Model Rail (UK)
MAID of all works
Worsdell’s ‘J27s’ were remarkable survivors, lasting until the end of steam in the North East. Chris Gilson looks back at a functional and much-loved design.
The story of the hardy ‘J27’ 0-6-0, begins with a visit to the USA in 1901 by George S. Gibb, the North Eastern Railway’s general manager, at the behest of its chief engineer Wilson Worsdell. Worsdell – the son of the previous CME T.W. Worsdell – had taken up the position in 1890, “and had apprenticed in America between 1867-71, taking in many of the ideas there at the time. When it came to push the envelope for a new design, Gibb was sent over, returning with the belief that freight traffic on the NER should be radically increased. A direct result of this was the bolstering of the basic ‘P1’ (later LNER ‘J25’) design with a bigger boiler and firebox which necessitated an enlargement of the frames, adding 11in to their overall length. The new locomotive was known as the ‘P2’ (‘J26’), and 50 were built at Gateshead and Darlington between 1904-05. Yet, Worsdell was not satisfied, and worked to expand on the basic ‘P2’ design. This involved fitting the ‘P2’ with a larger firebox and reducing clearance to the rear axle, raising the boiler at the same time and reducing the number of tubes to 254. The new firebox had a shallower grate, and the tube reduction was made viable by using seven of the tubes as stays. The ‘P3’ (LNER ‘J27’) was now born, with an initial run of 80 examples emerging between 1906-09, followed by a second ‘improved’ batch of 25 built by the LNER at Darlington in 1921-22 after modification by Sir Vincent Raven. A final order of ten followed a ” year later in 1923. The initial builds were split between North British, Beyer Peacock and Robert Stephenson, with each company charging a different price ranging between £3,500 (NBL) to £3,550 (Beyer Peacock). Both later batches were fitted with Schmidt superheaters and piston – not slide – valves, with little change to the external appearance bar a smokebox extension and balance weights on the centre wheels for faster running.
The initial builds were split between North British, Beyer Peacock and Robert Stephenson
Other detail differences included the use of Ramsbottom safety valves on the initial batch of engines, which were supplanted by the Lner-favoured Ross ‘pop’ kind, used on the later build. The Ramsbottom valves were replaced by Ross pattern units as each locomotive went through works. Boilers had been a bone of contention with the class for some time, with the LNER apparently unable to make up its mind as to best practice. As late as 1936, five additional superheated boilers were produced to join an additional two dating from 1929 that were already kept as spares. Then, in 1939, the
original Diagram 57 boiler became Diagram 57A with a change to one-plate from three-plate construction and a sloped throat plate, with a superheated version following in 1941. Yet from 1943 onwards, the superheated locomotive boilers were exchanged for the earlier saturated type, with just six of the whole batch of ‘J27s’ not retrofitted. The longer smokeboxes were removed at the same time and replaced with the original shorter type.
Smokebox length aside, a further detail difference was in the size of the cab spectacles, which were initially of
the smaller, and somewhat unpopular, NER style. With the fitting of a larger design to the ‘Q6’ 0-8-0 heavy freight engines, and the retrofitting of the ‘Q5s’, both the ‘J26’ and ‘J27s’ received the larger variant, with the bulk of the class, bar No. 1047, being treated before the 1923 Grouping. Other minor details included the positioning of the dome on the new Diagram 57A boilers – it was moved further back – and a minor re-working of topmounted boiler fittings to accommodate the larger NER design into the LNER composite loading gauge restrictions. This was achieved from 1939 onwards by shortening the whistles, adjusting the dome by removing a prominent stud and fitting a squatter chimney, although the original tall type was curiously reintroduced on some engines in the post-war period. From the outset, the ‘J27s’ were designed for, and put to use on long distance heavy freight traffic, with the emphasis being on coal and mineral workings. With the advent of classes such as the ‘Q6s’ they moved on to more local work while still retaining a reputation for solid reliability. During the early years of the class they were focused squarely around the North East at depots such as Shildon, Sunderland and Percy Main, but they began to appear around the more far-flung corners of the
former NER network. A case in point was the transferral of 12 of the newer superheat batch to the former Great Eastern routes after the appearance of Gresley’s versatile ‘J39’. At first, they were based at March and Cambridge on freight duties, spreading out to other GE areas to work alongside such types as the older and larger ‘J17s’. Other movements included three engines moving to Carlisle in 1925, ostensibly for Scottish traffic but, in reality, to take goods to Newcastle, while wartime work meant the occasional engine would visit Edinburgh, although they were normally sent back south again within a short timescale. This was no doubt to assist with the concentration of the class in the NE area at just 11 sheds – Consett, South Blyth, Neville Hill, Haverton Hill, Stockton, West Hartlepool, Sunderland, Selby, Percy Main, North Blyth and Heaton. Of these, both Heaton and Percy Main had the largest allocations in 1943, with 16 engines apiece. As the post-war period started, followed swiftly by nationalisation, the ‘J27s’ soldiered on with the same kind of work they had been undertaking for all of their lives. The emphasis shifted more towards heavy mineral traffic, but the occasional mixed goods also made an appearance. As the run-down of steam on the former LNER network began, inroads started to be made within the class, with the first to go being No. 65829 in March 1959 from South Blyth. Incredibly, at the very end of North Eastern steam in June 1966, there were still 36 ‘J27s’ hauling coal traffic in the Tees area, with the final survivors including Nos. 65882, 65879 and 65894 being withdrawn from Sunderland in September 1967 after use on trip workings between coalfields and shipping staithes. Thus closed the chapter on the hardy ‘J27’, a design which – despite its somewhat rushed roots – proved to be a remarkable, if unglamorous workhorse and a backbone of North Eastern steam for many years.
Thanks to the efforts of the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG), one ‘J27’ remains and is in use on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR). The final example to be built in September 1923, No. 2392, was initially allocated to Bank Top shed at Darlington before moving to Ferryhill for coal traffic to and from the Durham area. Following reclassification as a ‘J27’ in 1926, it became No. 5894 in 1946
and No. 65894 in 1948 following nationalisation. In 1930 it moved to York, spending most of its remaining working life in the North Yorkshire area – including what would become the NYMR route. In October 1966 it moved north once again to Sunderland on coal traffic and had the sad distinction of working the last diagrammed steam service from Sunderland shed on September 9 1967. After withdrawal it went to Tyne Dock for storage and eventual disposal. Just three months later it was purchased from BR by NELPG and restored to working order at Tyne Dock, then Philadelphia colliery in County Durham, and finally Thornaby depot. Modifications at this time included installation of vacuum brake gear and steam heating connections for passenger work – something not considered when the design was originally drawn up. In October 1971, the ‘J27’ arrived at its long-standing home on the NYMR and had the proud honour of hauling the inaugural train on May 1 1973, with Lambton tank No. 29. Despite a brief visit to the National Railway Museum at York between 1977-1982 pending boiler repairs, it returned to the NYMR where it has remained, with occasional visits to other lines. After many years as No. 2392, the ‘J27’ currently wears its final livery and number – 65894 – and continues to be a popular, and poignant attraction at the railway.