washing part of the wash out. You do however have to close all the holes back up otherwise it won't hold water very well, let alone pressure! We clean all the components that we put back in. Before and after on the plugs below.

New joints go on the mud hole doors and they are refitted. The plugs get a layer of wash out plug grease on them and are replaced as well. You have to be careful doing these up as a taper thread is a bit tricky and unless you know what you are feeling through your fingers, it's easy to not fit them properly.

Shiny plugs, all refitted! Normally at this point, you would fill the boiler and test steam it to check your work but Trojan needs a small repair that will be done during the week, so we didn't do that today. What we did do was put the tools away and the kettle on...

We aim to do this every 15 steamings on every engine in our running fleet. Sometimes we are one or two steaming days under or over but it's a good target. We were lucky today and the weather was on our side. We did get wet but it wasn't cold so a cup of tea later and we were back in the fight so to speak! It's less fun in the winter but it's got to be done. Thanks to Clive for his help with the washout and I hope that was interesting for those who haven't seen it done before.

*Please excuse my snaps taken on my iPhone as we went on - you are all spoilt by the wonderful photographic skill of Frank. Me? Not so skilled in that department...


FRIDAY 3 SEPTEMBER

Very Virtuous Vehicles? Part 3

The rebirth of the Saint class is a tale that has many twists and turns but it starts way back in the society's history. The glaring gap created by the lack of a Saint was a huge one. It really needed filling if the Society was to fully tell the story of the development of G.W.R. steam locomotives. However, back in those pioneering days, some weren't sure if a boiler overhaul was possible in preservation, yet alone the building of entirely new locomotives.

The idea of backdating a Hall to reverse what had happened to Saint Martin (No. 2925 and later No. 4900) was clearly feasible but could a preservation society achieve it? To ensure that the dream was kept alive, No. 4942 Maindy Hall was rescued from Barry Scrapyard in the early 1970s. When faced with the rest of the project, it was a different matter. You have to remember that at this point, preservation was still in its infancy. The thought of manufacturing brand new wheels of the size and scope required was utterly daunting. So, for now, ‘Saint Maindy’ languished behind the engine shed...

The raw material, 4942 at Barry scrapyard in 1974

The impetus was regained as a result of one of our other ‘mission impossible’ projects - No. 6023 King Edward II. This was so labelled because there was ‘no way anyone was ever going to get to the stage where you could make a new set of wheels for it’. In true G.W.S. fashion, the naysayers were proved wrong and the first large set of standard gauge driving wheels in preservation was recreated. With the amount of new build schemes around today, we forget just how momentous this was. Without this step, other projects such as the County, the Patriot, the Grange, the A1 and the P2 might never have seen the light of day. It proved it was possible.

The first big test of ability to manufacture a new wheelset was to replace the one from 6023 which had been butchered at Barry scrapyard

So, perhaps you would like to turn a Hall into a Saint? Ok - here's the recipe:

  1. Assuming your Hall has a 4,000 gallon tender, you will need a 3,500 gallon version. Preferably with the short coal flare on the top and flush riveted tank. Your chosen example may be a complete basket case so you will have to rebuild it from the frames up.
  2. A new cab. The shorter Churchward cab is a vital ingredient to your recipe. The Collett version as fitted will alter the flavour.
  3. Wheels. Assuming the tender you have comes with wheels, they are perfectly good. The locomotive wheels are another matter. The Hall driving wheels are too small. They need to be the same size (although not the same spoke pattern) as the Castle wheels at 6’ 8½” Diameter.
  4. Oh yes, the bogie wheels are the wrong size too. They need to be 3’ 2” in diameter. You may find that any you discover are cracked and not worth using so make these new too.*
  5. Assuming that you are wanting to reproduce the early style of Saint (and why wouldn't you?), new cylinders are simply a must. The centre line of the pistons has to be just right for that early Edwardian look!
  6. Steam pipes on the outside are so next season - these need to go inside the smokebox and hidden out of the way!

    Ron Hows machines an elbow joint for the inside admission main steam pipes

  7. Squared off running plates are also all that's happening at the beginning of last century. Let's see if it is as ugly as they say it is...
  8. A tall chimney will top off the design. These are sometimes readily available - perhaps something in the Grange range would suit?
  9. Pole reversers were absolutely the done thing in the early 1900s. This you will have to make new.
  10. If you can find parts that have spent time on the real Saints then all the better. These could include a connecting rod from No. 2906 Lady of Lynn and the whistle from No. 2910 Lady of Shalott.
  11. Perhaps you would like, at some point in the future, to run your Saint as an Atlantic (or 4-4-2)? In which case you will need new rear extension frames, a wheel set and a new set of rods**.
  12. After all that you just(!) have a restoration from scrapyard condition.
  13. Bake at gas mark 5 between 1995 and 2019.
  14. Whilst doing so, stir in £825,000...

 

Welding repair at the front of the boiler, before the new tube plate was fitted & Welding new plate into the outer firebox side

I'm making light here of a very serious and complicated job. This was no ‘kit bash’ as you might imagine it. Swindon standardisation is all well and good until you find out that many standard bits are individually ‘fitted’ to a specific locomotive. It took as long as it did because it was that complicated. The achievement of Peter Chatman and his team is not to be underestimated.

The new 3,500 gallon tender tank begins to take shape

The name was chosen from a whole slew of suggestions made during a competition held by the G.W.S. There were a whole host of excellent suggestions including Lady in Waiting, Lady Diana, Lady of Lourdes, Saint Dai, Maindy Court, John Betjeman and my favourite of the paths not taken - Phoenix. The winner was of course Lady of Legend and it really sits well with the loco! The number that was selected was No. 2999. The previous loco in the series was No. 2998 Ernest Cunard although it could have filled any of the other gaps***. The triple nines do look rather good though, don't they?!

As the first 4-4-2 Saints had 3 figure numbers and were sometimes renamed, it is planned that when she runs as an Atlantic, she will carry the next available number in that series - No. 191. A second competition resulted in the name Churchward being selected. A fitting tribute for the great man himself. The Atlantic conversion is not a simple one and there are still a great many of details to be thrashed out and components made to make it happen. It will also require a boiler lift so it is unlikely to happen in this first boiler ticket.

Ready for the Atlantic option, the name and number plate

Lady of Legend has fast become a firm favourite with the general public, her incredible journey from wrecked Hall to its gleaming, lined out splendour is a classic of the preservation age. The engine had an amazing debut at Didcot and amazed all that saw it from the go. The visit to the Severn Valley enabled the locomotive to work out the remaining bugs and give it a proper shake down with a more substantial load over an extended period. She will be out and about again in the not too distant future. Stay tuned for details... No. 2999 fast became an integral piece of Didcot history - despite only being completed in 2019! To see this wonderful ‘Lady’ with her large wheels loping along in a seemingly effortless manner is a real sight to behold so make sure you get to see her in action. You won't regret it!

Lady of Legend goes golden during a Timeline Events evening photographic session, 10 July 2021

*The famous telescope at Jodrell Bank had used Castle bogie wheels as part of the turntable mechanism but these were found to be damaged beyond use sadly.

**We still don't have the set of rods. It's to do with where the knuckle joint is. On a 4-6-0 Saint it's between the leading and middle driving wheels. You can't reuse the rear rod as it won't fit and has the knuckle joint on it too. If anyone is feeling generous we won't say no...

***The other gaps were between No. 2955 Tortworth Court and No. 2971 Albion and then from No. 2990 Waverley to No. 2998 Ernest Cunard.

  

 

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