Celebri­ties for scrap

HOWARD JOHN­STON ex­plains the eleventh hour move that res­cued the fa­mous ‘Brits’ in 1963, in­clud­ing Oliver Cromwell, af­ter the Eastern Re­gion had turned its back on steam.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

Au­gust 2018 will be a spe­cial month for sur­viv­ing ‘Bri­tan­nia’ 4-6-2 No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell, as it marks the 50th an­niver­sary of the end of BR main line steam. But it so nearly wasn’t that way. Back in 1963, five years be­fore it was sin­gled out for preser­va­tion, this celebrity two-cylin­der Stan­dard ‘Pacific’ could eas­ily have been among the third of the class con­signed to the torch. Dumped at the side of the Eastern Re­gion’s March steam shed, it was sim­ply 143 tons of scrap metal await­ing the prepa­ra­tion of pa­per­work for its dis­posal. It was on the con­demned list be­cause it was un­em­ployed, and was also con­sid­ered to be clapped out. How it all worked out well in the end for ‘Cromwell’ is a scarcely told ac­count of eleventh hour in­ter­ven­tion by the Lon­don Mid­land Re­gion. As well as a re­prieve for No. 70013, there was an­other chance for first-built No. 70000 Bri­tan­nia, and over a dozen of their down-at-heel class­mates. Scrap­ping quite modern lo­co­mo­tives was taboo at this time, as shown, for in­stance, by the trans­fer of Stan­dard 2-6-4Ts to Cen­tral Wales fol­low­ing the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the Lon­don Til­bury & Southend line. At least six of the March ‘Brits’ (Nos. 70000/1/5/10/12/34) had suf­fered frost dam­age from their time in the open, and heavy over­hauls at Crewe Works were sanc­tioned by the LMR be­fore they could take up their new roles as re­place­ments for the last Stanier ‘Princess Corona­tions’, and ail­ing ‘Pa­tri­ots’ and ‘Royal Scots’, han­dling ser­vices mainly in the North West. Af­ter all the praise poured on them when they rev­o­lu­tionised Lon­donNor­wich ser­vices in 1951, the ‘Brits’ quickly fell from grace, and they would con­tin­u­ally be in re­treat as new diesels ar­rived in squadron num­bers. A hand­ful held on un­til De­cem­ber 1967. One by one, they were cast aside af­ter suf­fer­ing se­vere me­chan­i­cal fail­ure, or oc­ca­sion­ally col­li­sion dam­age, be­yond cash re­pair lim­its. Rarely cleaned (ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional rail­tour duty), and stripped of their name­plates, the fi­nal chap­ter of the ‘Bri­tan­nia’ story is typ­i­cal of the rapid run­down of Bri­tish main line steam. In truth, de­spite their modern de­sign there had never been enough ‘Bri­tan­nias’ built to have any last­ing im­pact on ei­ther top link pas­sen­ger trains, parcels or even freights. It might have been dif­fer­ent if there had been 100 or more, but the 55 were al­ways quite thinly scat­tered across sev­eral de­pots to act as gap-fillers for short-lived ini­tia­tives. In their early days, the Western Re­gion didn’t like the ‘Brits’, and the Scottish, North Eastern and South­ern were only ever al­lo­cated a few each. Even in their fi­nal years, the Lon­don Mid­land some­times re­garded them as noth­ing bet­ter than a Stanier ‘Black Five’, and their fi­nal dis­ap­pear­ance was scarcely no­ticed.


It was the rem­i­nis­cences of for­mer Eastern Re­gion Hamil­ton House HQ em­ployee Derek Law­man in the De­cem­ber 2014 is­sue of our sis­ter mag­a­zine Steam World that high­lighted the pro­posed early scrap­ping of its ‘Brits’. He had de­vel­oped a deep in­ter­est in the class, and as a BR em­ployee was later able to ob­tain some in­side knowl­edge. Hav­ing spent a lot of time as a young spotter at Bish­ops Stort­ford in the

1950s, he re­called how the named ‘7P6F’ 4-6-2s were then ab­so­lutely at the top of their game, lov­ingly cared for with their lined green paint­work kept beau­ti­fully clean by their reg­u­lar crews and main­te­nance staff. Derek said: “It was in­con­ceiv­able back then that they would have such short work­ing lives on the Great Eastern be­fore be­ing trans­ferred away, then quickly con­signed to the scrapheap”. His per­sonal favourite ‘Brit’ was No. 70007 Coeur-de-Lion, which was the first – and last – ex­am­ple that he saw on its orig­i­nal patch, bid­ding farewell to it at Bish­ops Stort­ford in 1962. Three years later, in June 1965, this en­gine was the first of the class to be with­drawn at Crewe Works af­ter ar­riv­ing for over­haul, and fail­ing an in­spec­tion; it was bro­ken up there at the end of the fol­low­ing month. If the phrase ‘rave re­view’ had ex­isted 67 years ago, it would cer­tainly have been ap­plied to the ap­pear­ance of the doyen of the class, No. 70000 Bri­tan­nia, on its first Liver­pool Street-Nor­wich run on Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 1 1951, ready for the new timetable that came into op­er­a­tion on July 2. Dis­plac­ing un­der­pow­ered LNER ‘B1’ and ‘B17’ 4-6-0s, as well as a few troublesome Bulleid air-smoothed ‘West Coun­try’ 4-6-2s briefly on loan to Strat­ford, a ‘Brit’ could com­fort­ably cut Lon­don-Ip­swich jour­ney times from 80 min­utes to 76, with an­other 45 min­utes al­lowed for the re­main­ing 46 miles to Nor­wich. Crews en­joyed their han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics, and with two round trips ex­pected of each en­gine ev­ery day, it was not out of the or­di­nary for the en­gines to chalk up 2,500 miles a week.


The Great Eastern had cer­tainly had its money’s worth out of the ‘Brits’, and as more be­came avail­able they were ros­tered for the ‘Hook Con­ti­nen­tal’, ‘Day Con­ti­nen­tal’ and ‘Scan­di­na­vian’ boat trains to and from Har­wich Parke­ston Quay. They were also seen reg­u­larly run­ning north to south via Ely and Cam­bridge, and of­ten worked into Great Yar­mouth and Southend. The first batch of lo­co­mo­tives on the GE was in­tended to be in the 70000-14 range, and it was a mild ir­ri­ta­tion for num­ber col­lec­tors that No. 70004 Wil­liam Shake­speare spoiled the se­quence by its non­ap­pear­ance. It was di­verted to the South­ern Re­gion af­ter its dis­play at the 1951 Fes­ti­val of Britain ex­hi­bi­tion at South Bank, and its op­er­at­ing base for the next seven years would be Ste­warts Lane shed in South Lon­don to work the ‘Golden Ar­row’ and ‘Night Ferry’ from Vic­to­ria to Dover. It was joined there by No. 70014 Iron Duke, but this was of less con­cern to Eastern spot­ters, who were sat­is­fied with un­der­lin­ing No. 70013 as the en­gine at the end of the se­quence. The sec­ond pro­duc­tion batch in­tended for the Great Eastern was Nos. 70035-44, but this also did not quite work out as Nos. 70043/4 went new to Longsight on loan in 1953 and never made it to the GE. Their places in the GE pool were taken by ex-Holy­head No. 70030 Wil­liam Wordsworth, and ex-Longsight No. 70034 Thomas Hardy. An­other floater, No. 70042 Lord Roberts, drifted off to Ken­tish Town in July 1958.


With ev­ery­thing so ap­par­ently set­tled on the Eastern, it was sur­pris­ing that the ‘Brits’ were so quickly knocked off their perch by the re­gion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to be at the fore­front of diesel tech­nol­ogy, and the spec­tre of early re­dun­dancy hung over steam when five new English Elec­tric Type 4 diesels ar­rived at Strat­ford de­pot in 1958.

A skilled staff short­age quickly led to its ‘Brit’ al­lo­ca­tion be­ing trans­ferred to Nor­wich, and the steady in­va­sion of re­place­ment trac­tion meant they were re-di­a­grammed sev­eral times in a short pe­riod. By 1960, this cas­cade pol­icy led to reg­u­lar ap­pear­ances along the south Es­sex coast, and also the ‘Hook Con­ti­nen­tal’ and boat trains that would take them to Sh­effield via March and Lin­coln. To ob­servers on the ‘Joint Line’, their daily ap­pear­ance in mid-morn­ing and early evening would be a great re­lief from the seem­ingly end­less drudgery of heavy freights to White­moor hauled by un­kempt Robin­son, Gresley and Thomp­son en­gines. Ev­i­dence that the Great Eastern had a sig­nif­i­cant sur­plus of ex­press power was the trans­fer of seven ‘Brits’ to Im­ming­ham (Nos. 70035-41) at the end of 1961, where their new reg­u­lar du­ties in­cluded through trains from Cleethor­pes to King’s Cross via the East Lin­colnshire Line through Bos­ton and Peter­bor­ough, fast fish trains from Grimsby Docks, and fill-in turns into East York­shire. By the end of 1962, Nor­wich had sent all its ‘Brits’ to March, and they soon sur­ren­dered al­most all their long-dis­tance du­ties to even more new diesels, this time English Elec­tric Type 3s. Soon af­ter the New Year, many of the class were put into open store in the steam shed area, some­times with their chim­neys sacked, some­times not. Then came the sur­prise that Derek Law­man re­calls: “A part of the [‘Bri­tan­nia’] story that is not quite so well known is that those at March in stor­age came very close in­deed to be­ing con­demned in De­cem­ber 1963. “At lit­er­ally the eleventh hour, the Lon­don Mid­land Re­gion, never overly keen on the class in gen­eral, very reluc­tantly agreed

to ac­cept them, oth­er­wise the fall­back de­ci­sion had al­ready been taken, which was to con­demn them.”


Rightly or wrongly, the LMR had com­mit­ted it­self to the early elim­i­na­tion of its Stanier ‘Duchess’ fleet (over­hauls at Crewe had ceased at the be­gin­ning of the decade). The ear­lier ‘Princess’ 4-6-2s had al­ready all gone, and three-cylin­der re­built ‘Royal Scots’, ‘Pa­tri­ots’ and ‘Jubilees’ were also be­ing rapidly with­drawn as they be­came due for heavy main­te­nance. De­liv­er­ies of new diesels could not keep pace and they were un­re­li­able. This planned res­cue of a third of the ‘Brits’ for a new ca­reer was fol­lowed by an ex­ten­sive (and ex­pen­sive) over­haul pro­gramme at Crewe Works. The re­trievals from March were a sorry bunch, par­tic­u­larly the first six that had been laid aside. Nos. 70000 Bri­tan­nia, 70001 Lord Hur­comb and 70005 John Mil­ton were nom­i­nally re­al­lo­cated to Willes­den in the month of March, to be fol­lowed by No. 70010 Owen Glen­dower, 70012 John of Gaunt, and 70034 Thomas Hardy dur­ing April. Oth­ers, in bet­ter con­di­tion and trans­ferred later in the year, were No. 70030 Wil­liam Wordsworth to Crewe North in July, and the bal­ance to Carlisle Up­perby in De­cem­ber – Nos. 70002 Ge­of­frey Chaucer, 70003 John Bun­yan, 70006 Robert Burns, 70007 Coeur-deLion, 70008 Black Prince, 70009 Al­fred the Great, 70011 Hot­spur, and 70013 Oliver Cromwell. The same month, Im­ming­ham of­fered up its six en­gines to Carlisle Up­perby, Nos. 70035 Rud­yard Ki­pling, 70036 Boadicea, 70037 Here­ward the Wake, 70038 Robin Hood, 70039 Sir Christo­pher Wren, 70040 Clive of In­dia and 70041 Sir John Moore. In the early months of 1964, Nos. 70000/1/5/10/2 were pushed through Crewe Works be­tween March and June, and be­fore the year’s end, Nos. 70002/6/8/9/11/34. Vis­i­tors to the works could al­ways ex­pect to note at least one ‘Brit’ re­ceiv­ing at­ten­tion, and no fewer than eight were there in Novem­ber. By this time, the Stanier 4-6-2s had been safely dis­pensed with.


Be­fore the in­flux of sur­plus ‘Brits’ to the Lon­don Mid­land from other re­gions, the num­ber at many de­pots was al­ways too tiny to have much ef­fect. Four, Nos. 70030-33, had been sent from new to Holy­head at the end of 1952 to haul North Wales ex­presses, but the idea was a fail­ure be­cause they ran short of wa­ter, and it was an­other 18 months be­fore a sec­ond at­tempt was made with

Nos. 70045-9, whose ten­ders had greater ca­pac­ity. Longsight also had a few ‘Brits’; Nos. 70031-33 were used for a time on Manch­ester-Eus­ton ser­vices. Western Re­gion crews were never en­tirely happy with their small batch of ‘Brits’, which they saw as a poor match for their Swin­don­de­signed 4-6-0s, and those orig­i­nally based at Old Oak Com­mon, Laira (Ply­mouth) and New­ton Ab­bot were swapped in 1956/57 for Cardiff Can­ton’s ‘Cas­tles’. The WR had no use for the class at all af­ter the short-lived ‘War­ship’ diesel-hy­draulics ar­rived in 1961, so they too were sent to the Lon­don Mid­land to fin­ish their ca­reers. Pol­madie was orig­i­nally re­spon­si­ble for the fi­nal five (Nos. 70050-4), hence their ‘Firth’ names, with reg­u­lar work­ings from Glas­gow to Carlisle and Perth. Leeds Hol­beck en­gines had a cou­ple of ros­ters over the Set­tle-Carlisle line and up to Lon­don. By 1965, all 55 ‘Brits’ were based on the LMR, pri­mar­ily at Crewe North and Carlisle King­moor and Up­perby sheds, and apart from a brief foray on Great Cen­tral du­ties the en­gines were soon on the back foot. By now shar­ing du­ties with al­most any class still op­er­a­tional, they were re­garded as mixed traf­fic en­gines. King­moor and Up­perby used the ‘Brits’ reg­u­larly on pas­sen­ger ser­vices over the S&C to Leeds and Brad­ford, to Manch­ester, Crewe, Ed­in­burgh (over the Waver­ley Route), Glas­gow, Perth and Aberdeen. Sum­mer specials to Black­pool were also com­mon­place. This was sup­ple­mented with parcels du­ties, and even ICI tanks be­tween North­wich and White­haven and the oc­ca­sional coal train. De­spite some with­drawals by 1966, all 41 sur­vivors had ac­cu­mu­lated at King­moor, and over a third of them re­ceived mi­nor at­ten­tion at Crewe that year. Ex­clu­sive ‘Brit’ di­a­grams dwin­dled away, and by sum­mer 1967 the con­di­tion of many was so poor that crews re­fused to take them out. One only had to look at their ex­ter­nal con­di­tion, as clean­ing had long ceased un­less the en­gine was ros­tered for rail­tour duty, as at least Nos. 70000/2/4/12/13/20/32/38/39 were at one time or an­other. It is known by al­most ev­ery ‘Brit’ fol­lower that No. 70045 Lord Rowal­lan brought down the cur­tain for nor­mal run­ning when it worked the 1.10pm Carlisle-Skip­ton pas­sen­ger ser­vice on De­cem­ber 30 1967, run­ning light to Rose Grove for a fi­nal coal train trip to Wi­gan on New Year’s Day. Apart from No. 70013, that was it.


Willes­den-al­lo­cated No. 70014 Iron Duke saun­ters through Watford Junc­tion with a Down freight circa 1964. The lo­co­mo­tive still re­tains the drilled holes in the smoke de­flec­tors for the small ar­rows car­ried dur­ing its ‘Golden Ar­row’ hey­day at Ste­warts...


The over­haul that helped se­cure Oliver Cromwell’s place in preser­va­tion: a gleam­ing No. 70013 stands in the works yard at Crewe on Fe­bru­ary 2 1967 im­me­di­ately af­ter be­ing un­veiled. The painted in­jec­tor pipework and brass cab win­dow frames sug­gest that...

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