Holman Fred Stephens set himself up in the 1890s as an engineer and manager of the complete light railway as evolved by the theorists that so infested late Victorian life. In their eyes a light railway was not an assemblage of second-hand mainline equipment of dubious merit but of fit for purpose, new material. In Stephens first independent venture the Rye & Camber this policy was successfully pursued. In his second venture, the Selsey Tramway, he was less successful but he tackled the provision of an ideal standard gauge light railway locomotive. In 1897 Peckett & Sons of Bristol, produced to Stephens's specification the perfect theoretical light railway locomotive, the 2-4-2T Selsey. Purpose designed but largely built up from standard Peckett components, Selsey was immediately successful on the light loads of the tramway. Capital was short however and she remained unique but Stephens retained a fatherly pride in her and a photo always hung in his office.
For his next venture in locomotive design for the Rother Valley Railway (later Kent & East Sussex Railway) Stephens again aimed at the best theoretical locomotive but turned to another builder, R & W Hawthorne, Leslie & Co Ltd of Newcastle upon Tyne. The reasons for this change of builder are, in the absence of hard evidence, open to some speculation. They may however be found in the company policies of the builders concerned. Peckett's had been established in 1881 but was building only an average of 11 locomotives a year in the early 1890s. From 1897 however they grew rapidly with the provision of new facilities and production and marketing policy "specialisation and standardisation" rather on the lines of "you can have any colour provided it's black". The market in small light railway locomotives showed no signs of maturing and it was probably a wise management decision to concentrate on standard industrial shunting tanks, a policy that was to prove very profitable and successful. Hawthorn Leslie by contrast had a tradition of locomotive building stretching back to the early days of railways. From 1870 however their Forth Bank Works in Newcastle had become only part of a wider, predominantly shipbuilding, company. The decision of mainline companies, particularly the North Eastern Railway to build their own caused large mainline locomotive orders to disappear from 1875. Hawthorn Leslie thereafter survived on single and small batch production utilising "a body of particularly high class and loyal workmen whom we did not want to turn adrift". Charles Edward Straker, a partner and director from 1876 followed this sentimental and unprofitable approach, as he appeared simply to enjoy managing a locomotive works amongst his many other duties. Following Straker's death in harness in 1933 the locomotive business passed to a new joint venture with their erstwhile neighbours, Robert Stephenson, and the new venture Robert Stephenson & Hawthorne (RSH) concentrated on more profitable standard products. By the mid-1890s Forth Bank Works was at very low ebb producing only some 10 to 15 locomotives a year. Stephens' orders for one-off locomotives would have been received with open arms.
Whatever reasons for the choice of builder, Stephens' relationship with Hawthorn Leslie was to prove long lasting. For the next 15 years, when Stephens had the money for new engines he turned to Hawthorn Leslie. The resultant products throw an interesting light on Stephens' strengths and weaknesses as a specifier of motive power for light railways.
THE ROTHER VALLEY RAILWAY 2-4-0Ts
With the construction in and delivery in September 1899 of Tenterden and Northiam from Hawthorn Leslie the use of engine builders' standard components was again very evident. They were directly comparable in capacity to its builder's smaller industrial shunters. Well known examples of such engines were Ironsides built in 1890 for Southampton Docks and passing into BR ownership; Met built in 1909 and kept in preservation on the KESR for a time and Bonny Prince Charlie, built by RSH in 1949 for Corralls, and now preserved at Didcot. Important changes were however made for the little 2-4-0Ts, for they had a smaller diameter but longer boiler, smaller wheels and single slide bars to accommodate the necessary leading truck. The omission of the trailing wheel and consequent loss of coal capacity relative to Selsey was an interesting development.
Perhaps this was a move to enhance haulage capacity as steam engines tend to "sit back" on starting and if driving wheels are at the back adhesion improves. Certainly both of these engines had a reputation for excellent haulage for their very modest size. But it was not without cost. Bunkers of only 1 ton capacity for a 20-mile plus round trip must have tested the fireman's skill.
In service the engines suffered from bearing and wheel problems, no doubt a legacy of their industrial heritage, and perhaps steaming problems, for their original chimneys were replaced in 1910 by the stovepipes then in vogue with Stephens. Perhaps because of the wheel problem Tenterden's wheels were replaced in 1904 by larger 4 ft diameter ones. Tenterden seems to have spent most of her existence on the duties for which she was designed but did very little work from 1930 and probably none after 1936. She was finally sold for scrap in 1941. Northiam had a much more adventurous life. It was used on the East Kent railway from September 1912 to 1914 and then travelled in 1918 to the WC & P where it worked until 1921. It then returned to the East Kent Railway where it remained until 1930. Back on the K&ESR she reverted to her original work, probably largely filling in for failed railcars and was last recorded working on 22 August 1938 before being scrapped with her sister in 1941. However she had one immortal moment in 1937 when she starred as Gladstone in the film "Oh, Mr Porter" made on the Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway.
Hecate's weight was not over heavy for the KESR's extension but her flangeless wheels on lightly maintained tracks were surely asking for trouble. As a light railway engine Hecate was a total failure. In the author's opinion this was not due to its weight but because of its rigidity and inflexibility as a traffic machine. It really had to wait for the sale to the Southern Railway and the heavy shunting duties there for it to come into its own.
The design origins of Hecate's components are also interesting. Hawthorn Leslie had acquired the goodwill, designs and patents of another Tyneside builder, Chapman & Furneaux (formerly Black Hawthorne & Co), in 1902. Hecate reflects many of the design characteristics of their heavy shunter (including the copper-capped chimney). These shunters were a very successful addition to the Hawthorn Leslie range and continued to be produced with variations to the very end of steam production by RSH. Several have been preserved.
Arriving on the K&ESR on 11 May 1905 for the opening of the Headcorn extension that month, Hecate was rapidly found to lack work and unsuitable for the track. At periods of exceptionally heavy traffic, such as the Biddenden Cattle Fairs, her haulage capacity clearly outweighed her other disadvantages. In April 1910 the arrival of Ilfracombe Goods No 7 Rother marginalised her further but in August 1915 however Hecate found a full time job. She was despatched on hire to the East Kent Railway assisting in construction of some of the track and Tilmanstone Colliery Yard. Thereafter she was retained for working coal trains to Shepherdswell but by October 1919 heavy repairs were necessary and a heavy overhaul was undertaken at Shepherdswell. This was completed in January 1921 but the job was poorly done and after one week's trial she was set aside, eventually to be returned to Rolvenden on August 5 1921. She was thoroughly overhauled there and put into working order but otherwise returned to her slumbers.
When Stephens died in 1931, his successor, W H Austen, faced with the railway's bankruptcy and shortage of motive power did a deal with the Southern Railway and Hecate was exchanged for two carriages, a Beattie saddle tank and a spare boiler. After prolonged repairs at Ashford Works Hecate finally left the works in September 1933 as Southern Railway No 949. After limited use at Tonbridge and Guildford en route, it reached Nine Elms and took up work in the goods yard together with several G6 0-6-0Ts. Here, with 2 regular crews, she became known affectionately as "Old Hiccups" because of her faltering exhaust. Her usefulness was such however that when her boiler failed in November 1939 she was fitted with a spare boiler from a Brighton D tank with a specially lengthened barrel. Resuming her duties she remained gainfully employed around Nine Elms until a collision with a King Arthur class 4-6-0 damaged her leading main frame. She was then withdrawn and scrapped in March 1950.
There has been endless speculation for the precise reason behind the production of this locomotive. The real surprise was in its sheer size compared with what went before. An 0-8-0T with very large driving wheels that were flangeless in the centre was rare. Eight coupled tanks were most unusual in British practice and off the mainline only three other British engines had this wheel arrangement, all in the Lancashire coalfields. Even on the mainline only one or two odd examples had been built by 1904 when Hecate was produced. The two popular theories are and that the locomotive was designed either for the failed KESR Maidstone extension for our through working to Tonbridge. If either of these is correct, then surely the thinking was fundamentally flawed. Not only was the engine over large but coal capacity was insufficient for the length of run. 0-8-0Ts by their nature are heavy haul sloggers and with the loads found on a rural light railway and ruling gradients of 1 in 50 a 6-coupled locomotive would surely have been sufficient.
THE PDSWJR 0-6-2Ts
Perhaps the lessons of rigidity and coal capacity had been learnt for Stephens' next essay was two tanks as large as Hecate but with more flexibility and increased coal capacity. The PDSWJR Callington Branch has fierce gradients and curves and these relatively big 0-6-2Ts were specified in 1907. Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and Lord St Leven were largely made up of the same standard components as Hecate, indeed in many respects they were identical but with the addition of a Belpaire firebox. However they could bend and they did not have flangeless drivers to derail. They were a great and continuing success.
The most important innovation on these engines was the use of a trailing truck. The total adhesion of Hecate might have been abandoned but in practice 6 wheels proved adequate adhesion on several miles of 1-in-38/39 incline on the branch. The flexibility of the trailing truck proved essential on the twisting former narrow gauge line.
The other innovation on these engines was the Belpaire firebox. Unusual in the UK at this period the high first cost of this boiler told against light railway principles and is difficult to understand. Nevertheless such boilers had recently been specified for Indian Railways by the locomotive industry's standards body (BESA) and Hawthorn Leslie would have been familiar with these specifications. The 0-6-2Ts boilers in fact closely resemble those of the BESA standard metre gauge 4-6-0.
The engines were smartly turned out in Stephens' customary dark blue with copper cap chimney, dome covers and safety valve bases. For most of the time as PDSWJR engines they ran without numbers. Taken over by the London South Western Railway in 1922 as Nos 757 and 758, the Southern Railway in 1923 and British Railways in 1948 when they became 30757 and 30758, they continued to work on the Callington Branch largely on goods services but quite often substituting on passenger trains. The arrival of Ivatt 2-6-2Ts in September 1952 made them redundant on the Callington Branch but they worked intermittently in the Plymouth area until moving to Eastleigh in mid-1956. Lord St Leven hardly worked again but the Earl acted as shed and works pilot until withdrawn at the end of 1957.
Perhaps surprisingly Stephens never again used this successful design perhaps because the engines could deal with heavier loads than were normally found on his light railways. However the design was used again by others and also considered for substantial construction by the Southern Railway
One can only speculate about any possible Stephens' influence in military engineering railway circles immediately prior to WW1 but in 1914 the Royal Engineers took delivery of an 0-6-2T Sir John French for the Woolmer Instructional Military Railway (later Longmoor Military Railway). This was a near complete copy of Stephens' two engines except that for instructional purposes the military specified outside valve gear and the coal capacity was sensibly increased to 2 1/2 tons. Again successful and popular, it was followed by a larger clone in 1938. With RSH building only standard designs the railway turned to Bagnalls who built the engine Kitchener . This was a larger engine modified with piston valves, round topped boiler and standard Bagnall features but was clearly modelled on the earlier machines. This locomotive was later sold into industrial service and worked successfully until the 1960s. On withdrawal the newly created K&ESR preservation movement inspected it but the asking price of £600 was beyond their resources at the time.
Following successful trials of Lord St Leven on Stephens' newly built Torrington to Halwell line in August 1926 there was a firm proposal to build 6 further engines (but with superheaters). Southern Railway parsimony on new steam engines killed the proposal and the adequate but unspectacular rebuild of Stroudley's E1 to E1R 0-6-2Ts sufficed.
Her only prolonged stay was from 1931 to 1939 as Nine Elms shed pilot. Finally the prospect of a renewed firebox caused her to be condemned in August 1951.
In 1913 the East Kent Railway ordered 2 similar but larger tanks for its use, one being officially photographed as EKR Gabrielle. However shortage of money caused the order to be cancelled and the engines were subsequently sold elsewhere. Works No 3026, probably Gabrielle, was sold in May 1914 at a bargain price of £1500 to the Wemyss Private Railway in Fife as their No 15 but for some reason lay in store until early 1918. It then commenced work in the sidings at the associated Wellesley Colliery, Methil passing with the colliery to the NCB in 1947 as Fife & Clackmannan No 29 before reverting to No 15 when the new East Fife NCB area was created in 1952. She outlasted the colliery, finally ceasing work in 1970 and going for scrap in 1972. The second locomotive was delivered on 25 November 1914 to civil engineering contractors, Sir John Jackson Ltd. They named it Northumbria and employed it on the construction of military camps and railways on Salisbury Plain until she passed to the War Department probably in 1916 and was transferred to the Kinmel Park Military Camp Railway near Rhyl. At the end of the war she was sold to the Ebbw Vale Steel Iron & Coal Co as their No 36, passing to Richard Thomas & Co at Scunthorpe in 1936. There she lasted until 1965.
Further orders for 0-6-0T's might have flowed from Stephens reconstruction of the Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway .His advice is thought to have been sought on the types of locomotive that would be suitable for use on the reconstructed line. He was not however fully in charge of orders so although the specification was undoubtedly influenced by experiences with A S Harris orders were placed with Hudswell, Clarke and Co of Leeds. The resultant engines, although varying slightly in detail were to become one of their supplier's standard types and were successful and long-lived.
The third engine provided for the PDSWJR in 1907 was a perfectly standard Hawthorn Leslie product; one of their 0-6-0Ts with 14" cylinders. Named A S Harris it was reputed to be for passenger use. Although no doubt cheaper than the 0-6-2Ts it is not clear why a smaller wheeled lighter engine could be considered necessary for this task. In practice the larger engines were frequently on passenger service and the 0-6-0T was often the shunter at Callington fulfilling the same role as its industrial sisters.
A S Harris continued to undertake the duties for which it had been built becoming LSWR No 756 in 1922 and passing to the Southern Railway who finally replaced her on the branch in June 1929 with an 02 0-4-4T. Thereafter she led a peripatetic existence. She was tried on Wenford Bridge Mineral Line and various times shunted at Winchester, Eastleigh, Stewarts Lane, Fratton, Bournemouth, Brighton, Tonbridge, Folkestone and Dover.
THE SHROPSHIRE & MONTGOMERYSHIRE O-6-2Ts
Although many people have commented on Hecate and its oddities these locomotives were even odder. They throw up real questions about Stephens' eccentricity or even competence as a locomotive engineer particularly following as they did the very successful PDSWJR engines.
No 5 Pyramus and No 6 Thisbe (1) were delivered on 29 July 1911 to the newly rebuilt Shropshire & Montgomeryshire, apparently as their principal engines. They were ordered on 19 January 1911 and once again, standard components were used .They were, however, completely different to the earlier 0-6-2Ts and Hecate . They can only be described as very odd engines. The boiler, cylinders and driving wheels were directly comparable to the Hawthorn Leslie small 0-6-0T but with very driving small wheels .
They had however a huge coalbunker with water tank beneath supported by a rigid extension of the frames with a trailing wheel with limited side play. Their appearance was not improved by Stephens' speciality of the period, a stovepipe chimney. They were despatched to the S&MR on 27 July 1911.
These engines are often cited as failures on the grounds of excessive weight yet even though they had a heavier axle load than the very light Terriers and Ilfracombe Goods they were in fact comparatively light engines and should have had no problems on the S&MR. They were however obviously very rigid and their trailing wheel arrangement was very likely defective leading to at least one serious derailment and they were reputed prone to broken springs Even with back tanks giving a water capacity of 1200 gallons this was probably insufficient for travelling the 20 miles from Shrewsbury to Llanymynech. All in all they were a sorry failure and were rapidly sold to the government, a desperate buyer in World War I. The service history of these two engines is cloaked in a certain amount of mystery. On the SMR they were ordered late and could not haul the opening train and are barely mentioned in the introductory article written by that notable enthusiast, T R Perkins, for the Railway Magazine. The builders order book records them as dispatched on 29 July. Their next few years' service are equally unclear. They worked many trains for indeed, until a second Ilfracombe Goods arrived on hire in May 1914, there would have been little alternative. A potentially very serious derailment that took place on 22nd July 1915 on the Severn Viaduct that nearly pitched No 6 Thisbe into the river might have signalled the end.
Quite when the tanks left the railway is uncertain. The second SMR Ilfracombe Goods is reported to have received Pyramus' name and number by 17 May 1915 so that engine had probably been laid aside by then. A third Ilfracombe Goods appeared n May 1916 to take Thisbe's name and number and was recorded as so named when delivered from the LSWR. Many printed sources say the government bought them in 1914 but this is wrong. The government did not in any event generally call up spare locomotives until 1916 and an advert for two locomotives of this description appeared in the Machinery Market Magazine for 11 February 1916and appeared in subsequent issues until 3rd March. Further there is reference in a GWR report dated 9 June 1916 that two engines purchased by the War Office from the S&MR were being overhauled at Wolverhampton Works.
The service history of the locomotives during the war is unclear as they were allocated to the Military Camp Railways, based at Longmoor from June 1916, who allocated engines to districts and moved them round as camps were constructed and operated. There seems little doubt that they both went initially to Cannock Chase Military Railway, a 13½ mile railway serving Brocton and Rugeley Camps. Spares orders with Bagnalls (who did the Cannock Chase overhauls) in August 1916 seem to indicate that both engines were still there but it may have been, and it has been reported, that both had a short period of service on the Kinmel Park Camp Railway that opened in November 1916. The only evidence, and that circumstantial, that either locomotive was there is that one, as WD 84, was repaired at Crewe Works in May 1917 and at some time probably after this she was transferred to the Woolmer Instructional Military Railway at Longmoor where she was definately reported in August 1922 and were she was quietly tolerated. She seems to have been last engaged on the Liss extension works and was at Longmoor till at least July 1931. Very confusingly for latter historians she was named ‘Thisbe’ with new style cast plates, even though her works number 2878 shows her as the S&MR No 5 ‘Pyramus’. Her subsequent fate is unclear but a James Clements & Co Ltd of Cardiff offered a locomotive of her description for sale from November 1931 until at least April 1934.
The S&MRs ‘Thisbe’ had meanwhile become WD No 85 and probably lost its name and remained at Cannock .It was advertised for sale from April to August 1921 and sold out of Government service by 18 August 1921 to Frank Edmunds, a dealer of Stoke-on-Trent, who advertised her for sale in the Colliery Guardian in May 1922, as an 0-6-0T (although this was almost certainly an error). He eventually sold it for £1,200, in July 1922, to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Engineering Department as their No 34 and used to construct Gladstone Branch Dock No2. According to information supplied by them later it was converted to an 0-6-0T in January 1923. This was done by the simple expediant of removing the trailing wheels and shortening the bunker for she retained the slot in her frames for the trailing wheels till the very end. Whatever the date of conversion this change was very necessary for otherwise she would not have survived rough industrial tracks .On 25 August 1927 she was sold at auction probably to Cudworth and Johnson, dealers of Wrexham. She was sold on to the Nunnery Coal Company (later National Coal Board) at Sheffield on 10th February 1931. She was scrapped there in April 1962. A long-lived tribute to her components, if not to Stephens' design quirks.
With the abortive order for the EKR and the drastic changes in economic circumstances during and following the First World War the link with Hawthorn Leslie was broken, never to be resumed. Stephens was only every able to order one more new locomotive, the WC&P's No 5 in 1919.This was a Manning Wardle industrial saddle tank of their standard type which was much favoured by light railways because of their reliability, tolerance of poor track and toughness. Even here Stephens dabbled. His now favoured stovepipe appeared and disc wheels were specified evidently to improve adhesive weight. These led to troubles with hot boxes no doubt due to restricted airflow through the wheels.
Stephens was not a locomotive designer but specified types, leaving most of the details to the builder. After his initial essays with small engines he does not seem to fully understand the need for proper track performance on a light railway and in Hecate, Thisbe and Pyramus he produced white elephants. His choice of Hawthorn Leslie as builder was sound and their standard components gave long-lived and reliable mechanical performance. This collaboration reached a high point in the PDSWJR 0-6-2T's Earl of Mount Edgcombe and Lord St Leven . These were excellent engines in every way. They served their original purpose for nearly 50 years until supplanted by perhaps the ultimate branch line engine the Ivatt 2-6-2T's. Tribute Indeed.
(1) The original Hawthorn Leslie Records give No 5 Pyramus as Works No 2878 (the works photo also shows this number) and No 6 Thisbe as No 2879 although this has not been independently verified it is highly probable . That, after its S&MR service , No 2879 acquired the name Thisbe is more probable than a works number swap.
A S Harris
Earl of M
Lord St L
S J French
3' 3"( 4' 1")
15 3/4sq ft
16 1/2sq ft
16 1/2sq ft
Locomotive Building in Bristol in the Age of Steam, Peter Davis, Charles Harvey and Jon Press
Power on Land and Sea (A History of R & W Hawthorn Leslie and Co), J F Clarke
The Kent and East Sussex Railway, Stephen Garrett
Locomotives of the Southern Railway Vol 1,D L Bradley
The Longmoor Military Railway, D W Ronald & R J Carter
The Locomotive Carriage and Wagon Review 1930, The Woolmer Instructional Military Railway
The Tenterden Terrier No75, What Happened to Gabrielle?, Tom Burnham
The Wemyss Private Railway, A W Brotche Industrial Railway Record 102
The Industrial Locomotive No70, Article by V Bradley