Bri­tan­nia: side­lines to star­dom

It should have been the of­fi­cially pre­served ex­am­ple of its class – but pro­to­type BR Stan­dard ‘Pacific’ No. 70000 had to wait for its place in the lime­light.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents - TOBY JEN­NINGS hears the story

Amidst all the de­bate about the rights and wrongs of de-ac­ces­sion­ing lo­co­mo­tives from the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum, let’s take a mo­ment to con­sider one that had ev­ery right to be in the Na­tional Col­lec­tion, yet had to give up its place to an equally his­toric class­mate – and was then lucky to be pre­served at all. Bri­tan­nia. When new in 1951, No. 70000 was the face of the newly na­tion­alised rail­way in­dus­try amid the op­ti­mism of ‘Fes­ti­val of Britain’ year; the first of Robert Rid­dles’ new de­sign of ‘Pacific’; and the pi­o­neer of his new fleet of 999 Stan­dard steam lo­co­mo­tives. As such, it rep­re­sented an im­por­tant mile­stone in Bri­tish rail­way his­tory – and was justly ear­marked for of­fi­cial preser­va­tion upon with­drawal. Yet in the very dif­fer­ent world of the next decade, it was the ‘last’, not the ‘first’, that claimed the his­toric ku­dos. As the fi­nal steam lo­co­mo­tive to be over­hauled at Crewe Works in Fe­bru­ary 1967, and hav­ing brought down the cur­tain on BR steam with the ‘Fif­teen Guinea Spe­cial’ the fol­low­ing year, it was an­other ‘Brit’ – No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell – that took the pro­to­type’s place in the list of en­gines saved for the na­tion. Mean­while, the lo­co­mo­tive with the stir­ring na­tional name was left by the way­side, and might have ended up in the United States – or worse, gained the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion in 1970 of be­ing the very last steam lo­co­mo­tive sold by BR for break­ing up.


The ‘Bri­tan­nias’ first earned a name for them­selves on the Great Eastern main line, where their speed and power made for dra­matic im­prove­ments to the ex­press timetable be­tween Liver­pool Street and Nor­wich. For No. 70000, life came full cir­cle fol­low­ing its with­drawal from New­ton Heath shed in May 1966, when it was sent for stor­age at Strat­ford – the de­pot to which it had been al­lo­cated new 15 years ear­lier. Many sub­se­quent ac­counts have stated that the ‘Pacific’ was van­dalised dur­ing this pe­riod – but apart from the in­evitable bro­ken cab win­dows, the only ‘van­dal­ism’ was what you might term ‘of­fi­cial’. It was also ru­moured that No. 70000 was with­drawn be­cause of front-end dam­age from col­lid­ing with a set of buf­fers at Birm­ing­ham New Street – or Manch­ester Ex­change. How­ever, Keith Adams – who joined what be­came the Bri­tan­nia Lo­co­mo­tive Society in 1969, at­tended its first work­ing party on the lo­co­mo­tive’s restora­tion at the Sev­ern Val­ley Rail­way in May 1971, and later be­came its chair­man – re­calls: “Its buffer­beam was only bent on one side, and we un­der­stood that it had been sideswiped by an­other lo­co­mo­tive on New­ton Heath shed. “Nowa­days you’d just re­place it, but at that time, it was a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing for us to heat it up and jack it back into shape!” David Ward – then BR Di­vi­sional Com­mer­cial Man­ager at Nor­wich – also has no rec­ol­lec­tion of a buffer­stop prang, and con­firms the real rea­sons why it came to be Oliver Cromwell and not Bri­tan­nia that was of­fi­cially pre­served. He ex­plains: “Bri­tan­nia’s fire­box had a red ticket on it, hav­ing been con­demned be­cause of a prob­lem with the lap seams – so I per­suaded John Scholes [BR’s Cu­ra­tor of His­tor­i­cal Relics] to swap it with Oliver Cromwell, which was just out of shops. “He wrote to Terry Miller, the Chief En­gi­neer for Trac­tion & Rolling Stock, who agreed, sub­ject to No. 70000 be­ing re­tained for spares.” Bri­tan­nia was duly moved to Brighton’s Pre­ston Park Works, then one of the safe and pub­licly in­ac­ces­si­ble lo­ca­tions used to store lo­co­mo­tives des­ig­nated for the Na­tional Col­lec­tion – among the other en­gines there at the time were Evening Star, Green Ar­row, Lord Nel­son and ‘J17’ 0-6-0 No. 65567. Here, ex­plains David, he and Nor­wich shed­mas­ter Bill Har­vey re­moved Bri­tan­nia’s ex­haust in­jec­tor steam pipe “and one or two other bits” for use on Oliver Cromwell (“it was stan­dard prac­tice in later years to blank off the ex­haust steam sup­ply to make them more re­li­able”) af­ter which, hav­ing served its pur­pose, No. 70000 was moved to Red­hill shed.


It now looked very much as though the pi­o­neer BR Stan­dard was des­tined for scrap. In­deed, says Keith: “I met John Scholes on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, and he told me that once the de­ci­sion was made to pre­serve Oliver Cromwell, he was un­der in­struc­tions to get rid of Bri­tan­nia – be­cause, of course, the mu­seum only wanted the one.” As well as the scrap deal­ers, it was ru­moured that a “wealthy Amer­i­can” was in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing Bri­tan­nia at this time – although Chris Pin­ion, who later be­came the en­gi­neer on the lo­co­mo­tive, reck­ons this may have been “a ruse to help fund-rais­ing.” In the event, sal­va­tion was at hand much closer to home, in the form of the East Anglian Lo­co­mo­tive Preser­va­tion Society – formed in 1967 to save a large en­gine for that re­gion, with par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in a BR Stan­dard type. Martin Six­smith – who joined the society that year and took over from Keith Adams as chair­man in 1982 – re­mem­bers: “We were of­fered a num­ber of ‘Bri­tan­nias’, and it would prob­a­bly have been a lot eas­ier if we had taken an­other – and the ad­vice we re­ceived about boil­ers!” But, as with so many other wor­thy schemes to save celebrity en­gines at the end of steam, suf­fi­cient funds were not forth­com­ing: “We were rais­ing money by tak­ing a sales stand


to trac­tion en­gine ral­lies – but spend­ing most of it on the petrol get­ting to them!” With the re­main­ing ‘Brits’ sent for scrap af­ter the clo­sure of Carlisle King­moor shed on De­cem­ber 31 1967, only ‘Cromwell’ and Bri­tan­nia were left. Around this time, the Rev. Richard Paten was seek­ing to buy a lo­co­mo­tive for preser­va­tion in Peter­bor­ough – end­ing up with ex-Pa­tri­croft ‘Stan­dard 5’ No. 73050 and what much later be­came the Nene Val­ley Rail­way. But Chris Pin­ion, who holds NVR mem­ber­ship No. 3, also re­mem­bers: “The EALPS ap­proached Richard Paten and asked if he’d buy Bri­tan­nia – but be­cause it was in poor con­di­tion, the New Eng­land men ad­vised him against it.” Fel­low NVR founder mem­ber (No. 7) and for­mer Steam Rail­way ed­i­tor Howard John­ston was also the 35th mem­ber of the EALPS in 1968. He re­calls dif­fi­cult meet­ings be­cause the society de­clined to sup­ply au­dited ac­counts and had clearly raised very lit­tle money. It had only gath­ered £173 in the first nine months of 1969, and in Septem­ber had just £497 in the bank – a long way short of BR’s ask­ing price of £4,500. Only thanks to Mr N.R. Wat­son, a so­lic­i­tor from West­cliff-on-Sea in Es­sex who loaned £2,000, was the society able to hand over the bal­ance of £3,690 for No. 70000 on Fe­bru­ary 23 1970. BR had de­clined its ini­tial offer of £2,750, and the fi­nal cost was knocked down to £4,100 – still equiv­a­lent to around £62,000 today. To find the money, Mr Wat­son had dropped his planned pur­chase of an­other BR en­gine. Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, there­fore, he in­sisted that a limited com­pany be formed to se­cure his loan, which he reg­is­tered at Com­pa­nies House on Fe­bru­ary 5 1970, along with Roger Scan­lon, Ken Howard and Colin Richell – although Martin’s rec­ol­lec­tion is “we did it more be­cause it sounded good!” This made Bri­tan­nia a pi­o­neer in an­other way, as one of the first preser­va­tion groups, if not the first, to do so (the Stanier 8F Lo­co­mo­tive Society, own­ers of No. 48773 at the Sev­ern Val­ley Rail­way, was reg­is­tered as a com­pany on Septem­ber 29 1970). Cer­tainly, the in­sis­tence of Com­pa­nies House that the EALPS’ new body should be called ‘The Steam Lo­co­mo­tive Preser­va­tion Co. Ltd’ does rather sug­gest they hadn’t dealt with such a thing be­fore.


Still lan­guish­ing at Red­hill, No. 70000 was by this time miss­ing al­most all of its cab fit­tings ex­cept for the reg­u­la­tor han­dle, re­verser, AWS and in­jec­tor han­dles. The chime whis­tle and even the smoke­box door dart had dis­ap­peared. Mem­bers un­suc­cess­fully scoured scrap­yards for parts, and a well-wisher do­nated a re­place­ment (gen­uine) whis­tle – but the next hur­dle was find­ing a home for the ‘Brit’. Keith re­calls: “There was a prob­lem with ac­cess to Red­hill – it was vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to have work­ing par­ties on the en­gine, prob­a­bly be­cause the shed was still in use and they weren’t happy about hav­ing am­a­teurs work­ing near run­ning lines.” Martin adds that “the de­ci­sion was made very quickly” that the lo­co­mo­tive had to be moved off BR me­tals – but in 1970, where could you take a 143-ton ‘Pacific’? Apart from Bress­ing­ham Steam Mu­seum – al­ready home to Oliver Cromwell – and the fledg­ling Peter­bor­ough scheme, there were few other preser­va­tion sites in East Anglia at the time. The North Nor­folk Rail­way was quickly ruled out as Bri­tan­nia would have been far too heavy for its per­ma­nent way, and weight re­stric­tions on Chap­pel Viaduct sim­i­larly meant that the fu­ture East Anglian Rail­way Mu­seum at Chap­pel & Wakes Colne was not an op­tion. The EALPS had told its mem­bers in 1969 that it had “well-ad­vanced plans” to build a shed for the en­gine at Bowa­ters’ sid­ing next to the East Coast Main Line at Steve­nage – and that it had asked a con­trac­tor to quote for a full over­haul to main line con­di­tion prior to the move. Keith also re­mem­bers that the society “was of­fered a sid­ing at Bish­ops Stort­ford – but that was un­work­able as well be­cause it was next to a run­ning line and had no fa­cil­i­ties.” Fi­nally, in late March 1971, Bri­tan­nia was moved to the Sev­ern Val­ley Rail­way – which Martin re­calls “was the favourite op­tion from the be­gin­ning” although the newly formed Great Cen­tral Rail­way had also been con­sid­ered. Keith or­gan­ised the early work­ing par­ties at Bridg­north, “for my sins,” he says, “be­cause I was daft enough to say I’d do it!” Hav­ing re­paired that bent front buffer­beam, they went on to un­der­take an­other ma­jor job for the pe­riod. Says Keith: “It was the first large lo­co­mo­tive in preser­va­tion to have its smoke­box com­pletely re­newed – Fly­ing Scots­man hav­ing had its top half done the same year.” A re­place­ment smoke­box is no big deal today, but in the mid-1970s, a 9ft long, 6ft di­am­e­ter tube could only be pro­duced by a ship­yard such as Bar­row. An­other (prob­a­bly apocryphal) story that did the rounds at the time was that af­ter mak­ing Bri­tan­nia’s new smoke­box, this yard com­pleted the con­struc­tion of a sub­ma­rine “only with some dif­fi­culty”! How­ever, laughs Keith: “I don’t know if there’s any truth in that – when I went up there with the SVR’s store­keeper, they had plenty of steel ly­ing around!” But if the smoke­box had been rel­a­tively easy – even at the ex­pense of leav­ing a sub­ma­rine short of metal – keep­ing the fire­box wa­ter­tight was an­other mat­ter. Not only had it been the rea­son for Bri­tan­nia’s with­drawal, its prob­lems were to haunt the en­gine through­out much of its preser­va­tion ca­reer. Keith con­tin­ues: “This didn’t rear its head un­til about the mid­dle

of the restora­tion pe­riod – we started out as a bunch of am­a­teurs and learnt as we went along – but our at­ten­tion was drawn to the fact that the ‘Bri­tan­nias’ had a rep­u­ta­tion for leak­ing from the back cor­ners of the fire­box.” This in­for­ma­tion came ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ as it were – for the lo­co­mo­tive’s de­signer, R.A. Rid­dles, was a keen sup­porter of the pro­ject, and Keith re­calls vis­it­ing him for din­ner at his home in Calne, Wilt­shire, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. The prob­lem dated back to when Bri­tan­nia was orig­i­nally built, ex­plains Mike Hart – a di­rec­tor of Jeremy Hosk­ing’s Lo­co­mo­tive Ser­vices (TOC) Ltd at Crewe, where No. 70000 re­sides today: “The fire­box had its rivet holes drilled while it was still flat plate – but they for­got to al­low for when it was bent into shape and joined up with the throat­plate and back­head, so it was al­most ex­actly half a hole out! “They filled the holes with threaded cop­per bungs, then drilled new holes roughly half­way be­tween – but over the years, as the riv­ets were changed for the next size up, they started touch­ing the bungs which then fell out! Ma­jor fire­box re­pairs were un­charted ter­ri­tory for the emerg­ing preser­va­tion move­ment, and BR’s ex­per­tise was needed. Keith con­tin­ues: “A team of Derby boil­er­smiths came down to put patches in us­ing gas weld­ing – elec­tric weld­ing hadn’t ar­rived in the 1970s. “Be­ing Derby men, they were al­ready a bit sniffy about the work­man­ship on Crewe boil­ers…” Even af­ter this, he adds: “It still gave us prob­lems – it was fine when we had it in steam for three months in 1981, but as soon as it went back to hav­ing one week in steam and one out, the leaks started to come back.”


Af­ter seven years’ restora­tion, No. 70000 was steamed for the first time on May 18 1978, and of­fi­cially launched back into ser­vice ten days later, with its re­nam­ing cer­e­mony per­formed by none other than Mr Rid­dles.

One might then have ex­pected it to be­come the flag­ship of the SVR fleet – but once again, its weight was the lim­it­ing fac­tor. With a max­i­mum axle-load­ing of 21½ tons, it was too heavy to run across Vic­to­ria Bridge, and could only op­er­ate on the south­ern sec­tion of the line from Bewd­ley – with no des­ti­na­tion to reach, for the new ter­mi­nus at Kid­der­min­ster would not be built un­til 1984. “They had plans to up­grade the line,” says Keith, “but Bri­tan­nia was right on the limit. Af­ter one gala week­end, an in­spec­tion showed that it had bro­ken sev­eral rail chairs.” On April 16 1980, No. 70000 moved to the Nene Val­ley Rail­way where it did in­deed gain ‘flag­ship’ sta­tus, prov­ing pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors and head­ing the vis­it­ing VSOE Pull­mans on May 27 1985. To en­able it to work such trains, and the NVR’s Con­ti­nen­tal stock, it was fit­ted with an air pump for the first time – but not the last. In his time with the society (which ended in 1982), re­calls Keith, main line run­ning was no more than an as­pi­ra­tion: “Dur­ing the first restora­tion at Bridg­north, we weren’t specif­i­cally aim­ing for it – there was a feel­ing that we would find it dif­fi­cult to re­source.” Yet in a per­verse way, the fire­box is­sues that con­tin­ued to dog Bri­tan­nia helped to get it back onto the na­tional net­work. In 1982, the 4-6-2 failed at the NVR when the lap seams opened up on the left-hand side, and en­gi­neer­ing firm Resco Rail­ways (which later be­came the first pri­vate Ve­hi­cle Ac­cep­tance Body with the on­set of pri­vati­sa­tion) was called in to carry out re­pairs. But when the same fault showed up on the right-hand side in 1984, and funds had run dry, Resco di­rec­tor Rick Ed­mond­son solved the prob­lem by pur­chas­ing shares in the Bri­tan­nia Lo­co­mo­tive Com­pany. He re­calls: “Ev­ery­one seemed pleas­antly sur­prised that some­one had come along say­ing ‘yes, we can go main line with this’.” Bri­tan­nia was moved to Carn­forth by road in Jan­uary 1987 – the first time it had been on a lorry, its move­ments from Red­hill to Bridg­north, and from the SVR to the NVR, hav­ing been diesel­towed by rail. By the time it re­turned to steam in De­cem­ber 1990, Rick was the ma­jor­ity share­holder. It re­turned to the main line on July 23 1991, with a light en­gine test run from Crewe to Shrews­bury via Chester. Two days later, it re­traced its steps for a loaded test run – but ran a hot bear­ing on the right-hand side con­nect­ing rod big end. Martin re­mem­bers how, while the coaches were taken on by a diesel, the sup­port crew re­moved the rod at Shrews­bury’s Crewe Bank Sid­ings and “knocked out” the big end brass – al­low­ing Bri­tan­nia to run the 32 miles back to Crewe as a sin­gle-cylin­der en­gine, with the rod wedged in the cor­ri­dor of the sup­port coach and stick­ing out of the door! “It was re­mark­ably smooth once it was go­ing,” he says, “but set­ting off was a bit rough. In the coach it seemed to be rock­ing back and forth” rather than from side-to-side as one might ex­pect. Mean­while, the big end brass was be­ing rushed to Bridg­north for re-ma­chin­ing, and was re­turned to Crewe by mid­night, al­low­ing the en­gine to be re­assem­bled on Fri­day July 26 – the day be­fore its first pub­lic run from Crewe to Chester, Shrews­bury and Here­ford. “It was a bit tight,” Martin sums up drily.


Chris Pin­ion, whom Rick had em­ployed as the lo­co­mo­tive’s full-time en­gi­neer, re­calls: “The Carn­forth over­haul was done at min­i­mum cost – it was a run­ner, but it still needed an aw­ful lot do­ing to it.” Says Rick: “They gave us a fab­u­lous lo­co­mo­tive, but the over­haul had been partly based on old-fash­ioned tech­niques – 20 years later, you have to do things dif­fer­ently. “It needed love, care and at­ten­tion, which Chris and the team gave it – he didn’t have the backup of a big run­ning shed or Crewe Works, but he did have a good bunch of peo­ple.” Af­ter its early runs over the Set­tle & Carlisle and ‘North and West’ routes, the ‘Brit’ re­turned to more of the class’s for­mer stamp­ing grounds with a se­ries of ‘Fen­line’ specials be­tween King’s Lynn and Cam­bridge on Oc­to­ber 19/20 1991, fol­lowed by the North Wales Coast dur­ing 1992. Through­out that time, says Chris, “we were con­stantly im­prov­ing it. “There was al­ways a fair bit of play in the bot­tom end and it clanked a bit – but af­ter the loaded test run we never had an­other hot bear­ing. If you tighten the tol­er­ances they’re less for­giv­ing… they’re not Rolls-Royce aero en­gines.” Bri­tan­nia went on to blaze its trail as a star of the 1990s main line scene, re­turn­ing to old haunts of the class such as Nor­wich and Cardiff, and be­com­ing one of the first steam lo­co­mo­tives to run on the South­ern Re­gion third-rail net­work, op­er­at­ing af­ter

dark to fore­stall tres­pass. It of­fi­ci­ated at the clo­sure of Dover Marine sta­tion (with the open­ing of the Chan­nel Tun­nel) on Septem­ber 25 1994; at­tended the first Yeovil Rail­way Fes­ti­val the same year, when the re­stored turntable at Yeovil Junc­tion was reded­i­cated; and the fol­low­ing year it broke new ground when it be­came the first steam lo­co­mo­tive to reach Pen­zance since 1964. “We were ar­riv­ing at places where no­body had seen a steam lo­co­mo­tive be­fore,” re­mem­bers Rick. “We were there at just the right mo­ment. With the run-up to pri­vati­sa­tion, it got more re­laxed and you could go to new places.” One high­light came on July 9 1994, when the sup­port crew got to ride be­hind Bri­tan­nia over the S&C three times in 24 hours, af­ter ‘A2’ No. 60532 Blue Peter failed at Carlisle and No. 70000 was called north­wards from the Mid-Hants Rail­way to take over its ‘Cum­brian Moun­tain Ex­press’. Ex­plains Martin: “We had to rush up to Carlisle, do some work on it there, haul the train south­bound… and then go back to Carlisle to take the trac­tion in­spec­tor home! “We were sup­posed to go to the Keigh­ley & Worth Val­ley Rail­way, but an in­spec­tor wasn’t avail­able to take us there – the Carlisle man said he’d do it, but BR wouldn’t pro­vide him with a taxi from Keigh­ley, so we had to take him back. “I did sug­gest it would be cheaper for us to pay for a taxi than use all that coal.” Though Rick can­not re­call the date, this may have been the same trip that left him with his most en­tranc­ing mem­ory of his time with Bri­tan­nia – rid­ing on the ‘Pacific’s’ foot­plate through the night over the ‘Long Drag’. He re­mem­bers: “It was an inky black, moon­less night, but a clear one with ev­ery star out, oc­ca­sion­ally a green sig­nal, and the lights of re­mote farms and cot­tages dot­ted about the hill­sides. I turned round to speak to the driver and fire­man, and saw their faces lit bronze and gold from the fire… it was a magic mo­ment.” More com­pli­cated lo­gis­tics were re­quired on Jan­uary 20 1993, when Bri­tan­nia car­ried three dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties in one day to mark the re­tire­ment of two highly re­spected rail­way­men – Steam Lo­co­mo­tive Op­er­a­tors As­so­ci­a­tion Chair­man R.H.N. Hardy and its Chief Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer John Peck. Martin re­mem­bers: “The train was run at no cost – we sup­plied the lo­co­mo­tive free of charge, some­one else paid for the coal, and ev­ery­one on the train had to buy lunch. “We took Bri­tan­nia from Did­cot to Ste­warts Lane de­pot, where we cleaned it up and renum­bered it as No. 70004 Wil­liam Shake­speare. Th­ese chaps came to see it – we think they knew some­thing was go­ing on – and then they went on the train to Dover, diesel-hauled, while we fol­lowed. “We backed onto the train at Dover while the speeches were be­ing made at the other end – and then they came up to find their names on Bri­tan­nia.” This wasn’t the only change of iden­tity for the ‘Brit’ – for the Pen­zance trip on Oc­to­ber 14 1995 it mas­quer­aded as for­mer Western Re­gion ex­am­ple No. 70019 Light­ning; for the clo­sure of Dover Marine, it ran in the guise of for­mer ‘Golden Ar­row’ lo­co­mo­tive No. 70014 Iron Duke; while in 1993, in con­junc­tion with Steam Rail­way, it was renum­bered as No. 70047, the only mem­ber of the class never to carry a name. In a read­ers’ com­pe­ti­tion, the name ‘James Watt’ was cho­sen. “We were keen mar­ke­teers,” says Rick. “We’d do all sorts of things to draw at­ten­tion to our­selves.”


“They were great times,” Chris re­calls fondly. “Like any lo­co­mo­tive, it was hard go­ing for a small group – we had 20 vol­un­teers at most – but we got a lot out of it. “Those were the days when we all just had a good time on the main line. “Yes, it was strict when Steve McColl was run­ning the Spe­cial Trains arm of In­ter­City, but you could do things then that you can’t today. “We were limited to 60mph – but we fit­ted a re­dun­dant AWS set off a diesel and im­me­di­ately went to 75mph! “We had some fan­tas­tic high-speed runs – for some­thing that had been over­hauled at min­i­mum cost, it re­ally was a crack­ing en­gine.” Sadly, af­ter six and a half years, the good times came to an abrupt end at Hel­li­field on March 1 1997, when No. 70000 failed with leak­ing tubes on a ‘Cum­brian Moun­tain Ex­press’. Two years be­fore, when dou­ble-head­ing with ‘4MT’ 4-6-0 No. 75014 on a Carlisle-Liver­pool ‘Fif­teen Guinea Spe­cial’ mark­ing the end of Spe­cial Trains, Bri­tan­nia had ended up pulling the train and push­ing the ‘Stan­dard 4’ af­ter the lat­ter suf­fered a bro­ken crosshead pin. “We thrashed it hard,” re­mem­bers Chris, “and it never re­ally re­cov­ered from that.” Although the en­gine was re­paired at the Keigh­ley & Worth Val­ley Rail­way, it was fi­nally with­drawn at the NVR on June 16 1997 – this time be­cause the fire­box foun­da­tion ring and crown stays were down to min­i­mum thick­ness. One way or an­other, Bri­tan­nia’s fire­box has shaped its en­tire preser­va­tion his­tory. Just as it got Rick in­volved in the first place, so it was a ma­jor fac­tor in his de­ci­sion to sell the lo­co­mo­tive on to Pete Water­man in late 1999. “We did briefly dis­cuss build­ing a new-spec­i­fi­ca­tion boiler,” he says, “with oil fir­ing. “About 30 sec­onds later, in a room full of ap­palled peo­ple, we de­cided to stick with coal, or it would no longer be Bri­tan­nia. “In com­mer­cial terms we’d put a lot of money into it – but we

were here to pre­serve a his­toric arte­fact, and if we couldn’t af­ford it, it had to go to some­one who could.” Though back at its birth­place, No. 70000 re­mained at the back of the queue for at­ten­tion while Pete fi­nanced the over­haul of an­other cel­e­brated Crewe ma­chine – LNWR ‘Su­per D’ 0-8-0 No. 49395. Fi­nally, in 2006, the ‘Brit’ be­came part of Jeremy Hosk­ing’s ex­ten­sive steam fleet – and was re­stored to full health at Crewe in 2010, al­most six decades af­ter its con­struc­tion went wrong there. Ex­plains Mike Hart: “We cut out and re­placed the first three to four inches around the lap seams and cor­ners on ei­ther side, right to the top – and we haven’t had to do very much to the boiler at the cur­rent over­haul.” But while the fire­box may have been sorted out once and for all, an­other dif­fi­culty from the lo­co­mo­tive’s early days would now resur­face – this time on the bot­tom end.


In Oc­to­ber 1951, the whole first batch of 25 ‘Bri­tan­nias’ had to be with­drawn af­ter their driv­ing wheels be­gan shift­ing on the axles. Or, as then-Liver­pool Street As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Ger­ard Fi­ennes so elo­quently put it in his in­fa­mous au­to­bi­og­ra­phy I Tried to Run a Rail­way: “The axles went round faster than the wheels, which wasn’t so good for the mo­tion.” It was a ba­sic flaw in the whole con­cept of the ‘Brits’, says David Ward: “They’re cheap and cheer­ful – they were built to a spec­i­fi­ca­tion to do a job for a short pe­riod, and they don’t have the back­bone of a ‘Big Four’ thor­ough­bred like an ‘A4’ or a ‘Duchess’. “BR was try­ing to get the per­for­mance of a three or four­cylin­der ‘Pacific’ out of two cylin­ders – and it paid the penalty. “Bill Har­vey said that af­ter ten years on the Liver­pool Street-Nor­wich ex­presses, it showed – in his words, ‘it’s the pace that kills’.” Over 60 years later, the axle prob­lem reared its head again on a West­bury-Kingswear rail­tour on Oc­to­ber 24 2015, when No. 70000’s foot­plate crew re­ported ex­ces­sive vi­bra­tion. In­spec­tion con­firmed that one of the driv­ing wheels had moved on the axle, mean­ing that the crankpins were no longer ex­actly 90º apart. “With hind­sight, BR was al­ways try­ing to over­come this is­sue,” says Mike. “The cylin­ders are the size of large dust­bins, and they’ve got loads of power, but the mo­tion strug­gles to cope. “You can see the dif­fer­ences on the frames, where all the brack­ets have been stiff­ened up over the years. “We have the records of its mileages – they were in­cred­i­bly low. “It also ap­pears that to­wards the mid­dle of their lives, they ended up on fairly flat routes” – work­ing from sheds such as Im­ming­ham or March, on less de­mand­ing du­ties than the Nor­wich ‘fly­ers’ (see Howard’s ar­ti­cle on pages 68-73). With­drawn from ser­vice im­me­di­ately, Bri­tan­nia has since un­der­gone an ex­ten­sive re­build of its bot­tom end, with all its Timken roller bear­ings (bo­gie, driv­ing, trail­ing and ten­der wheelsets) re­placed for the first time in preser­va­tion (only two or three were new at the Carn­forth over­haul, con­firms Chris). The new bear­ings are be­ing pressed onto the axles by South Devon Rail­way En­gi­neer­ing, who, says Mike, “know­ing of this prob­lem, are pay­ing ex­tra-spe­cial at­ten­tion to get­ting it spot on”. The ‘Pacific’ is now “on its way to be­ing re-wheeled,” he con­cludes. “We’re look­ing for­ward to hav­ing it go­ing again in June or July, when it’ll be­come a core lo­co­mo­tive of our new Train Op­er­at­ing Com­pany, along with Royal Scot and Braun­ton.”


Bri­tan­nia’s re­turn will be par­tic­u­larly wel­come, for with a ‘heavy gen­eral’ over­haul loom­ing on the hori­zon for Oliver Cromwell, it will – in the short to medium term at least – fall to No. 70000 to fly the flag for this much-loved class on the na­tional net­work. Hope­fully it won’t be too long be­fore we can en­joy the lon­gawaited sight of both ‘Bri­tan­nias’ run­ning to­gether for the first time in preser­va­tion – per­haps dou­ble-head­ing over Shap, just as the ‘Pacifics’ of­ten did to­wards the end of steam. But in the mean­time, it is some­how fit­ting that 50 years af­ter it handed the man­tle of ‘Na­tional Col­lec­tion trea­sure’ to Oliver Cromwell, Bri­tan­nia will take up the ba­ton of keep­ing the class in the na­tional con­scious­ness. Once again, No. 70000 will be the trail­blazer, and we can be thank­ful that it sur­vived against all odds.



Main line steam at its best: per­fectly matched with a full set of ‘blood and cus­tard’ Mk 1s, Bri­tan­nia crosses Arten Gill Viaduct with a York-Carlisle charter on March 3 2012. Note the white cab roof, ap­plied for its turn on the Royal Train on Jan­uary...



A late 1980s scene of Bri­tan­nia pass­ing Ferry Mead­ows on the Nene Val­ley Rail­way.


1: Just over two years old, No. 70000 rushes down to­wards Brent­wood from In­grave sum­mit with the Up ‘Hook Con­ti­nen­tal’ from Parke­ston Quay on May 9 1953.


6: Bri­tan­nia sits in the Down sid­ings at Hel­li­field af­ter fail­ing with leak­ing tubes on the ‘Cum­brian Moun­tain Ex­press’ on March 1 1997. It was re­paired for some fur­ther steam­ings at the Keigh­ley & Worth Val­ley Rail­way, but this proved to be its last...


2: A for­lorn-look­ing Bri­tan­nia dumped at Red­hill shed on an un­recorded date in the late 1960s or early 1970s.


5: Bri­tish and Con­ti­nen­tal de­sign con­trasts at the Nene Val­ley Rail­way, as Bri­tan­nia is shunted along with Swedish 2-6-2T No. 1178 – mi­nus its chim­ney and un­der­go­ing a boiler re-tube.


4: In an undated pho­to­graph, restora­tion of Bri­tan­nia is well un­der way at Bridg­north. Note the re­place­ment smoke­box – a preser­va­tion first.


3: A slightly more pre­sentable No. 70000 at Bridg­north on April 9 1971, less than a month af­ter its ar­rival at the Sev­ern Val­ley Rail­way.


Re­mem­ber the days of In­ter­City ‘rasp­berry rip­ple’ stock? Bri­tan­nia slows for a sig­nal check at Bug­brooke, on Hat­ton bank, with a Did­cot-Sh­effield tour on March 12 1995.

Duke of Glouces­ter. TOM HEAVYSIDE

Two pro­to­type Rid­dles ‘Pacifics’ meet at Carn­forth on June 8 1991, as the freshly over­hauled ‘Brit’ eases past ‘8P’ No. 71000

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